Opening remarks by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel following the meeting of the European Council of 26 October 2023

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Good morning,

Indeed, we had a long, good and intense discussion about the situation in the Middle East. The overall position was very clear. Israel is a democracy, attacked by Hamas, a terrorist organisation. Israel has the right of self-defence, in line with international law and international humanitarian law. There was a strong call from the Leaders that Hamas must immediately release all hostages without any preconditions. And it was clear that, through its terrorist activities, Hamas is also bringing harm to the Palestinian people. Hamas has provoked a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

For the Commission, it is very important that we continue to intensify our efforts to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The aid needs to reach Gaza unhindered and quickly. The 56 tonnes of aid that our two first humanitarian flights brought to Egypt have now been delivered to Gaza. This is important. But of course, more is needed. We will have our next two flights. They are scheduled for today, Friday. And more are planned over the following days. Furthermore, we are progressing fast on the implementation of the additional EUR 50 million of extra humanitarian aid for Gaza. You might recall that the planned humanitarian aid for Gaza was EUR 25 million. A week ago, approximately, we tripled it to EUR 75 million. Now these additional EUR 50 million have to be implemented. Tomorrow, we will sign contracts worth EUR 40 million with UN agencies. The other EUR 10 million will be used for the air bridge flights that I just mentioned.

We also discussed with Leaders the real risk of regionalisation of the conflict. We need to continue working intensively with partners. It was good to hear the intense outreach, that all the Leaders described, with different partners in the region, most importantly with Egypt. The current situation reinforces our determination to work on a comprehensive and mutually beneficial partnership with Egypt. We are in the course of developing the different elements of this partnership. It is important for us to have Egypt as a beacon of stability in that region.

We also discussed the fact that the crisis has implications on the EU’s internal security. Leaders described the rapid spread of online hate speech and terrorist propaganda, with the risk that this translates into violence and terrorist acts. With the Terrorist Content Online Regulation and the DSA, we have tools that we can use to ask the platforms to take, for example, terrorist content off the platform. Our experience with Europol is that there is an immediate response when terrorist online content is flagged. In most cases, the platforms are taking down this content in less than an hour. This is good. But it requires intensive work online to discover the difficult content and, of course, to flag it to the platform members.

We also discussed the fact that a very significant increase in anti-Semitic acts is observed. We must continue to be very vigilant on all other hate crimes. Therefore, I took again the opportunity to urge Leaders to now agree on the Commission’s proposal to add hate speech and hate crime to the list of ‘EU crimes’.

Indeed, the second topic we discussed was the MFF revision proposal. We should keep in mind that when the MFF was designed and approved, it was 2020. You all know the crises we, since then, have lived through. The pandemic. A major economic crisis has barely been avoided. We have a major land war in Europe. We went through a massive energy crisis. We had the highest influx of migrants since the migration crisis of 2015. And there is now the crisis in the Middle East. In other words, the world is a completely different place compared to 2020.

We are fully aware that these crises do not only affect the limits of the budget of the European Union. The Member States also have a lot of constraints what that is concerned. We discussed what the priorities are. Let me recall the most important one. Of course, it is the EUR 50 billion support for Ukraine for the next four years.

Second priority is migration. Migration needs a European response. And this needs funding. We have acknowledged several times the need for a comprehensive partnership with countries of origin or transit. And this needs funding, too. But we also need additional financing for our Growth Plan in the Western Balkans, for example; and of course for the border management for Member States facing migratory pressures; finally, last but not least, also for the Pact, the moment it is agreed.

The third priority concerns natural disasters and humanitarian crises. The floods, the droughts, the earthquakes, the wildfires. You were all witnessing this. This led to the fact that we are now already using funds of 2024 to give relief to Member States with these experiences of either natural disasters or humanitarian crises. So, we need here an increase of the funding, too.

And the fourth topic is competitiveness. Here, it is important to be very vigilant that we keep the clean-tech industry in Europe. You know the pressures that are on the clean-tech industry and the effects of the Inflation Reduction Act. The Inflation Reduction Act is relatively fast and predictable because it is about tax breaks. We have therefore two elements that we can use on the European level – without having taxes on the European level. One is state aid. And the other one is our proposal of STEP, a fund that needs an initial funding to be then leveraged and that gives then access to different European funds for companies that need an answer or an alternative to the Inflation Reduction Act.

So we intensively discussed very different topics during this first day.

Thank you.