Remarks by President Charles Michel at the extraordinary debate at the European Parliament on Russian aggression against Ukraine

European Union, 2022European Union, 2022

Your words pierce our hearts and souls and drive home the gravity, the seriousness of the situation in which we find ourselves. They drive home the gravity and the seriousness of the challenge facing us, and of the decisions we will have to take together.

Because, once again, war and bloodshed are present on European soil.

Five days ago, Vladimir Putin launched a brutal, massive invasion of Ukraine. An unjustified and unprovoked war based on despicable lies. And he did it for one reason only. Because in Maidan, you, dear Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and you, dear people of Ukraine, you made the choice of freedom, democracy and rule of law.

It is not only Ukraine that is under attack. International law, rules-based international order, democracy and human dignity are also under attack. This is geopolitical terrorism, pure and simple.

We must support Ukraine, and we are supporting Ukraine. We must protect peace. We must protect democracy and international law.

Our transatlantic alliance is strong, united and perfectly coordinated. We are also working closely with the members of the G7 and with the United Nations. And more and more countries are engaging in an anti-war coalition along with people from around the world, with one common message: Russia, stop the war. Go home. Let’s talk.

We are putting maximum pressure on Russia and its leaders. We are stepping up to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. I salute all of you, President Zelenskyy and the brave people of Ukraine, for your courage and composure. It is also our duty to rise to this historic moment.

We promised together that we would react quickly, that the consequences for Russia would be massive and severe, and our actions have matched our words. We have responded with massive and unprecedented sanctions. We imposed sanctions on political and military leaders, on oligarchs, on Vladimir Putin and on Sergei Lavrov. We are also taking powerful measures to severely restrict the use of the foreign currency reserve of the Russian Central Bank. We are excluding key Russian banks from the SWIFT system. We are also imposing severe sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s economy.

But, ladies and gentlemen, we must be honest and frank with one another. Those sanctions will also come at a cost to ourselves. And we will have to shoulder that cost. We will have to shoulder it because what is at stake is our values, our beliefs and our common future.

So, dear colleagues, in order to support Ukraine, we must of course mobilise funding. That is what we are doing, and that is what we will continue to do. And we are calling for an international donors’ conference.

Of course, this means making a commitment, particularly in respect of those of our member states directly bordering Ukraine: they are already having to cope with people fleeing the war and seeking refuge – a safe haven – and that situation will continue. It will be an expression of Europe’s honour and dignity to show our solidarity with the Ukrainians and with all those who have rallied round to take on that responsibility. Clearly, however, solidarity will also manifest itself through the defensive military capabilities which are being and will continue to be delivered.  That is why, this Saturday morning, in full coordination with the High Representative, we decided to activate the European Peace Facility, with the backing of the member states, to support these defensive military capabilities that are so crucial for the Ukrainian people’s resistance efforts.

Just a few moments ago, President Zelenskyy looked us in the eye. He opened his heart to us. He referred to that announcement which has since been formally presented to us. The request for recognition by the European Union of Ukraine’s candidate status. It will be up to us Europeans to rise to the task. And, of course, we know this is a difficult subject, as it touches upon enlargement. And we know that, within the European Union, there are diverging and sometimes qualified views on that subject.

It will be for the European Commission to issue an opinion, on the basis of which the Council will likewise have a set of tasks to fulfil. It will have to undertake a serious examination of the symbolic, political, powerful and – in my view – legitimate request that has been expressed. Then it will be a matter of providing guidance and making the right choice, with a cool head and a sense of determination, in response to the request which has been expressed today by a man who has looked us in the eye and spoken with a degree of emotion that has touched each and every one of us.

I would like to end by saying that, when this war was triggered, Vladimir Putin no doubt assumed that he would shatter European unity. He was wrong. He probably thought he would be facing inaction, inertia and dithering. And he was wrong.

When he initiated this action, he no doubt imagined that he would swiftly overpower Ukraine. He was wrong, because the Ukrainian people are putting up brave and courageous resistance.

He probably thought that, by instigating this attack, he would deal a severe and perhaps even fatal blow to everything we hold dear: democracy, freedom and the rule of law. Let us make sure that he is mistaken about that, too.

And as I stand before you today, I am thinking of what General de Gaulle said in 1961: ‘backing down only has the effect of overexciting the aggressor, inciting him to double down on his pressure and ultimately facilitating his assault. At the end of the day, the Western powers have no better means of serving world peace than to remain steadfast and resolved’.

‘Steadfast and resolved’: there could be no better words to describe the posture that has been adopted by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And it is the posture that we too must adopt: we must be steadfast and resolute, and we must see in Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s face, eyes and voice the voice, face and light of freedom, hope, security, stability and European values. Thank you.