Europe’s week: VDL set for annual speech amid MEPs’ Strasbourg return

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The coming week is all about one speech – the annual State of the European Union address – delivered in Strasbourg on Wednesday by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Last year one of her memorable moments was to demand LGBT people are treated equally in the EU.

“I will not rest when it comes to building a union of equality. A union where you can be who you are and love who you want without fear of recrimination,” von der Leyen said.

She didn’t directly mention Poland, however, which had at the time set up so-called LGBT free zones.

Teresa Küchler, an EU affairs correspondent for Svenska Dagbladet told Euronews that not mentioning it was a mistake.

“She held back a lot last year. I mean she could have actually criticised, for instance, Poland and Hungary openly,” Küchler said. “We know that Poland and Hungary have been under a lot of criticism – the criticism is about them straying away from democratic basic principles. Yet Ursula von der Leyen did not mention Hungary and Poland at any point in that speech.”

She is more optimistic about next week’s speech, however.

“I’m hoping that this year was will see someone who is a little more cheerful, and also very eager, and also very confident in moving forward.”

Strasbourg agenda

But the speech is not the only item on the agenda at next week’s European Parliament Strasbourg plenary session.

MEPs will vote on a resolution after the EU set out conditions for engaging with Afghanistan’s new rulers.

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Concerns over women’s rights and access for humanitarian aid remain the highest priority for the European Parliament.

MEPs are also set to give the green light to the EU’s so-called blue card, in order to cut red tape for foreign workers.

It includes a lower minimum salary threshold and would make it easier for foreign workers to move within the EU.

The aim is to tackle Europe’s ageing population problem by attracting talent from outside of the bloc.

The European Parliament will vote on two laws to make Europe better able to respond to cross-border health threats.

And finally, MEPs will assess a draft bill threatening media freedom in Poland, and the latest challenges to EU values.

Green bonds

This past week, the European Commission made an announcement on what could be an effective financial mechanism to cutting emissions – green bonds.

The EU will buy up to €250bn in debt and the receivers of the cash can only use the money for green projects.

“Eligibility for Green Bonds is clearly defined,” the European Commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn said on Tuesday. “It has to be proved that financed investments have a positive ecological impact. The green bond framework already passed the first test.”

The green bonds will go towards making up part of the €800bn recovery fund, agreed by EU member states to pull the economy out of the pandemic-induced economic slump.

Krista Tukiainen, head of research at Climate Bonds Initiative is positive about the prospect of these bonds.

“The way that it relates to us regular people is, for example, many of our pensions and other types of retail investments accounts are linked to funds which are comprised of green bonds,” she told Euronews.

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But she warned that controls and checks will need to be in place.

“Any kind of entity, any kind of organisation, technically speaking, can issue a green bond. So they can go to the market and say ‘this money that I’m ringfencing for this instrument, is green’, even if I’m still elsewhere invested in fossil fuel assets,” Tukiainen said.

The first sale of the EU’s green bonds is set to start in October.

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