Throughout history, pandemics have changed the destiny of people. They make us see the world in a different light and remind us the value of many of the simplest things in life – from our daily routines to giving our families a hug to appreciating the nature all around us. They also make us question our way of doing things and ask whether there is a better way of doing things. And they offer us a chance to redesign our future.
It presents us with an opportunity to emerge stronger together.
This pandemic will be no different. It has of course been a painful and anxious period for millions – and we must continue to stay vigilant as numbers rise again in some parts of Europe. But the last six months have also shown us the value of things, such as being in a Union where you can rely on 27 nations to pull each other up. And it presents us with an opportunity to emerge stronger together.
The historic agreement on NextGenerationEU – our 750bn euro plan for recovery and for the future – shows it can be done. Never before has Europe come together in this way. So now is the time to take that spirit and use it to move forward on other issues together.
Take migration. This has been an issue which has divided Europe for too long and that I am convinced can and must be managed together. But you only have to look at the news to see the urgency to find a sustainable solution for everyone. As I announced in my State of the Union speech earlier this week, the European Commission will come forward in the next days with a New European Pact on Migration. It will take a human and humane approach, and ensure that it is not only a European pact by name – but a common European solution by design. It will be based on solidarity, both between Europeans and with refugees and on collective responsibility of national governments. Migration will stay with us. We have to manage it well, with its challenges and opportunities.
This is the moment to get Europe back on its feet and design that better way of living. During the confinement, we longed for cleaner air and greener cities. Digital technologies allowed students to keep learning and businesses to keep running, but too many Europeans – in rural areas or disadvantaged families – have been left behind. The post-pandemic world must be better than this and we now have everything it takes to make it happen.
With NextGenerationEU we have the financial resources we need to take urgent and strategic action, from improving internet speeds to supporting our industry. We have the opportunity to do more than simply repairing our economy: we can shape a better way of living for the world of tomorrow. Nowhere is that more important than in our relationship with our planet. With the European Green Deal we have set the goal to become climate neutral by 2050. To make sure we can get there, we will now propose to increase our 2030 target for emissions reduction to at least 55% – up from 40% as it currently is.
This is a big ambitious jump, but it is both realistic and beneficial for our economy and industry. In the last weeks, I have received hundreds of letters citizens to CEOs to NGOs all asking for Europe to lead the way. And this is what we are ready to do. This is not just about cutting emissions – it is about building a better world to live in, from buildings to cleaner transport.
Changing our planet for the better also means changing our mentality for the better. The European Green Deal is not only an environmental and economic project: it needs to be a new cultural project for Europe. Culture is born when great minds come together. This is why I want the EU to set up a new European Bauhaus, inspired by the art school set up a century ago that mixed form and function. It will be a co-creation space for architects and artists, engineers and designers to come together to match style with sustainability.
This is only a small part of the work ahead. We will need to show determination whether on building a stronger European Health Union or ensuring that work pays for everyone. But I am convinced Europe has everything it needs to make it happen. We have the vision, the plan, the investment. And we also have a new-found unity. So let’s get to work and ensure that this pandemic changes our destiny for the better.
Ursula von der Leyen is the President of the European Commission.