Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the conclusions of the European Council meeting of 15 December 2022

President Metsola, dear Roberta,

President Michel, dear Charles,

Honourable Members,

First of all, let me wish a very happy birthday to you, President Metsola. I am sure I am speaking for all Members of this House when I say how much I admire the strength and the resolve you bring to your position as President of the European Parliament. Because this kind of strength and resolve is exactly what Europe needs as Russia’s war against Ukraine continues.

The latest symbol of Russia’s terror is – you all might have seen it – a yellow kitchen. A very simple yellow kitchen in an apartment building in Dnipro. One day, the room is filled with happiness. A little girl celebrates her birthday, surrounded by this yellow furniture and by a loving family. The day after, the kitchen is no more. The family is no more. The girl’s father has been killed by Russian missiles. All their lives have been shattered by Russian imperialism. This is what Ukraine is standing up against. This is what we are all standing up against. We have just launched, as European Union, the first tranche of EUR 3 billion from our EUR 18 billion support package for 2023. And again, we will remain at Ukraine’s side for as long as it takes.

We have also shown strength and resolve to replace Russian fossil fuels and to bring down prices. Our joint efforts are paying off now. Gas prices are now lower than they were before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Prices for Dutch TTF have dropped more than 80% since August. We have been able to replace most of the Russian fossil fuels. Our gas storages are still over 80% full. This is among the highest level ever for this time of the year. And most importantly, we managed to double the amount of additional renewable energy that was coming to our market during the last year. Of course, some external factors helped – the mild winter and China’s COVID-19 lockdown. But at the same time, other external factors also made our life more difficult. Exactly this unusual warm and dry weather also resulted in a sharp decrease in hydropower, you all recall it.

So, we have been able to completely get rid of the Russian coal; we have been able to wind down the Russian oil; we have been able to really fence off the blackmail of Russia concerning gas because Putin decided to cut 80% of the gas supply, and this was a big strategic mistake. We freed ourselves from his grip. Thus, Honourable Members, that we came through this winter safely is first and foremost the result of unity and the result of collective hard work. And I think we should take pride in this. So, for this winter, we are safe. But we are not out of the woods yet. We now have to prepare for next winter. And here, the joint Energy Platform is up and running. With the support of Member States and European industry, we are creating a European consortium that will allow us to aggregate demand and effectively leverage the EU’s political and market weight – that is what we always wanted, our collective market power of 27. Now, we aim at launching negotiations with the key international gas suppliers already in early spring with the aim to conclude first joint contracts well before summer.

Honourable Members,

These achievements show the power of Europe’s collective ambition and will. And we need more of the same for the year ahead of us. And it is good to know that the Swedish Presidency shares this ambition. Because not only our energy systems are at a crossroads; the competitiveness of the whole of our economy needs to be maintained. This transformational task is huge. Just keep in mind that in less than three decades, we want to reach net zero. That is a huge transformation. Everybody knows that the key to manage – or even better to lead this transformation – is our clean-tech sector. The International Energy Agency estimates that the market for mass-manufactured clean energy tech will be worth around USD 650 billion a year by 2030 – more than triple today’s value. And this is why, of course, the United States put forward the Inflation Reduction Action. We discussed the pros and the cons here in the Plenary in December.

Today I want to lay out our answer. That is the Green Deal Industrial Plan. The Green Deal Industrial Plan will be built on four pillars. The first pillar is about speed and access. We need to create a regulatory environment that allows us to scale up fast and to create conducive conditions for the clean-tech industry. It is about speed and access, over and over. If there is one thing the companies are complaining about, it is that, for example, permitting is too slow and that there are too many barriers. So, to help make this change happen – speed and access –, we will put forward a new Net-Zero Industry Act. What is it? Just think, this Act will follow the same model as the Chips Act. It will especially look at how to simplify and fast-track permitting for new clean-tech production sites. Competitiveness, that is the key word; enable the companies to go forward with innovation and with production – that is so crucial.

The second pillar of the Green Deal Industrial Plan will boost investment and financing of clean-tech production. We will propose to temporarily adapt our state aid rules to speed up again and to simplify. Easier calculations, simpler procedures, accelerated approvals. For example, with simple tax-break models. But at the same time, if we give state aid, and this is for the level playing field globally, we have to be very careful that we preserve the level playing field for businesses all across Europe, so in our Single Market. And thus, the other side of the coin of state aid, beyond the European Sovereignty Fund that I announced in my State of the Union, is that we will have to look into a bridging solution to provide fast and targeted financial support where it is most needed for the clean-tech sector. State aid as one side of the coin, investment as the other side of the coin.

The third pillar of the Green Deal Industrial Plan has to do with skills, people. Just two figures as an example. The battery industry will need 800,000 skilled worked by 2025. This figure is huge. So, this is why we launched the European Battery Academy. This is one part to address this topic. Or take the solar industry. One million skilled workers are needed by 2030. This is twice as many as we have today. This is a huge challenge, but it is also a huge opportunity to create good jobs, well-paying jobs, the jobs of the future. And this will be the absolute priority for our European Year of Skills.

Finally, the fourth pillar: we will follow through with our ambitious trade agenda. For clean tech to deliver net zero globally, there will be a need for strong and resilient supply chains. And this is linked to trade. We will seek to conclude new trade agreements with Chile, with Mexico, with New Zealand, with Australia. We will do everything to progress with India, with Indonesia. And we now have a unique window of opportunity to finally take forward the EU-Mercosur agreement.

So, Honourable Members, this is the plan. Time is of the essence. And I count on your support to make it happen.

Long live Europe.

Thank you.