Europe Week: SOTU takes center stage and a proposed media freedom law
The annual State of the European Union Address by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen dominated the week.
The war in Ukraine, anti-Russian sanctions and the economic fallout from Russian aggression took center stage.
The President of the European Commission has proposed emergency measures to tackle the energy crisis, including an exceptional tax on certain energy companies and binding targets for reducing consumption.
She said the escalation of the energy war with Russia would test European resolve in the months to come.
“It’s not just a war started by Russia against Ukraine. It’s also a war against our energy. It’s a war against our economy. It’s a war against our values. It’s a war against our future. It’s about autocracy against democracy,” von der Leyen said.
“And I stand here with the belief that with the necessary courage and solidarity, Putin will fail, and Ukraine and Europe will prevail.”
If there was another proof that the EU and Ukraine have closed ranks, it was the presence of the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Yelenska.
She was greeted as a hero and lawmakers greeted her with a standing ovation.
For her husband, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who visited the recently liberated regions of north-eastern Ukraine, his wife’s presence in Strasbourg was a harbinger of even closer relations in coming.
“For the first time in the history of the European Union, a state outside the EU was represented at a special session of the European Parliament during the annual report on the state of the EU – this is our state. So far from outside the EU. We are working for full membership – politically, legally, symbolically.”
The European Commission has also proposed a new law that would ban the use of spyware against journalists and state interference in editorial decisions.
The legislation aims to strengthen press freedom, ensure a plurality of voices and increase transparency on media ownership and conflicts of interest.
It comes at a time of diminishing trust in the media and growing threats to media and professionals across the continent.
Several EU countries are under scrutiny for perceived threats to press freedom.
The Greek government admitted tapping the phone of an investigative journalist, Slovenia was condemned for cutting funds to the national news agency and Hungary was criticized for allowing excessive media concentration in the hands of a few owners.
The past decade has also seen a series of murders of investigative journalists, such as Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, Ján Kuciak in Slovakia, Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece and Peter de Vries in the Netherlands.
“This is the law of the times we live in – not the times we would like to live in,” said Věra Jourová, the Commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, unveiling the law Project.
“For some it will be too much. For others it will be too little,” Jourová said.