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Speech by President von der Leyen on the occasion of the II Cercle d'Economia Award for the European Construction

Speech given recently (06 May 2022) by President von der Leyen on the occasion of the II Cercle d'Economia Award for the European Construction.

"Check against delivery"

Presidente Sánchez, querido Pedro,

President Faus,

Distinguished members of the Jury, thank you for this prestigious award. Doctor Tocci, dear Nathalie, thank you for your kind words. And I am truly honoured to follow in the steps of my good friend Mario Draghi. The Cercle d'Economia was created during the dark days of Franco's dictatorship, as a place to debate and imagine the future. And ever since, for over six decades, it has stood on the right side of history. It has stood for democracy and for an open economy. The Cercle has always worked to bring Spain where it belongs: at the centre of a strong and united Europe. And today, Spain is indeed at the heart of Europe. You have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. And yet today, your recovery has solid foundations. You are a global leader in clean energy. You have a dynamic and innovative economy. And you have always been a vocal supporter of all the most recent steps in European integration. España es hoy un motor de nuestra Unión. And this is a defining time for Europe and our future. I am grateful you decided to focus your annual meeting on ‘Europe's moment'. I remember I used this expression for the first time two years ago, in May 2020, when I announced the creation of NextGenerationEU. We were in the middle of the first pandemic wave. In our Union, at the worst moment of that dramatic spring, almost a thousand people were dying daily because of COVID-19. The scale of that crisis was such that only as a Union could we provide the answers our citizens needed. Indeed, it was Europe's moment to step in. And it was a ‘make or break' moment for the European Union.

Now, fast forward to May 2022, the present day. COVID-19 has not disappeared, our guard is still high, but the pandemic feels like a distant echo. Yet thousands of innocent people are once again dying right here in Europe, because of the Kremlin's aggression against a peaceful country. And it is not only the future of Ukraine that is at stake. This is an attempt to tear down the security architecture in Europe. And it is a global tectonic shift. The great powers of the world are realigning. Putin's war by choice is an attack against everything we believe in. Against the idea that a country's future should be decided democratically, by its own people, and not by some foreign autocrat. And to impose his spheres of influence, the Kremlin is not only devastating Ukraine. It is also trying to play the old game of ‘divide and rule'. There is only one way for us to help our Ukrainian friends win this war, and to be the masters of our own future, and that is by choosing unity. Even more than two years ago, this is Europe's moment. Today I can tell you with certainty that Europe is seizing its moment. We are tapping into the true power of our Union. We did it, first and foremost, with our strategy on vaccines. Second, came NextGenerationEU. And now, our unprecedented sanctions on Russia and our drive to free ourselves from Russian fossil fuels. You, Doctor Tocci, said that Europe has rediscovered its DNA. That is so true. But we have also broken new ground. We have pushed our boundaries and redefined the limits of what is possible, one step at a time. Take vaccines. A European success story. It is no coincidence that the first safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 was developed in Europe. Because science thrives in democracy and in a social market economy like ours. That is the story of the mRNA technology. It all started with researchers, following a bold and innovative idea. It is thanks to their pioneering spirit, and our freedom of research. Then came European public support to this kind of research, and finally, the power of the market and of private investment. Because of this unique mix, the world can rely today on mRNA vaccines.

And yet only two years ago, none of us knew whether science would succeed in developing an effective vaccine. That is when we first proposed that our Union stepped in. Imagine what would have happened if only a few Member States would get hold of vaccines, while others were left out in the cold. It would have severely weakened our fight against the virus, and torn our Union apart. Instead, we pooled our resources to scale up production, and we made sure that all Member States had equal access to life-saving vaccines. To date, three-quarters of Europeans received at least two doses. Half of us received booster shots, too.

But another fact is as important: We achieved all of this while remaining open to the world. For every dose of vaccine distributed inside our Union, one dose was shipped abroad. We made the choice of solidarity not only with our fellow Europeans, but also with the rest of the world. This is unique. This is Europe. And we keep this in our collective memory.

The second moment I would like to focus on is the birth of our Recovery Plan, NextGenerationEU. Pedro, I am sure you remember those months very well. It took a few long European Councils. But we overcame decades of ideological debates on whether our Union should raise money on behalf of its Member States. Let me thank you once again, Pedro, for believing in NextGenerationEU from day one. As of today, we have already provided to our Member States roughly EUR 100 billion in investment under NextGenerationEU. It is an unprecedented plan with investment and reforms that can reshape our economy for decades ahead. For making the European Green Deal a reality, and speeding up our digitalisation. With EUR 800 billion of investments, NextGenerationEU will make Europe and Spain stronger and better prepared to face the challenges of our time.

And Spain has always been a NextGenerationEU front-runner. You were the first country to receive financing, and now you are the first country to request the second tranche of funds. NextGenerationEU is already making a difference here in Catalonia. For instance, NextGenerationEU will support innovative companies using blockchain technology to certify the origin of wine and prevent fraud. And it will invest in the Supercomputing Centre in Barcelona, a European and global excellence, which carries on cutting-edge research spanning from healthcare to climate science. NextGenerationEU will also contribute to turning Catalonia in one of Europe's new hydrogen valleys. This region is the perfect setting for this. You produce plenty of energy, from wind, water and nuclear. And now you are creating a full hydrogen ecosystem. You are investing in clean hydrogen production, in new fleets of hydrogen buses for Barcelona and Tarragona, but also in skills and education, with a new inter-university master in Hydrogen Technologies. This is amazing. And there is no better example of the kind of change that we wanted to set off when we launched NextGenerationEU.

This has only become more urgent after Russia's aggression of Ukraine. This is my third and final point. Spain has built through the years a resilient energy system, based on home-grown renewable energy and a diversified network of energy suppliers. You have the largest regasification capacity in Europe, and you have already become the main hub for LNG from Africa and the Americas. Now all of Europe agrees that we must cut our dependency on Russian fossil fuels, as a matter of urgency. It is crucial for our climate goals and to end the Kremlin's blackmail. Last month we put forward a new plan called REPowerEU, to replace 150 billion cubic metres of Russian gas. That is the amount of gas that we imported last year from Russia. I have agreed with President Biden the additional supply of 50 billion cubic metres of LNG from next year on. This will replace one third of Russian gas. We are redoubling our hydrogen goals. This could replace another third. And we will privilege cross-border projects, for instance, the critical connection between Portugal, Spain and France. Because together, we can set ourselves free from Russian threats. And as a Union, we are undermining Russia's ability to finance this war of choice. This is the goal of our six waves of sanctions. We are paralyzing the Russian Central Bank's capacity to raise capital and finance the war. We are de-SWIFTing Russian banks. We are banning imports of Russian fossil fuels: we started with coal, and earlier this week we have proposed a phase out of all Russian oil imports. We ban all exports to Russia on modern technologies. More than 700 international companies have left Russia. The World Bank forecasts a collapse of the Russian GDP by 11% this year. Putin has mobilised his armed forces to wipe out Ukraine from the map. We have mobilised our unique economic power to defend Ukraine. This is also a new chapter in our Union's history – a new way of putting economic power to counter military aggression and to defend our most cherished European values.

This is what hides behind the cold language of sanctions, and the dry numbers of energy imports. Everything we have been doing in these weeks is for the people of Ukraine. But also for their democracy, and their freedom to write their own country's future. And ultimately, it is also for our democracy; our freedom to follow the rule of law and to reject the right of might; our desire to live in peace, in a continent finally united. When the people of Ukraine look at our Union this is what they see: democracy, peace, the rule of law, individual and economic freedom. This is what Europe stands for today.

As I was preparing my trip to Barcelona, I was reminded of the story of the Catalan cellist Pau Casals. He was one of the greatest musicians of his time. He enjoyed worldwide fame. But when Spain fell under authoritarian rule, Casals chose exile. He decided that he would not play music in his home country, and in all countries that recognised the Franco regime, until democracy returned to Spain. Pau Casals stood by his choice for his entire life. Once he explained, and I quote: ‘I am not a politician. Politics do not belong to an artist. But to my mind, an artist is under the obligation of taking sides, if human dignity is at stake.' The legacy of Pau Casals lives on. Today, Europe is taking sides. For human dignity, and democracy, for all.

Thank you so much for awarding me with this prize for the European Construction.

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