Von der Leyen focuses on a digital Europe with a zero carbon footprint.

IF – 09/2020

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered her eagerly awaited first State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Brussels on the 16th of September. In the presence of her commissioners, she began her almost one-and-a-half-hour-long speech by thanking the nursing staff and the medical fraternity.

Vague proposals - not amused MEPs

The lecture was dominated by a recap of the past year, the pandemic-driven outlook for the future and outlines of political visions far away from the virus. The Commission President called for more optimism and more cohesion to overcome the existing crisis.

But how can the EU emerge from the crisis stronger again? The expectations in terms of content were not met, even members of her own European People's Party publicly expressed disappointment at the despondency and lack of concrete prospects for workers. They are still less confident and increasingly insecure about their jobs and health.

Creation of a European Health Union?

The fear of the second wave across Europe and the rising numbers are as frightening to MEPs as they are to citizens of the Union. However, Von der Leyen barely touched on how she would like to resolve the moderately coordinated behaviour of the EU states in implementing pandemic measures in the future

She wants to turn the EU into a health union, set up a European biomedical research and development agency (BARDA) and strengthen the EU's competence in the health sector. How exactly and which roles the EU will take over in health policy will possibly be debated at the Conference on the Future of Europe. When and in what form this will take place is still unclear.

Social impacts

The pandemic has hit many areas of life hard, particularly the European economic and euro area and, as a result, the entire world of work. Von der Leyen offers the prospect of a solution by implementing a minimum wage regulation. This is intended to prevent wage dumping and exploitation of the workforce. At the end of October, the Commission will present a legislative proposal for a legal framework for minimum wages.

In general, she made little reference to social measures or the social impact on the current situation in the world of work. The pandemic also triggered an involuntary digitalisation boost. Thus, the EU is in a "digital decade", which was only really triggered by the pandemic. After all, work from home would not have been possible without IT equipment and network connections.

Back to the beginnings

When she took office in 2019, the Commission focused on an EU with zero carbon footprint and a fundamental change in economic life through increased climate protection. Irrespective of the coronavirus pandemic, the climate targets are to be achieved with a 55% reduction in emission of greenhouse gases by 2030. According to calculations, the President said that enormous investments would be necessary which would create millions of jobs. Ideas on this will be incorporated into a new industrial strategy.

The President of the Commission called for European cohesion and the commitment of the European people, but how the implementation in many areas is to become part of everyday life often remained unanswered. And whether people will be able to keep up with the new conditions mentally and in terms of work technology will only become clear in the future.