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Ursula von der Leyen delivering her 2023 State of the European Union address

Yes, it's that time of the year again: time for SOTEU, the 2023 State of the European Union flagship speech. 

Each year, SOTEU is an opportunity to take stock of what’s happened in the EU Member States over the last year. The annual address is a forward-looking vision (a blueprint, if you wish) – to the flagship initiatives, themes, and challenges, that rank the highest on the EU agenda. On 13 September, Ursula Von der Leyen, European Commission President, addressed members of the European Parliament with her 2023 State of the Union speech. 

This year’s address holds a bit of a different weight, with EU elections just round the corner. The youngest voters to take to the polls were born in the raging financial crash of 2008 – and it is hardly a surprise that quality jobs and skills for the sustainable digital transition were cross-cutting aspects in the President’s speech. 

Quality jobs today and tomorrow: addressing skill shortages across sectors

This all makes sense if we take a look back at the historic NextGenerationEU budget of 800 billion euros for investment and reform going towards creating quality jobs – today, and in the future. SURE, the first EU-wide short-term work initiative helped save 40 million jobs.  

Unemployment in Europe has been going down. Yet, skill shortages across sectors still loom large and have reached record levels – an aspect that directly impacts European competitiveness on a global scale. Around 8 million young people in Europe are not in employment, education, or training. 

The shortage of specialised skills also impacts SMEs, the backbone of EU economy, which represent more than 95% of businesses in Europe. Alarmingly, 74% of SMEs claim skills shortages are a big obstacle to business development. Two thirds of EU companies are actively looking for digital and ICT specialists – and demand is only projected to grow further. In the words of Commission President herself, ”instead of millions of people looking for jobs, millions of jobs are looking for people”. 

Pioneering the digital transition: key actions to champion citizens’ online rights and privacy in the age of AI advancement

There is no undermining the importance of digital technology in making our work and day-to-day lives more connected, easier, and manageable. And EU budget has followed suit: the 20% investment target in digital projects of NextGenerationEU has been overshot. 

At the same time, the President also hinted at future challenges linked to mitigating the risks of the digital world. The internet is very much still a way to share knowledge, open minds, and connect people – but it has also become a place where disinformation and harmful content are spread. In response, Europe has become the global pioneer of citizen's rights in the digital world. The DSA and DMA are already creating a safer digital space, reduce risks related to the privacy of our data, and ensure fairness by setting out clear responsibilities for big tech. 

Looking to a digital future in an AI-driven era 

Challenges with AI advancements also loom ahead. AI has the potential to transform healthcare and help us solve key social issues like climate change. But it is moving faster than even its developers anticipated – and the window of opportunity to guide this technology is narrowing. The EU AI Act is already a blueprint for the whole world – both in terms of innovation and implementation. 

In the coming year, the EU will lead the way on a new global AI framework based on 3 pillars: guardrails, governance, and guiding innovation. The aim is to set out this legislative approach during the first 100 days. In the words of the President herself, "Our number one priority is to ensure AI develops in a human-centric, transparent and responsible way”. 

From laying out a path for the digital transition, to strengthening the EU’s role as a global champion in online rights – the President’s message stood loud and clear:

“Together, we have shown that when Europe is bold, it gets things done. And our work is far from over - so let's stand together. Let's deliver today and prepare for tomorrow”.

Read and watch the full "SOTEU 2023" on the official Press Corner page of the European Commission.  

EC - Audiovisual Service
© European Union, 2023

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