STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH

EU to set up pandemics agency as it rolls out new plans for climate, defence

During her hour-long speech, Ursula von der Leyen – a former German defence minister – said international relations had entered “a new era of hyper-competitiveness.”
During her hour-long speech, Ursula von der Leyen – a former German defence minister – said international relations had entered “a new era of hyper-competitiveness.” YVES HERMAN POOL/AFP

The European Union's chief executive, Ursula von der Leyen, announced the creation of a new biomedical agency to better respond to future pandemics in her annual State of the European Union speech on Wednesday – during which she also laid out plans for climate, defence and the global economy.

Advertising

"Our first and most urgent priority is to speed up global vaccination," von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, describing vaccination discrepancies as one of the most challenging geopolitical issues.

Pledging to accelerate the rate of Covid vaccinations around the world, von der Leyen offered a further 200 million doses for low-income countries.

“The scale of injustice and the level of urgency are obvious,” Von der Leyen said.

With 70 percent of its adult population fully vaccinated so far, the European Union is a world leader in its response to the pandemic.

However von der Leyen cautioned lawmakers that the year ahead would be "a test of character" as she likened the pandemic to a “marathon”, rather than a “sprint”.

Defence

During her hour-long speech, von der Leyen – a former German defence minister – said international relations had entered “a new era of hyper-competitiveness.”

Pointing to recent events in Afghanistan, she warned of a competitive international order in which some countries would “stop at nothing” to gain influence.

“An era of regional rivalries and major powers refocusing their attention towards each other,” she added.

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the hasty withdrawal of foreign troops have raised concerns in the EU about its dependence on the United States in terms of defence and security.

“Witnessing events unfold in Afghanistan was profoundly painful for all the families of fallen servicemen and servicewomen,” von der Leyen said.

“Europe can – and clearly should – be able and willing to do more on its own ... What we need is the European Defence Union.”

Climate

Von der Leyen also said the EU would double its international funding to protect nature and halt the decline of the world's biodiversity, and called on China to be more concrete about its carbon neutrality plans.

"We will now propose an additional 4 billion euros for climate finance until 2027," said von der Leyen added.

"This is a generation with a conscience, they are pushing us to go further and faster to tackle the climate crisis.”

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning