The State of the (European) Union
On 15 September, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered her second State of the Union speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. She took stock of the achievements of the past year and looked ahead in terms of upcoming priorities and challenges, bringing up a variety of relevant issues within three main realms:
Strengthening pandemic preparedness
The establishment of the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) was announced, which is set to become a core element in strengthening Europe’s ability to prevent and rapidly respond to cross-border health emergencies, as well as a new health preparedness and resilience mission for the whole of the EU, which will be financed with 50 billion euro from Team Europe. Von der Leyen emphasized the EU’s progress in its overall vaccination process and that the bloc will now focus on exporting vaccines and helping the global south speed up mRNA production.
By announcing the establishment of HERA in a Communication, the Commission has continued its ongoing efforts to establish a European Health Union. Despite praise for the HERA incubator proposal, the Commission has met criticism for proposing a new Commission department rather than a separate agency. Many MEPs expressed disappointment at this decision, considering that the European Parliament will have no say on how this department is set up. In contrast, a proposal for a new agency would have gone through ordinary legislative procedure giving the parliament greater say on how it is established.
Shaping Europe’s digital transformation
One of the key priorities for the next year will be bolstering EU’s digital capabilities in terms of general digitalization of services, cybersecurity, and data protection. To achieve strategic autonomy and boost Europe’s domestic capacity, the Commission will present a European Chips Act. According to the Commission President, the aim of the Chips Act will be to create an advanced European ecosystem that ensures security of supply and drives self-sufficiency in semiconductors. In its efforts to lay common security standards for connected devices, the EU executive announced a European Cyber Defence Policy. Finally, the Commission foresees the development of more in-house digital and digital-supportive capabilities as well as enhancement of its domestic crisis preparedness.
Stepping up on climate finance and biodiversity
President von der Leyen proposed an additional 4 billion euro for climate finance on top of already existing financing frameworks until 2027, which would be key for developing third countries that are unable to tackle climate change. In addition, Europe intends to double its external funding for biodiversity in support of the most vulnerable third countries.
In terms of more general, non-pandemic-specific health, President von der Leyen sent a letter of intent to Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša and President David Sassoli outlining the key initiatives for 2022 including a proposal to update the Council Recommendations on cancer screening and the European care strategy.
The strengthening of the European Health Union will be one of the Commission’s main priorities in the next few years, as it seeks to strike a balance between the European Parliament and Council. Although the Commission has been seeking to expand the EU's role in the field of healthcare, it has been doing so within the already existing frameworks, while simultaneously resisting the push from MEPs to centralize healthcare competencies in the EU level.