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Opening remarks by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel and Prime Minister Costa following the meeting of the European Council of 25 June 2021

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op vrijdag 25 juni 2021.

Let me also start by thanking you, António, for an incredible successful Presidency. And thank you very much for all the work you have done, you and your team - this is amazing. But also you personally, how skilfully you steered the whole process.

You will certainly describe the many, many fields where you achieved a lot. But I just want to highlight, within this pandemic, three topics, which would not have been as successful as they are without you and your Presidency. And this is, on one hand the Vaccines Strategy. I remember very well that you said: ‘We have to start together', on 27 December. And we did it. We went through all the difficulties together. This is where you see whether there is a team or not, when you go through the difficulties. And now we can harvest the success together.

The second point is the EU Certificate - record time, in which it has been ready. Now 26 Member States are connected so far, and it is ready to go for 1 July. And of course then, the economic recovery, NextGenerationEU. Here too, record time for the Own Resources Decision to be ratified in five months. Normally, if you look back to the other Own Resources Decisions to be ratified, it takes about two years on average. So you did it in five months. Obrigada.

Let me explain or comment a bit on what we have been discussing. Indeed, we started with COVID-19, and as usual the state of play for the vaccine deliveries and vaccination. We are almost at the end of quarter 2. By the end of the week, we will have delivered over 424 million doses; by thus we exceed our delivery targets for quarter 2. And we will have by the end of the week almost 60% of adults in the European Union that have received at least one dose. And we will have almost 40% that will be fully vaccinated.

This is a big step forward, but it is also necessary because we are worried about the Delta variant. If you look at the UK, there, the Delta variant is by now the dominant one. 90% of the infections are the Delta variant. It is rapidly progressing, also speeding up here. The good news in that is that we see that the vaccination protects, double vaccination protects very effectively against the Delta variant, and single vaccination, or a single shot at the beginning, gives at least a reduction of severe illness. But with this Delta variant, we need to stay vigilant, we need to stay very coordinated what restrictive measures are concerned. The typical things like masks and distance have to stay in place. And we need to vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. That is the best strategy against these variants.

We have looked at the lessons learnt, and I will not go in detail because the whole report is there, but Leaders came out very supportive of the Commission's proposals. So now we are going to implement what we have seen as weaknesses or where we should step forward together in the health sector. Let me take the topic of today right here, because we have looked at the lessons learnt from the pandemic and there we have seen - because we have never had a pandemic before - we had no tools in place; we had no structures in place; it was all ad hoc.

That was different on the economic field. We had the experience, the bad experience, of the financial crisis a decade ago. And here we had tools in place that we have been using rapidly and swiftly. That is, at the beginning, liquidity for the paralysed economy through the lockdowns; the general escape clause; the flexibilisation of EU funds; the state aid - almost EUR 3 trillion of liquidity was offered.

Then we had the bridging part of EUR 550 billion, one part of it is the SURE element with EUR 100 billion, and now the recovery with EUR 750 billion NextGenerationEU. Here we look today at the national plans. We have now 24 national plans submitted, 12 of those are approved. There too, I want to thank you, António, because you have been pushing hard that we are fast. Of course, it is needed in our economies, and, yes, until the end of the month, until the end of your Presidency, you will have reached your goal that there is a good chunk of plans approved, ready to go.

If we look at the plans, they all include a significant subset of country-specific recommendations: that is reforms and a lot of investment. If we look at our targets, all plans meet or overshoot the target of investing 20% in the digital. The same goes for the green, 37% - at least they meet it, if not a lot of them overshoot it, and that is good. So we will have an investment of at least EUR 200 billion in green measures - just to name a few topics.

But there is also a strong investment in the social dimension, so youth employment, childcare, higher education, healthcare - just to name a few topics. It is now for the Council to adopt the plans, or those who are approved, in the next four weeks. And then we are ready to disburse because we have launched the bond issuance programme already last week. It was very successful, we have raised EUR 20 billion with a maturity of ten years, and it was seven times oversubscribed, which shows the trust and the confidence of the markets in NextGenerationEU and in the European Union.

Let me move on to the second topic, Turkey. Overall, the relations with Turkey have improved recently. There is a de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean; there are talks between Turkey and Greece, and that is a good starting point. But on the other hand, we still see little, if no progress, made on Cyprus and this remains disappointing. We have engaged since March with Turkey, in particular on trade and the topic of the Syrian refugees.

First on trade, Turkey has taken steps to address some irritants, like for example the certificates of origin. And we encourage Turkey to do more. On our side, things have moved too. Discussions on the mandate for negotiations on the modernisation of the Customs Union have restarted in Council, but there is still a lot of work to do.

On the topic of Syrian refugees in the region, we have already made clear that we will continue supporting Turkey and other partners in the region, like Jordan or Lebanon, which host millions of Syrian refugees. It is now ten years into the Syrian conflict and the region still carries the lion's share of the burden. And it is in our collective European interest to protect the refugees and to support their host, mainly in these difficult times with COVID-19 and very difficult economic times.

Therefore, we always show that we have supported in the past and we plan to support in the future. We plan to allocate an additional EUR 3 billion to support refugees in Turkey until 2024. This money will come entirely from the EU budget and it will focus more on the socio-economic support to refugees. Less on the plain, pure emergency assistance because these refugees live now since years in the region and they need a perspective for the coming years. And in addition, we will support Turkey to manage migration at its Eastern border.

At the same time, the Commission will also provide EUR 2.2 billion until 2024 to support Syrian refugees in Jordan and in Lebanon. And we have invited Member States to contribute with further funding. Leaders have supported this strategic package. Now we will, as a Commission, work on a legal proposal and put that on the table.

The third subject was Russia. Indeed, we agreed on a united long-term and strategic European approach, based on the report that was presented last week. As the report details out, we are right now in a negative spiral and we need to brace for further downturn. So we agreed to push back when Russia targets the European Union and what we stand for, when it violates human rights; to constrain Russia, when it attempts to undermine our interests. And we will engage Russia, when it is in our interest to do so, to achieve our goals - for example if we talk about climate change or if we talk about public health.

We have a position of strength. Because if you look at the economic relationship, you see that Russia represents less than 5% of goods that are being imported to the European Union. But if you look at the reverse import, the European Union is Russia's biggest trade partner and we account for more than 37% of the import to Russia. And this imbalance is likely to grow as Russia's economy is built on oil and gas, it is 25% of its GDP, but the world is moving away from fossil fuels. And Russia will have to adapt its economy, while in the European Union, with the European Green Deal, we enhance our resilience, in going more and more into renewables.

Last but not least, as Charles said, we had an intense and very frank discussion about values. This discussion was needed. It was a factual discussion and it was a very personal and emotional discussion at the same time. And it was a personal and emotional discussion, because it is about people's lives and it is about their dignity and their feelings, and their identity, and it is also about what we believe in, in our European Union. Our Treaties are very clear on our values. They are enshrined in the Article 2 of our European Treaty. That is the respect for human rights, the equality, the human dignity, freedom, non-discrimination and others. These are our foundation. And we will live up to these values.

Last week I have already expressed my concerns about the Hungarian law. Yesterday, most of us were very clear that the new Hungarian law goes against our values. And therefore, at the Commission, we have assessed this law thoroughly, we have written to the Hungarian authorities, the Hungarian government, detailing out our legal concerns. Now it is for them to answer.

There was an overwhelming support in the room that we will defend our values because Europe is first of all a Union of values. It is also a Union of a Single Market, it is also a Union of the single currency, but it is first of all a Union of values, of protection of minorities, of non-discrimination. And a culture of tolerance and acceptance is a bedrock against discrimination. We will protect all citizens, wherever they live in our Union and whomever they love.


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