Thank you Madam President,
Every day we watch in horror the images coming from besieged Ukrainian cities, the devastation of Mariupol, Kharkiv, and the outskirts of Kyiv. But let me take you for a moment beyond the frontline, into occupied Ukraine. After the siege and the shelling, the reality of occupation is just as terrifying. Fresh food has become a luxury. Hospitals and pharmacies are running out of medicines. Hundreds of people have been detained by Russian occupation forces. And yet, every day, thousands of Ukrainians keep taking to the streets to protest against the invasion. In Kherson, in Berdyansk, in Melitopol, they are waving their blue and yellow flags in the faces of the occupying soldiers. And they have not stopped, even after Russian soldiers have beaten them and shot some of them down. Honourable Members, if freedom has a name, its name is Ukraine. And the Ukrainian flag is today the flag of freedom.
All our current efforts are aimed at making this war a strategic failure for Putin. This is why Member States agreed to assign EUR 1 billion for security assistance to the brave Ukrainian fighters. But supporting Ukraine also means draining the resources that Putin is using to finance his atrocious war. Last week, we decided on a fourth package of unprecedented sanctions. We are denying Russia the status of most-favoured nation and severely restricting its access to our markets. Because Russia should not benefit from the very same rules-based order that it is so grossly violating. We are stopping new European investments across Russia’s energy sector. Because we should not be reinforcing the energy dependency that we want to put behind us. We continue to pressure Russian elites close to Putin by hunting down their yachts, prestigious villas and expensive cars. Because those who sustain Putin’s war should not be able to enjoy their lavish lifestyles, while bombs are falling on Ukraine.
These measures come on top of three other packages of sanctions. They are already biting hard into the Russian economy. The ruble has plummeted to an all-time low earlier this month. Interest rates are above 20%. Rating agencies have downgraded Russian bonds to junk status. Hundreds of global companies are leaving Russia, because they do not want to feed Putin’s war of choice. This, Honourable Members, is the legacy that Putin will leave behind in Russia. He has become the worst enemy of the Russian people, too. But first and foremost, he is responsible for the human tragedy in Ukraine. Until now, more than three million people have left Ukraine. Half of them children. Every second, a child from Ukraine arrives in our Union. Every second. So while I am speaking to you, here in the heart of the European democracy, 800 children are leaving Ukraine – courageous, traumatised and in need of help. They leave behind their brothers and fathers, not knowing whether they will see them again. And it is heartening to see the pan-European wave of solidarity for our Ukrainian friends. I applaud the enormous generosity of all Europeans, all Member States and Moldova. At the European level, we will mobilise massive resources to support Member States hosting people fleeing the war. We have made sure that the regional development and cohesion funds, and REACT-EU can be used with the greatest flexibility, so that cities and regions can invest in schools, housing and healthcare. And many, many thanks for your support, I just saw, this is up to EUR 17 billion that we are moving now. Many thanks to you. But I think that this is not enough. We now propose to accelerate EUR 3.4 billion to frontload liquidity to our Member States that are showing such exceptional solidarity. I count on you, Honourable Members, to greenlight this money quickly. This will send a strong message of our common commitment to supporting the Ukrainian people.
We should be clear-eyed about what lies ahead of us. Our continent is being rocked by a tectonic shift not seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The consequences of this war on Europe’s security architecture will be far-reaching. And I am not just talking about security in military terms. But also energy security, and even food security are at stake. Let me start with energy. Energy policy is also security policy. That is why the Commission has proposed measures that would allow us to significantly reduce our gas imports from Russia. This is very ambitious, but we can achieve it. We have already set a clear path to do this and we are now accelerating. With our new proposal, REPowerEU, we can speed up this transition even more. First, by fast-tracking renewable energy projects, this is a strategic investment in our security, including hydrogen and biogas. Second, by speeding up investment in energy efficiency. Everyone can contribute in reducing our dependency on Russian gas. And third, by diversifying our gas supply away from Russian gas towards reliable suppliers. Tomorrow, I will discuss with President Biden how to prioritise LNG deliveries from the United States to the European Union in the coming months. We are aiming at having a commitment for additional supplies for the next two winters.
We are stronger when we use the power of our Single Market and deliver solidarity. In that spirit, we have just presented proposals to jointly tackle one of our root causes of the energy crisis – and these are the high and volatile gas prices. We are proposing common gas procurement and stricter rules for storage. Because instead of outbidding each other and driving prices up, we should pull our common weight and start buying gas together, as Europeans, not 27 different Member States. In addition, we should use our gas storage facilities in some Member States of our Union to secure the gas supplies everywhere in our Union. This will not only benefit the Member States where those tanks are located, but also their neighbours. Take the Baltics, for example. Lithuania has one of the biggest LNG terminals in the region, while Latvia boasts massive underground storage facilities. So already today, LNG gas arriving in Klaipėda is used to fill storage facilities in Latvia. And of course, customers in neighbouring Estonia benefit as well. This is the way to go.
And finally, the effects of the Russian war go beyond energy, of course. They are also disrupting vital food supplies and driving food prices up. The European Union has assigned at least EUR 2.5 billion until 2024 to help regions across the world facing food insecurity. And this morning, we decided on a wide range of special measures to help European farmers. We will table a package of EUR 500 million to support those most affected by the crisis. We should not forget that Ukraine alone provides more than half of the World Food Programme’s wheat supply. The shelling and the bombing makes it impossible for Ukrainian farmers to sow. On top of that, Putin is blocking hundreds of ships filled with wheat in the Black Sea. So the consequences will be felt from Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia, to Africa and the Far East. I call on Putin to let those ships go. Otherwise, he will not only be responsible for a war and death but also for famine and hunger. Let these ships go.
Tonight will mark the first month of the Russian invasion. Since the very first day, Europe has stood united. Let us continue to do so. If there is anything that Putin did not anticipate, then it is our unity, the speed of our action and our determination. He should be in no doubt that we will stay the course.
Long live unity. And long live Europe.
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