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Von der Leyen Urges Joint EU Fight Against Coronavirus, Wants EU Funds Tied to Rule of Law Criteria

Fanni Kaszás 2020.09.16.

For the first time since taking her office as the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen held an annual State of the Union address today. She spoke about the coronavirus, the cornerstones of a common EU-level defense against the virus, how much the EU will spend on green political goals from a joint loan, and, of course, the rule of law, EU money, as well as migration and LGBTQI issues.

Joint response to coronavirus

Von der Leyen called for lessons to be learned, saying Europe must build a stronger European health union, with a future-proof and properly funded EU4Health program, a reinforced European Medicines Agency (EMA), and a strengthened European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and “we need to strengthen our crisis preparedness and management of cross-border health threats.”

Thus, she pledged to build a European BARDA (agency for biomedical advanced research and development) to enhance Europe’s capacity to respond to such threats. The President also called for a debate on new competences for the EU in the field of health, as part of the forthcoming Conference on the Future of Europe.

New Pact on Migration

The President revealed that next week the Commission will put forward its New Pact on Migration, with an approach based on humanity, solidarity and a “clear distinction between those who have the right to stay and those who do not.” She promised that the Commission will “step up and take responsibility” for dealing with the situation after the Moria fire, but: “…if we step up, then I expect the Member States to step up… Migration is a European challenge and all of Europe must do its part.”

Rule of Law

Von der Leyen said that the rule of law helps “protect people from the rule of the powerful. It is the guarantor of our most basic of every day rights and freedoms. It allows us to give our opinion and be informed by a free press.” The President stressed that the Commission will adopt before the end of September its first annual Rule of Law report covering all Member States. President von der Leyen pledged to ensure that EU funds are spent with the rule of law guaranteed. She said that “the Commission attaches the highest importance to the rule of law (…) We will ensure that money from our budget and NextGenerationEU is protected against any kind of fraud, corruption, and conflict of interest. This is non-negotiable.”

Anti-racism and tackling hate crimes and discrimination

President von der Leyen announced that the Commission will present a European anti-racism action plan, strengthen racial equality laws, and extend the list of EU-level crimes to all forms of hate crimes and hate speech, whether based on race, religion, gender, or sexuality. The Commission will also appoint its first-ever anti-racism coordinator. It will put forward a strategy to strengthen LGBTQI rights and will push for mutual recognition of family relations in the EU.

Fidesz’ response to the State of the Union address

On behalf of the Hungarian governing parties, Fidesz MEP Tamás Deutsch spoke, while Csaba Molnár from the DK and Márton Gyöngyösi from Jobbik also addressed the committe after Von der Leyen’s speech.

According to Deutsch, “…the Union has lost its leading role in the world.” In his speech, he called for the end to the “political and ideological Cold War against the Member States and the application of double standards.” The Fidesz MEP said that in the spring, Hungary was attacked based on “lies over the authorization law, introduced to deal with the coronavirus epidemic as efficiently and quickly as possible,” which the Commission cannot leave.

He also spoke about the importance of the accession of Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia to the Schengen area. He also advised the Commission to formulate proposals that would not lead to divisions and ideological debates, but rather bring widespread support.

featured photo: Olivier Hoslet/MTI/EPA

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