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08 December 2021

Keynote speech by President von der Leyen at the 75th anniversary of the European League for Economic Cooperation

Today, 75 years later, we face very different – but in some ways no less demanding – challenges. Climate change threatens our global livelihoods. We must modernize our economy and find a more sustainable way of living and working.

When outstanding personalities from Belgium, Poland and the Netherlands came together in 1946 to found ELEC, the European League for Economic Cooperation, large parts of Europe lay in ruins. The horrors of the Second World War and the atrocities committed in the Holocaust were still fresh in their memories.

To the founders of ELEC it was clear: the only possible answer to this terrible past was European integration. They believed that only a united Europe would be a guarantee against future wars, and that only a united Europe could continue to play a decisive role on the world stage.

Today, 75 years later, we face very different – but in some ways no less demanding – challenges. Climate change threatens our global livelihoods. We must modernize our economy and find a more sustainable way of living and working. We must find a way of doing business that gives more back to the planet than it takes. We must move to a circular economy that maintains and increases our prosperity. At the same time we must secure Europe's technological, economic and political independence. Future opportunities for our companies depend on this.

I know that I can count on your advice and expertise. You have accompanied our European Union over the past decades. You have been a stalwart friend of our EU. And I am sure we will be equally close partners in weathering future storms together! This is why I am so pleased to join you today to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the European League for Economic Cooperation.

Today I want to speak about three important future challenges and how we will address them.

First, on climate change. We have seen the floods and wild fires this summer, right here in the heart of Europe. And we hear about extreme weather events from California to Siberia. The urgency to act is by now clear to all of us. And you know that Europe wants to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

Our European Green Deal is a model for many regions in the world. I have just witnessed this again at the COP26, the UN climate conference. Despite the mixed results of COP26, it has confirmed that we are on the right track with our European Green Deal. Because not only do we have a common vision on how to tackle global warming. We also have a clear roadmap with targets agreed by all 27 Member States. And we have the necessary funds to make this sustainable future a reality.

With NextGeneration EU, our recovery plan, and the EU budget, we will invest up to €2.1 trillion in the coming years. 2.1 trillion euros for a more sustainable and more digital future. This is a powerful advantage for the EU in global competition.

We will, for example, speed up the development of renewables in Europe. And we will strengthen the European Emissions Trading System and apply it to new sectors. This price on carbon through the Emissions Trading System is market-driven, and it sets the right incentives – through innovation and investment.

I know that such fundamental transformation is not easy. But I am confident that with the European Green Deal we will turn our struggle against the climate crisis into an economic opportunity for all. In addition, Europe's climate ambition strengthens the global role of our currency, the Euro. I know that ELEC has always shown a keen interest in the monetary aspects of European integration. And rightly so.

Today the Euro is already the first choice for sustainable finance. 50 % of all sustainable financial instruments are issued in euros – and only 27 % in dollars. Surveys show that the volume of sustainable investments could triple by 2025. We will do everything we can to further expand this position!

There, NextGenerationEU comes into play again. About one third of NextGenerationEU is financed by green bonds, that's more than €250 billion. This is by far the largest green bond programme the world has ever seen. With NextGenerationEU, Europe is becoming a true pioneer in the field of sustainable investments.

We are striving for the same pioneering role in digitalisation. This is my second point. Today, it is the big internet platforms that determine who is allowed to trade or communicate with their help. This gatekeeper function of a few is not acceptable. The EU will define common rules and thus set limits to the global power of these digital gatekeepers.

With our Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts, we aim to implement a rules-based system for plattforms. It must be clear that consumers are as protected while using their digital services as they are protected while using services in the real life. We want to ensure that the rules of the analogue world will also apply in the digital world. We also want the largest platforms to be more transparent about how their algorithms work. Because it is not acceptable that decisions with far-reaching effects on our democracy are made by computer programs that no one can understand, let alone control.

These two acts will be the world's first comprehensive set of rules for digital gatekeeper platforms. Made in Europe.

Don't get me wrong: We Europeans embrace future technologies and the possibilities that, for instance, come with Artificial Intelligence, from autonomous driving to medicine. But what sets Europe apart from many other economic and social models is that we put the individual and values such as the protection of our privacy always at the center.

This brings me to my third point. European values and interests should also play an important role when we trade and work with the rest of the world. Take an obvious example: Of course it makes sense that Europe is moving forward with the exemplary commitment on climate protection that I just mentioned. But it is also true that the EU ultimately is responsible for only eight percent of global CO2 emissions. To achieve the 1.5 degree target, we need the rest of the world. This is why just yesterday we presented our Global Gateway strategy, the European partnership program for the world. Global Gateway will help us support and strengthen the green and digital transformations in Africa, in Asia or in Latin America in line with our values.

With Global Gateway we will for example invest in Africa – to help create a market for green hydrogen linking the two shores of the Mediterranean.

With Global Gateway we want to create new partnerships and not new dependencies. We want both sides to benefit from our common projects. We want them to be sustainable, for the environment but also for our partner countries' finances. Because what brings prosperity for our neighbours, brings even more back home.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have to accelerate our green and digital transformations. And we have to take other countries and regions along with us. I will continue to count on your advice on this path, as my predecessors have done over many decades.

Again, I congratulate the European League of Economic Cooperation on its 75th anniversary.

And I wish you every success in the future!


© European Commission

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