Charles Michel told university students that he shares their “urgency” on climate change, and promised bold action by the EU.
“Today climate change is threatening our very existence,” Michel, the European Council president-elect, said in a speech at the University of Amsterdam on Wednesday. “We must address it with laser focus. We must shift into high gear. We must lead. And inspire others to act.”
Michel was in the Netherlands to meet with Prime Minister Mark Rutte, but also visited the university where he studied for six months as an Erasmus student.
Citing geophysical disasters that killed 1.3 million people between 1998 and 2017, and caused hundreds of billions in economic damages, Michel said, “This simply cannot continue. Only firm leadership will energize people to act. I want Europe to be the first climate-neutral continent.
“Bold climate action could trigger trillions of euros in economic benefits,” he said. “And create millions of jobs in the sustainable energy sector alone.”
Michel added, “I share your urgency.”
Michel, the former Belgian prime minister, has been touring EU capitals ahead of taking office on December 1, but he has mostly met privately with leaders. The event on Wednesday was his first major, public speech outside of Brussels as Council president-elect.
In his address, Michel sought to build a connection with his young audience, telling them about how he bought a used bicycle when he arrived as a student in Amsterdam, how it was stolen and how he bought it back again a few weeks later.
(If there was a cautionary lesson about negative incentives, or appeasement, in that anecdote, Michel did not mention it.)
Michel told students that Europeans should not take their freedoms for granted, and noted that the last European Parliament election showed renewed interest in the EU in the form of surging voter turnout. At the same time, he said, the election highlighted Europe’s political disagreements.
“It also makes Europe a challenging place to do politics, find compromise and take action,” he said. “I come from Belgium, a country with six governments, seven parliaments, three national languages, and more than 1,000 beers. Across Europe, there are eight political groups in the European Parliament, 24 official languages and 50,000 different beer brands. So, I should feel right at home in my new job.”
And he urged the students to participate in public life.
“Please get involved,” he said. “Don’t stay on the sidelines. We need Europe’s young generation. Your energy, your optimism, your talents, your fresh ideas. Never underestimate your power to change the status quo. Get involved to innovate, to create. to step forward. Little by little, day by day, together we can build a Europe of common values, based on common sense, that works for all of us.”
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