State of the European Union speech 2020

On 16 September, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave her first State of the Union speech at an undeniably crucial moment for the EU. Starting her speech with a recognition of the dedication of healthcare staff and essential workers during the COVID crisis, she then highlighted the EU level cooperation in the field of health.


She also put forward several measures to consolidate a European Health Union. Those included ensuring sufficient resources at EU level, strengthening the EU’s key agencies EMA and the ECDC to better respond to the crisis, and developing a new agency dedicated to biomedical advanced research and development. As part of the preparedness to face this and future cross-border health threats, she also mentioned strategic stockpiling, notably for pharmaceutical products. ESIP supported the establishment of an EU-level common stockpiling mechanism in its contribution to the public consultation on the EU Pharmaceutical Strategy. She also encouraged the European Parliament to press on in the EU’s budget negotiations with its demands for a stronger EU4Health programme. These proposals are part and parcel of our own recommendations to ensure the future of health policy at European level. We are also currently developing our own analysis of ways to improve the EU’s competences in the field of health.

Still looking at the political response to the pandemic, Ursula von der Leyen did stress the important role short-time work schemes played to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, and that EU support was just around the corner in the form of the European instrument for temporary Support against Unemployment risks in an Emergency (SURE). It is important to stress however that other branches of social protection have also played a key role to support the most vulnerable.

A very welcomed message was spread out throughout the speech: the EU should not only look at its economic recovery now, but also keep track of its long-term ambitions. For Ursula von der Leyen this includes moving towards a green and digital economy, the so-called “twin transitions” at the core of her mandate. Unfortunately, these key aspects remained disconnected from a social project.

The Commission’s vision indeed seemed to fall short by not explicitly addressing the need to foster fair mobility, inclusive labour markets and to provide adequate social protection.  One crucial aspect of fair working conditions was mentioned: the commitment to put forward an EU framework on minimum wages. However, no other initiative planned to reinforce other social rights enshrined in the European Pillar of Social Rights were mentioned. The ongoing revision of social security coordination rules for instance will be crucial to ensure fair mobility, whose importance was further highlighted since the crisis by the situation of seasonal workers.

Similarly, while Ursula von der Leyen emphasised her ambition for the EU to become a leader in the digital field and make the most of the potential of new technologies, she failed to address how to tackle its impact on the labour market.

As the Commission attempts to achieve the challenge of both leading the EU into recovery and to keep it on track towards its longer-term objectives, we encourage Ursula von der Leyen to continue building a European Health Union, but would warn against losing sight of the social dimension of the EU’s internal market.


Picture credit: © European Union 2020 - Source : EP