Opening remarks by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel following the special meeting of the European Council of 31 May 2022

(Source: European Commission)

You might remember that in Versailles, the Leaders decided to phase out the dependency on Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible. We started with coal. Yesterday, in the middle of the night, we decided then to have a ban now on de facto 90% of Russian oil imports to the European Union by the end of the year. And this comes at a time when we see that Russia has disrupted supplies to, by now, five Member States. You know them: Finland, Bulgaria, and Poland; but now also to a company in the Netherlands and to a company in Denmark. So our answer has to be very clear on how we are going to manage and what is the road map to really get rid of the dependency on Russian fossil fuels, and here with a view to gas.

The answer is REPowerEU. It brings basically three different pillars that we have discussed today. The first one is the diversification away from Russian fossil fuels, specifically on gas. Here, we now have set up a joint Task Force for common purchases, joint purchases of gas. Because the market power of the whole of 27 in the European Union is much bigger than every single Member State, and we will achieve better conditions. We have, of course, already since the beginning of the year started to look out for other, more reliable suppliers. And this effort is already paying off. We see today that the LNG deliveries from other parts of the world, other than Russia, have doubled in Q1 in 2022 compared, for example, to the previous year. The second element we are working on in REPowerEU is the security of supply through better interconnections so that the gas can flow wherever it is needed, and, of course, the common objective to have a more strategic gas storage across the European Union. Here, we have good news: Our gas storage is already filled at 41% of the capacity. This is five percentage points higher than it was the case last year at the same date.

And then, the third is the most important pillar, and this is the massive investment in renewables. It is accelerating the deployment of renewables across the European Union. The renewable energy has the big advantage that it is not only good for the climate, but it is also good for our independence and good for our security of supply, and it creates jobs at home. So for this plan, REPowerEU, we have been discussing with the European Council, we are proposing to support it with EUR 300 billion from EU funding. There are different parts that are contributing to this funding. If there are any questions about it, I am very happy to respond to them. But this is the house of REPowerEU that we have presented and discussed today.

Basically, it is solidarity and cooperation that are at the heart of any successful strategy to deal with Russia no longer being a reliable supplier. Cooperation, for example, as has been demonstrated by Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, who, a couple of days ago, showed at the joint Summit on offshore wind what it means to develop the offshore wind power in the North Sea. And of course, solidarity, this was a big topic today, ensuring that, in case of a full disruption of gas flows from Russia, gas is indeed allowed to flow to wherever it is needed in Europe.

The second topic was defence. The war, again, was and is a stark reminder for our Member States on the need to strengthen our defence capacities. We have seen positive developments, notably: Of course, we are all aware of Finland’s and Sweden’s applications to join NATO, the strongest military alliance in the world. And they will benefit greatly from their membership. But also the fact that, since the beginning of the war, Leaders and the Member States stepped up and announced by now EUR 200 billion in extra military spending. Now, it is important that we ensure that we get the maximum value out of this stepping up and additional investment.

And we all know the challenges that exist within the European model. On one hand, it is the lag in investments over the last years, so the gaps have to be filled. But the bigger challenge is the fragmentation we have within the European defence industry and the duplication of weapons systems. Here, we see that this leads to increased costs, to reduced interoperability. So we have to improve this situation. And therefore, it is, first of all, helpful that, since the beginning of this mandate, the European Defence Fund is up and running. It is a strong incentive to work together. The pilot programme so far has benefited more than 600 entities, and 26 Member States have used so far the European Defence Fund. This is an encouraging start. But there is also a second element: Now, when we replenish the military material that has been sent to Ukraine, for example, it is important that this is coordinated. And for that, we are setting up a Task Force to coordinate, also to de-conflict the replenishment of the national stockpiles. And the Commission will propose, before the end of June, to mobilise EUR 500 million over the next two years from the EU budget to incentivise the joint procurement by at least three Member States. This is, let us say, a pilot for a longer-term proposal that will come in the course of this year for a European Defence Investment Programme.

Finally, the third topic was on food security. Charles already introduced the whole topic. At the moment begin, we are facing one overriding urgency. And that is: 20 million tons of wheat are stuck in Ukraine, and they have to get out. And therefore, we have created and we are working hard on the solidarity lanes that will enable to bring out parts of this wheat through land routes and trains towards our parts. It is not trivial and it is, of course, more tedious and expensive, but it is necessary to get this wheat out. The second point that is important is that we now give relief to the vulnerable populations, and the possibility to afford the food. For that, we have pledged EUR 2.5 billion, and we propose to mobilise reserves from the European Development Fund to support, for example, Sub-Saharan Africa. The third element in that is that we step up our own food production. We expect a record export of cereals of 40 million tons in 2022 and 2023. And, within this scenario, we call on all partners not to restrict global trade of agricultural products. So any kind of trade restrictions have absolutely no place in our Member States, or globally.

And finally, but this is the mid and long term, we really have to develop better strategies, for example in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, to increase the production and the resilience, with new technologies, precision farming, the nanotechnologies that are out there. So there are a lot of topics that are combined to this food topic, from the urgency, to the mid, and to the long term. We will coordinate all our actions with the Team Europe approach. To feed into this work, I will travel to Cairo mid-June to discuss all these issues with President El-Sisi. Because we have to look at them, not only from a European, Ukraine perspective, but also from a regional and bilateral perspective.

Many thanks.

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