From Russia’s continuing invasion and occupation of Ukraine, the deepening challenges of climate change, to changing geopolitical relations such as with China, the EU faces challenges on many fronts. These and other issues will likely feature in the fourth annual State of the EU (SOTEU) address by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday 13th September 2023. This Just the Facts looks at what the address involves, what the President has spoken about before and what we can expect from the European Commission ahead of European Parliament election in June 2024.
What is the SOTEU?
The address is given annually by the President of the European Commission to MEPs of the European Parliament during its first plenary session in September. It is specifically mentioned in Annex IV(5) of the 2010 Framework Agreement where: “Each year in the first part-session of September, a State of the European Union debate will be held in which the President of the Commission shall deliver an address, taking stock of the current year and looking ahead to priorities for the following years.”
This year’s SOTEU address will be the thirteenth such address, as José Manuel Barroso delivered the first in 2010. Before MEPs, the Commission President will look back at events, challenges and accomplishments that have occurred over the previous 12 months by the EU. The SOTEU will then look towards the coming year by referencing the European Commission’s work programme, such as legislative proposals, policy initiatives and other items. Following this, the Commission President will engage in a debate with MEPs on the contents of the SOTEU and other issues relating to the EU, all of which will be broadcast live online and elsewhere.
What has Ursula von der Leyen said previously?
In September 2022, the European Commission President spoke about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reforms around the energy market, the fight against corruption and broader reforms of the EU’s common fiscal rules. She also called for a convention to amend the EU Treaties in order to future-proof the EU in a changing world and in advance of any potential further enlargement.
In her 2021 State of the European Union, President Ursula von der Leyen focused on the solidarity of the EU throughout the Covid-19 crisis, noting that Europe “chose to go it together” to ensure every part of the EU got the same access to Covid-19 vaccinations. She reiterated the urgency of the climate crisis and reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to the European Green Deal, as well as closing the climate finance gap between developed and developing countries.
For her 2020 State of the European Union address she focused on the EU’s rapid response to the Covid-19 crisis, as well as the importance of the Single Market and the “essence of humanity”, quoting one of the “great Europeans”, the late John Hume.
What can we expect in 2023?
This will be the last SOTEU address by President von der Leyen before the European Parliament elections in June 2024. With many legislative files still open, it is expected that priority will be given to the files that should be completed before the election. As a result, the speech could focus on achieving key files under the European Green Deal, her flagship legislative initiative, which seeks to make the EU greener, fairer and more digital.
Her address will most certainly feature the EU’s continued response and support for Ukraine due to Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukrainian territory and how it will continue to shape the EU agenda. This could refer to the EU’s response to broader geopolitical and geoeconomic global challenges, future EU enlargement, EU security and defence, and upholding the rule of law in the EU.
However, a key aspect of SOTEU addresses is what is not said. For example, in 2022 there was no reference to Brexit, which likely reflected broader sensitivities around ongoing discussions that worked towards the Windsor Framework that was agreed in March 2023.
Where can I watch the SOTEU?
President Ursula von der Leyen’s fourth address will be broadcast live online from 8am (Irish time) on Wednesday, 13 September 2023. More information about how to follow and watch the SOTEU can be found here.
On Friday, 8 September, the European Parliament Liaison Office in Ireland, European Movement Ireland and the European Commission Representation in Ireland held a hybrid roundtable discussion with key stakeholders on the 2023 SOTEU address. The webinar is available to watch back in full here. The panel consisted of:
Pat Ivory – Ibec (Irish Business and Employers Confederation)
Owen Reidy – ICTU (Irish Congress of Trade Unions)
Ivan Cooper – The Wheel
Dr Eileen Culloty – Dublin City University
Conn McCarrick – Youth Speaker
Sorcha Tunney – Trócaire
Ciaran Cuffe MEP – Green Party (Dublin) – Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
Barry Andrews MEP – Fianna Fáil (Dublin) – Renew Europe Group
It was moderated by broadcaster and writer Flor MacCarthy
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