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Opening remarks by President von der Leyen at the read-out of the first College meeting of the von der Leyen Commission

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op dinsdag 3 december 2019.

Thank you very much and a very warm welcome from my side too. I want to report from the very first College meeting, which was for the very first time a paperless College meeting, it was completely digital. So it is a first important step towards a digital organisation. I know that as a whole, we have still very much to do, but having a paperless College is an important first step.

I want to report on what we have decided on today in the College, the working methods. And then we had reports on COP25 in Madrid, the High Representative/Vice-President reported briefly from NATO, Commissioner Lenarčič about Albania where he is going to travel today to be there tomorrow, and Vice-President Jourová and Commissioner Reynders reported from Malta.

First of all, let us have a look at the working methods we have been deciding on today. The Commission sees itself as one team. Yes, we do come from very different backgrounds and different countries, we have different political colours. But we work as one College for one Union and this is our European Union.

We have all our say in the College, we decide together and this is important that when we have taken a decision, we also thereby take ownership - all of us - on this subject as it has been decided in the College. I emphasise this because we always say that Europe is strong when it is united, and when it acts as one. So unity has to start here, at the core of the European institutions in the College.

We have organised the work of the Commission in such that if you look at my six priorities in the guidelines, they are of course all interconnected, for example, climate and digital have a strong interconnection for an economic growth strategy. But we organised it as such that an Executive Vice-President or a Vice-President is responsible for a cluster with different Commissioners - we call them Commissioners' Group - and they are chaired by the respective Vice-President or Executive Vice-President or High Representative/Vice-President.

These Commissioners' Groups will ensure coordination and coherence across the Commission. But the decisions of course are being taken in the College. We have taken a decision on the ‘Geopolitical Commission'. Of course, the High Representative/Vice-President will support me in coordinating the external dimension of all Commissioners' work. Our external action will be systematically discussed and decided on by the College. That was the reason for example that today we had the NATO report. We will have every Wednesday in College now a report on external action. And we have created a new preparatory body: the so-called EXCO, External Coordination, that brings together the Cabinets of all Commissioners to bridge mainly the action that is external and internal because both have a strong influence on the Commission's work.

A few more topics on the composition of our Cabinets. As you know, I have asked to include at least 50 per cent women in all our Cabinets at administrative level. We have reached that goal for the very first time. This is a little revolution, I am proud of that. At the same time, it should be normal - it should not be an issue. And we have asked to bring as many nationalities as possible to the respective Cabinets. I am proud to say that we have in my Cabinet 16 different nationalities and I have encouraged my colleagues to raise the number of nationalities in their teams, too.

Last but not least an information on the think-tank. On the current European Political Strategy Centre, we will build a new structure. It is structured by the six headlines of the political guidelines, or represented by the Vice-Presidents. I want to keep the function of an internal think-tank. At the same time, I want to adapt it to a new geopolitical reality and to our new priorities. We will call it I.D.E.A., the acronym - as always, it is an acronym - for Inspire, Debate, Engage and Accelerate Action.

Just a short report on the COP25 in Madrid. First of all, I want to commend Spain for an outstanding work and putting up within three weeks this huge conference. This was impressive. I think it was very good that I was there on my very first working day, on Monday, to contribute to making the European Green Deal a reference for climate action. I announced that we will adopt the European Green Deal in the Communication - a kind of road map - next week, on 11 December and presented a few short ideas within the three minutes we all did have for our contributions.

The first one is that I am convinced that only what gets measured, gets done. And therefore, we announced at the COP25 that in 2020, we will have the first-ever climate law in place so that a road to climate neutrality in 2050 will be irreversible.

The second point is investment. Investment will be crucial to be successful with the European Green Deal. For that, we will present the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan to mobilise investment and, as you know, the Just Transition Fund - to leave no one behind.

We made very clear that we want to be ambitious in the negotiations at the COP25. I think the European Green Deal could be seen as a real contribution to something like a global green deal. It was good to see that all European leaders - President Sassoli was there and President Michel was there, too - are more or less increasingly aligning on the European Green Deal. So it is going in the right direction what our continent is concerned, but of course the COP25 is a vast international one.

Impressive is that we have the shared view that Europe can be and must be a front runner in this topic. But obviously, there are also concerns how we are going to finance that - mainly the transition. And it is true that we do not all start from the same point. And that is why we put forward the Just Transition Fund. I want to inform you that we are working towards an aspirational target of mobilising under the Just Transition Mechanism, together with the EIB Group, EUR 100 billion of investments during the period of the next MFF. In order to reach that target, we are building a mechanism that draws on sources of funding from the EU budget - from the European Union, but also co-funded by the Member States - as well as the EIB Group to leverage the necessary public and private means. At the same time - and I think this is important, too, when we are talking about costs of the European Green Deal. At the same time, we should always keep in mind what the cost of non-action would be. And there are costs already. So I asked Commissioner Šefčovič, of Foresight, to present us next week the known costs already for the European Union of climate change, so that we have an idea what the cost of non-action would be in the future and that we know we are all aligned in being convinced that acting on the Green Deal is a good investment and the right investment for a better future and a healthy planet.

I am convinced that yes, the European Green Deal fighting climate change is not only necessary, it is a huge opportunity for the European Union. We are at the moment being the front runner. If we do it right, if we invest in research and innovation, in green technologies, sustainable solutions and new businesses, we will be able to demonstrate as a trend setter that this can be for the European Union a new growth strategy. And at the same time, if we make the transition, we are able to give people confidence, we are able to give the economy confidence, and hope that this is moving in the right direction.

Change of topic: Albania. The European Union - I had a phone call with Prime Minister Edi Rama on Sunday - stands in full solidarity with Albania with actions, not only with words. We support already on the ground. We are committed to providing more. So far the Commission has helped to mobilise three search and rescue teams of more than 200 staff from Italy, Greece and Romania. We have dispatched tents, beds, blankets, sleeping bags, generators and hygiene items for emergency needs via Belgium, Romania, Austria and Slovakia. Commissioner Lenarčič will travel today to Albania. He is there mainly to provide acute assessment for the state the buildings are in that are affected, and of course to have a primary assessment on what kind of help is needed for reconstruction. As a very first step, we will allocate EUR 15 million from EU funds immediately to support the Albanian people and we have decided in College that we will organise a donors' conference. I will call today Edi Rama again to inform him about these facts.

Last topic in the College meeting was Malta. I am concerned by the recent developments in Malta. And we are following the situation very closely. To be very clear on that: we harshly condemn the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Her murder was an attack on free media. Media freedom is the foundation of our free and democratic society. Journalists must feel safe to work in Europe. If not, democracy as we know it will be under threat.

I will not comment on ongoing national investigations. However, what I will say is that I expect there to be a thorough and independent investigation, free from any political interference. Europol is in Malta, it is providing support to the Maltese authorities. It is crucial that all those responsible are brought to justice as soon as possible. The Commission is also in contact with the Maltese authorities on the reform of the judicial system and we will continue to work with the authorities to accelerate these reforms.

This is it for the moment.


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