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Von der Leyen’s State of the Union: A post-pandemic future with a brief look at climate

Halfway through her mandate, President Ursula Von der Leyen today addressed the European Parliament during her second State of the European Union address.

She started with a reference to the youth and the European Green Deal, but came back to the climate crisis and the need for urgent actions only around 30 minutes later, first emphasizing the need for fast recovery post-COVID, economic competitiveness and innovation. Her speech covered European and global health, especially with reference to the COVID-19 response, the next generation, competitiveness, digitalisation, international cooperation, and recovery. The reference to the Green Deal was not so prominent, aside from the acknowledgement of the IPCC report and the urgency of reacting.

Céline Charveriat, IEEP Executive Director, stated: 

“We welcome President Von der Leyen’s focus on youth and accent on the responsibility we owe them. However, President Von der Leyen’s proposals fall far too short of what would be needed to keep Europe’s children and future generations safe from climate instability, pollution and the mass extinction of species.

While we welcome her announcements on the increase of funding for biodiversity and the additional €4 billion for climate change, I feel that this year’s SOTEU statement lacks coherence with the Commission’s agenda. How long can the Commission maintain its gymnastic split with one leg highly on ambitious proposals for decarbonisation, and the other on unqualified support to the return to growth and digitalisation – both of which are potent drivers for pollution, climate change, material scarcity and biodiversity worldwide?”

What is needed are concrete steps towards building a well-being economy. This also requires a shift in emphasis in health policies from cure to prevention, building on the Zero pollution action plan to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals and particles, but going far beyond. A one-health approach would require a plan to restore ecosystems, zoonose prevention policies tackling risks linked with biodiversity loss and industrial livestock, the promotion of healthier lifestyles including access to nutritious and sustainable foods, access to green spaces and low carbon leisure, as well as a better work-life balance.

Photo © European Commission

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