Brussels, 8 June 2022
Madam President, dear Roberta,
Mr President, cher Charles,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the early weeks of this war, you remember that the Leaders were gathering in Versailles, and Europe found a common sense of purpose. The European Commission took responsibility for translating this purpose into action. And at the European Council last week, we presented our very practical approaches and proposals on four main topics. The first one is: We have to get rid of the dependency on Russian fossil fuels. We have already got rid of coal. We are now in a phase where we can wind down the dependency on Russian oil – 90% until the end of the year. I would have hoped for 100%, but this is unanimity, so 90% is good – until the end of the year.
Now we have to look at gas. And for that, we presented the EUR 300 billion package REPowerEU. What is in it? Three main pillars. The first one is to diversify away from Russia towards more trustworthy and good suppliers – friends of us, for example the United States –, and to invest in the necessary infrastructure in a way – when I am speaking, for example, about pipelines and interconnectors – that, yes, today, it is for gas, but tomorrow it has to be hydrogen-ready. So the investment is worth it. The second pillar is energy saving and energy efficiency. It sounds so easy, but it is a big topic because – I just want to share with you one figure that really impressed me – if in the European Union, over a year, we decrease the average heating temperature by only 2 degrees Celsius, this is the equivalent of the whole supply of Nord Stream 1 – only 2 degrees Celsius. And this shows the power of energy savings and energy efficiency. And the third pillar is the most important one: That is massive investment in renewables. And I could speak here for an hour about that topic, but I will not do that because I have to focus now on the three other topics.
The second one is and was defence, at the European Council. The Commission did a gap analysis. There is a clear underinvestment since the economic and financial crisis, you can see it. I give you a few figures that show that: In the last decade, we had an increase in defence spending in the European Union by 19%; in the United States by 65%; in Russia by 300%; and in China by 600%. And I think that these figures are telling. So now, the good news is that Leaders have stepped up. And if you look at the figures they have now put publicly as investment in defence, it is EUR 200 billion. Now it is important, not only that we have these EUR 200 billion, but how we spend it. And here, joint procurement is paramount. Because this is the question of ending the fragmentation, of economy of scale, of interoperability and of development of our industrial base, here in the European Union. So we really have to look at that intensively.
The third topic was, very important, on relief and reconstruction of Ukraine. I explained that extensively last time when we were here in Strasbourg. So today, I want to focus on food security. And perhaps in my closing remarks, it might be possible to refer to the relief and reconstruction.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine reverberates around the world. This is not just about what its impact is on economics, geopolitics and security architecture. It is about the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the world. Millions of people who fear that they will not be able to afford to heat their homes and to feed their children tomorrow. The numbers are stark. This year alone, some 275 million people are likely to be at least at the risk of food insecurity across the world, not to know where to get your food as of tomorrow. And in an inflationary world, we are in right now, that risk and those numbers can quickly spiral further out of control. Many families in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa already spend close to half of their income on food. They have no room for manoeuvre anymore with rising food prices – now way. So it is no surprise that the World Bank has estimated that ten million people are pushed into extreme poverty for every percentage point increase in food prices – ten million people, 1% increase. So we should be under no illusions about the challenges ahead. We are facing up to a collision of crises, which will amplify food insecurity and debt distress around the world. Some of these are a legacy of the pandemic and wider issues linked to the cost of living. For instance, the rising energy prices that have driven up the costs of fertilisers or of transporting exports. Others are more long-term and structural, such as the effects of extreme weather linked to climate change.
But, Honourable Members, whether cyclical or structural, all of these impacts have one thing in common: They are massively – and deliberately – compounded by Putin’s war. This is a cold, callous and calculated siege by Putin on some of the most vulnerable countries and people in the world. And therefore, Honourable Members, food has become now part of the Kremlin’s arsenal of terror. And we cannot tolerate this. I think that this is the only way to describe Russia’s bombarding of grain storage facilities, the blockade of the Ukrainian ports – actually also in some cases even theft of grain from Ukraine. So at the moment being, there are round about 20 million tonnes of grain trapped in Ukraine. And it is our duty to dismantle Russia’s disinformation.
Let us be very clear, here in this hemicycle and outside: Our sanctions do not touch basic food commodities. They do not affect the trading of grain, or other food, between Russia and third countries. And the port embargo specifically has full exemptions on agricultural goods. So let us stick to the truth: It is Putin’s war of aggression that fuels the food crisis – and nothing else.
While the cause is without doubt, our response must be just as clear. And there are four areas of action, which I believe we must now focus on together. The first is keeping markets open so that trade can continue to flow. This means stepping up our work on the solidarity lanes. We are working very hard to provide an alternative way – I know that it is not optimal, but it is at least something – to make sure that the grain that is blocked in Ukraine gets to the markets as quickly as possible. This helps. But the world needs the Black Sea ports of Ukraine up and running again. Because the majority of Ukrainian grain can only be exported on time through the Black Sea routes. And therefore, I am very grateful to the United Nations for its efforts. In parallel, we need to work with our partners to ensure that there are no export restrictions or controls that will hamper the market. The European Union keeps its food exports going, and so should everyone else.
Second area, this is solidarity and support to partners. This is about short-term support to the countries most at risk. For example, we are now investing an additional EUR 225 million to address the short- and medium-term needs of the Southern Neighbourhood partners. And I will be in Egypt next week to discuss with President El-Sisi how best we can target our support to the region. This is a big task for all of us.
The third area of response is investing in making local markets more sustainable and resilient. If you look at the figures, only 50 years ago, Africa produced all the food it needed. Then climate change made water scarce, and the desert swallowed hundreds of kilometres of fertile land, year after year. Today, Africa is heavily dependent on imports for critical food products, and this makes it vulnerable. Therefore, in the medium and long term, an initiative to boost the region’s own production capacity is critical to strengthen the region’s resilience. We should have the same mind-set as we had with the vaccines. Yes, at the moment being, we have to bring food to Africa. Yes, it is the short-term solution and it is necessary, without any question. And we should look at how we use our grain here in Europe and how much we can really bring to Africa. But in the mid and long term, as with the vaccines, it should not be our food brought to Africa, but it should be the technology that is in Africa, and Africa produces itself what it needs. So here, we really have to step up. For this, the EU budget has already earmarked EUR 3 billion to invest in agriculture and nutrition, water and sanitation programmes – precision farming, nanotechnology for fertilisers, you do not need the energy anymore. So there are many interesting technologies out there. But it is clear that we need to do more and we will need to move faster. This is why the Commission has raised with Member States now the possibility to mobilise EUR 600 million of decommitted funds from the European Development Fund. Please, I would be very, very happy if we would move swiftly on this. I know that this Parliament is able to do it; you have proven it in the crisis. So let us prove it another time.
Finally, let me emphasise that we are not doing this alone. We are working very closely with Member States through the Team Europe approach. We are working closely with the United Nations and the G7 Presidency that has made this a key theme of the upcoming leader’s meeting. Unity and support are the strongest messages we can send in the face of Russian aggression and Russian disinformation.
It is only natural that many of our partners around the world see this conflict through the prism of food and energy crises. And they expect the European Union – of course, other countries in the world, too – to show the same resolve, the same solidarity as we have, rightly so, shown to Ukraine, when it comes to addressing the food crisis in the world. And this is exactly what we will have to do through our own response, through our work with the G7 and with other partners.
Long live Europe.
Source: European Commission