I am sure many of you will agree that 2020 was simultaneously a year to instantly forget – and to forever remember.
To instantly forget, of course, because of the pandemic.
The effects of the coronavirus crisis have been felt in every home, in every country and in every corner of our Union. I offer my heartfelt sympathy to all those who have lost loved ones or who have suffered illness.
But 2020 was also a year to remember.
Because, in the midst of the fight against this invisible enemy, there are the heroes of the medical profession who risk their lives to save others. I pay tribute to each and every one of them, and to all the front-line workers who help keep us and our economy going through such difficult times.
It was a year to remember because, in the face of the unfolding human tragedy, Europe stepped up in the greatest collective mobilisation in the history of our Union. Countries, cities and regions helped get medical equipment to where it was needed. European planes delivered thousands of tonnes of life-saving materials to the most vulnerable communities across the world, and more than 600 000 stranded citizens were brought home.
Companies revamped their production lines to meet demand for disinfectants, face masks and medical equipment. And the world came together in an unparalleled global fundraising effort, pledging almost €16 billion so that safe and effective vaccines are accessible to all – because we know that no one is safe until everyone is safe.
Vaccines will help us to progressively return to our normal lives. But they will not solve the economic fallout from COVID-19 or the continuing threat to our planet from climate change. That is why, alongside measures to tackle the coronavirus, we have continued to take bold action towards climate neutrality. This will mean deeper emission cuts, massive investment in green technologies and the unleashing of Europe’s full digital potential.
I am confident that we can do this. Our NextGenerationEU recovery fund of €750 billion is at the heart of the biggest long-term budget in the EU’s history, with a total financial firepower of €1.8 trillion. We have a unique opportunity to invest in a better future for our children and our grandchildren; in a healthier, greener and smarter Europe where they can live well, have good job prospects and thrive, in a Europe where no one is left behind.
It has been a difficult year, but our response to the pandemic will ensure we emerge stronger, more resilient and more united. I have never been more proud to be European, and never more convinced of the value of acting together to face our biggest challenges.
2020 was also the year when the United Kingdom left the European Union. I respect the decision of the people of the United Kingdom, who will always be welcome in the family of European nations. But for us, it is time to leave Brexit behind. The future belongs to Europe.
We have seen the best of humanity in 2020. Let us seize the opportunity to build on that. We have proposed action to fight racism, hate and discrimination in all its forms. You can read about these initiatives and all the work that the EU has been doing throughout the pandemic in the following pages.
As we take the first steps toward recovery, we are filled with hope and with determination. Europe has the people, the vision, the plan and the resources to make this a success.
Long live Europe!
Ursula von der Leyen
President of the European Commission