Afghanistan has seeped into the Union’s state of mind like a missile. In a panoramic speech, with great views and geostrategic vision, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, tried to find this Wednesday the “soul” of a continent that wants to emerge stronger after the tremendous blow of the pandemic. The recent fall of Kabul has become one of the bases to regain that lost confidence: “What we need is the European Defense Union,” the German has launched. “Europe can – and clearly must – be able and willing to do more for itself.” Von der Leyen, who was Defense Minister in his country and knows in depth the military matter and its deficiencies at the community level, has announced a summit on defense that will convene next year, when France holds the presidency of the EU; It will do so together with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, another of the great persecutors of this strategic autonomy. “There will be missions in which NATO or the UN will not be present,” he said, “but in which the EU should be.”
The president of the Executive has thus relaunched what is probably the most eternal of the eternal unsatisfied demands of the EU. Dressed in a coral-colored jacket, Von der Leyen has spoken in the European Parliament for about an hour, alternating between three languages: English, French and German. His tone has been optimistic, similar to that of a wounded giant who raises his head reinforced, and more “united”, a word that he has often repeated, such as “soul” and “future”. It is the second speech of the State of the EU that he gives before the MEPs, and he arrives after 20 months at the head of the Commission, close to reaching the halfway point of his 5-year mandate.
The speech has penetrated almost all the great dossiers that Brussels faces: from vaccines to the European green pact and climate change; from the response to migrations to the shortage of chips in the industry; from recovery funds to the defense of the rule of law and the protection of women who suffer gender violence. The applause from the hemicycle has been long at various times, such as defending the “social market economy” and demanding that companies share their profits: “The least they can do is pay a fair contribution.”
His speech has tried to underline the turning point. “We have done many things well,” he stressed, when speaking of the SURE funds with which he has “supported more than 31 million workers and 2.5 million companies.” His words come at a time when the bottom has already been reached and the curve goes backwards and everything seems, at least for the moment, to return to where we left off in 2019. The pandemic has left more than 750,000 dead in the EU, true, and caused the biggest drop in European GDP since World War II. But there is already “more than 70% of the European adult population completely vaccinated”, the president of the Community Executive has boasted: that is more than 250 million people who have felt in their arm the commitment of Brussels for a joint health strategy, millionaire and in which “today, despite all the criticism, Europe is among the world leaders.”
Although autumn and harsh winter are yet to come, for now the punctures are a shield against the variants; Citizens are learning to lose their fear of the virus, to return to their jobs, and to use QR codes and certificates of all kinds to travel, cross borders, turn themselves in at night or have a coffee. The covid passport is another of the many that Von der Leyen has signed up for at the beginning of his intervention.
The eurozone, he emphasized, has grown in the last quarter at a faster rate than China and the United States. And 19 Member States are expected to return to pre-crisis levels in 2021; the rest will do so next year. “The lessons of the financial crisis [de 2008] they should serve as a warning ”, he recalled when talking about the great investment manna that the millionaire recovery fund programs and budgets will suppose, whose agreement was reached in December of last year, when everything was still dark and they had not even started the campaigns of vaccination.
Faced with an unstable world, it has launched a proposal to turn Europe into a great industrial pole for chips, to avoid the current dependence on countries like China; and has also announced a large infrastructure program in the style of the Silk Road launched by Beijing, but with a European stamp: “It does not make sense for Europe to build a perfect road between a Chinese-owned copper mine and a Chinese-owned port. ”, He said about an initiative that he will call Global Gateway. “We will adopt a values-based approach, offering transparency and good governance to our partners.”
The lines of discourse have been global, typical of a continent that hatches and that the electroshock Afghan has finished waking up. Von der Leyen has underlined the importance of the transatlantic alliance, but in his vision on European defense, he has asked to reflect on why so far the European military initiatives (which exist) have not worked. “You can have the most advanced forces in the world, but if you are never prepared to use them, what good are they?” He has asked to deepen interoperability and lay the foundations for collective decision-making. “What has held us back so far is not just a capacity deficit, but a lack of political will.” And he believes that the first step should be for the EU to have its own Joint Situation Awareness Center, an intelligence body that can merge the different information from the member states.
The momentum of European defense has been picked up, in its replies, by the main European political families. “After Afghanistan we need a common defense policy,” said Manfred Weber, leader of the popular Europeans. Iratxe García, head of the Socialists in the European Parliament, has demanded the need for Europe to speak with one voice on foreign policy, whose decisions are often blocked by the need for the Twenty-seven to reach an agreement in the Council. “It is time to overcome unanimity,” he asked.
García has printed a social patina on the morning by claiming that after the pandemic, and with the firm commitment to the digital and green transition in Europe, the list of losers in a crisis that the most vulnerable have already suffered should not be lengthened. “A social fracture must be avoided as the transition progresses.” It has demanded to reinforce mechanisms such as the social climate fund, foreseen among the green legislative initiatives presented in July by the Commission, but which will be one of the fields in which the European Parliament, which now has to negotiate the legislative package with the Council, will give the battle.
Von der Leyen has committed, already towards the end of his speech, to propose legislation on the protection of women against violence. And in this search for the “soul” of the EU, he concluded his speech by mentioning a special guest, present in the hemicycle: the athlete Beatrice Vio, a gold medalist in the Paralympic games. “His story is to stand up against all odds. To succeed thanks to talent, tenacity and relentless positivity ”, he said after the ovation to Vio. And he has concluded his speech in Italian: “If it seems impossible, then it can be done (if it seems impossible, then it can be done) ”. That would be more or less the European spirit, in the Von der Leyen version. “Viva l’Europa” has closed, also in Italian.
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