Many people are looking to Brussels with a great deal of frustration right now. This has something to do with the procurement of vaccines. Yes, the procurement of vaccines could have been better. Admitting something like this is also an indispensable prerequisite for learning from mistakes in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen, I firmly believe that the joint European procurement of vaccines was the only sensible way forward. After all, what would have been the alternative? A European race, everyone against everyone else, for the scarce vaccine? A few vaccinated countries in the middle of a crisis-stricken continent? I don’t even want to imagine that in a Europe of solidarity. I’m convinced that this approach would have torn the European Union apart.
But above all, ladies and gentlemen, the day-to-day crisis management that we are all contending with must not cloud our view of how Europe can emerge stronger from this crisis in the long term. We will only succeed here if we continue down the path of solidarity that we embarked upon last year.
The European Commission’s Work Programme for 2021 puts our objective in a nutshell, namely a fairer, greener and more digital society. Mini reforms will no longer be sufficient to achieve this. Instead, we need impetus for genuine transformation. The key to shaping this transformation in line with our values and interests ultimately lies above all in a sovereign Europe in a spirit of solidarity.
During the six months of our Presidency of the Council of the European Union, we were able to lay important groundwork to this end. Now, together with our trio partners Portugal and Slovenia, we’re working to ensure that these things are also implemented. The agreement on the financial framework and the recovery instrument to the tune of 750 billion euro was nothing other than a historic act of European solidarity.
The priority now is to make the corresponding funds available quickly. The necessary decisions for this must therefore be taken in all member states and the plans made in Brussels and after Brussels must finally be set in motion. The new rule of law mechanism and the human rights sanctions regime strengthen the European community of shared values; this is now more necessary than ever given all the discussions we have had in the European Union with regard to the rule of law, for example.
To mention a few concrete examples, especially from an area that has a very promising future, namely the digital transformation, we have got many things off the ground with the General Data Protection Regulation, and we will now continue this with the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act. These are projects that are currently being pursued with a great amount of intensity in Brussels. We laid firm foundations for this during our Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Coupled with ambitious investments, this is the basis for a digitally sovereign Europe, for a people-centred digital model that can prevail over purely market-driven or repressive models that we also see around the world.
With the SURE instrument, we have made Europe more social and more just; after all, ladies and gentlemen, it’s not just banks or large corporations that lie at the heart of crisis management, but people. It’s also good that we will continue this paradigm shift at the Social Summit in Portugal in May.
Ladies and gentlemen, with our ambitious climate target, Europe has once again taken a global lead in the fight against climate change in time for COP26 in Glasgow. I’m pleased – and this will help us to live up to the global ambition inherent to this issue – that we now finally have the Americans on board once again.
In terms of foreign policy, too, the European Union has gained clout and has also enhanced its profile, despite many problems and difficulties. Never before have we been so united on the need to address the challenges of China or Russia together. Our response to events in Hong Kong or most recently in the Navalny case shows this, I think, very clearly and concretely.
We will also pursue this path with regard to other conflicts that we’re dealing with internationally. With the European Peace Facility and the European Centre of Excellence for Civilian Crisis Management, we have created instruments that enhance our ability to act in crises and which also make us a stronger transatlantic partner.
Ladies and gentlemen, we will continue to drive all of this forward with a new strategic compass that we want to adopt together in Europe this year and in which we will also enshrine Europe’s commitment to multilateralism. Since we will be judged not by our words but by our deeds, the European Union and its member states have supported the COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the equitable distribution of vaccines to the tune of three billion euro to date.
Fellow Members of this House, day-to-day crisis management and strategic action with a view to guiding Europe out of the crisis permanently and better preparing it for the crises that will emerge in the future – these two things must proceed hand in hand in the coming months. In terms of answering the question as to what Europe should look like in ten or 20 years from now, we should, first and foremost, listen to the people of Europe. This is why we hope that the Conference on the Future of Europe will finally get under way in May.
Fellow Members of this House, all of these are mammoth tasks that await us, but a sovereign Europe in a spirit of solidarity is well equipped to take on such challenges.
Thank you very much.