By Barbara Nolan
European democracy is sometimes taken for granted. However, our EU democracy is unique as it places citizens’ well-being and rights at the heart of policymaking. We should treasure our values, freedoms and democratic systems, which are part and parcel of EU membership.
This message highlights the forthcoming State of the European Union address - the EU’s most important annual policy speech. The speech is delivered every September by the President of the European Commission and takes stock of the past year, as well as setting out the Commission’s priorities and ambitions for the year ahead.
On 14 September, President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech as the EU emerges from the coronavirus pandemic crisis but is now facing with a new crisis: Russia’s unjustified war against Ukraine and its fallout, including pressing challenges in relation to energy supply.
The European Commission has successfully coordinated the EU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and procured safe and effective vaccines. It also managed to preserve the right to free movement of people by developing the EU COVID Vaccination Certificate. This is proof that when countries work together – the outcome can be much better.
As we seek to modernise our economies after the pandemic, NextGenerationEU - Europe’s recovery plan - has facilitated significant investment, giving new confidence to families, businesses and investors.
The European Union has shown unwavering support for Ukraine and introduced unprecedented sanctions against Russia, to reduce its capacity to wage war against Ukraine.
To ensure Europe’s security of supply, the European Commission has presented the REPowerEU plan to phase out dependency Russian fossil fuels. This helps toaccelerate the green transition, through massive investments in renewable energy.
The Commission has tabled ambitious plansto cut greenhouse gas emissions, invest in green technologies and protect the natural environment.
To advance Europe’s digital decade, the Commission has proposed rules that will shape the digital age beyond our borders, based on safe and trusted technology.
And what is more, the EU empowers people to shape their future. Over the past year, citizens across the EU were invited to contribute to a joint vision for how Europe should respond to new challenges and meet people's evolving needs. Key ideas and feedback have been harvested and will be followed-up over the coming months and years.
In this year’s State of the Union speech, President von der Leyen will outline the initiatives that will bring these ideas to life -this is what people-centred European democracy means. It is therefore no surprise that the latest Eurobarometer survey revealed that 83% of Irish people look upon the future of the European Union with optimism – the highest percentage of any country in the EU.
Barbra Nolan is the Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland