The European Parliament’s First Vice-President advocates for a united front against Russia

The war in Ukraine requires all EU institutions to work together to condemn, sanction and help, and to accelerate the implementation of decisions that had already been taken before the war, argues Othmar Karas
A bridge destroyed by fighting in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine | Photo: Alamy

By Othmar Karas

Othmar Karas (AT, EPP) is First Vice-President of the European Parliament

01 May 2022

For weeks, we have been witnessing an unjustifiable aggression by Russia against Ukraine. It has turned into a hideous war of extermination and genocide in the name of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Children, women and men are being tortured, gunned down and executed in barbaric ways, with bodies left on the streets or buried in mass graves. Millions of people are forcibly displaced from their homes. Who among us cannot picture the massacres in Bucha, Mariupol or Kramatorsk?  

The abhorrence and rejection of war unite us all in Europe. In all EU Institutions, important and hotly debated decisions were recently taken on how to deal with Russia and how to support the Ukrainian people in defending peace, freedom, democracy and sovereignty. We must stand together against the aggressor on the side of our democratic values, to condemn, sanction and help – united and together. 

The European Commission has drawn up the fifth package of restrictive measures, which the Member States have unanimously adopted. It adds import and export bans, widens the scope of Russian individuals and entities on the sanctions list and sums up to an unprecedented package of restrictions for a third country in the EU’s history. 

We need to develop further our common foreign, security and defence policy. The neutrality of some Member States is not an obstacle for the EU to act closely together in this field 

By an overwhelming 93 per cent majority of the votes cast (513 to 22, with 19 abstentions), the European Parliament adopted its position on the latest developments of the war against Ukraine and the EU sanctions against Russia and their implementation and called for further consequences. This non-partisan united stance sends a powerful signal to the public at large, and the citizens of Ukraine in particular, that we are resolutely standing by their side; it also sends a powerful signal to Putin that we are working on further packages of sanctions. Any other interpretation is merely semantic nit-picking.  

Before the European Parliament took its decision, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen underlined in her speech in the hemicycle in Strasbourg that “these sanctions will not be our last sanctions” and that “now, we have to look into oil and we will have to look into the revenues that Russia gets from the fossil fuels”.

Similarly, President of the European Council Charles Michel added “that measures on oil and even on gas will also be needed sooner or later”. 

Why? Since the beginning of the war, the EU Member States have paid €35bn to Russia for energy imports, according to Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat. That equals around €1bn a day, filling up Putin’s war chest. That money is Putin’s Achilles heel. If we want to stand the test of history and continue looking at ourselves in the mirror, we must do everything to switch off Putin’s energy and stop getting oil and gas from Russia. We must not fund Putin’s bloody war. 

Yes, we will have to pay a price. High energy prices are already a burden: many people cannot pay their heating bills, and some companies can no longer cover their costs. We have to keep all of this in mind. However, this is in no way comparable to what the people in Ukraine are currently going through.

Therefore, it must not be about party politics or blockades and blackmail within the EU but about political responsibility and opening our eyes to reality. Putin is waging a ruthless war against liberal, parliamentary democracy and breaking all the legal foundations for people to live together peacefully. Putin is waging war against us and our values! 

I am advocating the immediate formation of an EU crisis cabinet with clearly defined powers: the European Commission, the Member States, the European Parliament, the European Central Bank, the European Investment Bank, the European External Action Service and humanitarian organisations must coordinate, collaborate and cooperate constantly. Currently, all EU institutions are working feverishly on responses to Russian aggression.

There is great cohesion, but due to the different interests and concerns involved, everyone is looking for their own message and their own approach. This leads to confusion. It is high time for everyone to close ranks even more so.

Whenever a decision is taken, we must know what it intends to achieve and what impact it will have in Europe. What do we do, when and how? What accompanying measures are necessary?  

Of course, we must also duly take into account that some Member States are more affected than others. That is precisely why the European Parliament has called for the European Commission to present a “plan to continue ensuring the EU’s security of energy supply in the short term”. That is why we are currently working intensively on a law to fill up gas storage facilities for the winter. That is why all Member States have agreed on joint procurement to focus on alternatives to Russian energy imports. And that is why a new EU state aid framework has been adopted to compensate companies that suffer damages due to exceptional circumstances.  

This non-partisan united stance sends a powerful signal to the public at large, and the citizens of Ukraine in particular, that we are resolutely standing by their side; it also sends a powerful signal to Putin that we are working on further packages of sanctions

The war in Ukraine leads to an acceleration of the implementation of decisions that had already been taken before the war: EU energy independence, because energy policy is also foreign, security and competition policy; a complete switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy and a reduction of energy consumption (especially in the building and transport sectors). Each and every one of us can contribute.

We should also achieve the energy union so that all services are interconnected and compatible and that internal solidarity measures can be taken more quickly. Not least, we need to develop further our common foreign, security and defence policy. The neutrality of some Member States is not an obstacle for the EU to act closely together in this field. 

To face history and to handle new challenges in the interest of Ukraine and ourselves, we have to be united and determined. No one can want future history books to say the opposite. 

Therefore, we must support Ukraine with everything the country needs for supplies and defence, and we must sanction Russia with everything – and I mean everything – in our power when Russian soldiers tie tape around civilians’ hands, line them up and shoot them in the head. 

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