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Speech by Vice-President Šefčovič on behalf of President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the Conclusions of the European Council meeting of 15 and 16 October 2020

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 21 oktober 2020.

Thank you Mr President,

Honourable Members,

I have the pleasure of addressing you today on behalf of the Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen who is - as you are aware - in preventive self-isolation.

There is a question that is today on every European's mind: When will the pandemic finally pass? No one has the answer.

The second wave has come. Infections are rising at a worrying speed again. Our Member States again have to take action to contain this second wave and eventually to stop it.

Since the first wave hit us, Europe has achieved a lot.

Let me just name our main strands of work: vaccines, European coordination, and our resilience to prevent future crises.

First, progress on vaccines.

We now have three contracts in place with pharmaceutical companies

and three more are being finalised. This means that if they manage to develop a vaccine, there will be doses reserved for Europeans. And it also means that all Member States will get a future vaccine on the same terms and at the same time.

And last week the European Commission delivered a vaccination plan. A European framework on who should get a vaccine first.

Our vaccination plan is based on science and on common sense.

Health workers will take precedence. High on the list will also be people over 60; people at risk because of their health; and of course, essential workers; people who cannot socially distance; and people who are disadvantaged because of their socio-economic background.

Protecting these people is not just a matter of social justice. It is the smartest way to ease the pressure on our health systems, and slow down contagion.

Second, progress on European coordination.

Last week, the Council adopted the Commission's proposal on colour codes and data exchange. This means that all Member States are now speaking the same language when it comes to their citizens' health. And it means clarity for people who need to travel across borders. It is now essential to implement these decisions in full. And it is also essential to agree on common rules on testing and quarantine.

From Spain to Sweden, we are all facing the same disease. So our precautions against it should also be the same. But we are also aware that we still have a long way to go. It will be months before a vaccine is found and distributed.

We must be very disciplined and help everyone to contain the spread of the virus as much as possible in the coming weeks and months.

If we fail to do so, we run the risk not only of losing the achievements in the area of health protection. We are also risking Europe's economic recovery, which we launched with a great effort before the summer break. No one in Europe wants a second lockdown. People don't want that and companies don't want that either.

That is why I call on European citizens to behave responsibly. Protect yourself and others. But there is also a lot at stake economically in two other areas - and President Charles Michel has just touched upon them.

Honourable members,

Let me also update you on our negotiations with the UK. The deal we are trying to achieve would be absolutely unprecedented. This was the will of the EU and the UK when agreeing on the scope of the future partnership in our joint political declaration. And it is still our will.

No other economy is as closely aligned to ours as the British economy. It is only natural after almost 40 years as a part of the single market. UK companies produce the same products, within the same value chains, and with almost no transport costs to reach our market.

We need to ensure that the European Union and the UK companies face fair competition on the EU market. And this is why we have put so much emphasis on ensuring a level playing field and on governance and conflict resolution.

Together with fisheries these are the main outstanding issues, where we are still far apart. On each of these issues, we still have to test whether it is possible to find common ground with our British friends. This needs hard work. We made clear that we are ready to engage intensively to find solutions. There is no time to loose.

Our objective is still to reach an agreement that will pave the way for a new fruitful relationship between the EU and the UK. We will continue to work for such an agreement, but not at any price.

And, my good colleague and friend, President Michel will provide you with more information on this. I will now turn to the Withdrawal Agreement, which must be fully operational as of 1st January 2021.

Deal or no deal, the Withdrawal Agreement must be respected.

It is not only a matter of trust -which is of course key- but also a matter of political responsibility vis-à-vis our citizens and the peace and stability in the island of Ireland. Therefore, I welcome that at the last Joint Committee meeting, we have managed to strike a constructive approach. Now it will be vital that this translates into concrete, workable, operational solutions.

And finally, let me say a few words on our climate ambitions.

Two weeks ago this Parliament voted a very ambitious recommendation. The European Council has not yet reached an agreement on targets and percentages. But rest assured: the Commission will continue to push now for Europe's heads of state and government to unite behind an ambitious climate objective of at least 55% by 2030. And this agreement must come before the end of the year. Last week we presented two more stepping stones, to pave the wave towards 55%: the Renovation wave, and the Methane strategy.

Our next steps will include:

  • a revision of the emissions trading system,
  • a strategy for offshore winds,
  • a revised regulation for the Trans-European Energy Networks,
  • a Mobility Strategy,
  • and a new proposal for the circular economy.

We have a plan that can lead us to 55%, and thanks to NextGenerationEU, we have the resources to turn it into reality. We know ‘how' we can achieve this goal. But it is also important to remind ‘why' we are doing this. We are going for at least 55% because this is the only way to contain global warming. Because we have taken a commitment in Paris, and we want to keep our word.

But we are also doing this because it makes sense economically. If we go for at least 55%, we will strengthen our first mover advantage in clean technologies. Our companies will be the leaders in tomorrow's markets. We will become less dependent on energy imports from the rest of the world.

And, as we work here in Europe, we are also engaging on the global stage, so that other countries match our ambition. Europe wants to lead the way - and today, many others are following our example.

But never forget: in the near future, companies will compete on international markets based on who has the best green technologies.

We have to increase the pace of green innovation to remain competitive. It's the right thing to do, and the smart choice as well.

55% is an insurance on Europe's future. And I have to repeat: It is decision time.

Europe must be ambitious.

For our planet;

for our economy, and

for the next generation.


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