A few weeks ago, Russian troops invaded Ukraine. War was brought back to Europe by Vladimir Putin.
The European Union had to mobilise quickly to respond to the crisis, to protect its Member States and its citizens and to provide support to the people of Ukraine.
Now, more than ever, it is clear that the stability and security of the European Union depend on the stability and security of our neighbours. This is why everything happening now in Ukraine and the whole eastern neighbourhood are of crucial importance to the EU. Defending Ukraine means defending the European Union.
We all saw very clearly how the entire European Union stood united against Russia and stepped up to help Ukraine. We immediately imposed massive and targeted sanctions against Russia, and provided Ukraine with financial and humanitarian assistance. We opened our borders and offered protection to people fleeing from Ukraine.
In the coming period, the EU’s actions should follow a set of core principles: increased pressure on Russia in the form of additional sanctions, maximum support for Ukraine, full unity and coherence between Member States and concrete actions to minimise the costs of the war on the EU’s economy and on European citizens.
So, what should we do next?
We must continue applying sanctions on Russia until it withdraws all its troops from Ukraine. We must ensure a full political and economic isolation of Russia.
Moreover, we must apply the same sanctions to Belarus, as the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko is as guilty as Putin for the situation in Ukraine. Without Lukashenko, it would have been much harder for Putin to attack Ukraine. When applying sanctions, the EU and our partners must treat Belarus in the same way as Russia.
It is clear from recent events that Russia is a threat and will continue to be a threat. Now is the time for bold decisions
Secondly, place an embargo on Russian oil and gas in the European Union.
For over 15 years, we have been discussing ways to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian gas. In reality, our dependence has increased. Today there are more gas pipelines from Russia to Europe than there were in 2006. It is time to talk less and do more to reduce this dependence. We cannot finance Russia’s war machine.
Thirdly, European perspective for Ukraine and Moldova.
In the past few weeks, Ukraine and Moldova have shown more than ever that they deserve a European perspective. They have acted in respect of European values and shown solidarity their determination to protect their countries and their citizens.
The entire European Union understands now that EU security depends on security in Ukraine and Moldova. This is why our answer to the EU membership requests of Ukraine and Moldova should be an emphatic yes. We know there will be difficulties and a lot of work to be done on both sides, but the last few weeks have shown us that these two countries want and can overcome all difficulties ahead.
A clear pathway to European integration encourages reform and modernisation. We shall start by including Moldova and Ukraine into the EU single market. This will help build strong economies.
Now is the time to tell Moldova and Ukraine that their place is in the European Union.
Fourth, strengthen our economy.
The war in Ukraine shows us how important a strong European economy is. We can only overcome the economic consequences of this war if our economy is strong, resilient and competitive. Any weakness means that we will be hit harder by the economic consequences of the Russian invasion and by the next crises. To avoid this, EU Member States must implement structural reforms and measures to ensure fiscal sustainability and enhance growth. There is no time to lose.
Lastly, work on our priorities.
In parallel with strengthening our economies, we must make good progress on our other priorities: greening, digitalisation, innovation and security. People expect us to deliver on these fronts, and we should be able to address more than one issue at a time. This benefits us all.
Beyond immediate response measures, any crisis is also an opportunity for bold decisions.
It is the time to make our countries less dependent on Russian fossil fuels and start investing more in renewable energy. It is time to increase cooperation at the EU level on defence. Finally, it is also time to increase our food security and ensure that agricultural production is adequately supported in the EU in order to avoid disruptions.
Most of these priorities can be supported through existing mechanisms such as the Recovery and Resilience Facility or through the traditional EU budget. However, using the budget means also making full use of its flexibility, including amounts that were de-committed from 2014 to 2020. The funding is clearly there, and we should use it.
It is clear that Russia is a threat and will continue to be a threat. Now is the time for bold decisions.