Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the review of the Spanish Presidency of the Council

“Check against delivery”

Thank you, dear Roberta,

Dear Charles,

Honourable Members,

Prime Minister, dear Pedro,

When I look back at this Spanish Presidency, the first images that come to my mind are the breath-taking venues where Spain hosted the summits. The Royal Collections in Madrid. The Alhambra in Granada. But besides the beauty of Spain, this Presidency will be remembered for incredibly challenging circumstances. The day after our meeting in Granada, where we discussed Ukraine, we woke up to the news of Hamas’ terrorist attack. These two conflicts have shaped our work in these months. But in spite of these crises, we have still managed to focus on a huge set of priorities, ranging from competitiveness to climate and energy, from economic governance to migration and AI. Allow me to focus on three crucial issues that have marked these six months. First, the situation in the Middle East. Second, our work on energy. And third, migration.

Two months ago I was in Israel, in the Kfar Azza Kibbutz, just after the Hamas terrorist attacks. And I was also in Rafah last month, where we are working hand in hand with Egypt and the United Nations to take more aid into Gaza. Israel has the right to do everything it can to ensure that there will never be a horrific event like the one that happened on 7 October again. Having said that, Israel also has a duty to do everything it can to protect civilians, even if Hamas uses them as human shields. Hamas could put an end to that by stopping the fighting. By freeing the hostages. And by stopping hiding behind civilians. The truce has allowed us to step up our humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip with the help of several NGOs. The EU, with its Member States, has organised 24 humanitarian air bridge flights. Those flights have delivered more than 1 000 tons of aid. Six more flights are planned for this month. In addition to emergency aid, we must also try to get the path to a two-state solution back on track. There can be no peace unless there is the prospect of a political solution, both for Israelis and for Palestinians. We now need to focus our efforts in three areas.

First of all, the principles underpinning the ‘day after’. There has been a growing consensus on these principles since our discussion in the European Parliament last month. And we must pursue our diplomatic efforts, focusing on the organisation of an international peace conference, among other things.

Secondly, the situation in the West Bank. The rise in violence by extremist settlers is inflicting enormous suffering on the Palestinians. And it is also jeopardising the chances of achieving a lasting peace. And it might also make the whole region more unstable. That is why I am in favour of imposing sanctions on the perpetrators of the attacks in the West Bank. They must be held accountable. That violence has nothing to do with combating Hamas and it must stop.

That brings me to my third point, which is the need to prevent the conflict from spreading to the whole region. We have seen an increase in the number of shots fired by the Hezbollah across the northern Israeli border. We have also seen the attacks carried out by the Houthis with ballistic missiles, the drones it has deployed against Israel and the increase in the number of attacks against merchant vessels in the Red Sea. All this is perilous. But it is still possible to stop the situation from escalating. And we must continue to work with all international stakeholders in order to contain the violence and pave the way to a solution. We must do everything to put an end to this war and to the reign of Hamas in Gaza. And we must do everything to bring fresh hope in these dark times.

Honourable Members,

Let me move on to my second point: energy. I have not forgotten that before the war we purchased 50% of our pipeline gas from Russia. We were dependent, and Russia tried to blackmail us. We had to overcome a difficult energy crisis. But we did it! We managed to move away from Russian fossil fuels. Imports from Russia now account for less than 10%. Europe has joined forces. Since last spring we have had a joint purchasing platform, which has allowed us to buy 42 billion cubic metres of gas for Europe. Today’s prices are almost ten times lower than at the height of the crisis. Our storage facilities are almost 93% full. Not only are we safe for this winter but we can safely say that the days of Russian oil and gas blackmail are over, once and for all.

And we have invested heavily in renewables. In Europe we now produce more electricity from sun and wind than from gas. We are upgrading the infrastructure for clean energy. We are updating our regulatory framework. And we are close to reaching an agreement on our reform of the electricity market. This will allow Europeans to benefit from the roll-out of renewables at more stable prices.

And on the international side. The UN Climate Conference in Dubai has just reached a historic deal. And a crucial part of it is truly made in Europe. At the beginning of COP28, we proposed a Global Pledge to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency by 2030. 130 countries immediately joined us. And now the whole world has endorsed our targets in the final COP declaration. This is a global turning point. For the first time, the world is committing to transition away from fossil fuels. For the first time, there is a loss and damage fund to support the most vulnerable countries. It is the beginning of a new era. The post-fossil era. And Europe is at the forefront of it. Investing in clean and homegrown energy for all.

Honourable Members,

My third point is migration. In the last six months, pressure on our external borders has continued to rise. Not only in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean. But also, in the Atlantic, and most recently, at Finland’s Eastern border – a reckless hybrid attack orchestrated by Russia. This is yet another proof that migration is a European challenge, that requires European solutions. This is the spirit that has driven our actions throughout this mandate. And in recent months, we have continued advancing on four main strands of work. First, we have strengthened our external borders. We are supporting Member States, for instance Finland, with an increased presence of Frontex to patrol its borders.

Second, we are combatting smugglers. Almost 60 countries took part in our international conference to form a Global Alliance to counter migrant smuggling. The Call to Action that we launched, is a call to all of us: We need to pull our weight together in the fight against smugglers. We have an obligation as part of the international community, to support those with the right to protection, and save lives. We have fulfilled it in the past, and we will do so today and in the future. But we will decide who comes to the European Union and under what circumstances, and not the smugglers and traffickers. And for this reason, we have proposed to update our anti-smuggling legislation. It is now up to you, Parliament and Council, to bring this forward as a matter of urgency.

Third, on returns. We now have a roadmap, focusing on seven priority countries. Frontex is supporting Member States from identification to joint return operations. And these countries are ready to cooperate with us. Because our offer is clear. We can grant more opportunities to come to Europe legally. But we also expect cooperation to ensure the return of irregular migrants.

And this leads to the fourth point, on comprehensive partnerships. We need to strike a new balance with countries beyond our borders. Where migration is part of a much broader picture – that includes border management and anti-smuggling, but also people-to-people exchanges, trade, and job creation. This approach is beginning to show results in Tunisia, where irregular departures from Sfax have slowed down. We now hope to reach an agreement with Egypt soon, where migration is part of a broader partnership.

And the new Pact on Migration and Asylum is also about to get over the line. Let me thank the Spanish Presidency and the Parliament for working patiently and relentlessly to build common ground. With everyone’s good will and flexibility towards a common goal, we can get it done by the end of the year. Let us show our citizens that Europe can manage migration effectively and humanely. Let us show once again the power of Europe, when we stand tall and united.

Long live Europe.