State of the Union 2021- Volt's Position
State of the Union 2021- Volt's Position
Volt Europa and Damian Boeselager’s take on the 2021 State of the European Union
Patting one’s shoulder is not enough!
This morning, the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, failed to inspire Europe to change and improve. In her State of the European Union speech, to outline her plan for Europe in the next year. The Commission has done a lot recently in response to various crises hitting Europe from the inside and the outside. Still, much more vision and concrete actions are needed to truly achieve a strong, fair, and just European Union.
"Von der Leyen again failed to inspire me. There is so much work ahead of us, but in her long speech the president focused on the past and on what’s pre-aligned with the capitals. She is reducing the Commission to a secretariat to our national leaders, rather than setting a forward-looking agenda of her own! We need more ambitious ideas on reforming the EU from within, on a live-saving migration policy, and on winning the digital race, to name just a few." - Damian Boeselager, MEP Volt
While the speech described ambitious plans on digitalisation and ambitious foreign affairs and development policies, other important topics such as migration, substantial EU reform, democracy or the green deal lacked concrete vision. Yes, she proposed action on protecting the freedom of the media, a law against violence against women, an ambitious plan to make Europe a hub for semi-conductors, an Erasmus-like project for young Europeans having less access to education or banning products made by forced labour were to be banned from the EU market.
"President von der Leyen stayed true to her conservative roots aiming not to inspire change but rather ensuring that existing projects are realised. We need more power and vigour from Europe! We need more capitals to be more European to jointly advance important legislation such as the to jointly advance important legislation in particular making progress on a common European asylum system including on solidarity, which is very much needed." - Friederike Schier, Co-President of Volt Germany
The positive -
The Commission's goal last year of becoming 55% emission-free by 2030 as a part of the GreenDeal has now been translated to a legal obligation. This means the EU takes responsibility and accountability for reaching this climate goal. Although we would have hope to hear more about the future plans for the EU following the Fit for 55 programmes, we were pleased to hear that the new climate funds will double the current investment for biodiversity protection. However, we are waiting to have more details on how Member States will use these investments.
The announced EUChipsAct aims to give the EU ownership of the micro-chips industry. This means boosting the industry with large investments and creating a European ecosystem of industries to regain governance on the market. The Commission also announced its support to relocate the production of chips that are mostly imported from the US or the PRC until today.
"Following the shortage of microchips in the EU, we are eager to see plans to relocate expert production in the Member States. Assembly lines from specialised industries such as Peugeot or Airbus were slowed down because of foreign interests. Relocating the industry in Europe will secure our productions and ensure a thriving economy based on a booming sector. Yet, this calls for a fast and united European approach to quickly gain critical mass on tech sovereignty. If all Member States act independently and develop their policies and industries individually, we will fail to be competitive." - Robin Fontaine, Board Member of Volt France
Global Gateway Strategy
The newly announced Global Gateway partnerships strategy will finally give more agency to the European Union in defining their Foreign and Development policies. Moreover, investing in quality infrastructure with partner countries will surely support the EU’s climate and digital transitions goals.
It is capital that we have coherent foreign and development policies in line with our domestic policies. We will not make a dent in fighting climate change if we keep all our ambitions enclosed in EU borders.
"Today, President von der Leyen painted an ambitious picture for Europe’s foreign policy projects. Words now need to turn into action, not like before when it came to foreign and security policy, such as Libya, Belarus or the Balkans! This morning’s speech focused too much on what we have achieved and not what we still need to do! We need more vision from the European Commission to truly become a global actor!" - Reinier van Lanschot, Co-President, Volt Europa
Digitalisation must be inclusive. The EU is telling us by investing in 5G development and training for the labour force. However, we cannot develop digital infrastructure that will benefit only a limited percentage of EU citizens. There are still great disparities between Member States regarding connectivity, so the focus must lay on developing more infrastructure in the EU regions facing the biggest challenges.
"Digitally Europe is still massively lagging behind the US and China. The digital focus of President von der Leyen’s speech thus gives me hope that Europe is truly transforming digitally. Making semiconductors in Europe, investing in digital infrastructure and education are steps in the right direction. Still there are great disparities between Member States regarding connectivity, so the focus must lay on developing more infrastructure in the EU regions facing the biggest challenges." - Laurens Dassen, Member of the Dutch Tweede Kamer, Volt Netherlands
The President presented a new programme entitled ALMA. This programme is about helping young Europeans from poor environments or having less education access to build-up work experience in other European countries. It encourages younger generations to become better educated, regardless of their background. ALMA, therefore, promotes inclusivity and equality.
Ban of forced labour
The speech announced that the products made by forced labour were to be banned from the EU market. By doing this, the European Commission finally takes a stand against forced labour and gives importance to the well-being of workers.
Violence against women
The issue of domestic violence and violence against women, in particular, was tackled. The President wants to propose a new act to better bring to justice the perpetrators of these cases. In addition, it should encourage women to fight this issue and help women break free from such imprisoning situations.
"Ms von der Leyen promoted two essential laws today: 1) protecting women against violence and 2) preventing the import of products that have been produced with slave labour. We are hopeful that these elementary proposals see the publication light very soon as these are things that should long have been regulated!" - Ana Carvalho, Secretary General, Volt Portugal
The negative -
The names of the journalists killed last year were mentioned, and it was announced that to counter this, the EU Commission wants to improve journalism protection. However, it was not clearly or concretely explained how and what they were planning to do about this.
Focus on youth
It was repeatedly mentioned that it was important to hear the younger generations: “the spirit of the young people is the future”. Therefore, 2022 was proclaimed the “Year of the European Youth”, but it was unclear what this concretely means. Next to that, it was promised to give young Europeans the opportunity to speak during the COFE.
President Von der Leyen ensured that the proposals would be followed up by concrete solutions from the European Commission. But this seems like an unrealistic and shallow way to give a voice to this generation in practice, and more could be done to let the European Youth be heard.
Yes, we do need a European migration management policy. Although, saying that the New Pact on Migration and Asylum is the solution is clearly not grasping the gravity of the situation at hand. Yes, we agree that we must act to provide a refuge for those forced to flee, but we are clearly not. The situations in the camps in several EU countries are far from humane, and we need concrete solutions to support migrants.
Yes, we do agree, there are many strongly held views on migration in Europe, and the topic is divisive between Member States and political groups. But this is precisely why we must talk about it and work on resettlement policies.
What was missed -
It is regrettable that the speech barely mentioned the Conference on the Future of Europa. Citizen empowerment is one of our main priorities. Unfortunately, it does not seem like the Commission has concrete plans to further participation and inclusivity. The Conference platform launched five months ago failed to involve citizens so far, and it does not seem like this will change much in the future.
Further, we are appealed to see that EU reforms are not part of the objectives for the upcoming years. For Volt, the EU needs to be heavily reformed to work properly. Reforming the European Union must start with the reform of its governance and institutions. In 2021, the EU faced a crisis of democracy and legitimacy in several Member States. The EU can no longer remain half-integrated and half-split, economically unified and politically nationalised. We need concrete reforms in the EU to ensure Democracy, Transparency, Accountability, Clarity and Citizen Involvement!