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Mediterranean countries can be frontrunners in the fight against climate change

“ Time is short. It’s urgent to step up now against climate change”, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasised in an exclusive interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA).

While in Athens for the EU Med 9 Summit on Friday, the President of the European Commission talked to Aimilios Perdikaris, General Director of the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, and highlighted that all nine countries of the Mediterranean South could become frontrunners in the fight against climate change.

Commenting positively on Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis’s initiative to convene the Summit “ at the right time”, she also stressed that “ no country can give an answer on its own, but we need the whole of the EU”. Von der Leyen noted that all countries have signed up to the Paris Agreement and pointed out that the US has already stepped up, while China needs to take short term action to ensure that it will achieve the goals.

She added that “ PM Mitsotakis is active and ambitious”, highlighting on the one hand on the recent reforms in Civil Protection so as to deal with climate-related disasters and on the other that almost 40 pct of the total funds Greece will receive from NextGeneration EU will be directed to green projects. “ This shows a clear commitment of the Greek PM and his government to really tackle climate change,” Von der Leyen stressed.

As for the pandemic, the President of the European Commission warned that “ we are not out of the woods yet and we have to stay vigilant”. She also urged those who have not been vaccinated yet to do so, especially while the Delta variant remains a threat and gave assurances that there are sufficient vaccines for all EU countries and their citizens.
The full interview with the European Commission president is as follows:

What are the main issues regarding the post-covid era? Do you think that climate change should be a priority for the European Commission and EU member-states and what did you discuss on this topic at the EU Med-9 Summit here in Athens?

Climate change was already here before the Covid crisis. It’s the main priority topic together with digitalisation in the EU. I think that the Covid crisis underlined again the importance of the fight against climate change and the importance of digitalisation. Therefore, in our Recovery Plan we also have put our focus on the European Green Deal and digitalisation, because it’s urgent to step up now. I highly appreciate that PM Mitsotakis has convened this Mediterranean Summit, it’s just the right thing at the right time, because those nine countries could be frontrunners in showing how to deal with the climate issue and how to find solutions.

How can the European alliance promote and enhance common policies and cooperation against climate change? Does the “Green Deal” answer the question and how can it be adopted by the members?

As global warming is a global phenomenon, scale matters and therefore no country can give an answer on its own, but we need the whole of the EU. Our European Green Deal focuses on two things: on the one hand on investment and innovation to strengthen competitiveness; and on the other hand is social compensation, because the transition has to be fair and just. And I think that this is a topic that needs the leaders’ attention. So at the European Council we’re dealing on a regular basis with the topic of climate change. Time is short, action is urgent and it’s very good the whole of Europe has committed now to implement the plan for climate change, because we have the climate law with our goals.

Are you worried that the “Green Deal” may not be compatible with the US and Chinese counterpart policies?

All countries have signed up to the Paris Agreement that is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. And we know today – also with the latest reports from science – that we all have to step up. Europe is the frontrunner with the European Green Deal and legislated the package “ Fit For 55 – Paving the Road to 2030”. So, we have detailed our concrete steps and how we can reach our goals. The US and President Biden have also stepped up considerably and China has put out a long term goal that is good, but China has now to detail how it will get there. Because a long term goal is important, but short term action is absolutely needed.

How do you judge Greece’s performance in terms of action against climate change?

PM Mitsotakis is very active and very ambitious. I see two fields that are outstanding. […] I really commend the PM and his Government for the reforms they are doing now in civil protection to deal with climate-related disasters. That is very good. And, of course, the second most important step is that, of the 30 billion euros that NextGeneration EU brings to Greece, almost 40 pct will be invested in green projects. This shows a clear commitment of the PM and his government to really tackle climate change. What I really like in our discussions is the strong focus the PM has on innovation and on new clean technologies, investment in breakthrough innovation, so that he really embraces this new growth strategy that the EU can deliver.

Are you satisfied with the progress of vaccinations? Can we say with confidence that we are now in the post-pandemic era?

We are not out of the woods yet. We have to stay vigilant, but it’s a big success that we went through this pandemic together, as one Europe. For example, with our vaccination strategy we made sure that every member state has the same access to the life-saving vaccine. With the Delta variant, we know that we still have to increase the vaccination numbers and therefore I call on everybody who’s not vaccinated so far to get the full vaccination. It’s not only to protect oneself, but also to protect others. And if we want to overcome this pandemic, we really need to step up in vaccination. The good news is that there are sufficient vaccines for Europeans and we also care for neighbourhood and we should use this opportunity.