Move fast, build to last: Europe’s new generation

Before I took office 100 days ago, I was struck by the boldness of Europe’s next generation – both in spirit and in action. On Friday, I saw and heard this again loud and clear as thousands of young people took the streets of Brussels to demand urgent action for our planet.

This generation wants to move fast – and they are right. Because in front of us are the major twin ecological and digital transitions. They will affect us all, wherever we live, whatever we do. They will transform the way we travel or design, make and consume things. They will create new opportunities for Europe’s innovators, entrepreneurs and industry.

But as we embark on this transition, we do so in an increasingly agitated and complicated world. Recent experience has reminded us why they say a week is a long time in politics. In the past few days, I was in Greece and Bulgaria to see first-hand the pressures our borders are under and to offer European solidarity – in spirit and in financial and technical support. It brought home the need to find a humane, effective and comprehensive way forward on migration. A day before that I was in our crisis management centre, setting out the different ways Europe can help mitigate the impact of the Corona Virus.

This week shows us the need for Europe to be stronger, more united and more strategic in the way it thinks, acts and speaks. We also need to create new partnerships and alliances, like the one we will unveil with Africa in the next few days. And we need to strengthen our more established ones, as we are doing with the Western Balkans.

Leading the twin transition in this changing world is the driving force of this Commission. This is our generational task and opportunity. And it is why, since day one, we have been determined to move fast to build a fair and prosperous, green and digital Europe that will last for our children.

When it comes to the future our planet, the policy of being too cautious is riskiest of all. This is why one of our first actions was to launch the European Green Deal. At the heart of it is the goal to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050. Just this week we proposed to turn that hard ambition into hard legislation.

This is of course about bringing nature back in our lives and cutting emissions. But the European Green Deal is more than that – it is our new growth strategy. It will give investors certainty and help our economies grow in a way that gives more back to people, to the planet and to society than it takes away.

But as we move fast, we must ensure that we leave no one behind. We know that for some the change will be more difficult than for others. This is why we proposed to set aside €100bn to ensure a just transition for all – notably for those that will have to make a bigger leap than most. Putting people and fairness first is the only way to make sure the European Green Deal stands the test of time.

It ultimately comes down to a question of trust, which is also the keyword for our approach to the digital transition. I believe in technology and what it can do to make our lives easier – from caring for family to communicating with friends. And I know what it can do to create new jobs, skills and help European companies grow, from the smallest start-up to the biggest giant.

But if Europe is to be a digital leader, we need to develop our own capacities, as well as our own laws. We need European innovation and technologies to compete across the world. This is at the heart of the new data strategy that will help us to play to our strengths, encouraging companies and governments to access and share their troves of under-used data. And it will help us make the most and the best of artificial intelligence in a way that we can all trust.

We can only fully grasp the opportunities of the twin transitions if we draw on all of our strengths and our diversity. We will always work for fairness, uphold our values and care for the things that people really care about. This is why we have already put forward a new gender equality strategy and launched the first step of Europe’s plan to beat cancer.

So yes, a week is a long time in politics. But 100 days is only enough time to set a direction and to take the first big steps on our journey. There will be bumps along the way and we will be tested just as we have in the last week – but we must always keep the spirit of Europe’s new generation along the way. This is your time and the journey starts now.

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der Leyen
President of the European Commission