Ursula Von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, gave the State of the EU address. She called for continued EU unity in the face of Vladimir Putin’s threats. From Von der Leyen’s perspective, “the stakes are high. Not just for Ukraine, but for all of Europe and for the rest of the world. We are going to be tested by those who want to exploit any kind of division within us. This is not just a war declared by Russia on Ukraine; it is a war against our energy, against our economy, against our values, and against our future. It is the war of autocracy against democracy. And today, I appear here with the conviction that, thanks to our courage and our solidarity, Putin will fail, and Europe will win. It is time to stand firm and not to appease”. Never once in our magazine’s collective recollection has Von der Leyen spoken so directly and so impactfully about the existential threat the bloc is currently facing. By summoning this blunt rhetoric, she is calling for resilience, resistance, and sacrifice.
Sacrifice is a direct result of sanctions; because the EU cut Russia off from western markets, Russia has struck back harshly by drastically reducing its energy supply to Europe. Before the war, some countries like Germany relied on Russia for more than half of their natural gas. Despite the many hardships these sanctions have caused in Europe, the situation seems to be far worse in Russia. As the President pointed out, the Russian army is being forced to extract semiconductor ships from dishwashers and refrigerators to repair military equipment. According to her, these sanctions are working; beyond the war effort, they have stifled the Russian economy.
The State of the EU Address, created a decade ago, is one of the important events on the community calendar, even though, in practice, it does not change much. The Commission takes the opportunity to review, to list its priorities, to highlight specific points, and sometimes to make big announcements, but the significance outside the community bubble is minimal. It barely reaches citizens, it is not cathartic, and it almost never manages to transmit. It is an odd attempt to recreate the American State of the Union address, which is a top political moment each year.
Von der Leyen covered dozens of topics in her speech. The most anticipated was the energy package that her Vice President Timmermans would break down later that afternoon. “EU Member States have already invested billions of euros in assistance to vulnerable households, but we know that it will not be enough. Therefore, we propose to limit the income of companies that produce electricity at a low cost. These companies are obtaining an income that they did not count on, with which they did not even dream of. In our social market economy, profits are positive, but in the times we live in, it cannot be that some are making extraordinary and unprecedented profits through war and at the expense of consumers. In these moments, the benefits must be shared and channelled to those who need them most. Our proposal will raise more than 140 billion euros that will allow member states to cushion the blow directly”, she said of the cap that the energy ministers accepted last Friday.
We have no clue if this speech will change anything, but it does signal the path forward that the EU is planning for the near future.