The pandemic has shown us how much our freedom, in our daily lives, can be disrupted; how much our union can be weakened. We can only fully enjoy our values and freedom, in the broadest sense, if they are backed by a strong Europe.
On a larger scale, the pandemic has also enabled us to understand that the corollary of our freedom is our autonomy. In a world that is increasingly intertwined, our dependencies, in times of crisis, become vulnerabilities.
Take the example of global supply chains. Until recently, some people believed them to be unshakable, whatever the circumstances.
This belief has been shattered by the reality of "China First" for masks or "America First" for vaccines. Our American partners have effectively blocked the supply chains of essential vaccine components.
It is only once the European Union equipped itself with an export authorisation tool that we were able to engage in a dialogue with the US administration to unblock supply chains, component by component, product by product, producer by producer.
There is no fatality. When Europe has the will to get together and march in close ranks, it succeeds.
1. Vaccines: a European success story
Indeed, if Europe is now the world's largest producer of vaccines - to date 650 million doses have been delivered to the EU and 700 million have been exported - this is not by chance.
When the President of the Commission asked me to lead the Task Force on Vaccines, the challenge was great, and we had to move very quickly.
We were faced with one of the most complex value chains - it takes more than 400 components to make a vaccine - and which could not function normally because of the export constraints imposed by some of our partners.
But we got to work, and we worked hard. In record time, we have succeeded, together, in upgrading our European production system, in terms of quality, speed and volume. We have been able to transform our scientific and technological excellence into industrial leadership.
Today, 55 factories are mobilised day and night throughout Europe.
We must and will continue our efforts for Europe and for the rest of the world - I am thinking of course of Africa.
The arrival of a fourth wave of infections reminds us that the time trial we have embarked on will last. We must therefore give ourselves the means to go the distance and be ready for future health crises.
It is now essential that we have multi-actor, multi-technology vaccine production sites that can be activated in reserve. Such a response capacity is essential to meet the needs of sudden mass production of medicines or vaccines in a crisis in an autonomous way.
2. Europe, an essential lever for our industrial destiny
The need for a more autonomous Europe goes far beyond the issue of vaccines. Europe must give itself the means to take its economic and industrial destiny in hand.
We have undeniable assets: a skilled workforce, cutting-edge laboratories, first-rate infrastructures and, of course, our Single Market as the backbone.
But we must go further. We must ensure that Europe is not in a position of great dependence in the years to come. I believe in a Europe that leads on the markets of the future, not one that is a mere subcontractor.
To do this, we must develop our industrial capacity in Europe. It is not a question of wanting to produce everything, but of diversifying our sources of supply.
Take the example of rare earths, the critical raw materials essential for the production of permanent magnets for the automotive industry, for renewable energies, for defence and aerospace. Unfortunately, we are almost entirely dependent on China. This cannot continue.
Developing our industrial capacity also means taking a greater share in the creation of value and jobs in strategic areas.
I am thinking in particular of batteries and microprocessors, which will emerge rapidly.
In this quest, let us be clear, mastery of disruptive technologies will be decisive. We have no choice, it is imperative to master them throughout the value chain. Europe cannot stop at research – where we are very strong and often ahead of the game - or at its regulatory ambitions.
It is with this in mind that the Commission wanted to provide Europe with a more assertive, more integrated and more ambitious industrial strategy for all of our 14 industrial ecosystems.
These ecosystems make it possible to identify the needs and provide answers not only for large companies but for all SMEs and service providers in the value chain. This approach also enables greater cohesion between North-South and East-West.
Regarding semi-conductors, our ambition is to enable Europe to manufacture the most powerful and highest-performance semiconductors in the world.
Today, we produce less than 10% of the world's semiconductors. Moreover, Europe is technologically stuck at semiconductors around 22nm. But the market of the future is at 5nm (or even 2nm) – that, therefore, is our target.
We must rebalance the world's semiconductor industrial chains by producing 20% of the world's semiconductors by 2030, while at the same time making progress on the design and production of the semiconductors of tomorrow.
Another highly strategic cutting-edge technology, particularly for our green transition: hydrogen. Here too, our ambition is to transform the European competitive advantage in research and innovation into industrial deployment.
We need to increase our production capacity for electrolysers and fuel cells, build the world's first hydrogen steel plants and bring hydrogen-powered aircraft to market. This is our chance to shape the future of the hydrogen economy.
Speaking of hydrogen and the green transition, let's not be naive: without nuclear power, as a transitional energy, there is no Green Deal. By respecting all the safety standards, we can use existing nuclear reactors that are scheduled to end their operation or that we wish to shut down.
The idea would be to disconnect the reactors from the grid and use the energy they produce exclusively to run electrolysers and thus produce clean hydrogen, until the plant is shut down permanently. This would allow the emergence of a new sector while waiting for sufficient renewable energy to be deployed.
As far as our digital transition is concerned, we need to prepare for the data battle.
We know that we are facing a wave of industrial data that will structure our industrial capacities. While we missed the wave of personal data, Europe cannot miss the wave of industrial data.
A real battle is underway. We must give ourselves the means to ensure our data sovereignty. It is unthinkable that extraterritorial laws could allow access to such data.
This is both a regulatory issue - we are working on this with the Data Governance Act and the Data Act - and a technological issue, with the aim of ensuring the security of our data. This is why we must also get Europe involved in the Cloud & Edge race, so that we can store and process our data in complete security.
Still on the subject of security, let us not forget quantum technology. Yes, Europe must be the first quantum continent. Whether in terms of encryption, protection against cyber-attacks, quantum accelerators or secure communication, Europe must take the quantum turn. If there is a central area for tomorrow's sovereignty, it is this one.
Mastering quantum technology will also make us stronger in space technologies, which are also essential for Europe's strategic autonomy.
We already have two world-leading programmes, Galileo and Copernicus, but we can and must go further. That is why we are working on the development of a low-earth orbit satellite connectivity infrastructure that would incorporate technological innovations such as quantum encryption. This is a key project to ensure the resilience of terrestrial networks and to avoid Europe's future dependence on non-European systems.
We are also working on the development of a space traffic management system to both track debris and ensure autonomous access to space. This will involve ensuring the economic and technological sustainability of European launchers.
3. Europe, the guarantor of our values and our freedom
The scope of our freedoms is not only philosophical or legal, it is also technological, industrial and economic.
The fact remains that freedom is in essence a European value that must be promoted and safeguarded.
This is also true in the digital world, where we need rights and obligations just as we do in the physical world. Europe is and will always be open to all, but on our terms and in the interests of our citizens.
Everything that is allowed or forbidden offline must also be allowed online. And it is the responsibility of the platforms hosting this content to ensure that this is the case.
The digital world - or the information as I like to call it - also means media. The safety of journalists and bloggers is not a given everywhere on our planet. Authoritarian regimes will do anything - even hijack planes - to try to silence them.
The independence of the press is precious and fragile, and we must protect it. It is the precondition for press freedom, pluralism and democracy. We must ensure that those who disseminate information have the highest standards of protection, both online and offline.
We are currently working on a European Media Freedom Act, which will complement our existing legislative arsenal in this area.
Nothing can be taken for granted.
Our cardinal freedoms were undermined at the start of the pandemic, but Europe was able to react to preserve them.
Europe has shown inventiveness and agility. It has shown its strength.
This should give us the confidence to tackle other challenges we face. We now know what we want and we know how to get there.
Europe is the first democratic continent in the world, the result of a community of destiny and values. Let us continue to carry this union forward together.