Thank you very much Prime Minister, dear Eduard,
I am here really to thank you and to thank the Slovak people for their outstanding effort to support and welcome the people that are fleeing the war in Ukraine. And I think, in this very dark hour, that it is wonderful to see the unity and to see the solidarity that really sheds a positive light on a very, very difficult situation. We know that hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing Putin’s bombs in Ukraine. They are leaving their homes; they are leaving their lives behind. At least, more than 1 million people, so far, have crossed our borders. And Slovakia alone has taken in 80,000 up to now, welcomed 80,000, provided them with food and shelter, and human warmth. I really want to commend the Slovak people and you, Prime Minister, for that.
We have seen very touching examples. For example, in Snina, Štefan drove around town to collect supplies – pillows, blankets, food – and set up a dormitory in the local gym. Or the story from Svidník, where Jaroslav and Svitlana are now sharing their roof with four Ukrainian women and their children, while their husbands stayed behind to fight for their country. Or the story of the bus driver, who was sent to the border to pick up eight students, and he was so moved by that, that he returned and picked up another 50 people, just to help. And these are just individual examples, but they show what the Slovak people are doing today. Slovakia has really stepped up to welcome refugees and we are very, very grateful for that. We should not forget that it was a convoy from Slovakia that was the very first to reach Kyiv when the invasion started. And for this too, I really thank you. Because this is an example of European solidarity at its best.
Now, the European Union as a whole is also, of course, supporting all those people who are fleeing this war. First of all, we will make sure that we offer them effective and fast protection. This is why the European Commission proposed a so-called temporary protection mechanism. That means that the refugees from Ukraine immediately get residency rights here, in the European Union, guaranteed for a year, and can be automatically prolonged for two years. That means access to the labour market, access to schools for the children, access also immediately to medical care. You were the example with applying the national legislation and we now cover that for the whole of the European Union, for two years, so that these people, Ukrainians coming to the European Union, are immediately welcomed here, have residency rights and can proceed.
In parallel, we have issued guidelines for border management. Here, it is so important to simplify procedures. So the temporary protection mechanism also makes it very, very simple. Because we know, more refugees will come and we have to be fast to give them immediately a possibility, a perspective to be here, but also that they can move on to other parts of the European Union.
The second topic that I want to mention is humanitarian support. Humanitarian support to deal with the consequences of this war inside the countries and, of course, for refugees. I have announced in the European Parliament that we will deploy at least EUR 500 million from the EU budget for humanitarian assistance, for refugees. We know that this is just the beginning. But we want to signal to you: We know that this is an enormous effort that all the countries now that are at the border of Ukraine are doing to welcome the refugees. We stand by your side and, of course, this also means that we share the burden and Europe is there, for you, to compensate.
We need – this is a topic that is important for me – now also to get assistance into Ukraine, to the people who need it desperately. And for that, we must open humanitarian corridors. Humanitarian convoys need a safe passage and civilians must be allowed to leave the besieged cities in a safe way. And therefore, Russia must allow our humanitarian partners to deliver this assistance to the people that are in the war zone.
In the unwavering support for Ukraine, we are also responding with very strong measures. One point that is important for me here, in Slovakia, is also that, first of all, I want to commend you and thank you for offering the humanitarian hub, or we sometimes also call it a civil protection hub, that is additional now. This is very important because that allows us to get in the assistance from other Member States – here, for example, to the humanitarian hub you are building up – and distribute it to the region. So many thanks for your willingness to host this hub. Many thanks for your pragmatism. We bring in the expertise, the professionals who know how to deal with these crises instantly, and that will also be able to organise, for example, other supporters from the United Nations or from NGOs, to really have the Red Cross, for example, to really have the help speedily coming to the people who desperately need it.
And there is another topic, and these are the sanctions against the Russian leadership for the war by choice they have brought to Ukraine. Our aim is to stop this invasion and to cut off the Kremlin’s possibility and capacity to finance this war against its neighbour. That is why we have introduced these massive sanctions, at an unprecedented speed, within hours. These sanctions are also applied by our allies and partners. So far, more than 40 countries worldwide have aligned completely with our sanctions. And you were mentioning the landslide victory yesterday in the United Nations General Assembly, which 141 countries condemning Russia’s war brought to the Ukrainian neighbour. The three waves of sanctions that we have already introduced have a massive impact on the Russian economy and therefore on Putin’s war efforts. And we will introduce additional measures, if the situation deteriorates on the ground.
And finally, indeed, you mentioned it, we also have to be prepared for retaliation measures by Russia and the Kremlin. And one big topic is LNG and energy. And indeed, as of today, we can say that we are able, as a European Union, even if we would be completely decoupled from Russian gas, to make it through this heating season. Our friends all over the world, that supply LNG, are willing to step up the supplies of LNG. So with the storage that we have and with the additional LNG supplies from partners all over the world, we are able to make it through this winter. And we are preparing now to get rid of this dependency on Russian gas and to go into new sources, to diversify our sources of energy supply. On top of the list are, of course, the renewables. Because the renewables are clean, they are home-grown. So it is a strategic investment that we do in investing in the renewables. It is also a strategic investment in our independence from the Russian fossil fuels.
As the bombs continue to fall, we pay tribute to the determination and the bravery of the people of Ukraine and the outstanding leadership of President Zelenskyy. They are an inspiration to all of us. And we will never forget how they stand up, in these difficult days, for our values, for the principles of independence and freedom. But likewise, we will never forget the solidarity of the Slovak people.
So thank you very much.
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