Updated 10.03am

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised Malta for judicial rule of law reforms on Wednesday while delivering her annual State of the European Union address.

She also mentioned murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia as she promised legislation for greater protection for the media.

In her address, von der Leyen outlined developments of the past year and the way ahead for the bloc.

She said that protecting democracy and enshrining judgments handed down by the European Court of Justice was part of Europe’s heritage. She called for more protection for the rule of law and stronger legislation to protect journalists in the line of duty.

“Our values are guaranteed by legal order. The protection of the rule of law is not just an aim, but daily hard work and improvement,” she said.

Praising judicial reform in Malta and work being done in Slovakia to tackle corruption, she said that nonetheless certain activities in member states were of great concern.

'Journalism under attack'

Paying tribute to Caruana Galizia and other journalists killed in the line of duty in Europe, von der Leyen also said that the Commission would be introducing a media protection law to protect journalists working for transparency and uncovering corruption in Europe.

“Journalists are under attack for doing their job,” she said.

“Some are threatened, others are beaten up and tragically some like Daphne Caruana Galizia and Ján Kuciak are murdered.

“While their situations may differ, they have one thing in common, they stood up for the right to information and they died to protect transparency.

“We will be recommending better protection for journalists and work to put a stop those actors threatening the freedom of the media. Their independence is essential, Europe needs secure laws to protect its integrity and protecting the media is also protecting democracy.”

The address launched a debate in the European Parliament on the work of the commission, which is the EU's executive branch.

Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola is presiding the sitting as first vice president. The president, David Sassoli, is sick.

The themes of the address included the EU's response to COVID-19 to post-pandemic economic recovery, Afghanistan, the digital transition and the environment.  

Von der Leyen is expected in Malta later this week to formally approve the government's plan to spend  €320 million in EU post-COVID recovery grants.

Watch the address and debate below. 

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