Speech by President von der Leyen at the GLOBSEC 2022 Bratislava Forum

(Source: European Commission)

Thank you very much, first of all, Madam President Čaputová,

Prime Minister Heger, dear Eduard,

Prime Minister Kariņš, dear Krišjānis, what a pleasure to see you here,

And I see the Prime Minister of Georgia, too,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


Before I start to reflect on what we heard from President Zelenskyy, I want to thank this country, Slovakia, for your outstanding generosity and solidarity with the Ukrainian refugees you are receiving here. It is over 400,000. You have opened your hearts; you have opened your minds. History will never forget your gratitude, your solidarity, and the shining example you are. So many, many thanks for that.

We have just heard President Zelenskyy and it has been now fifteen weeks since Russia has invaded Ukraine, an innocent neighbour. And we have learnt so much about the tenacity of the Ukrainian soul. The people of Ukraine have found courage in adversity – we have just listened again and witnessed again that – and strength in each other. And even as this brutal bombing and shelling is going on, they have never left hope; they have  never lost sight of what it is all about. It is about shaping the future of Ukraine, and the question, indeed, of how Ukraine will look like in five, or ten or fifteen years. And the impressive element in it is that the Ukrainian people know exactly what they want their country to be. They want freedom. They want sovereignty. They want security. They want to fulfil the incredible potential of this beautiful country. They want to shape their future on their own. And they want to be part of our European family. And they will at no cost let the Kremlin stand in their way.

I think that this Ukrainian resolve is really inspiring for the whole world. I was, like you, Madam President, in Kyiv, right before Easter, in Bucha. I have met survivors who were barely able to find words for what they have suffered. I have seen the mass graves. I have seen the body bags lined up next to a church. I have seen this trail of blood and destruction caused by the Russian army. And yet, the Ukrainian people’s desire to resume their lives after that terror is stronger than anything else. In just one month, they built a new railway bridge, reconnecting the two towns to Kyiv. And the situation is still dire, without any question. But they are taking back their towns. They are taking back their lives, irrespective of what is happening on the ground, and this is so impressive.

Ukrainians want to return to the path that leads towards the future they dream of, towards a prosperous Ukraine, a peaceful country. And I want all of them to know that our European Union stands by their side. We will do everything possible in our power so that Ukrainians can once again be the masters of their own future. First, we have to support them to overcome this war. Second, they badly need financial relief. Third, we have to accompany Ukrainians in pursuing their path towards the European Union. And these are the very practical three topics I want to speak about.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ukrainians must win this war. And Putin must witness that, for him, it is a severe strategic failure. It must be clear that invading a sovereign country comes with a massive price tag for the aggressor. We are all standing up for Ukraine. And therefore, we are not only providing military aid to a country under attack – I see here the leaders in the room and I know of your work here in this field and bilateral support of military equipment. But also the European level, for the first time ever in our history, is providing financial support for buying military equipment for the Ukrainians. We are mobilising our full economic power. Putin has mobilised his armed forces. We are mobilising our economic power with the powerful sanctions that we have imposed. We have imposed economic sanctions on any kind of goods that might be necessary for modernising or diversifying the Russian economy. And these sanctions are biting, they are grinding their teeth into the Russian economy. We are paralysing the Russian Central Bank’s capacity to raise capital. We are cutting off Russian banks from the SWIFT system. We are getting rid – and we have to get rid – of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels. This is the deepest cut we can do to the Russian economy, because the Russian economy is not a very modern economy; is not a very diversified economy; but it is an economy based on fossil fuels. So if we want to hit the Kremlin’s war chest, if we want to drain Putin’s war chest, then we have to get rid of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels. We have got rid of coal already. We are working hard now to ban up to 90% of Russian oil. And we have to get rid of Russian gas.

For that, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, we have put out our plan, our roadmap, this is REPowerEU. It is a plan of EUR 300 billion that is composed of, on one hand, energy saving – that sounds so simple but it is a powerful tool. If we would only lower the heating, for example, by 2 degrees Celsius, or if there is an air conditioning, we would increase it by 2 degrees Celsius, in the European Union, this represents the whole supply we are getting through Nord Stream 1, at the moment being, so Russian gas – only 2 degrees Celsius. Everybody can contribute. Everybody can give his or her share to reduce the dependency on Russian gas. Second, we have to diversify away from Russia and Russian gas to our trustworthy and reliable suppliers, like for example the United States, but also others. So we have now formed a joint platform to purchase together gas elsewhere in the world. Because, we know that we also have, as 27, a huge market power. And the third topic is the most important one, that is: We have to massively invest in renewable energy. Renewable energy, we all know, is good to fight climate change. But it is also good to fight the Kremlin’s aggression against Ukraine. Because renewable energy will replace Russian gas. Every single kilowatt-hour we get from solar, wind, biomass – you name it – hydrogen, is a kilowatt-hour with which we will be reducing our dependency on Russian fossil fuels. And therefore, we know that renewable energy, as I said, is not only good for our climate, it is  also good for our independence, and it is also good for our security of energy supply. They are home-grown and they create good and quality jobs here in the European Union.

And then, we have to do everything possible to support Ukraine to keep up its economy. According to the United Nations, Ukraine’s economic output might fall by 50% this year. Yet, millions of Ukrainians still need to make a living. To support them, we have suspended all duties and all quotas on Ukrainian goods. And we are setting up solidarity lanes now to try to get out of the country as much wheat, or cereals, or corn, and agricultural products as we can. Because you know that Putin is blocking the export of wheat via the Black Sea. It is atrocious to see that Putin is deliberately – deliberately – blocking the wheat supply of the world. 50% of the World Food Programme comes from Ukraine’s wheat. We desperately need that wheat. But he is driving his war, in taking not the slightest responsibility for being the one who one day has to stand up for the fact that people are dying of hunger, and famine will be big again, and hunger will be a driving motor again in the world. He is deliberately bombarding warehouses with Ukrainian wheat. At the moment being, we have 20 million tonnes of Ukrainian wheat stuck in Ukraine. So we have to do everything to get it out via our green lanes. This is not trivial, but it is absolutely worth every single effort. We know that Ukraine could literally feed the world. About two-thirds of the country are covered with the so-called ‘black earth’, one of the most fertile soils of the world. And there is this beautiful Ukrainian flag which symbolises the yellow fields under a blue sky. This is Ukraine. And we want this Ukraine to have a future.

And this leads me to my third point, that is economic support and reconstruction. Ukraine needs economic and financial support now. We know that, at the moment being, Ukraine needs per month EUR 5 billion just to make it – to pay the pensions, to pay the salaries, to have basic services continuing, like health services for example. So we need to set up a mechanism, that there is the basic financial support of round about EUR 5 billion per month for Ukraine. The G7 started and put out USD 9 billion already. USD 7.5 billion of those are from our American friends and EUR 1 billion from Germany in grants. We, the European level, propose now to match this and to put up an extraordinary macro-financial assistance. We are discussing that in the European Council. But this is the minimum we can do to support Ukraine to make it through the next months, financially.

But what is also as important as the now, is that we start to think – and President Zelenskyy did it on screen – now about reconstructing this beautiful country, Ukraine. For that, we want to build a platform – and President Zelenskyy spoke partially about it – where all these initiatives and financial support that are out there – be it, for example from our American friends, but also the World Bank, the IMF, the OECD, the G20, bilateral countries, you name it – are channelled on a platform where we, together, decide on the direction to travel. This platform is led and owned by Ukraine, because it is Ukraine who decides on its future. But together with them, we want to engage in, from the very beginning on, shaping this platform in a way that we have investment with reform. The European Commission will stand by the Ukrainian side, with all the track record we have, with all the experience we have, to help them ensure that the investment is effective, combined with the necessary reforms that then will, of course, pave the way into the European Union. It is for us important that there are reforms on the administrative capacity, for example; on a strong rule of law; on an independent judiciary; always the fight against corruption; but also creating a conducive environment for the business sector so that investors have confidence and trust, and come back and invest in Ukraine.

Ukrainians are fighting so bravely because they know exactly what kind of future they want. A future of a free and open society belonging to a strong democratic community. They want to join the European Union. We have heard it over and over again. I think that it is not only in our strategic interest, but it is our moral duty to make it possible that they join our European Union, and that we pave the path towards our Union.

And let me tell you why I think that it is so important to combine investment and reform. Because, of course, our standards and conditions in an EU accession process must be met, there is neither a wild card nor a shortcut. But how fast, how quickly, how the speed of such a process is, this is depending on the country itself and our support. And I will never forget, Prime Minister, dear Eduard, that you told me what a change it made in Slovakia when the country, at a certain point in time, decided to be serious about the accession process towards the European Union. And then, you told me that the European Commission sent expertise, advice, a team that worked with you, day and night, to do the reforms that were necessary. Of course, there was a certain amount of investment. And you made it within a few years. And this is important. Once again, no shortcuts, no wild card. Standards and conditions have to be met because this is true for all of us in the European Union, and we know on a daily basis how hard it is to keep these standards up among us 27. So, that has to be. But it is up to us how much we support, how much we invest. And it is in the hands of our Ukrainian friends, what they are making out of it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

After all, I always think, when I listen to President Zelenskyy and all our Ukrainian friends, – and the last days I met many young people from Ukraine, young delegates from Ukraine – Ukraine’s longing and its aspirations are basically a reflection of what we have achieved together over the past 77 years. And if I may pick up the words that President Zelenskyy spoke, I think that it was on the last question on the responsibility he has, he said: ‘This is not a burden. This is a great responsibility.’ And this should be our motto, supporting Ukraine on its path towards the European Union: It is not a burden, it is our historic responsibility.

Long live Europe.

Slava Ukraini.

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