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Watch: Von der Leyen vows EU will be 'more assertive' on world stage

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President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, delivers a welcoming address, prior to the start of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, delivers a welcoming address, prior to the start of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland   -  
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Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone via AP - GIAN EHRENZELLER
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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen vowed on Wednesday the EU will take the global lead in sectors including climate change and data protection in order to become "more assertive" on the world stage.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the EU's top official stressed that people and nations need to cooperate to face challenges including climate change and that the EU is ready to take the lead.

You can watch Ursula von der Leyen's speech in the player above.

Climate change

"Over the next decade, the European budget will mobilise €1 trillion of investment" to change from a fossil fuels based economy into a sustainable one, she told the main hall.

She reiterated the EU aims to be the "world's first climate-neutral continent" by 2050.

"The European Green Deal is our new growth strategy," she said, adding: "Europe has the first-mover advantage. And we will strengthen it."

However she noted that a "global level playing field" is required to address the issue and ensure European interests, workers and businesses are protected.

"We will protect them from unfair competition," she emphasised, championing a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, emphasising: "I prefer to encourage our trading partners."

"If you engage with Europe, you will find a reliable partner, working for a more sustainable world.

"But we ask for fairness in return. We have a lot to offer," she went on citing the single market.

Data 'hidden treasures'

Von der Leyen also said that Europe will transform into a "data economy", praising data as a "renewable resource as much as the sun and wind" and deploring that vast amounts go unexplored.

"Within those data, there are hidden treasures and untapped opportunities for business and society," she said.

To remedy that, she announced the EU will co-create a framework to allow for the use of non-personal data, which European governments, businesses and researchers will be able to mine to boost "innovation and bring new solutions to the market".

This, she assured, would be done while ensuring that personal data remains protected.

"For us, the protection of a person's digital identity is the overriding priority. The individual is first and foremost a citizen — with rights and control over their lives. Be it in the physical world or the digital world — these citizens rights have to be protected," she said.

'More assertive'

For Von der Leyen, the climate and data policies are necessary to ensure Europe will be "shaping its own future".

"But to be more assertive in the world, we must step up in some fields," she continued, flagging that events in the last decades have underlined "the importance of a stable neighbourhood" from "Ukraine to the shores of the Mediterranean, from the Western Balkans to the Sahel".

She said that although the bloc is "the largest donor for development cooperation" but that it needs to do more to manage crises as they develop.

One of the strategies she invoked is to strengthen the bloc's hard power though "credible military capabilities" which will be "complementary to NATO" but still different.

"Hard power always comes with diplomacy and conflict prevention; with the work on reconciliation and reconstruction, which is something Europeans know well, because we have gone through this," she added.

'Day and night'

Von der Leyen's speech, which came a day after her first meeting with US President Donald Trump, steered clear of politics and Brexit but she couldn't escape the latter issue during the brief Q&A session.

She said negotiations would start in February and that the EU "will work day and night to get that (a deal) done".

"We've solved the largest problems we had ahead of it," she went on, citing citizens' rights and peace in Ireland.

She stressed however that "there is a difference whether you are a member state or not" and that "the closer the UK is to the EU the better the access to the single market".

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