EU chief Ursula von der Leyen vowed Wednesday that Europe would lead the global search for a coronavirus vaccine while rebuilding its shattered economy with a green recovery plan.
In her first annual State of the European Union address, the president of the European Commission also warned Britain not to breach its Brexit withdrawal treaty and Turkey not to threaten its neighbours.
And she recommitted to bloc to fighting racism and homophobia, denouncing the so-called “LGBT-free” zones set up by some towns in EU member state Poland, and urging member states to step up for refugees.
Addressing the European Parliament in Brussels, von der Leyen said: “The people of Europe are still suffering.”
In an implicit swipe at US President Donald Trump’s approach to the pandemic, von der Leyen said Europe would lead the world in the search for vaccine and support multilateral bodies like the World Health Organization.
“None of us will be safe until all of us are safe -– wherever we live, whatever we have,” she said. “Vaccine nationalism puts lives at risk. Vaccine cooperation saves them.”
Europe’s own economy has been devastated by the epidemic and the ensuing economic and social lockdowns, but von der Leyen touted her Commission’s green recovery plan as a way back.
She said that Brussels would urge member states to set a more ambitious goal of cutting greenhouse emissions by 55 percent by 2030, up from a target of 40 percent.
“For us, the 2030 target is ambitious, achievable, and beneficial for Europe” she added.
– ‘Hate is hate’ –
The new target is backed by EU powers France and Germany, as well as big business, but faces resistance from eastern member states that depend on coal for their energy needs.
EU leaders will attempt to agree on the target at summit in October, which would then need the approval of European Parliament, where a majority of MEPs want a still more ambitious target.
Von der Leyen said that 30 percent of spending from the 750-billion-euro ($890-billion) plan would be devoted to climate-friendly projects and financed through so-called green bonds.
In a broadside aimed at Poland’s populist government, von der Leyen also declared that so-called LGBT-free zones have “no place in our union.”
“I will not rest when it comes to building a union of equality… a union where you can be who you are and love who you want — without fear of recrimination or discrimination,” she said.
A number of Polish towns have declared themselves “LGBT ideology free zones”, and President Andrzej Duda has compared the struggle for equality to communism in terms of the alleged threat it poses to national values.
Brussels has denounced this stance before, but von der Leyen’s speech went further as she vowed to push EU member states to recognise adoptions by same-sex couples across the bloc.
“If you are parent in one country, you are parent in every country,” she said.
To applause, von der Leyen also re-committed her European Commission to the fight against racism.
“Hate is hate — and no one should have to put up with it,” she said, vowing to use the EU budget to address discrimination in employment, housing and health care and to appoint an anti-racism coordinator.
The 61-year-old former German defence minister also warned Turkey against trying to bully Greece and Cyprus, as tensions grow over energy reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.
– Hopes fade –
Von der Leyen said Ankara was a key partner doing important work hosting refugees, but stressed “none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours”.
And she had a stark warning for another troublesome neighbour, Britain, which she warned was threatening the peace in Northern Ireland by trying to override its Brexit withdrawal agreement.
The row over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt to pass a law to override the divorce pact has also overshadowed talks to reach a trade deal before the end of the year, when it leaves the EU single market.
“With every day that passes, chances for a timely agreement do start to fade,” she said.
The withdrawal agreement “guarantees our citizens rights, financial interests, the integrity of the single market and crucially, the Good Friday Agreement,” she said.
The European Union and Britain “jointly agreed it was the best and only way to ensure peace on the island of Ireland. And we will never backtrack on that,” von der Leyen said.