If it seems impossible, then we can make it

European Commission's President Ursula von der Leyen State of the Union speech

"Se sembra impossibile, allora si può fare". If it seems impossible, then we can make it. With these words, European Commission's President Ursula von der Leyen closed her annual State of the Union speech in front of the European Parliament. "This was the spirit of Europe’s founders and this is the spirit of Europe’s next generation. This is the future of Europe. Let’s make it stronger together. Viva l’Europa.”

In her speech, held on 15 September 2021, President von der Leyen outlined flagship initiatives which the Commission plans to undertake in the coming year. Beyond the priority focus of continuing the vaccination as well as strengthening the pandemic preparedness, they will include leading the digital transformation – a real “make or break issue” - that will create jobs and drive competitiveness, while ensuring technical excellence and security of supply. Moreover, they will include ensuring fairer working conditions and better healthcare, and creating more opportunities for Europe’s youth to benefit from the European social market economy.

Acknowledging the “deep scars” the pandemic left; including on the social market economy, the President put emphasis on the women and men who work for lower wages, fewer protections and less security. “This is why the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights is so important”, she said, “to ensure decent jobs, fairer working conditions, better healthcare and better balance in people's lives. With this awareness, the European Union will come forward with a new European Care Strategy to support men and women in finding the best care and the best life balance for them”.

Focusing on younger generations, President von der Leyen emphasised how being young is normally a time of discovery, of creating new experiences, a time to meet lifelong friends, to find one’s own path. “And what did we ask this generation to do? To keep their social distance, to stay locked down and to do school from home. For more than a year,” she recalled. The President assured that everything that the European Union will do, will be about protecting their future, for which she stressed the need for new own resources for the NextGenerationEU programme.

Furthermore, Ursula von der Leyen highlighted the European commitment in supporting NEETs, – those not in any kind of employment, education or training. For them, the EU has put in place a new programme, ALMA, which ”will help these young Europeans to find temporary work experience in another Member State. Because they too deserve an experience like Erasmus. To gain skills, to create bonds and help forge their own European identity.”

Reminding the severe wildfires that affected several countries last summer, President von der Leyen stressed the EU’s engagement in climate action, and the related social consequences. “We will make sure that higher climate ambition comes with more social ambition. This must be a fair green transition. This is why we proposed a new Social Climate Fund to tackle the energy poverty that already 34 million Europeans suffer from.”

”While every country has a responsibility, major economies do have a special duty to the least developed and most vulnerable countries”, the European Commission’s President added while stressing that that climate finance is essential, and pointing out the key role of the 25 billion dollars per year contribution of Team Europe. “My message today is that Europe is ready to do more. We will now propose an additional 4 billion euro for climate finance until 2027”.

Stressing the relevance of forging strong and reliable partnerships, President von der Leyen announced that at the end of the month she will travel to the Western Balkans region to send a strong signal of the EU’s commitment to the accession process, which includes a support through a new investment and economic plan, worth around a third of the region's GDP. “An investment in the future of the Western Balkans is an investment in the future of the EU”, she added.

In her speech, the President also flagged that the EU will “continue investing in our partnerships across our neighbourhood”: from stepping up the EU’s engagement in the Eastern Partnership to implementing the new Agenda for the Mediterranean and continuing to work on the different aspects of the relationship with Turkey.

“Strengthening Schuman's European ideal that I invoked earlier is a continuous work. And we should not hide away from our inconsistencies and imperfections”, she concluded, “But imperfect as it might be, our Union is both beautifully unique and uniquely beautiful”.

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