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Speech by President von der Leyen at the EU Ambassadors' Conference 2020

Speech given yesterday by President von der Leyen at the EU Ambassadors' Conference 2020.

"Check against delivery"


Dear friends,

The world is a very different place compared to when we met last September. A virus that did not even exist back then has disrupted and dominated your work.

You have had to organise deliveries of medical aid, and repatriation flights for stranded Europeans. You supported aid workers, citizens and business people, dealing with lockdowns and travel restrictions. You have been the face of European solidarity and cooperation around the world. And I want to thank you for all these efforts.

This work with our partners all around the world – this solidarity and cooperation – is more important today than it has ever been. I say this, because the crisis served as a strong reminder of the need to tackle global challenges together.

It also exposed a number of weaknesses in the global system. And it accelerated many structural changes – whether geopolitical, ecological or technological in nature. We cannot turn back the hands of time. The world after Corona will never look like the world we knew before it. But our commitment to our values and to our partners will remain as steadfast as ever.

That was of course true regardless of the outcome of the U.S. elections last week. But like most of the world, I watched the elections intently. And like many of you, I became an overnight expert on voting tendencies in counties across Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona! I want to again warmly congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, who has just shattered multiple glass ceilings in one go.

Watching from afar there are two things that struck me above all else. The first is the resilience and strength of democracy. We saw more people vote than ever before. We saw volunteers working around the clock, local officials communicating honestly with citizens and media channels painstakingly explaining the results as they came in. Of course, the perfect democracy does not yet exist but I personally believe democracy will emerge stronger from this election.

The second reflection is that the U.S. – like many other parts of the world - has also changed over the last years. And here again we cannot turn back time or go back to a world of before. I believe that divisions can always be bridged, wounds can be healed. But some shifts in priorities and perceptions run much deeper than one politician or administration. And they will not disappear because of one election.

This of course has an impact on us here in Europe and on the next chapter of the transatlantic alliance. Our alliance is based on shared values and history. On a common belief in working together to build a stronger, more peaceful and more prosperous world. These goals will always endure.

But in a changing global landscape, I believe it is time for a new transatlantic agenda fit for today's world. And I believe it is Europe who should take the initiative, with an offer to work together with the new administration on areas that can strengthen our bilateral and multilateral partnerships.

This should cover everything from security to sustainability, from tech regulation to trade, from levelling the global economic playing field to strengthening global institutions.

These are not only EU-U.S. issues. And our alliance is not just about us. It must be the backbone of a new global alliance. It is about working with emerging powers, and like-minded partners from Africa to Latin America, Australia to democratic Asia - and far beyond.

It is about working in our common interest for the common good. There are a number of areas where Europe is already taking the initiative – and will be ready to work closely with the United States and others over the next year.

The first and most pressing is obviously overcoming this pandemic. In the face of the crisis, some have chosen to isolate. Others have tried to use a difficult situation to strike geopolitical gains.

We have chosen to lend a helping hand to all those in need. We sent tons of medical equipment to China, in the early days of the pandemic. We were with the frontline doctors helping Syrians in refugee camps. We invested over €3 billion in the Western Balkans, to buy ventilators, testing kits and protective equipment. And we have led the global response – putting cooperation above competition.

From the very outset we organised a global response to coronavirus. We convened more than 40 countries to collectively raise over €16 billion – for tests, treatments and for research towards a vaccine.

We helped set up COVAX, a global initiative to create the largest portfolio of vaccine candidates in the world. We brought together 186 countries, but also NGOs, business leaders and philanthropists – many of which were from the U.S. Together we are securing millions of doses of future vaccines for low-income countries. No country can achieve this alone. But together we can.

And we want to invite everyone to join us.

We need to pool our expertise, share our resources and coordinate our approach to tests and treatment, vaccines and vaccinations. This will be one of the priority areas for next year's Global Health Summit which Prime Minister Conte and I will convene as part of the Italian G20 Presidency.

The second obvious and crucial area is protecting our climate and nature.

Europe is a pioneer in the fight against climate change.

You know that we want to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050.

And I hope in December the European Council will agree on our proposal for reducing emissions by at least 55% by 2030 – as compared to 1990 levels.

And we can already see that our ambition is not in isolation.

China has now decided, to become CO2 neutral by 2060, South Africa has announced climate neutrality by 2050, Japan and South Korea have followed suit. And we look forward to the United States re-joining the Paris agreement, as President-elect Joe Biden has committed to.

In the months ahead, we must all work to raise the climate ambitions of other countries, too. We must first of all engage with the economies of the G20. They are responsible for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Next year, the world will come together in Glasgow for COP26 on climate – as well as in Kunming for COP15 on biodiversity.

These will be landmark moments in the world's ability to push back against climate change and biodiversity destruction. Europe will be at the forefront of brokering ambitious commitments. And I believe, the U.S. is also well placed to support us, given the remarkable work going on in different American states, cities, companies and in civil society.

These events will also be important moments for our multilateral rules-based system and the institutions that underpin them.

We want to work with our partners to strengthen them be it the UN, the WHO or the WTO.

We need strong institutions, backed by strong commitment from member countries. Our international system has been held hostage for too many years now.

The time has come to reverse the trend. To reform those institutions that need reform. To revive multilateral deals that are essential for our common security. To create new coalitions on the most pressing issues of our times.

One such coalition is needed on the digital world. This is an area, where I believe Europe can take the initiative and partner up with the U.S. and others. We need to define a rulebook for the digital economy and society covering everything, from big tech to data use and privacy, from infrastructure to security.

I will just name a few fields where this is particularly important.

1. Our relationship with online platforms.

Online platforms have gained a huge influence and economic power. Their behaviour has an impact not only on free and fair competition among businesses, but also on our democracies, on our security, and on the quality of our information. This immense power requires adequate rules.

Our values need to be protected online, as well as offline. This means, at its most basic, that what is illegal offline should also be illegal online – and should be pursued just as effectively.

Take illegal hate speech and terrorist propaganda. In recent weeks we have seen once again how urgent this is. We will propose a broad reform within the Digital Services Act. It will reach beyond our targeted proposal on terrorist content, and create stronger rules for the removal of all illegal content – while protecting free speech. It will clarify the responsibilities of online platforms: to know their business customers, to be more transparent on how content spreads and to show how they respond to this.

In parallel we are also proposing a Digital Markets Act. It will set out tools to address timely the economic power of gatekeeper platforms, to protect fair competition and innovation. These will be the rules for operating in Europe. But it will be important that our global partners raise their standards, too. The European way on digital services and markets can be a model for others confronted by the same challenges. And so it will become an important part of our diplomacy.

2. Data protection.

From Brazil to South Korea, our European rules on personal data protection have inspired others to modernise their own privacy rules. We must now put special focus on the international transfer of data, particularly after a recent ruling of the European Court of Justice.

3. A fair taxation of the digital economy.

Many large digital companies are emerging from the crisis more profitable and with a larger market share than ever before. That is okay. Anyone who does business in the Single Market and thus benefits from our infrastructure, our education system and our social system, is welcomed to make profits.

But our social contract expects them to pay appropriate taxes in order to contribute to the social market economy.

It cannot be, that commercial giants benefit enormously from our Single Market, but fail to pay taxes where they should. This undermines the acceptance of the social market economy and we will no longer tolerate this. This creates an even greater urgency to find an international agreement on the taxation of digital business and on global minimum taxation. Our goal remains a consensus-based solution at the OECD and G20 level on both pillars of the global discussions.

But let there be no doubt: should an agreement fall short of a fair tax system, Europe will act. The new deadline of mid-2021 must be the final one. Should an agreement fall short of a fair tax system that provides long-term sustainable revenues, we will come forward with our own proposal.

It is a basic issue of fairness. Everyone must contribute their fair share, particularly those who are benefiting from this crisis. The digital economy should serve everyone, not just a privileged few.

For this, we need global rules and international cooperation. And Europe must be the leading force towards international cooperation on digital issues.

Click here for the full speech


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