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16 September 2020 10:39

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU's chief executive on Wednesday painted a sober picture of Europe grappling with a pandemic and its deepest recession in its history, but laid out ambitious goals to make the 27-nation bloc more resilient and united to confront future crises. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses her first State of the European Union speech during a plenary session of the European Parliament as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, in Brussels, Belgium September 16, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman In her annual State of the Union address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen doubled down on the flagship goals she set out on taking office last December: urgent action to tackle climate change and a digital revolution. She unveiled a plan to cut the European Union's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030, up from an existing target of 40%, and pledged to use green bonds to finance its climate goals. "There is no more urgent need for acceleration than when it comes to the future of our fragile planet," the former German cabinet minister told the European Parliament.

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"While much of the world's activity froze during lockdowns and shutdowns, the planet continued to get dangerously hotter." Von der Leyen also called for greater investment in technology for Europe to compete more keenly with China and the United States, and said the EU would invest 20% of a 750 billion euro economic recovery fund in digital projects. Officials said that, far from backing off the plans she laid out at the beginning of her term because of the coronavirus crisis, von der Leyen believes they will be key to Europe's long-term economic and political survival. The EU has been buffeted for years by crises, from the financial meltdown of 2008 to feuds over migration and the protracted saga of Britain's exit from the bloc. Solidarity among the 27 member states frayed badly at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when countries refused to share protective medical kit with those worst-affected and closed borders without consultation to prevent the spread of the virus. The bloc's leaders also jousted for months over a joint plan to rescue their coronavirus-throttled economies.

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But in July they agreed on a stimulus plan that paved the way for the European Commission to raise billions of euros on capital markets on behalf of them all, an unprecedented act of solidarity in almost seven decades of European integration. Von der Leyen told the EU assembly that "this is the moment for Europe" to trust each other and stand together. "The moment for Europe to lead the way from this fragility towards a new vitality," she said. "I say this because in the last months we have rediscovered the value of what we hold in common... We turned fear and division between Member States into confidence in our Union." CHANCES FOR A BREXIT DEAL FADING Turning to the troubled talks with London on the future relationship between the world's fifth-largest economy and biggest trading bloc, von der Leyen said every passing day reduces chances for sealing a new trade deal.

She stressed that both the EU and Britain negotiated and ratified their Brexit divorce deal and warned the UK, which has proposed a bill that would breach elements of the pact, that it "cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied". "This is a matter of law, trust and good faith... Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership," she said. She said EU states must be quicker in their foreign policy to support pro-democracy protests in Belarus or to stand up to Russia and Turkey. "Why are even simple statements on EU values delayed, watered down or held hostage for other motives?" she asked. "When member states say Europe is too slow, I say to them be courageous and finally move to qualified majority voting," she said, referring to blockages over finding unanimity among the EU's 27 states. FREE now and never miss the top politics stories again. SUBSCRIBE Invalid email Sign up fornow and never miss the top politics stories again. We will use your email address only for sending you newsletters. Please see our Privacy Notice for details of your data protection rights. The European Union's chief executive lashed out against homophobic policies of the nationalist government in Warsaw in saying on Wednesday there was "no place" in the bloc for districts proclaimed "LGBT-free zones" in Poland. "LGBTQI-free zones are humanity free zones. And they have no place in our (European) Union," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told her annual policy speech to the European Parliament. "Breaches of the rule of law cannot be tolerated," she said. Trending But the Commission President's comments were brutally dismantled by Polish MEP Ryszard Antoni Legutko who accused Mrs von der Leyen of "hypocrisy" and "arrogance". He blasted: "As usual behind sanctimoniousness there is hypocrisy. What this rule of law policy amounts to is brutal majoritarianism. "The mainstream majority wants to crush every form of dissent and do not open the door for instruments of the tyranny of the majority, as you promised you would do. "That was the scariest part of your speech. "This is already getting uglier and uglier, wilder and more mandatious. READ MORE: Brexit breakthrough as legal loophole 'stops EU imposing NI blockade' EU news: Polish MEP Ryszard Antoni Legutko blasted 'arrogant' von der Leyen EU news: Von der Leyen lashed out against LGBT zones in Poland "The European institution wants to switch off democratically constituted institutions of the nation states. "They instigate internal conflict by endorsing some parties against other parties. "This is not your business, you shouldn't do it!" He added: "This is political arrogance at its worst. Let me conclude: if we continue, if you and your Commission continue the current course, Europe will be wrecked. "I repeat, Europea will be wrecked." He concluded: "Mr Juncker will forever be remembered as the Commission President who lost Britain. "You, Mrs von der Leyen, must make sure that you are not the President who lost the people of Europe. "I urge you work with member states not with ideologically driven campaigns masquerading as political groups in this house. Save the European Union from ideology and return it to reality." Last month, Poland's justice minister said a town that had lost EU funding over dubbing itself a zone free of "LGBT ideology" would receive government financial support. Von der Leyen said the bloc's executive will soon present "a strategy to strenghten LGBTQI rights" in the bloc, as well as pushing for mutual recognition of family relations in the EU. DON'T MISS: Fishing fury: Boris urged to ban EU supertrawlers & pulse trawling [INSIGHT] IDS erupts at EU for trying to bully UK 'It broke law first!' [VIDEO] EU split: Furious countries rally against Merkel and Macron [ANALYSIS] European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen holds her first State of the Union speech during a plenary session of European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium September 16, 2020. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission will propose a framework for minimum wages in the 27-nation bloc, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said in a speech on Wednesday. "For too many people, work no longer pays," von der Leyen told the European Parliament in an annual policy speech. "Dumping wages destroys the dignity of work, penalises the entrepreneur who pays decent wages and distorts fair competition in the Single Market," she said. The issue is politically tricky so the Commission is not trying to set a single EU minimum wage or to impose one minimum wage setting system for all of the 27 countries in the bloc. Instead, it wants to ensure there is a collective bargaining for wages in place, that different national systems have clear and stable criteria, that trade unions and employers are involved in the process, that there are few exemptions and that there are monitoring mechanisms in place. "I am a strong advocate of collective bargaining and the proposal will fully respect national competencies and traditions," von der Leyen said. Minimum wages vary widely in EU countries--in July 2020 ranged from 312 euros a month in Bulgaria to 2,142 euro a month in Luxembourg.