Speech by President von der Leyen at the Annual Budget Conference 2021

when Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi were recently awarded this year´s Nobel Prize in Physics, together with Syukuro Manabe, I like to think that there was also another winner, even though it has not been much in the spotlight:

Our European Union or, more precisely, its budget. Because when they conducted their ground-breaking research, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi were backed by EU funding. This shows what a difference our budget can make. It demonstrates that there are no limits when expertise and scrupulous research are paired with the power of a budget at the service of 450 million Europeans. This shows the strength of Europe. It’s something that we can all be proud of!

I am delighted to be with you today at the Annual EU budget conference – even if it is only possible virtually. Of course, the timing for this conference could not be better. The European Commission has just started implementing the biggest package ever financed under the EU budget: I am talking about the multiannual budget and NextGenerationEU, our recovery plan. In current prices, we are talking about 2.1 trillion euros for the period from 2021 to 2027.

2100 billion euros. This is not just an impressive figure. It is a statement about our ambitions for the future of our Union.

Take the European Green Deal: we all know that we have to step up our action against climate change. Europe is leading these efforts. You can see this not only in our announcements and in our ambitious goals on the way to net-zero. You can see this first and foremost by looking at our budget. To reach the EU´s 2030 climate goals we need investments of around 470 billion euros each year, according to our estimates. This is why 30 percent of the funds under NextGenerationEU and the multiannual budget are earmarked for tackling climate change. Because Europe puts its money where its mouth is.

We know that this transition is more difficult for some than for others. This is true, for example, for regions that still rely heavily on coal. To address this challenge we equipped our budget with a Just Transition fund of more than 19 billion euros. In addition, we have proposed a new Social Climate Fund worth more than 70 billion euros. This is designed to help consumers, and vulnerable households in particular, on their way to a climate neutral future. Because in this way we will leave nobody behind.

My second point is the digital transition. The pandemic has demonstrated that Europe is not on par with its global competitors when it comes to technological innovation and investments. We have to close this gap. With the EU budget and NextGenerationEU we are taking a big leap in this direction. 20 percent of the recovery and resilience facility funds will be invested in the EU´s digital transformation. And the good news is that most Member States are exceeding these targets. They are investing in digital like never before. Based on the 26 national plans submitted so far, we see that more than 46 billion euro will be spent on upgrading digital public services and 24 billion to upgrade businesses. And another 23 billion euro is earmarked to help citizens all across our Union to learn the skills needed for the jobs of the future.

Together with numerous additional instruments like the Digital Europe programme, this will significantly speed up our digital transition – from digital connectivity to super-computing, from artificial intelligence to cyber-security.

The twin transitions are at the heart of our future prosperity and the well-being of all Europeans. With the budget and NextGenerationEU we are transforming our continent for the decades ahead and helping to create well-paid, sustainable jobs after the pandemic. NextGenerationEU alone can increase real GDP growth in the EU by around 2 percent. All this brings reassurance to markets and economic actors and drives confidence in the EU.

With NextGenerationEU, the EU has become the biggest issuer of green bonds worldwide. This is met by a growing demand for sustainable finance. So it came as no surprise, that when we went to the market in June to raise money for NextGenerationEU for the first time, the bonds were 7 times oversubscribed. And this interest has not faded. Quite the contrary. Our most recent issuance of green bonds was even 11 times oversubscribed! This is excellent news. For our green objectives. And for the international role of the Euro.

I want to first and foremost congratulate you, Gio, and your team, for making this success possible. I know that there has been a lot of hard work behind it.

Of course, a budget of this size comes with a huge responsibility. Because while our Union is investing more than ever before to advance our collective recovery, we must take special care that this money is used properly and effectively. We need to ensure that every euro and every cent is spent according to its proper purpose and in line with rule of law principles. This is not only a vital ingredient of our democracies. It also creates trust for investors and businesses at this crucial time.

This is why we have agreed on a new conditionality mechanism. This mechanism is at the very heart of NextGenerationEU and the European budget. I look forward to the decision of the Court of Justice on this mechanism. This will bring clarity for everyone in Europe. Because investments that enable our children to have a better future must not be allowed to disappear into hidden channels.

Now, implementation is key – especially for the national plans under the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the centerpiece of NextGenerationEU. In the coming months, we will closely monitor the progress of reforms and investments in each Member State. We are serious about our recovery, about the green and digital transition, about social fairness. This is why we have agreed with Member States on a set of milestones and targets that have to be fulfilled. Because we all know by experience:

Only what gets measured, gets done.

And make no mistake. The rules for payments from the Recovery and Resilience Facility are crystal-clear: They require that control and audit systems are in place in particular to prevent, detect and correct corruption, fraud and conflict of interests when using the funds under the Facility. Because it is the people of Europe who are paying for all of this. And we will make sure that this budget serves them well.

Let me – at the end – come back to our deserving Nobel prize winners once more. Because this is a budget of opportunities. For all researchers to be ahead of the curve. As we have seen. It is also a budget full of opportunities for our young people to study and work abroad. Just think of Erasmus plus, a brand that is recognised throughout the world. It is a budget full of opportunities, when it comes to funding. We are, for example, working on new own resources to help finance NextGenerationEU. It will make our Union more creative, more digital and more sustainable.

This is a budget for a Union that serves us all.

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