On 16 September, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen delivered her annual State of the Union speech in front of the European Parliament’s Plenary. This speech is traditionally delivered every year by the President of the European Commission to the European Parliament plenary session in September and presents the Commission’s upcoming initiatives for the next 12 months. President Von der Leyen presented her vision for a Europe that emerges stronger from the pandemic and leads the way towards a new economy. The speech focused on the European Commission’s work regarding the recovery from COVID-19, social policy, digitalization, sustainability and EU’s external policy.
One of the key items of the speech was digitalization. President Von der Leyen stated that, in the past few months, the EU has experienced great progress in digital transformation and argued that the forthcoming decade could be seen as ‘Europe’s digital decade’. She argued that to do so, the European Union has to take a leadership role in three key areas:
The European Commission wants to foster the creation of a European data economy. President Von der Leyen argued that the EU had been too slow on Business-to-Consumer (B2C) data and this should not happen to industrial data. The quantity of industrial data is expected to increase significantly in the next few years and, according to the Commission President, the EU must allow businesses to fully exploit that potential. She stated that common data collection and sharing would be a powerful driver of innovation. Therefore, the EU was progressing work on the establishment of a European Cloud via Gaia-X, which was just established as an association to join up cloud-hosting services from companies, allowing them to store their data and to move it freely and in compliance with Europe’s data protection rules.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The Commission believes that the use of AI in various sectors such as farming, healthcare and autonomous driving can foster European technological development. However, since algorithms must not create black boxes, the Commission will introduce legislation in this field to ensure the supervision of personal data. The Commission is currently working on an EU-wide digital identity proposal (eID), which would allow citizens to make use of a variety of services from renting a bike to paying their taxes without worrying about the protection of their personal data.
The speech highlighted that building digital infrastructure is needed to foster digitalization throughout the EU, most specifically regarding rural areas, as currently 40 % of people living in rural areas in the EU do not have adequate broadband access. To achieve this, the Commission will work on a common approach towards broadband access and secure connectivity (5G, 6G, fiberglass). Furthermore, Von der Leyen argued that the European industry needs to develop its own driver for investment in the digital economy for Europe to regain control over its future and achieve digital sovereignty. Therefore, 20% (€6.8 billion) of the Next Generation EU recovery package will be dedicated to digital development in order to propel the EU into the digital age. In addition to that, the Commission will invest €8 billion euro to develop EU-made supercomputers.
In relation to the COVID-19 outbreak, she mentioned that the crisis has shown how linked our economies are: The Single Market played a crucial role and the Commission would prioritise cutting barriers and red tape, and strengthen enforcement.
Finally, President Von der Leyen repeated her promise that the EU will act alone in early 2021 on the introduction of a EU digital tax, in case no global agreement on a fair digital tax has been reached by the end of 2020 at the OECD level. With regards to a carbon border mechanism, the President stated that carbon must have a price, and the mechanism would motivate foreign producers and importers to lower carbon emissions.