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Von der Leyen vows 'fair' green deal for EU farms and industry

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STRASBOURG: EU chief Ursula von der Leyen promised on Wednesday that Europe's green energy transition would be "fair and just" for farmers and businesses fearful of new regulations and unfair foreign competition.

Nine months ahead of the European Parliament elections, von der Leyen's State of the Union address to MEPs was more focused on addressing voters' economic concerns than on foreign crises like the war in Ukraine.

Brussels will, she said, launch a probe into what she said were the "huge state subsidies" allowing China to flood the European market with cheap electric cars, opening a new front in the battle to lead the new green economy.

She said the EU would fast-track permits for new wind turbines, vowed that "agriculture and protection of the natural world can go hand in hand" and promised to organise an international conference on ways to fight human traffickers bringing migrants to Europe.

Russia's attack of Ukraine had been the centrepiece of the previous year's address, but played a less central role this time, with the focus on what the EU must do to prepare itself to accommodate Kyiv and the countries of the Western Balkans as new members.

Some member states have dragged their feet on EU enlargement in the past, arguing that Brussels must streamline its decision-making rules -- under which the 27 existing member states wield a veto in many areas -- before taking on any more members.

But von der Leyen, who is due to report back to member states next month on Ukraine's progress towards meeting the criteria for membership talks, said that Kyiv had made "great strides" and that reform of EU rules should not be an excuse for delay.

The president of the European Commission told MEPs the EU should reform "but we cannot wait for treaty change to move ahead with enlargement. A union fit for enlargement can be achieved faster," she said.

"The future of Ukraine is in our Union. The future of the Western Balkans is in our Union. The future of Moldova is in our union," she declared.

Von der Leyen's commission has begun to lose some of its most senior members, as figures like former vice-president and Green Deal supremo Frans Timmermans seek new jobs ahead of the end of their five year mandate next year. — AFP

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