State of the Union


 Courage has a name, that name is Ukraine

The President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, delivered her third State of the Union Speech on 14 September. She listed the challenges Europe faces and announced the steps to tackle them. The main messages she conveyed through her speech focused on unity regarding supporting refugees, responding to the energy crisis or taking joint political decisions. We summarized a few points relevant to democracy and inclusion.

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Ursula von der Leyen, dressed in symbolic blue and yellow, dedicated this Speech to Ukraine. Several times in her address, she referred to the country, praising the determination and courage of its people, with an emotional welcome to the special #SOTEU guest, the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska.


Never before has this Parliament debated the State of our Union with war raging on European soil, stressed the President of the European Commission and added that since the war began, the continent has risen in solidarity.

"From that very moment, Europeans neither hid nor hesitated. They found the courage to do the right thing."

Like Magdalena and Agnieszka from Poland, present at the plenary who, after they had heard about trains full of refugees, rushed to the Warsaw Central Station. They set up a tent and gathered 3000 volunteers to welcome refugees 24/7.

"Their story is about everything our Union stands and strives for," stressed Von der Leyen and announced that the EU is about to provide 100 million euros to support the rehabilitation of damaged Ukrainian schools.


We should be happy about a few optimistic trends in our job market: unemployment is at a record low, and job vacancies are at a record high.

However, Von der Leyen reminded us that Europe lacks resources like truck drivers, waiters and airport workers, nurses, engineers and IT technicians. We need everyone on board and should invest in professional education and upskilling.

"We must attract the right skills to our continent to strengthen Europe's growth. We need to speed up and facilitate the recognition of qualifications also of third-country nationals. This will make Europe more attractive for skilled workers," outlined Von der Leyen when proposing to make 2023 the European Year of Skills.


To build a better shield from malign interference, we should tackle disinformation at its source and prevent foreign manipulation that is toxic to our democracies. For that reason, she announced a Defence of Democracy package.

For more than 70 years, our continent has marched toward democracy, yet, the Commission's President warned that we shouldn't take democracy for granted and we should fight for it every day. Along this line, she reassured us that the EU would keep insisting on judicial independence and protect its budget through the conditionality mechanism.

"Democracy has not gone out of fashion, but it must update itself in order to keep improving people's lives." With the words of David Sassoli, she declared a new potential horizon of the Union. A braver Union that is closer to its people in times of need, bolder in responding to historical challenges and daily concerns of Europeans, and walks at their side when they deal with the significant trials of life.


"Democratic institutions must constantly gain and regain the citizens' trust", continued Ursula von der Leyen in her Speech on the State of the Union. She added that we should face the new challenges that history always puts before us, just as we did when the Ukrainians start fleeing war. She described the welcoming reactions of Europeans when receiving Ukrainians as a "Europe at its best".

However, she added that we should keep the moment of unity and look beyond this crisis: "This determination and drive for solidarity is still missing in our migration debate. Our actions towards Ukrainian refugees must not be an exception. They can be our blueprint for going forward."

She touched upon the need for effective control of our external borders, which should be in line with respect for fundamental rights. She also clearly expressed the need for fair and quick procedures, a crisis-proof and quick-to-deploy system, and a permanent and legally binding mechanism that ensures solidarity.

She wants to see Europe that manages migration with dignity and respect, Europe where all Member States take responsibility for challenges we all share.

She pointed out that progress has been made on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, in particular with the Roadmap, an agreement between the European Parliament and five rotating Council Presidencies committing to adopt the reform of the EU migration and asylum rules before 2024.

However, as so many times before, it all depends on the political will.

We have heard lots of high hopes and big words in this State of the Union Speech. We regret, however, that gender equality was neglected, together with the devastating problem of human trafficking, issues related to war crimes and violence against women and girls in the territories occupied by the Russian army.

Many other things could use some attention as well.