Opening remarks by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel following the Special European Council meeting of 2 October 2020

© European Union, 2021, Source: EC - Audiovisual Service, Ursula von der Leyen© European Union, 2021, Source: EC - Audiovisual Service, Ursula von der Leyen

Merci, thank you very much.

It was very good that the Leaders decided to devote time to our collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The epidemiological situation is worrying, so we must stay very focused to avoid a return to the dire situation we experienced last spring. And we can only overcome both the pandemic and its consequences if we work together, Member States and EU institutions. And therefore, this debate was very deep diving and three things from this debate stand out.

First of all, progress on vaccines is the key to a long-term solution to this crisis. We are making good progress. The Commission has already concluded two Advanced Purchase Agreements, and it is negotiating five more and we are in discussions with four more companies. So this is on a good track, because through these Advanced Purchase Agreements, we are investing in production capacities right now to ensure that the access to the vaccines is there for the European citizens. So ramping up the production lines, buying now raw material and all the necessary ingredients that you need to ramp up then the production once we have the vaccine. The second point is the Vaccines Strategy – whom to vaccinate first. The Commission has put forward a blueprint for a vaccine plan before the summer break and good news is that it has been adopted now with the Health Security Committee, so. So we can move on with a Council recommendation based on this blueprint.

And thirdly, we discussed that we must do a better job in coordinating our assessment and the measures to be taken across Member States. In short, I would call it the ‘colour-code’. So what does it mean if a region is red or orange or green, and what are the common rules for that. Weeks ago, we tabled a proposal for a Council recommendation on this. And I urged the Member States to find an agreement on it now, because it increases transparency and clarity for the European people to know how to move on in different regions of Europe.

The other topic are the Council conclusions on the Single Market and the Digital. Three pillars stand out here, three pillars of competitiveness and, indeed, prosperity. First of all, a well-functioning Single Market is crucial for us. We should remember that trade between Member States amounts to roughly 25% of GDP, and that 60 million jobs depend on it. Second, a competitive industry – industry provides 37 million jobs in the European Union, and two-thirds of our exports. And of course, thirdly, the need for a successful Digital Transition. Discussions on how to improve the functioning of the Single Market have been ongoing for years. The issues are well-known, two stand out particularly: First of all, remaining barriers, notably in the area of services; and second, problems with implementation that deprive companies from the benefits of a large and deep market, which is the source of our wealth. To accelerate the pace in this area, the Commission will present a first monitoring report early next year. And then, we will build on this to work concretely with Member States and stakeholders to resolve the problems companies face on a daily basis.

With regards to industry, the priority is to join forces in key strategic areas and ensure our industry can compete on a global scale. As you know, we presented our new Industry Strategy in March, to ensure industry can lead the twin green and digital transition.

Clearly, the last six months have accelerated the transformation and changed a lot: Supply chains have been disrupted, the lack of production facilities in the European Union for certain critical products became an issue, remote digital working methods became the norm for millions of workers.

So to take all this into account, we will update the Industry Strategy in the first half of next year. It will be an opportunity to take stock of where we are with industrial alliances for key technologies, such as batteries, microelectronics or hydrogen, and efforts to improve our resilience such as on raw materials.

But of course, for our work on these alliances to bear fruit, we need to ensure a proper level playing field. In this respect, two priorities stand out: First of all, we are carrying out a comprehensive review on how to adapt EU competition rules. We need to make them fit for purpose in a globalised and digital world.

And secondly, we are working at full speed on legislative proposals on foreign subsidies from third countries. We know that these foreign subsidies from third countries can significantly distort the functioning of our Single Market, and disadvantage EU market operators.

Finally, on the digital transition, Europe clearly needs to ‘up its game’. As I said last week in the European Parliament, we must make this Europe’s Digital Decade. There are three priorities. The first one is data: We need to play our strengths in the area of industrial data. The quality of this data and the quantity will quadruple in the next five years. And we need to enable companies to harness this potential. At the moment being, 80% of these industrial data are never used once.

So we will work on two strands to have the access for European companies, European universities, European researchers, to these industrial data in Europe. We will create common data spaces in which researchers, universities and companies can access and collaborate – for example, in the energy or healthcare sector, to help unlock these hidden data. And second, building a European cloud as part of NextGenerationEU – based on Gaia-X.

The second pillar in the Digital Decade is artificial intelligence – with a tremendous potential. But it needs rules to ensure proper use and oversight. So the Commission will propose a law to this effect next year. And we also aim to soon propose a secure European digital identity. Because we think that you should be able to do many, many things in the digital topic here in Europe, with your European identity – from paying taxes, to renting a car, you name it.

And the third topic is the infrastructure, proper data connections. We should not forget that in particular, if we focus on the 40% of people who live in rural areas who still do not have access to fast broadband, that here we have to step up and improve. It is a question of equal opportunities.

And this is why we will focus our investments on secure connectivity, on the expansion of 5G, 6G and fibre. And therefore, we will push forward this Digital Decade, while investing 20% of NextGenerationEU on the digital. Because it is about Europe’s digital sovereignty. We have to work on that.

Thank you.