(Source: European Commission)
“Check against delivery”
It feels good to be back in Strasbourg again. Our last regular meeting in this hemicycle was in February 2020. More than a year ago. And how the world has changed since then! Little did we know back then that a global pandemic would shut down our economies, put enormous pressure on our societies and profoundly change our way of life.
While it is undisputed that this pandemic has had a horrible impact on our societies and economies, it has also challenged and mobilised us to think about – and do – the extraordinary. With the strong backing of this Parliament and our Member States, we have launched an unprecedented financial assistance package. And we have done so at record speed.
NextGenerationEU empowers our Union to invest hundreds of billions in a much-needed joint recovery, and to invest in our common priorities. With NextGenerationEU, we are transforming our continent for the decades ahead. We are digitalising our economies. We are making the European Green Deal a reality. And we are making our societies stronger and more resilient. Our plan is worth EUR 750 billion. It is the largest recovery project in Europe since the Marshall Plan. It is the recovery Europe needs now and for the future.
We succeed because we realised in this fundamental global crisis that we should not tear ourselves apart in the old patterns: we did not divide into Northern Europeans, Southern Europeans, Central Eastern Europeans, frugals, friends of cohesion – no. This time we agreed that there is the one and only goal that matters and that is to fight this pandemic as a European Union.
Already next week, the Commission will start approving the first national plans for Council adoption. This is a landmark achievement. From agreeing on NextGenerationEU at our four-day Summit last July to the approval of the first plans, it took us less than a year. Today I want to thank everybody who made this possible: the European Parliament, for your support for NextGenerationEU and for the Recovery and Resilience Facility. All 27 Member States, for the huge amount of work they have put into their plans. And also more than 300 colleagues at the European Commission, who are working on these plans almost around the clock, together with their national counterparts, and together with you in the European Parliament.
So after less than a year we are there: our green and digital recovery is about to begin. The money will start flowing in the coming weeks. Up to now, we have received 23 national plans. These plans send a clear message: Europeans are ready for a new start. Our citizens are ready to embrace a more sustainable, more digital and more resilient future. That is exactly the future we want to build with NextGenerationEU.
Let us deep-dive for a moment into these plans. Because behind all the spreadsheets and countless figures, national plans allow us a glimpse into Europe’s future. They address structural challenges more comprehensively than ever before. Labour market reforms will reinforce social safety nets and inclusion. Fiscal reforms will make public finances and tax systems more sustainable. Strengthened governance will improve the business environment, especially for SMEs. And digitalisation of education and our economies will boost Europe’s competitiveness on a global scale.
These plans show that Europeans have a clear vision of what is necessary for their future with cross-border projects on renewable hydrogen, with precision medicine powered by AI and smart, clean transport for suburban areas. To name just a few projects.
Let me give you some figures. Firstly, for nature and climate protection: as things stand today, the Member States are going to be investing some EUR 50 billion in clean energy, for example the generation of renewables or green hydrogen. Another EUR 50 billion is earmarked for the renovation of buildings of all kinds, from social housing to administrative buildings. And at least EUR 85 billion will be used to boost sustainable transport – digital railway infrastructure, charging stations for electric cars, or seamless urban mobility.
These are exactly the kinds of investment we want to encourage, because transport and buildings today are among the main emitters of greenhouse gases. We see the same ambition with regard to our other landmark goal – digitalisation. We already know that, taken together, all the Member States will be investing significantly more in digitalisation than the 20% required under NextGenerationEU. From cross-border 5G corridors to the roll-out of broadband to rural areas, from the digitalisation of public services to the development of the next generation of microprocessors — all these are indeed plans for the next generation.
Almost all Member States want to enhance the digital skills of young people. They are addressing youth unemployment, investing in childcare and in upgrading their universities. All this shows that Europeans are on their way out of the crisis.
Now we have to implement these plans. And there, Honourable Members, I once again count on you! In recent weeks, you have been scrutinising the national plans. And you came up with legitimate questions. We value your contribution. We will continue to meet regularly for our structured dialogue. Because, as always, the Parliament is our partner when it comes to improving our European Union. Our experts at the Commission will continue to be available to discuss with you. They carefully assess whether each and every national plan meets the objectives, we have agreed upon.
And let us remind ourselves: at least 37% of investment has to go into projects that contribute to our European Green Deal. And 20% must be for digitalisation. These objectives are set in stone. And from what we see so far, if anything, quite a number of plans are even more ambitious.
With NextGenerationEU, we decided to make our recovery a European recovery. NextGenerationEU can deliver so much more than 27 individual recovery plans ever could. This will further unite our Union. We, Europeans, are in this crisis together. We will come out of it together. And we will come out stronger than ever before. With NextGenerationEU, Europe has shown how much we can achieve, when we all work together.
So with more confidence than ever, I say: Long live Europe!