24 November 2022 | by Eirini Tagonidi (International & European Economic Studies BSc, AUEB)

In a State of the Union’s speech where the words “Ukraine” and “war” are the most used; 19 and 16 times respectively, it can be seen how priorities are stepping in, on the European Union’s (hereinafter EU or Union) territory. In comparison to 2021, the most indirect, but profound, statement was the word “continue” which was mentioned 18 times – while in 2022, zero. The President of the European Commission made it clear this year in her speech; the EU will not “continue” any dependency under Putin’s regime.


Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union Speech, on the 14th of September 2022, was divided into 3 keypoint-elements. Firstly, condemning Putin’s war against Ukraine and expressing the unification and support for Ukraine. Secondly, proposing solutions and getting prepared for the EU’s future. Lastly, embodying the democratic principles that the EU stands for.


1.   “This is about autocracy against democracy”

Von der Leyen began her speech by praising Ukraine’s resistance against Russia’s invasion, pledging the EU’s support and solidarity to the country under-attack, while calling Ukraine a “nation of heroes”.


“This is about autocracy against democracy” von der Leyen said.


The President of the European Commission pointed out that the Union stood by the Ukrainian people, and will continue to do so, by providing already more than €19 billion in financial assistance and additional provision in military support. Moreover, in March the connection of Ukraine with the EU’s electricity grid was achieved and the energy trade between the two parties is going to be expanded.


In the near future, the EU aims to provide €100 million in financial support for the rehabilitation of new schools. In addition, von der Leyen proposed that Ukraine will be part of Europe’s free-roaming area and get unrestrained access to the EU’s single market. However, she did not present any plans for new weapons delivery.


In an acta non verba framework, the Commission chief underscored the reality of the withdrawal of international companies from the Russian market and the fragmentation of Russia’s industry. She didn’t mince her words; “the sanctions are here to stay”.


The focal point was unequivocal; “Putin will fail and Europe will prevail”.


2.   A future “made in Europe

The energy crisis was, not surprisingly, the focal point in von der Leyen’s agenda. Diversifying away from Russian energy costs a lot, but getting rid of this dependency constitutes a necessity for the Union. An observation, however, was stated here by Professor G. Pagoulatos: “The EU has been slow to take concrete drastic measures to tame electricity prices, which have almost increased tenfold. An emergency European Council should have been convened as early as this past summer for a joint response to the energy crisis. The substantial divergence of opinion between the Member States prevents faster progress”.

The Commission’s President re-established the proposals in her speech on electricity consumption: Firstly, energy savings from households and industries consumption are imperative for the EU’s energy security and stability. Secondly, a price cap should be imposed on companies with excess revenues that produce at low costs; profits will be shared to the Member States (MS) in order to support the most vulnerable. The third proposal concerned the major oil, gas and coal companies who gain huge profits and must contribute as well, in this time of crisis and war.

Elaborating more on the Achilles’ heel, the Commission chief listed the adjustments that have already been implemented and especially, she mentioned the extensive reliance of some MS on offshore wind. The reference to a Union dependent on hydrogen could be the next EU’s checkmate move in this decoupling game. Furthermore, she praised the overachievement of the REPowerEU target and she underlined that renewable hydrogen brought to the table the necessity of creating a new European Hydrogen Bank.

Prioritizing climate change, the President, when recalling the summer of 2022, distinctively pointed out the continuous fights against fires in several EU Member States. Thus, she announced that the capacity of amphibious planes and helicopters will be doubled.

Ursula von der Leyen referred to the pandemic, vaccines and the success story behind the recovery plan (NextGenerationEU); only €100 billion out of the initial €700 billion were distributed amongst the MS. NextGenerationEU will continue to finance investments in the digital and net-zero economy.


The Commission will present new proposals in October for more flexible debt reduction tracks for the MS, while taking accountability on past agreements. This is the way forward for restoring “the Maastricht spirit; stability and growth”.

Although the unemployment rate is lower than ever, the President underlined the lack of staff in European companies. Further investments and (educational) training are vital for job seekers. The year 2023 will be “the European Year of Skills”.


Taking a step further towards a sustainable and digital economy, lithium and rare earth will soon be more essential than oil and gas. The EU must acknowledge China’s dominance of raw materials, particularly rare earth (90%) and lithium (60%), and its reliance on its self-sufficiency. The focus should turn to trade policy, new partnerships and new agreements should be signed with countries such as Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and India in order to strengthen the EU market.


For the aforementioned reasons, the President announced a European Critical Raw Materials Act, which would follow the footsteps of the European Battery Alliance (launched in October 2017) and the Chips Act (announced last year). The replication of these achievements is where the EU relies on. In the long term, a new European Sovereignty Fund is needed.

Let’s make sure that the future of industry is made in Europe, the President of the European Commission voiced in Strasbourg.


3.   “A Union of determination and solidarity”

Ursula von der Leyen emphasized the significance of the EU enlargement in the Western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. She expressed her support behind the idea to establish a European Political Community, an initiative advocated by French President Emmanuel Macron. It is also anticipated that the EU should engage with different regions, like Africa and Latin America, and boost its investments in infrastructure, green tech and digital networks (Global Gateway).

This requires investment on a global scale’’, she noted.


On a separate note, she condemned the act of spreading lies and disinformation originating from foreign entities that are targeting and threatening democracies. Fighting corruption and updating the legislative framework will be one of the main goals of the Commission in the year to come.


“This is Europe at its best. A Union of determination and solidarity” was one of the last  words uttered by the president of the European Commission.


Professor G. Pagoulatos gave his perspective on Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech:The ‘visionary’ element was absent.[..] It was an inspiring speech with a strong geopolitical imprint, limited in concrete policies, and restrained in the formulation of its geopolitical ambition for Europe”.


All in all, an assertiveness for a unified and hopeful Europe was delivered in Strasbourg. Von der Leyen’s message for the future was centered around a self-sufficient Union. However, for the moment, one thing is certain; the EU is left to bite the bullet out of this (in)dependency game of Russian roulette.


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