Brussels, 17 September 2021
COVID RECOVERY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND DIGITAL TRANSITION FOCUS OF STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH
Ursula von der Leyen highlighted the Commission’s main achievements over the past year and outlined its upcoming initiatives in her annual State of the Union (SOTU) speech. The Commission President – delivering the speech in front of the European Parliament’s plenary in Strasbourg – focused on the ongoing efforts to deal with the pandemic and its fallout, the rule of law, climate change, social policy, the need for a more united European foreign policy and the digital transition. The Commission President was keen to highlight the successes of the Union over the last 12 months, notably in relation to the vaccination campaign, but also stressed the need to now move forward to strengthen the Union.
COMMISSION AND PARLIAMENT INITIATIVES ON EU RELATIONSHIP WITH ASIA
The Commission adopted a Joint Communication on the EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. The Communication – a partial EU reaction to the US-UK-Australia Indo-Pacific security pact, which resulted in Canberra’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines built by the US and UK, cancelling its contract with France for diesel-powered submarines – contains concrete actions to reinforce the strategic engagement with the region, including on trade and the fight against climate change. Separately, the Parliament set out its vision for a new EU strategy on China, adopting a report which indicates the EU should continue talking to China about global challenges like climate change and health crises, while raising its concerns over systemic human rights violations.
REFORM OF EU BLUE CARD SIMPLIFIES EMPLOYMENT OF QUALIFIED IMMIGRANTS
Highly qualified, non-EU nationals wishing to work in Europe will soon face less hurdles when seeking employment in Europe, after the European Parliament backed the informal agreement with the Council on the reform of the EU Blue Card. Under the revised rules – which aim to help alleviate labour shortages in key sectors – the criteria for admission will be more flexible, as a valid work contract or binding six-month job offer will be enough, compared to the current twelve-month required. The salary threshold for applicants has also been reduced, and applications will be permitted to beneficiaries of international protection. The reform also makes it simpler for Blue Card holders to move between EU countries and being reunited with family.
COMMISSION LAUNCHES ROADMAP TO GATHER FEEDBACK ON 2030 DIGITAL TARGETS
In its way to provide a clear vision for Europe’s digital transformation by 2030, the Commission launched this week the “Path to the Digital Decade”, a concrete plan intended to translate the EU’s digital ambitions into a concrete policy programme. The plan, which is open for feedback until 12 November, sets out digital targets which the EU is expected to achieve by 2030, based on four cardinal points: i) digital skills; ii) secure and sustainable digital infrastructures; iii) digital transformation of businesses; and iv) digitalisation of public services. To reach these targets, the plan aims to set up a governance framework based on an annual cooperation mechanism with Member States, including monitoring and cooperation mechanisms, a report by the Commission and a strategic roadmap for each Member State.
NEW HEALTH AUTHORITY LAUNCHED TO RAPIDLY RESPOND TO HEALTH EMERGENCIES
The European Commission launched the European Health Emergency preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to health emergencies. HERA aims to focus on intelligence gathering and building the necessary response capacities to ensure the development, production and distribution of medicines, vaccines, and other medical countermeasures – such as gloves and masks – when health crisis hit. The initiative builds on the shortcomings that emerged during the first phase of the coronavirus response, when essential countermeasures were often lacking. To ensure its swift launch, HERA will be set up as an internal Commission structure and should be fully operational by early 2022.
COMING UP NEXT WEEK
Karl Isaksson, Managing Partner Brussels, Kreab