(Source: European Commission)
Thank you very much,
and I would also like to express my thanks for the warm welcome I have been given here and for the impressive visiting talk on the subject of quantum communication that we have just had at the Institute – I found it fascinating. Thank you very much. I am pleased to be here today to talk about a very special subject, because I believe that we can now say that Austria and Europe have good reason to look to the future with confidence and hope.
We are facing two major issues. The first is the pandemic, of course, and we are making rapid progress with the European vaccination campaign. We have so far given 56% of adults in Europe their first dose of vaccine and 34% the full two doses. The vaccination programme is on the right track. And we are determined to take steps to mitigate the substantial economic downturn caused by this pandemic. Here, too, we Europeans have taken rapid action by working closely together.
Initially, the economy was left completely paralysed but, unlike the recent financial crisis, this time we deployed the right tools quickly and decisively in providing aid and the European Structural Funds, and we also made the Fiscal Compact more flexible, thereby preventing the worst consequences from the outset by pumping liquidity into the economy. We must now focus on rebuilding and relaunching the economy, and NextGenerationEU is the central pillar of this.
NextGenerationEU is, in a sense, an exceptional response to an exceptional crisis. And with this wide‑ranging package we will reshape Europe for the years and decades to come. We are investing in digitalisation as never before. We are making the European Green Deal a reality. And we are putting Europe in a better position for the future, so that it is also better prepared for future crises. NextGenerationEU is worth EUR 800 billion at current prices. It is the largest stimulus package in Europe since the Marshall Plan. It brings reforms and investments that Europe needs now.
I am pleased to inform Austria that the European Commission gave the green light to the Austrian recovery plan this morning. I would like to thank you very much for the excellent cooperation between Austria and the European Union, i.e. Vienna and Brussels. Austria will receive funding of almost EUR 3.5 billion in the coming years; as soon as the plan has been approved by the European Council, the first payments will be disbursed. If everything goes according to plan, this will happen before the end of July.
The reforms and investments that Austria will undertake through its plan will significantly speed up decarbonisation and digitalisation. Looking at the Austrian plan, 58% of the investment – of the money – will go to sustainable projects. I believe that the flagship project of a sustainable and social tax reform that will charge a carbon price will be right at the forefront of this; but it will also bring about massive investments, including in sustainability, and a very significant step towards social equity.
This 58%, which feeds into the European Green Deal, makes Austria the real frontrunner in Europe. There are other investments, for example in clean mobility, zero-emission buses, electric vehicles and the installation of electric charging stations. All of these things will also drive the economy along the road to a climate-neutral future.
However, the Austrian plan will also invest considerable resources in our second major priority, digitalisation. The figure for this is 52% – so we can see some overlap, since of course digitalisation is also a basic prerequisite for getting sustainable and eco-friendly projects off the ground. To give you one very simple example: if Austria invests in modernising heating and cooling systems in buildings and this is done electronically, the environment will benefit and the fact that it is controlled digitally contributes further to digitalisation.
Significant investment is being put into training and development, precisely in the field of digitalisation, so that people are also qualified for the jobs of the future. I was impressed to see this morning that Austria is a world leader in quantum technology and quantum communication. Austria is also closely involved in cross-border projects in Europe, for instance in the development of a hydrogen industry. These are precisely the projects we want to support with NextGenerationEU.
In short, the Austrian plan fulfils all of the challenging criteria. It is ambitious and far-sighted. Most importantly, it will help Austria to emerge stronger from the crisis. This will benefit the Austrian people but also the rest of us in Europe. That is why I am very pleased to be able to hand over the document as it were and thereby approve the Austrian plan.