Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on Russia’s escalation of its war of aggression against Ukraine

European Union, 2022European Union, 2022

Dear President Metsola, dear Roberta,

Honourable Members,

Since we last met to discuss the state of our Union, the Kremlin has escalated its aggression to a new level. Putin has launched Russia’s first mobilisation since World War II, treating hundreds of thousands of young Russians as cannon fodder. He uses sham referenda in an illegal attempt to change international borders by force. And since many months, he is using energy as a weapon. The Russian war causes economic and social hardship. It places a heavy burden on our citizens and on the economy in our Single Market. Rising energy costs in particular are leading to reduced purchasing power for citizens and loss of competitiveness for companies.

Over the course of the last seven months, together with our Member States, we have already taken important steps. We have diminished our gas consumption by around 10%. Russian gas supplies have decreased from 40% to now down to 7.5% of pipeline gas. We have compensated this reduction by increased imports of LNG and pipeline gas, mainly from our reliable suppliers like the US and Norway. Gas storage in the EU is now at 90%. This is 15% higher than on the same day last year. In addition, three weeks ago in this hemicycle, I announced that we will skim the exceptional profits made by energy companies and use them to support vulnerable citizens and businesses. Last week, this has been enshrined in EU law. We achieved this in lightning speed, also thanks to the outstanding work of the Czech Presidency. And yesterday, the Council reached agreement on REPowerEU.

So we have key instruments in place to make it through the winter – storage and savings; to jointly purchase gas – Platform; to get us out of the Russian grip ­­– agreement with US; to redistribute the windfall profits to support those in need – electricity emergency intervention; and to invest in the future – REPowerEU.

The measures we have put in place provide us with a first buffer of protection. Thanks to these, we can and will now step up to the next level. I will lay out a roadmap in a letter to Leaders in view of our meeting in Prague later this week. It includes the following key components: We will step up our negotiations with trusted partners – for example with Norway – to dampen the price we pay for gas imports. As European Union, we have considerable market power. And many of our suppliers want to conclude deals with us, which are beneficial for both sides. We will also strengthen our Energy Platform. This is in our collective interest. We have to avoid a scenario where Member States are again outbidding each other on world markets and driving prices up for Europe.

My next point is on gas prices. We use gas in three domains: industry, heating and electricity. Let me start with electricity. High gas prices are driving electricity prices. We have to limit this inflationary impact of gas on electricity – everywhere in Europe. This is why we are ready to discuss a cap on the price of gas that is used to generate electricity. This cap would also be a first step on the way to a structural reform of the electricity market.

But we also have to look at gas prices beyond the electricity market. We will also work together with Member States to reduce gas prices and limit volatility and the impact of price manipulation by Russia. In March, we have already offered this as an option. We have said that it can give an important signal that the EU will not pay any price for gas. We qualified such a price cap as having an immediate impact on price levels. But that it entails drawbacks, in terms of security of supply of gas. The situation has critically evolved since then.

Today, compared to March, more Member States are open for it and we are better prepared. Such a cap on gas prices must be designed properly to ensure security of supply. And it is a temporary solution to cater for the fact that the TTF – our main price benchmark – is no longer representative of our market that includes more LNG today. It is a temporary solution until a new EU price index ensuring a better functioning of the market is developed. The Commission has kick-started work on this.

Honourable Members,

These are far-reaching measures. I wholeheartedly agree with you when you say in the resolution you will adopt today that exceptional times require exceptional emergency measures, where the Union needs to act as jointly and united as ever. So, in pursuing our action, two things remain paramount: acting in unity and acting in solidarity. We need to protect the fundamentals of our economy, and in particular our Single Market. This is the strength of the European Union. That is where the wealth of the European Union comes from. Without a common European solution, we risk fragmentation. So it is paramount that we preserve a level playing field for all in the European Union.

With REPowerEU, we have developed a crucial instrument to accelerate the transition to energy independence. It will allow to invest in infrastructure, like pipelines, interconnectors or renewables. And it allows to support businesses and households to invest in energy efficiency – like insulating houses or installing heat pumps. So I think we should further boost REPowerEU with additional funding. This way all European states can accelerate the necessary investments. We modernise the energy infrastructure. And we preserve the level playing field. And we secure our European competitiveness on global markets. And we have to do it as Europeans, together and jointly.

Honourable Members,

There is another pressing issue, which we have to address today. The acts of sabotage against Nord Stream pipelines have shown how vulnerable our energy infrastructure is. For the first time in recent history, it has become a target. Pipelines and underwater cables connect European citizens and companies to the world. They are the lifelines of data and energy. It is in the interest of all Europeans to better protect this critical infrastructure.

For this, we will present a five-point plan. First, we must be better prepared. We have very recently agreed new legislation which will strengthen the resilience of critical EU entities. The responsible Parliament committee will be voting on it next week. And we can and should already now be working on this basis.

Second, we need to stress test our infrastructure. We need to identify its weak points and prepare our reaction to sudden disruptions. We will work with Member States to ensure effective stress tests in the energy sector. This then should be followed by other high-risk sectors, such as offshore digital and electricity infrastructure.

Third, we will increase our capacity to respond through our Union Civil Protection Mechanism already in place. With this, we can support Member States in addressing the disruption of critical infrastructure – for example, with fuel, generators or shelter capacity.

Fourth, we will make best use of our satellite surveillance capacity to detect potential threats.

And finally, we will strengthen cooperation with NATO and key partners like the US on this critical issue.

Honourable Members,

This war has entered a new phase. The Ukrainian army keeps reporting impressive successes in its fight against the aggressor. We all saw the images of deeply relieved people welcoming Ukrainian soldiers. And I could see with my own eyes, three weeks ago, that life has returned to Kyiv. Of course, it is the bravery of the Ukrainian people that made it possible. But Europe’s contribution has also made a huge difference. Our backing has helped Ukraine face down the invader. Only a strong and steadfast Europe will stop Putin. This is the moment to stay the course and support Ukraine as long as it takes.

Long live Europe.