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LYMEC Responds to the State of the European Union Address

This year's State of the European Union address - the fifth and last State of this European Commission's mandate - followed a sharply different tone from last year's address.

Much of von der Leyen's speech touched upon biodiversity and the need to protect our climate. Von der Leyen highlighted  her Commission's work on the Green New Deal agenda, including the recent passage of the landmark EU Nature Restoration Law. Through stressing the importance of sustainable agriculture, conservation methods and supply chains, it was evident that climate change was at the top of the agenda. This opened the door to further reflections on Europe's energy infrastructure and the need to chart a more sustainable path free from the Russian dependencies of the past. Without a doubt, LYMEC shares the entirety of this assessment.

Seeking to make Europe a more competitive marketplace, von der Leyen also announced the launching of a probe into China's anti-competition practices in the automobile market. She also stated her desire to "hear directly from small and medium-sized businesses" - an objective she promised to spearhead in the year ahead by promising to appoint an EU SME Envoy. Believing SMEs to be the backbone of the EU’s internal market, we are pleased to see this announcement.

Promises to boost wind energy production and decarbonisation with modern technology were key highlights. As the speech progressed, the tone shifted towards the strong geopolitical Europe that von der Leyen promised four years ago. LYMEC deeply appreciates von der Leyen’s strong statement in support of bringing Romania and Bulgaria into Schengen after years of unnecessary delay. Having long advocated for this as LYMEC, this is a welcome development and we hope EU leaders take note of von der Leyen’s words.

We also welcome the 50bn commitment to Ukraine’s defence, the extension of the temporary protection order for 4 million Ukrainians and her determination to counter further Russian influence by calling for the integration of Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkans.

Despite these promising calls for further EU integration, LYMEC wishes that there had been more clarity on a timeline for enlargement. Reference to the vague “merit-based” accession criteria was yet another missed opportunity to further elaborate. Tied to this, we are also disappointed by von der Leyen’s failure to consider treaty change (namely, removing the unanimity rule), something which RENEW MEPs Guy Verhofstadt and Katalin Cseh rightfully challenged her on. These are two issues LYMEC has campaigned on strongly, including at Conference on the Future of Europe.

As a pan-European youth organisation founded to empower the voice of young people, we would have liked to see a focus on the European Year of Skills and last year's  European Year of Youth. Relatedly, LYMEC was also disappointed to see that despite momentum within various EU institutions, von der Leyen failed to mention the campaign to ban unpaid internships across the EU. The ban on unpaid internships is a key outcome of both the Conference on the Future of Europe and a driving message of the European Year of Youth.

Another omission from the speech was how the EU should tackle autocratic states and populist governments within its borders and externally. This is another big letdown for us at LYMEC. Failing to mention is an own-goal to the values the EU was built to defend, especially in today’s time of increasing illiberalism.

With Europe facing many challenges as we approach the EU2024 election cycle, this was an opportunity for President von der Leyen to reassure Europe that the Commission is showing no signs of a slowdown. Unfortunately, this State of the Union address was somewhat limited in its content and, all things considered, did not reveal much about the EU's forthcoming strategy on the issues that matter to us most: education, the rule of law and building a stronger and more resolute monetary union.

 

Photo: AFP

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