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The head of the European Commission warns of the “pandemic of the unvaccinated”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday warned of a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” in a speech that also aimed to urge other countries to step up the fight against climate change.

In her second ‘State of the Union’ speech as President of the European Commission, Ms Von der Leyen highlighted the issues that could potentially shake the EU and called for more independence for the bloc in technology and defense policies.

The past two years have tested the resilience of the EU in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the relative disparity in economic recovery among its members, Brexit and restrictions on the rule of law among some. of its eastern members.

Wednesday’s speech showed EU leaders are also concerned about the challenges facing the EU’s rapid vaccination rollout after a stumbling kickoff earlier this year.

By the end of August, 70% of the EU’s adult population had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, an achievement which also revealed large differences between EU countries.

Ms Von der Leyen has raised concerns about varying vaccination rates in the EU and pledged another donation of 200 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine by the middle of next year, in addition to ‘a previous pledge to donate 250 million doses.

“Let’s do everything we can (to) ensure that this does not turn into a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” she told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France.

Nineteen EU economies will return to their pre-pandemic size this year, the rest to follow next year, she said.

Von der Leyen’s speech also focused on tackling the climate crisis, pledging to allocate € 4 billion until 2027 to strengthen the climate strategies of the poorest countries and help them adapt. to its impact.

The head of the European Commission called on the United States to adopt a similar strategy and increase its support for third world countries.

“But we expect the United States and our partners to step up as well. This is vital because to bridge the climate finance gap together, the United States and the European Union would be such a strong signal for global climate leadership, ”she said.

World leaders will face the challenge of climate finance at the Cop26 summit due to start in November. In particular, many Western leaders are expected to present financial commitments to reduce emissions faster and avoid catastrophic weather events.

Meanwhile, following the chaotic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, Von der Leyen tried to push forward an independent EU defense strategy. Under his presidency, the bloc failed to build unity among member states around a comprehensive and autonomous defense strategy, in part because of fierce opposition from influential member states.

But the catastrophic collapse of the Afghan army and the Taliban’s swift military victory in Afghanistan sounded the alarm on the EU’s political will and its ability to intervene militarily without relying on US military might. .

“The most fundamental question is why it hasn’t worked in the past,” she said. “You can have the most advanced forces in the world, but if you’re never ready to use them, what are they for?

“What has held us back so far is not just a lack of capacity, it’s a lack of political will.”

The first woman president of the EU executive, she pledged a new legal act to tackle violence against women in the bloc and new legal protection to strengthen the safety of journalists.

Its goal, said Von der Leyen, is “a union that is both magnificently unique and uniquely beautiful”.

Additional reports by agencies

The Independent Gt