Keynote address by President von der Leyen at the International WDR Europaforum 2021

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to the WDR Europaforum. The debates here are now more important than ever, because increasingly decisions with a direct impact on citizens are made at European level. Just think of the fight against climate change, or the question of how to restart our economy after the coronavirus emergency.

I am also thinking of the issue that has been uppermost in many of our minds over recent weeks – vaccinations. Initially, there was a great deal of criticism of the EU. But what counts in the end is that, day-after-day, the European Union is reliably supplying vaccine for its 450 million citizens. And we can say we did this together – as a community.

Using that as a benchmark, our European vaccination campaign is a success. Let me quote a few up-to-date figures. By the end of this week, around 260 million doses of vaccine will have been delivered in Europe. That is already more than enough to vaccinate half of all adults in Europe. Every second, on average, 30 people in Europe are being vaccinated, meaning that, by the end of my speech, some 20 000 more will have received a dose. Altogether, we have managed to administer more than 200 million vaccinations in Europe so far, and the pace is still accelerating.

The most important thing for the future of Europe is that we have not allowed ourselves to become divided. All 27 Member States, whether large or small, richer or poorer, have pulled together. This has been a once-in-a-century pandemic, and we can all be proud of what we have achieved – and also thankful. Thankful to those working for the health authorities. To doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers in vaccination centres, hospitals and general practice clinics. To the scientific community, and to all those who have helped get us to where we are today, where we can begin to start looking to the future. Wherever we are in our European Union.

Things are going well. The objective is that, by the end of July, 70% of all adults in Europe will have been offered a jab. Let me put that figure into context – 70% by July is almost the same goal that the USA has currently set. This shows how much the pace of our vaccination campaigns has now converged. It is true that certain countries, such as the USA and the UK, were somewhat faster initially. But we have caught up since then.

It is always worth looking at the big picture when making such comparisons. Other countries are keeping their entire vaccine production for themselves. Europe will reach its vaccination goals without cutting itself off. We are now the world’s biggest vaccine exporter. To date, we have exported more than 220 million doses to the rest of the world, about the same number of doses we have administered in Europe. Vaccines produced in the EU are being sent to close allies such as Canada and the UK. We are supplying our friends in Japan, Singapore, Mexico and Colombia, as well as the COVAX vaccine alliance set up to help poorer countries.

We are the only region in the world that has managed to provide for its own population while giving others their fair share. We can all be proud of the fact that in this crisis Europe has set an example of fairness and openness.

These European-made vaccines are helping to contain the virus – and thus prevent further mutations – in many parts of the world. We have to protect each other. That is why we call on all producer countries to follow Europe’s lead, because we will only really be safe when everyone is protected.

However, we are already planning ahead. We need booster jabs. We also want to offer vaccines to children and young people as soon as possible. We must also react quickly to dangerous variants using improved vaccines. This is why we have concluded a new contract with BioNTech-Pfizer, who will again be supplying us with up to 1.8 billion vaccine doses. Europe is ahead of the curve here. This contract is the world’s biggest for vaccines and is Europe’s life insurance against a never-ending crisis.

We also have our neighbours and friends in mind. In practice, for us this means supporting Africa to build its own vaccine capacity; something we have just agreed on in Paris. Our aim is to facilitate knowledge transfer. Pharmaceutical companies are issuing licences and staff are being trained at universities and in dual training programmes. Africa is setting up its own medicines agency. The EU is also helping with know-how and finance. Vaccines need to be produced everywhere in future. All of these things also help protect us in Europe.

At the same time, we are together setting ourselves new goals. We are now shaping the decades to come. In the past year, Europe has already launched a project of unprecedented magnitude. Because we are a strong single market, we are investing together in the economic recovery after the coronavirus that Europe so much needs. With the backing of all 27 Member States, we are mobilising EUR 750 billion.

NextGenerationEU is the largest recovery plan in Europe since the Marshall Plan. And a once-in-a-century investment in the cohesion of our community. This boost will enable Europe not only to emerge stronger from the crisis, but also to provide a powerful response to the major challenges of our time: digitalisation and climate change.

You all know that the weather is becoming more and more extreme. Droughts, floods, storms, dying forests. And biodiversity loss. Climate change is a reality. And the message from the scientists is clear: we have to act. Now.

Europe’s plan is in place: the European Green Deal, which my Commission proposed one and a half years ago, has the backing of all 27 Member States. Europe aims to be the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. And many other countries are now following our lead: South Africa, South Korea, Japan, China and also the USA – they are all now announcing targets for an emissions-free future. This is giving us a tailwind. And it shows that Europe can be a pioneer!

It is good to hear the announcements on global climate action. It is, however, at least as important to back up these commitments with practical projects. Here too, Europe is a model. Here too, we are setting an example for the world. In April, Europe initiated the first ever European Climate Law. As a result, the European Union’s climate goals are now legally binding – they apply to us all. Climate neutrality by 2050, a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Next, in the summer, we will set out the specific individual steps by which we intend to achieve these goals. We’ve called the package ‘Fit for 55′. It ranges from an improved emissions trading system, to requirements for renewable energy sources, to capturing CO2 in more forests and wetlands.

We are thus doing exactly what the Federal Constitutional Court recently called on Germany to do: we are not simply passing on difficult decisions to future generations. Instead, Europe is acting in the here and now and is showing the way forward far into the future. The EU is setting the pace and the European Green Deal is becoming a role model for worldwide action to protect the climate.

Europe is going even further by making climate protection its new growth strategy. We have the research capacity and we have the innovative businesses. That is why what is coming now is an opportunity for our economy. Europe is continuing to invest in progress. More than a third of the EUR 750 billion in our recovery plan is earmarked for the European Green Deal.

This has the potential to provide an enormous boost: for the climate-friendly refurbishment of old buildings, for a clean, hydrogen-powered steel industry, or for the expansion of the charging infrastructure for electric cars. The competition for the best projects is open. And I hope that innovative companies from Germany will continue to be amongst those at the forefront!

Ladies and gentlemen,

Europe has stirred into action and has proven its worth in the crisis. And Europe continues to deliver for its citizens every day, just as our mothers and fathers hoped when they founded our Europe. We are helping our businesses through the crisis whilst remaining open and fair to the rest of the world.

For our children, this Europe is now a continent full of opportunities. A force for good in the world. A democratic union that, although it has its internal debates, is showing by its actions that it is not forgetting about tomorrow, but shaping it. This Europe is our best chance for a good future. That’s worth fighting for. Every day afresh.

Thank you.

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