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Ursula von der Leyen delivers annual State of the European Union address

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Brussels will investigate Chinese state subsidies for electric cars, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday, vowing to defend European industry against “artificially low prices”.

“Global markets are now flooded with cheaper Chinese electric cars. And their price is kept artificially low thanks to huge public subsidies,” von der Leyen said during the annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

That could lead the European Union to impose taxes on cars it says are unfairly sold at a lower price, undercutting European competitors.

“Europe is open to competition but not to a race to the bottom,” declared the President of the European Commission.

France reportedly pushed von der Leyen to launch the investigation, but Europe is increasingly concerned about the continent’s dependence on Chinese products.

The European Commission’s internal market chief, Thierry Breton, warned last week of an emerging trend of Europe being “relegated to net imports of electric vehicles or solar panels.”

China could overtake Japan to become the world’s largest automaker this year, some experts say.

France particularly fears that Europe will fall behind if it does not become more assertive in the face of China’s more protectionist actions.

Von der Leyen called on the EU to set its own approach to Beijing, even as some of Europe’s biggest powers want to be cautious to avoid severing trade ties.

Despite his strong words, von der Leyen said it was “vital” for Europe to maintain “communication and dialogue with China”.

“Because there are also issues on which we can and must cooperate. Remove risks, not decouple – this will be my approach with Chinese leaders at the EU-China summit later this year,” she added.

European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis will visit China next week, he said in a social media post, “to discuss trade and economic opportunities/challenges.”

Just and equitable transition to a carbon neutral future

The EU, the Commission president said, aims for a “just and fair transition” to a carbon-neutral future, balancing the fight against climate change with the concerns of businesses and farmers.

She said she was “convinced that agriculture and protecting the natural world can go hand in hand – we need both”.

She also denounced “heavily subsidized Chinese competitors” who were stifling European clean energy companies, stressing that “fairness in the global economy is so important.”

In response, she said Brussels would guarantee an “accelerated procedure” for authorizations for wind installations.

And she said it would engage farmers in a dialogue about the changes to come.

This responds to headwinds from his own conservative political family, the European People’s Party (EPP), which has sought to slow von der Leyen’s ambitious green transition goals.

The EPP, the largest group in the European Parliament, says these ambitions unfairly burden farmers, who are a key group ahead of next year’s European elections.

Von der Leyen also explained that the bloc needed a “new strategic approach” to Africa as Russia advanced on the continent.

“Think of the Sahel region, one of the poorest but fastest growing in population,” the European Commission president said in her annual State of the EU address to lawmakers.

“The succession of military coups will make the region even more unstable for years to come. Russia influences and profits from the chaos.”

Von der Leyen insisted that the EU must “show the same unity of purpose towards Africa that we have shown towards Ukraine”.

“We must focus on cooperation with legitimate governments and regional organizations,” she said.

The EU chief said Brussels would now work to develop a “new strategic approach” ahead of a future summit with the African Union.

The EU is still reeling from the coup in Niger in July, the latest to topple a bloc partner in the volatile jihadist-hit region.

Moscow has made progress in recent years in strengthening ties with African governments, with Russian mercenaries playing a key role in supporting a range of leaders.

The EU has struggled to convince African countries to oppose the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine, even as the Russian invasion has driven up grain prices.

Praise and support for Ukraine

Von der Leyen said Ukraine had made “great progress” in its quest for EU membership, as kyiv pushes to open accession negotiations this year.

“The future of Ukraine is in our Union,” said the President of the European Commission.

Ukraine was named an official candidate to join the 27-nation bloc last June, following Russia’s all-out invasion.

Kyiv is now urging EU member states to agree to take the next step of opening formal accession negotiations this year.

The von der Leyen Commission, the EU’s executive body, is expected to give its opinion next month on whether Ukraine is ready to start negotiations.

“Membership is based on merit – and the commission will always uphold this principle. It requires a lot of work and leadership,” von der Leyen said.

“But there is already a lot of progress. We have seen the great progress that Ukraine has already made since we granted it candidate status.”

The commission said in an interim report released in June that kyiv had achieved two of the seven reform goals set for the opening of negotiations.

Ukraine, along with neighboring Moldova, has joined a group of Western Balkan countries that have been waiting for years to make progress in their bid for EU membership.

Von der Leyen said the bloc must prepare to accept new members, without waiting to first amend its own founding treaties.

The Commission president told MEPs that the EU should streamline its decision-making process, but that “we cannot – and we should not – wait for a treaty change to move forward with enlargement”, she said. she declared.

“A union fit for enlargement can be achieved more quickly,” she said.

She said the Commission would launch a series of “policy reviews” to see how the EU could adapt in key areas in the event of expansion, and present ideas to EU leaders in the first half of next year.

“These are questions we need to address today if we want to be ready for tomorrow,” she said.

Metsola: time for EU reform

Speaking to journalists Before the debate, EP President Roberta Metsola said the State of the Union address marked the final sprint towards next year’s elections after a difficult term for Parliament marked by Brexit, the pandemic, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the climate emergency. and an energy crisis.

She recognized that the time had come for the European Union to reform, to relaunch itself and to answer the questions that citizens ask it.

Reflecting on EU enlargement, she said the EU that functions at 27 will not function at 33 or 35 members.

“I think we can be more agile financially and structurally, and pursue the change that people expect from us,” she added.

Asked if she would support von der Leyen if she ran for a second term as commission president, Metsola said von der Leyen had done a “fantastic job” during this difficult term.

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