In his government statement before the start of the special meeting of the European Council, Federal Chancellor Scholz first turned his attention to the earthquake disaster in Turkey and Syria. “We are shocked by the many dead and injured, by so much suffering and destruction,” he said, adding that the Federal Government had promised immediate assistance. For more information on the disaster and the support measures taken by Germany, please see the following article.
A year of suffering for people in Ukraine
The European Council will again address the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine – a “man-made catastrophe”, as Scholz emphasised. In a few days, it will be the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of its neighbouring country. “For Ukrainians, this has meant dread of fresh Russian attacks, concern and grief for loved ones, and people fearing for their own lives – every day for twelve agonising months”, said the Federal Chancellor. Our full sympathy and solidarity go out to Ukraine and its brave citizens,” stressed Scholz.
Germany alone had supported Ukraine by providing some 12 billion euros last year, said the Federal Chancellor, “and we will continue to offer this support in 2023.” The Federal Republic of Germany was helping with reconstruction as well as with stabilising the Ukrainian state budget and economy, said Scholz. He also pointed out that Germany was providing humanitarian aid and was “far ahead of the rest of continental Europe” in terms of the supply of weapons and ammunition. He underlined that from the first day of the war, “cohesion within our alliances and partnerships is our greatest asset”. This cohesion was maintained and strengthened “by first preparing decisions confidentially– and only then communicating them”, he said, adding that any “public competition to outdo one another” would be detrimental to this unity.
Three guiding principles since the start of the war
Based on his responsibility to prevent harm to the German people, the Federal Chancellor named three principles “that have guided our actions since the start of the war”:
- We will not allow the fundamental principles of our peace order in Europe to be called into question. No country may take over parts of another country by force. For this reason, the EU will once again tighten sanctions against Russia and continue to support Ukraine – “for as long as necessary”.
- No decisions will be taken that will make NATO a party to the war. “It is not NATO that is at war with Russia. Russia invaded Ukraine,” said Scholz. That’s why it is up to Russia to end this war – “the sooner, the better: for Ukraine, for Russia, and for the whole world”.
- Everything we do, we do in harmony with our partners and allies. “This has been the case with all the important decisions we have taken in the past twelve months. And that’s the way things will remain,” said Scholz. The citizens of Germany could rely on us to “maintain the prudence and the nerve it takes to make balanced decisions about war and peace,” he stated.
Ukraine belongs to Europe
At the special meeting of the European Council there will be a discussion of where to go from here. In addition, the heads of state and government will reaffirm the pledge they made last June: “Ukraine belongs to Europe, its future lies in the European Union! And this promise holds true,” stressed the Federal Chancellor.
Scholz also outlined the other issues that the heads of state and government would be discussing at the special meeting of the European Council – in particular migration and competitiveness. These issues had the potential to divide the European Union, said Scholz: but a geopolitical EU had to overcome this disagreement. “If it does so, it will remain a shaping force in the multi-polar world of the 21st century,” said Scholz.
Advancing a common migration policy
Scholz thanked all volunteers, civil society and the cities and municipalities for their tireless efforts in connection with the Ukraine crisis. They have welcomed over one million refugees from Ukraine to date, organising and arranging aid: “This is a sign of great humanity and for this I thank you from the bottom of my heart!” The Federal Government would continue to support the Länder and municipalities, said Scholz. “We will not leave them alone!” he stressed.
One important element of migration policy was also the effective control of Europe’s external borders, Scholz noted: provision of more support for EU member states was also important, he said – materially, financially and through the voluntary reception of asylum seekers by other EU states. The new path that had been taken to achieve this was the EU’s Voluntary Solidarity Mechanism, said Scholz.
He is confident that a “reform of the European asylum system is still possible in the current European legislative period”. The fact that Germany and an increasing number of EU states were dependent on skilled workers from third countries might also be a factor here, he noted.
But he stated quite clearly: “Anyone who does not have the right to stay in Germany must leave.” In future, the possibilities of legal migration would be linked even more closely to the expectation that the countries of origin would take back nationals who did not have the right to stay in Germany, said Scholz, adding that an agreement to this effect already been concluded with India. Scholz said that the Federal Government had appointed Joachim Stamp as the Special Commissioner in order to coordinate further measures. “This is how we are seeking maintain the acceptance that people have in our country both for freedom of movement within the EU and for the wisely managed immigration of skilled workers,”, said Scholz.
Strengthening Europe’s competitiveness
Scholz will also be discussing European competitiveness with the European heads of state and government. Based on Commission proposals, the European Council is considering how to facilitate the transition to climate neutrality for businesses in the EU.
In this connection, the Federal Chancellor firmly believes that “Germany and Europe are heading in the right direction,” and he cited numerous examples. He stressed that wholesale energy prices were now back to pre-war levels, inflation in Europe was falling and industrial policy was stable. In addition, economic growth in the European Union had even increased slightly in the last quarter, he said while the number of employees in Germany and the EU was at a record high, and progress had also been made in diversifying supply chains and sales markets. The EU free trade agreements with third countries were also on the right track, he said, for example with the MERCOSUR countries.
It was true that by announcing its support for green industry programmes, the USA had sparked a discussion about the consequences of this policy for Europe, said Scholz. But it was “nevertheless welcome that the USA is now finally tackling the change towards climate neutrality with the same determination as we are”, said the Federal Chancellor. It is not only the USA that supports the green transformation of its economy: European companies also have billions at their disposal from European coffers. European funding instruments include the Cohesion Fund and also Green Deal funds such as the Recovery Facility and the programmes RePowerEU and InvestEU. As the Federal Chancellor concluded: “Europe has every reason to be proud of itself.” Nonetheless, he said, the programmes would have to be assessed carefully to see where there were still gaps and how these might be closed.
At the special meeting of the European Council, heads of state and government will discuss the Commission’s communication regarding a Green Deal Industrial Plan , which was issued on 1 February. In launching this new industrial plan, the Commission is looking to ensure a level playing field in the single market. At the same time, it wants to make it easier for member states to grant the aid needed for the green transition. Part of the Green Industrial Plan will also be to draw on existing EU funds and programmes such as RePowerEU and InvestEU.
In order to strengthen the European economy, it was important to make European state aid law more flexible – “specifically in the sectors that we need for the transformation”, said the Federal Chancellor. In addition, he said, production capacity for advanced clean technologies would have to be expanded, for example in the sectors of energy, construction and transport. Free and fair trade was also essential, said Scholz, while the free trade agreements with third countries which had been concluded or were planned were also an important instrument.
Federal Chancellor Scholz finished off his government statement by stating a principle of German foreign and European policy: “It is not hasty, strident demands that prevail but ideas which are sustainable because they are well thought-out and properly coordinated. And as far as I’m concerned, making this is happen is what Germany’s role in Europe is all about.”