“Europe must be on the right side of history and humanity”. These were the words of the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, during a speech at the European Parliament plenary debate on the presentation of the programme of activities of the Portuguese Presidency of the EU Council.

Looking ahead to the Social Summit in Porto in May, President von der Leyen said: “Our current rules are based on old realities. They no longer reflect the speed and scale of the transformations we are embarking on. So as we overcome the pandemic, as we prepare necessary reforms and as we speed up the twin green and digital transitions, I believe it is time to also adapt the social rulebook. A rulebook which ensures solidarity between generations. A rulebook that rewards entrepreneurs who take care of their employees. Which focuses on jobs and opens up opportunities. Which puts skills, innovation and social protection on an equal footing.”

The President underscored why a united, common European approach to the pandemic was the right one: “Staying united on vaccines, as 27 Member States, was the right choice. By working together, the Commission was able to secure the broadest portfolio of vaccines in the world.” The 2.3 billion vaccine doses secured are more than enough for Europe and our neighbourhood. She also emphasised the importance of supporting the neighbourhood to start vaccinating their frontline workers, from the Western Balkans to the Eastern Partnership to our African partners in the South: “This is why the Commission is proposing an EU Vaccine Sharing Mechanism. This will channel vaccines either directly – or through the COVAX facility in which the EU is the largest contributor.

This is not only a matter of solidarity, but also a matter of self-interest. We will only come out of this pandemic together. This is true for our health. For our economies and supply chains. And also for our geopolitical credibility and influence. I am determined that Europe must be on the right side of history and humanity." In this “race against time”, she also called on EU Member States to speed up their vaccination efforts, support companies involved to raise their production capacity, and keep abreast of the spread of new variants.

The President also reiterated the need to preserve the Single Market and keep borders open, and emphasised the need for a “common approach to test, trace, travel and borders” based on the Commission’s proposals.

Watch the speech here, and read it in full in EnglishFrenchGerman and the original version.