The speech made by Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, on 19 February 2022.
Secretary-General, dear Jens,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The very reason why our Union was created is to put an end to all European wars. Thus, the world has been watching in disbelief as we face the largest build-up of troops on European soil since the darkest days of the Cold War. Because the events of these days could reshape the entire international system. Ukraine has just celebrated 30 years of independence. There is an entire generation of Ukrainians born and bred in a free country. They are children of democracy. But now, they are confronted, on a daily basis, with external aggression and interference. Some of them have lost relatives or classmates in the Donbas war. They are faced again with the prospect of conscription, to fight a war that they do not want, but that Moscow might impose on them. This is what the Kremlin’s policies mean in practice: to instil fear, and call it security; to deny 44 million Ukrainians from deciding freely about their own future; to deny a free country’s right to independence and self-determination. And the consequences of this approach matter well beyond Ukraine.
The Kremlin is not only trying to undermine the entire European security architecture, the Helsinki principles that have made all European countries safer, including Russia. It is also violating the UN Charter, where it states that countries ‘shall refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.’ We cannot let this stand.
We are facing a blatant attempt to rewrite the rules of our international system. One only has to read the recent communiqué issued by Russian and Chinese leaders. They seek a ‘new era’, as they say, to replace the existing international order. They prefer the rule of the strongest to the rule of law, intimidation instead of self-determination, coercion instead of cooperation. We still hope that peace will prevail and that diplomacy will take us there.
Allow me to address how Europe can support this work. First, we should be ready to respond. We – the EU and its transatlantic partners – have been preparing a robust package of financial and economic sanctions, including on energy and cutting-edge technology. If the Kremlin strikes, we can impose high costs and severe consequences on Moscow’s economic interests. The Kremlin’s dangerous thinking, which comes straight out of a dark past, may cost Russia a prosperous future.
Second, diversification. A strong European Union cannot be so reliant on an energy supplier that threatens to start a war on our continent. Gazprom is deliberately trying to store and deliver as little as possible while prices and demand are skyrocketing. A strange behaviour for a company. We must diversify both our suppliers and our energy sources. This work is already underway. We have reached out to our partners and friends across the globe. And today, I can say that even in case of full disruption of gas supply by Russia we are on the safe side for this winter. And in the medium and long term, we are doubling-down on renewables. This will increase Europe’s strategic independence on energy.
Third, supporting democracy in Ukraine. For seven years now, the Russian leadership has tried to destabilise Ukraine: Hybrid war, cyberattacks, disinformation – you name it. Yet, the country is now stronger than seven years ago. Because it has chosen the path of democracy and the friendship of other democracies. Think again about the youth of Ukraine, the post-Soviet generation. They know that their democracy is not perfect. But it is perfectible, and is getting stronger year after year. This is what makes it stand out from autocracy. Thriving democracies are the autocrats’ greatest fear. Because their propaganda fails, when citizens are empowered by the reporting of independent media and the free exchange of ideas. Because free citizens speak truth to power. Because trust and confidence are more sustainable than control and coercion. And this is exactly why Europe is supporting Ukraine’s path to democracy. It makes Ukraine a better place to live for its people and a better neighbour for both the European Union and Russia.
My fourth and final point is about unity. Since the start of this Kremlin-made crisis, the European Union and the transatlantic community are fully aligned and united. We are supporting Ukraine to withstand the enormous pressure from Moscow. When the Russian government tried to divide us, over and over again, we have responded with one voice and a common message. This has been possible also thanks to you, dear Jens. You always pushed us to focus on what we have in common. You have shown that the European Union and NATO stand side by side. Not only because we share members and allies, but because we share values: freedom, democracy, independence. The very values that are at stake in this crisis.
And this is why it makes me very proud and happy to announce that you are this year’s Kleist award winner. You have come a long way to reach this high office. When you were young, you were the head of the young socialists in Norway, an organisation that – at the time – was certainly not known as a supporter of NATO. Young Jens used his charm and leadership to turn the Young Norwegian Socialist around. As Prime Minister of Norway, you, Jens, had to deal with Russia on a regular basis. Actually, by then, Lavrov was already being Lavrov. And yet, you managed with skill to resolve a decades-long territorial dispute in the Barents Sea.
You have always been a man of dialogue and a believer in the transatlantic bond. In almost ten years at the helm of NATO, you always carried the flame of this unique alliance. Nobody worked harder than you for the transatlantic alliance. You have pushed relentlessly to strengthen our unity. This is why no one deserves this year´s Kleist award more than you do.
Congratulations, dear Jens.