European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned against a “non-vaccination epidemic” in a speech on Wednesday that also focused on urging other countries to step up the fight against climate change.
In her second “State of the Union” address as President of the European Commission, Ms von der Leyen highlighted issues that could potentially rock the EU and called for greater independence for the bloc in technology and defense policies. .
The past two years have tested the EU’s resilience against the COVID-19 pandemic, the relative disparity in economic recovery among its members, Brexit, and restrictions on the rule of law among some of its eastern members.
Wednesday’s speech showed EU leaders are also concerned with the challenges facing the EU’s rapidly evolving vaccination rollout after it stumbled earlier this year.
By the end of August, 70 percent of the European Union’s adult population was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a feat that has also revealed large differences between EU countries.
Ms von der Leyen expressed concern over varying vaccination rates in the EU and pledged to donate another 200 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine by the middle of next year on top of a previous promise to donate 250 million doses.
“Let’s do everything possible (so that) it doesn’t turn into a pandemic without vaccination,” he told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France.
Nineteen EU economies will regain their pre-pandemic size this year, with others after next year, she said.
Ms von der Leyen’s speech also focused on tackling the climate crisis, vowing to allocate €4bn by 2027 to strengthen poor countries’ climate strategies and help them adapt to its impact.
The head of the EU Commission called on the US to adopt a similar strategy and increase support for third world countries.
“But we expect the United States and our allies to step up as well. This is important because closing the climate finance gap together, the US and the EU will be such a strong signal to global climate leadership,” she said.
World leaders will face the challenge of climate finance at the Cop26 summit that begins in November. In particular, many Western leaders are expected to step up financial commitments to sharply cut emissions and prevent catastrophic climate events.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the army’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, Ms von der Leyen sought to move on to an independent EU defense strategy. Under his presidency, the bloc has failed to build unity among member states around a comprehensive and autonomous defense strategy, partly due to fierce opposition from influential member states.
But the disastrous collapse of the Afghan army and the Taliban’s swift military victory in Afghanistan raised concerns about the political will of the European Union and its ability to intervene militarily without relying on US military power.
“The more fundamental issue is why it hasn’t worked in the past,” she said. “You may have the most advanced forces in the world, but what’s the use of them if you’re never ready to use them?
“What has held us back so far is not just a lack of capacity, it is a lack of political will.”
The first female chair of the European Union’s executive, she promised a new legal act to combat violence against women in the bloc and new legal protections to strengthen the protection of journalists.
Her aim, Ms von der Leyen said, was “to have a union that is both beautifully unique and uniquely beautiful.”
Additional reporting by agencies
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /