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Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the conclusions of the special meeting of the European Council of 24-25 May 2021 and preparation of the G7 Summit of 11-13 June 2021 and the EU-U.S. Summit

Speech given recently (09 June 2021) by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the conclusions of the special meeting of the European Council of 24-25 May 2021 and preparation of the G7 Summit of 11-13 June 2021 and the EU-U.S. Summit.

Thank you President Sassoli,      

Dear President Michel,

Honourable Members,

Yesterday we discussed here together in the European Parliament how we, with NextGenerationEU, can come out of the crisis in Europe stronger than before. Today, I would like to give you an overview of the next steps we are taking at global level to finally leave this crisis behind us.

I especially want to inform you of some of the outcomes, firstly of our G20 summit on health in Rome and then, of course, of the special meeting of the European Council a few days later. And I would like to mention the initiatives we are planning with our friends at the G7 at the end of this week in Cornwall and next Tuesday, when Charles Michel and I will be hosting U.S. President Joe Biden in Brussels.

These meetings not only underline the multilateral approach, which we have maintained throughout the crisis. It was not easy, but we have maintained it. But these meetings are, of course, also a very good opportunity to show that our transatlantic alliance is renewed, that it is strong and that it is good for people, both in the U.S. and in Europe.

Our immediate focus is, of course, in all these meetings on beating COVID-19 – everywhere, and ending the pandemic, and, of course, rebuilding our economies. And the dominant topic in all these sessions we had together, the meetings and summits, but also those that are ahead of us, is vaccines and the equal and fair access to vaccines globally. This is why Mario Draghi and I convened the G20 Global Health Summit. It was on the one hand about the lessons learnt, but on the other hand, it was also about concrete pledges.

And in their Rome Declaration, the leaders gave a very strong signal. They had three main points in the G20 Rome Declaration: First of all, they committed to boosting production capacity in low- and middle-income countries – and I will come back to that later. Then, of course, the second topic was about tackling those bottlenecks in the supply chains. So if you look at the Rome Declaration, you will see, it is a ‘plaidoyer' for seamless flows of vaccines and components.

We know that we are not there yet, but the Rome Declaration was the very first time that there was this commitment towards that. And we committed in investing in the global surveillance and early warning system, knowing that we failed on that, at the beginning of the pandemic.

But as I have said, in the short term, the dominant topic is vaccine supply in low- and middle-income countries. And there are three strands we follow up. The first one is indeed COVAX. It is good that we have COVAX. As Charles Michel said, it was the European Union who was one of the main founder of COVAX. Up to today, up to EUR 3 billion have been pledged to COVAX by Team Europe so far. But at the moment being in COVAX, the money is not so much the problem, it is more about the access to vaccines in-kind. And therefore, on top, Team Europe pledged to donate at least 100 million doses of vaccines by the end of the year.

The second strand is: I am convinced, we have to engage the private sector more in that topic. And at the Health Summit, we worked with our industrial partners, and it was good to see that the industrial partners committed publicly that they are willing to deliver a 1.3 billion doses of vaccines, until the end of the year, to low- and middle-income countries, at non-profit to low-income countries, and at low cost to middle-income countries. So it is good to see that public announcement. We can keep track and we can make sure, with all the scrutiny, that there is 1.3 billion doses delivered in these circumstances until the end of the year.

And indeed the third pillar concerns export of vaccines. We cannot just keep the whole production for ourselves. And Europe has proven that it is possible to vaccinate your own people and to allow for export. Since January, we have been exporting almost half of our production, and if you transfer that in numbers: out of 600 million doses of vaccines, produced here in Europe until now, round about 300 million doses have been exported to over 90 countries.

And Honourable Members,

If all the other vaccine producers had followed our example, the world would be a different place today. And in the course of this discussion, of course, the question of the TRIPS Agreement has been raised recently. When the U.S. administration put forward their thoughts, we said we are open for discussions. Now, just four weeks later, we have put forward a new global trade initiative at the WTO, aiming to deliver more equitable access to vaccines and therapeutics.

And this initiative has three elements. The first one is: We want clear rules to keep supply chains open and to eliminate export restrictions for vaccines and, of course, also for all the components that are necessary to produce these vaccines. So clear rules in WTO to put disciplines if there are exports obstacles. Secondly, we want to help ramp up production, not only in Europe but also in Africa or elsewhere where needed. And for that we need to ensure also in WTO clear rules to ensure the necessary transfer of technologies and know-how in emergencies.

And here, I want to be very clear: I think intellectual property has to be protected because it is the idea behind the breakthrough, and it retains the incentives for innovation in research and development. And, of course, voluntary licences are the most effective way to facilitate expanding production. And at the G20 Global Health Summit in Rome, leaders reaffirmed this assessment. However – and that is the big ‘however' – in a global emergency like this pandemic, if voluntary licencing fails, compulsory licensing has to be and is the legitimate tool to scale up production. This is why, together with the WTO, we want to clarify and simplify the use of compulsory licencing in times of national emergency. And we have discussed this proposal yesterday in the WTO.

Vaccine production requires of course a lot of know-how. We all know that. So these are very complicated biological processes. They require know-how, they require technology, they require skilled personnel and, of course, infrastructure. And I think it is not simply by waving intellectual property rights that you get there. It is actually by collaboration and, if need be, compulsory licensing that you enhance technology transfer. Because the patent is not telling the whole story. A patent is explaining part of the production process. And get me right, it should not stand in the way. So there are also provisions for that in our proposal in WTO. But you need to have more when it comes to these kinds of complex products. And this is why Europe started this initiative in WTO, to simplify compulsory licensing. And this is also why Europe committed EUR 1 billion to create with our African partners and our industrial partner – so all three – manufacturing hubs in different regions in Africa. And at a certain point in time, we will certainly come back to that discussion.

The G7 meeting will provide a good opportunity to reaffirm our commitments and to go even further. At the G7, we will also be discussing the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, in particular on some of the poorest countries on earth. Because our recovery has to work for everyone. According to the United Nations, there are currently more than 34 million people on the brink of famine. We have to strengthen global food systems.

That is why, at the G7, the European Union will commit to a new humanitarian aid package of EUR 250 million to tackle hunger. For example, we want to donate almost EUR 50 million to countries in the Sahel region and in East Africa. Regions hit hard by the economic impact of the pandemic and by climate change.

Droughts, flooding, extreme weather events – we all know the pattern. Climate change is happening, and the science is clear: there is no time to lose. And that's why, despite the pandemic, Europe has chosen to speed up its ecological transition by adopting a sustainable recovery plan. Because even global warming limited to 1.5 degrees would have serious consequences, in particular in the least developed parts of the world.

This is why now words must be followed by tangible action across all sectors of our economies and our societies. You know that we are going to present the ‘Fit for 55' Package in mid-July. And I am glad that at the special meeting of the European Council at the end of May, Heads of State or Government, in a first discussion on the overall Package, showed broad support. Because Europe wants to lead the way in this transition towards an economy that gives more to the planet than it takes away.

Now we want to broker the same ambition at global level: clear commitments, followed by equally clear action. In particular, an alignment with the G7, and the United States in the G7, would be very welcome – and it is time to do that now. With the U.S., we will not only grow our common trade and investment relationship in support of the green and the digital transition of our economies.

Together we will also engage with our international partners for a shared commitment and joint action to reduce emissions by 2030 and to have tangible goals to become climate-neutral economies by 2050. In this way, we hope and we work for achieving the most ambitious possible outcome at the COP26 in Glasgow and at the COP15 on biodiversity in Kunming.

Honourable Members,

This is the ambition we want to bring to the table when we meet with our partners and friends from all over the world. I know that you, the European Parliament, share this ambition. Because we all want to end this pandemic and we all want to leave a healthy planet to future generations.

Long live Europe!

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Original article link: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_21_2907

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