European Union chief pledges green recovery from corona crisis

BRUSSELS: EU chief Ursula von der Leyen vowed on Wednesday that Europe would lead the global search for a coronavirus vaccine while rebuilding its shattered economy with a green recovery plan.
In her first annual State of the European Union address, the president of the European Commission also warned Britain not to breach its Brexit withdrawal treaty and Turkey not to threaten its neighbours.
And she recommitted the bloc to fighting racism and homophobia, denouncing the so-called “LGBT-free” zones set up by some towns in EU member state Poland, and urging member states to step up for refugees.
Addressing the European Parliament in Brussels, von der Leyen said: “The people of Europe are still suffering.”
In an implicit swipe at US President Donald Trump’s approach to the pandemic, von der Leyen said Europe would lead the world in the search for a vaccine and support multilateral bodies like the World Health Organization.
“None of us will be safe until all of us are safe — wherever we live, whatever we have,” she said. “Vaccine nationalism puts lives at risk. Vaccine cooperation saves them.”
Europe’s own economy has been devastated by the epidemic and the ensuing economic and social lockdowns, but von der Leyen touted her Commission’s green recovery plan as a way back.
She said that Brussels would urge member states to set a more ambitious goal of cutting greenhouse emissions by 55 per cent by 2030, up from a target of 40 per cent.
“For us, the 2030 target is ambitious, achievable and beneficial for Europe,” she added.
The new target is backed by EU powers France and Germany, as well as big business, but faces stern resistance from eastern member states that depend on coal for their energy needs.
“We’re concerned about the European Commission’s proposal to increase the emission reduction target by 2030 to ‘at least 55 per cent’ without presenting measures to implement it,” the Polish climate ministry said.
Warsaw recently earmarked billions for its first nuclear power plants. Slated to go online by 2033, they are meant to ease the transition away from coal, but Poland is keen to secure transition funding from Brussels.
EU leaders will attempt to agree on the target at a summit in October, which would then need the approval of European Parliament, where a majority of MEPs want a still more ambitious target.
Von der Leyen said that 30 per cent of spending from the 750-billion-euro ($ 890-billion) plan would be devoted to climate-friendly projects and financed through so-called green bonds.
In a broadside aimed at Poland’s populist government, von der Leyen also declared that so-called LGBT-free zones have “no place in our union.”
“I will not rest when it comes to building a union of equality… a union where you can be who you are and love who you want — without fear of recrimination or discrimination,” she said. — AFP