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Opening remarks by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel and Prime Minister Janša following the meeting of the European Council of 16 December 2021

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op vrijdag 17 december 2021.

First of all, I also want to thank you, dear Janez, for the excellent cooperation during your Presidency. It was an impressive report that you just gave. It showed all the challenges that you had to face but also the enormous successes of this Presidency. And allow me to just briefly focus on a few topics of today's Council.

Indeed, the pandemic was our first and foremost topic. Even as we battle this time the Delta variant still, we know that the Omicron variant is really threatening us. It is spreading at a ferocious pace and potentially has the risk of escaping our vaccines, at least partially. We know that our healthcare systems are overstretched right now. This is partly linked to the large number of unvaccinated patients. So in conclusion, the answer can only be to increase vaccination, to include children above five-years old, boosting and protective measures - that has to be the answer we give to this new variant. But there is also hope because we are in a much better position than last year. We are able today to produce 300 million doses of vaccines per month in the European Union. HERA is up and running. The EU Digital COVID Certificate is a big success. And by now, the European Union is indeed the largest exporter and donor of vaccines worldwide.

If we look at the deliveries of doses, I want to emphasise that the Commission has delivered on its commitment to provide Member States with millions of doses to carry out their vaccination campaigns. Actually, it is more than 1 billion doses that have been delivered. We continue to encourage Member States to order the necessary quantities for the months to come. We have also discussed the question of possible adaptation of vaccines. I informed the Leaders that our contracts foresee that the companies will develop adapted vaccines, if requested, within 100 days. And we are working very closely with EMA, the European Medicines Agency, to make sure that it uses the most streamlined procedure possible to assess any further vaccine development. In this context, I am glad to inform you that the Member States have agreed to trigger a first tranche of over 180 million extra doses of adapted vaccines, in our third contract with BioNTech-Pfizer.

Finally, a word on the Certificate in times of pandemic. I informed the Leaders that the Commission will present a delegated act. We will ensure a common approach on boosters and the length of validity of the Certificate. Boosters are recommended at the latest six months after full vaccination. And the Certificate will remain valid for a grace period of three months beyond this.

Briefly turning to migration. We reflected on how we can draw lessons from our answers to the hybrid attack at our borders with Belarus. And we agreed to work on two strands. The first one is: strengthening the cooperation with countries of origin and transit to improve the situation on returns. Janez Janša has described the success that we had with Vice-President Schinas reaching out to countries of origin. To do this, to draw the lesson from this successful action, I will set up a European Coordination for External Aspects of Migration at the level of Vice-President Schinas and Commissioner Johansson. And this proposal was very well received by the Leaders.

Second, we will make sure that the EU legal framework is fit for purpose, in particular to address this so-called instrumentalisation of people, like it happened in Belarus. The Commission is also delivering on this. Because this week, we proposed changes to the Schengen Borders Code, covering both the external as well as the internal borders. And finally, of course, I reminded Leaders that to make the most out of these efforts, we need to work on a swift adoption of the Pact on Migration and Asylum.

This leads me to the last topic, that is Ukraine and Russia. Our concerns related to Russia's military build-up on the eastern Ukrainian border are well known. Our position is very clear. We maintain our call on Russia to de-escalate tensions and refrain from any further aggression. We would like to be in a situation where relations with Russia are good, but this is very much depending on the choices made by Moscow. Let there be no doubt: If Russia were to move against Ukraine, the Union will be in a position to take sanctions that could extract a massive cost. We have done our work in that respect.

Thank you.


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