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Speech by President von der Leyen at the Meeting of the Spanish Conference of Presidents

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op maandag 26 oktober 2020.

Thank you President Sanchez.

Presidents of autonomous communities and cities,

Ministers,

President of the Federation of Municipalities and Provinces,

thank you for your invitation.

I really wanted to be with you today, but due to the pandemic this is not possible.

But I am delighted to be able to speak to you today - even if I wish it could be in person.

I am with you today to bring a very simple message, in such difficult times: Europe is with you.

Spain was hit before and harder than most other European countries. And regional and local authorities have been the first line of defence against the pandemic. Here in Spain regional authorities are responsible for more than 90% of health expenditure.

You have witnessed first-hand the courage of doctors and nurses, their daily struggle. You delivered protective masks for commuters and helped elderly people during the confinement. You have been at the side of women suffering from domestic violence during the confinement.

All across the country, from Asturias to Andalucia, you supported small companies in financial hardships, with emergency credit and small grants.

You've been there for your people, in the most difficult year for Spain since the political transition.

And now, Europe wants to be there for you.

At first, we helped to tackle the emergency with the early transfer of regional funds.

Then this summer, our Union found itself at a crossroads. We saw the risk that some parts of our Union could not cope with the impact of the crisis, or would recover at a slower pace.

But Europe did the right thing. The European Council agreed on our proposal for a revamped EU budget and a recovery plan that we call NextGenerationEU.

It wasn't easy.

But together we managed to put forward a plan that would benefit Europe as a whole, north and south, east and west. A plan with investment and reforms. A plan that will repair our economy and,

at the same time, prepare it for the future.

This was a moment of remarkable unity, beyond political and geographical boundaries. We all focused on one thing only: Europe's collective recovery, our collective interest.

Spain will be the second largest beneficiary of the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which is the centrepiece of NextGenerationEU. With NextGenerationEU, we want to bring all Member States in a position to help their citizens.

Because in this crisis, we will only get back to our feet if we all pull each other up.

NextGenerationEU is coming to the rescue. It is investment and reform. Investments should not only restart the economy.

With them, we will also press fast-forward towards a green, digital and resilient future. But to achieve this, we need YOU.

And we need YOU READY to absorb this vast amount of funds. The success of NextGenerationEU will depend entirely on the quality of our investment. NextGenerationEU will only succeed if it finds fertile ground in Europe's cities and region.

If we all play as a team.

  • The government will ensure an inclusive and professional preparation of the national recovery plans and involve the regions and cities from the very outset.
  • You must contribute.

Because you will be the ones bringing projects to life in your local reality.

We need your ideas, your projects to turn European investment into local growth.

For instance, over one third of investment from NextGenerationEU should finance the objectives

set in the European Green Deal. Earlier this year, the Spanish government has presented its proposal on how to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

NextGenerationEU will support this objective, and stimulate growth at the same time.

Let me take just three examples, where your role will be crucial.

First, the Renovation wave. As you will know, buildings account for 40% of our emissions.

And very often, they waste most of the energy that they consume.

At the current pace, it would take more than a century to bring emissions from our buildings to zero.

If we want to reach our climate goals, we must double the pace of renovations by 2025.

During the lockdown, the Spanish construction sector got to an almost complete standstill.

NextGenerationEU is an opportunity to get people at work again, when the sanitary situation will allow for it. But projects must come from you.

The renovation wave will focus specifically on schools, hospitals and social housing - for which you are responsible.

It will be up to you to bring the renovation wave into your cities and regions.

Second example, clean urban mobility. I know that some of you are already considering to de-carbonise your fleets of buses, choosing hydrogen and other clean energy sources. You know that you can take care of the environment while also improving services for your citizens.

NextGenerationEU is your chance. For the economy, for the environment, for a better quality of life.

Third example: Hydrogen valleys. For some heavy industries and transports, clean hydrogen is the perfect alternative to fossil fuels. But this requires a systemic transformation. Clean hydrogen must not only be produced, but transported, stocked, and it has to become part of industrial processes. This is why we have proposed to create Hydrogen Valleys, local industrial ecosystems where clean hydrogen is produced and consumed. This can be a great opportunity for local development.

The question is: will your valley become an hydrogen valley? Only you can answer this question.

And I know that many Spanish cities and regions are eager for innovation.

Spanish people know that history and innovation can easily go hand in hand.

Let me just mention the example of Bilbao. A Medieval city that now hosts a masterpiece of contemporary architecture such as the Guggenheim. It is no surprise then that Bilbao and the Basque country have become a hub for digital innovation. A place where artificial intelligence

meets traditional factories, start-ups meet big industries, and academia meets business. This is a model we want to invest in.

And this is possible, because 20% of NextGenerationEU will go to digital innovation.

With NextGenerationEU, we can give entrepreneurs the digital skills they need.

We will create a European cloud and neutral data spaces, so that companies and universities

should be able to share their data safely. But again, we need you to imagine new physical hubs, create them and make them grow.

This is your opportunity.

NextGenerationEU is also a unique chance to bring high-speed internet to every village and rural area. Today, 40% of people living in rural areas still don't have access to the most basic high-speed internet. These connections are now the prerequisite for home working, home learning and online shopping. NextGenerationEU will invest in this. But it will only be possible with your support, to prioritise investment and coordinate public works on the ground.

In sum, NextGenerationEU can start a Digital Decade for Europe.

But whether this will be a digital decade for Spain, and for your region - will depend on you, on your ingenuity, on your capacity to turn a dream into reality. I know that talking about a green and digital future might sound surreal in the middle of the pandemic.

But this is how we can get out of this crisis.

European investment, courageous reforms, and bold ideas for the future of the Spanish economy.

Last summer, when we were negotiating NextGenerationEU, I saw a powerful image coming from Barcelona. Doctors brought patients, who were recovering from Covid, out of the hospital and to the seaside.

These men and women could finally feel the sun on their faces, after days or weeks in intensive care. Their eyes could finally look at the horizon, and dream of life after Covid. Today, Europe and Spain have not recovered yet. The virus is still with us.

That's why I applaud the government of Madrid for setting up in record time the IFEMA hospital - a world class facility to treat intensive care patients.

But we also have a duty to set our eyes on the horizon. To plan for the future, so that the recovery can finally start. NextGenerationEU is a glimpse into the future. But to make it happen, Europe needs you.

It is your opportunity, and it is our shared responsibility.

Closing remarks

Thank you. This is very encouraging.

I see you have so many good ideas on the recovery and the transformation of your economy. Green ideas, digital ideas.

This is a great starting point.

In these weeks we have encouraged national governments to take into account the input of local authorities. Regions and cities should engage in the preparation of national recovery plans from the very outset - and I am glad that this is already happening here in Spain.

And the same goes for trade unions, business associations, civil society organisations. This requires some true team work.

You will be the ones bringing projects to life in your local reality. Europe gives its best when we work together, as a team.

We are proud of our diversity, we come from different backgrounds and we speak different languages.

But when we join forces, that's when we give our best. This is what can make a difference in this crisis.

Thank you all for the invitation.

Long live Europe, viva Europa.


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