As expected, the coronavirus pandemic was at the forefront when EU President Ursula von der Leyen delivered an important State of the Union address to the EU Parliament.
However, he received the most applause for outlining the EU's place in the world.
In his speech, Von der Leyen urged EU member states to move to qualified majority voting in external relations instead of unanimity, at least when it comes to decisions on human rights or sanctions.
He went through burning topical issues in international relations, such as the situation in Belarus and Turkey.
According to Von der Leyen, Turkey should not threaten its neighbors.
- Turkey is and will always be an important neighbor, but even though we are geographically close, the distance between us seems to be growing, von der Leyen said.
The atmosphere in the Eastern Mediterranean has recently intensified due to, among other things, controversial gas exploration.
However, according to Von der Leyen, Greece and Cyprus can always count on the support of the rest of the EU.
According to von der Leyen, in the situation in Belarus, the EU is on the side of the people.
- The people of Belarus must be free to decide their own future.
They are not pieces on someone else’s chessboard.
Russia's way of operating in the world is not changing
He also highlighted the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and stressed that this was not an isolated case.
According to von der Leyen, Russia's way of operating in the world has not changed: serious violations have been seen, for example, in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria and the way in which Russia has intervened in elections in other countries.
“This pattern is not changing, and no gas pipeline will change it,” von der Leyen said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has previously said that the impact of the poisoning of opposition leader Navalny "will not be ruled out" when assessing the continuation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.
Nord Stream 2 is a gas pipeline under construction that runs from Russia to Germany at the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
A warning to Britain about its intention to break the resignation agreement
Von der Leyen commented on the stubbornly advancing negotiations between the EU and Britain on a new relationship.
Britain withdrew from the EU in January.
The opportunity to reach a new agreement on schedule is fading day by day.
- The negotiations have not progressed as desired, which leaves us very little time.
The latest turning point in the Brexit tangle was seen last week when the British government introduced a bill that, if implemented, would violate an already signed EU separation agreement.
The EU has called on Britain to remove those parts of the bill that run counter to the resignation agreement by the end of September.
In his speech, Von der Leyen warned Britain of efforts to change the already agreed resignation agreement and quoted former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who at the time stressed that Britain would not break the agreements.
Von der Leyen stressed the need for reform in major international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
There is also room for improvement on human rights in Europe
On human rights issues, von der Leyen also turned his attention to Europe and the problems in EU countries.
According to him, there is no place for discrimination against sexual and gender minorities in the EU.
Von der Leyen stressed that everyone must have the right to be who they want and the opportunity to love who they want without fear.
He also called for equal recognition of different families.
- If you are a parent in one country, you are, of course, a parent in all countries, von der Leyen said.
According to Von der Leyen, the Commission is working to eradicate racism in Europe and intends to propose that the list of crimes in the EU be extended to cover all types of hate crimes, including hate speech.
- Anger is anger, and no one should tolerate it.
Mr von der Leyen promised that the Commission would present next week a new package on EU asylum and immigration policy and publish an assessment of the rule of law situation in each member state before the end of the month.
Strengthening health and ambition for climate goals
Speaking about the coronavirus pandemic, von der Leyen said he wanted to significantly strengthen EU health cooperation.
According to him, the EU's competences in health matters need to be discussed.
At present, the responsibility for health lies with the Member States, and the EU can mainly coordinate and support the Member States.
Mr von der Leyen wants the European Medicines Agency and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control to be strengthened.
He also suggested that a new biomedical research center be set up in Europe.
Climate issues also played an important role in the speech.
As expected, Von der Leyen proposed a 20% reduction in the EU's 2030 climate target compared to 1990 emissions.
The current target has been a 40% reduction.
Von der Leyen said in his speech that the 55% target is for opinions.
- I understand that raising the target from 40% to 55 is too much for some and too little for others, von der Leyen said.
However, he believes that the EU has the opportunity to achieve a tighter goal.
Finland has supported tightening the EU's climate target.