Opening remarks by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel and Prime Minister Kristersson following the meeting of the European Council of 29-30 June 2023
I also want to congratulate you on a very successful Swedish Presidency. Thanks to your leadership; thanks to the very hard work of your team, there are amazing and fantastic results. Many thanks for the excellent cooperation that we have experienced over the last six months. We also had a very packed agenda indeed in this European Council. And I want, on the one hand, to pay tribute on the whole Presidency, and on the other hand include in this our European Council's discussion.
First, on Ukraine. Ulf, your Presidency was crucial to help maintain Europe's ironclad unity in support of Ukraine. We have seen over the weekend the mutiny of the Wagner group and the obvious cracks that have appeared in Putin's system. Now is the time to really double down on our support for Ukraine. This was discussed today in many different topics. For example, on the military side, under your Presidency, the Member States agreed to use EUR 2 billion from the European Peace Facility to procure ammunitions for Ukraine. We have already delivered over 220,000 ammunition rounds and over 2,000 missiles. And we are now well on track to deliver the 1 million rounds which are foreseen within the next 12 months. Also, by the end of the year, we will have trained more than 30,000 Ukrainian servicemen and servicewomen. Right now, we have already reached 24,000. So we are overshooting our goal. All this thanks to the support of your Presidency.
On the financial side, all told, now almost 500 days into this atrocious war that Russia unleashed, we have mobilised EUR 70 billion for Ukraine since the beginning of the war. Last week, we have disbursed EUR 9 billion out of our EUR 18 billion MFA package – that is the MFA for the whole of the year 2023. We have, as you know, also made progress on sanctioning Russia. Last week, we adopted the 11th package of sanctions that is basically targeting loopholes and circumvention of sanctions. We have made solid progress on accountability, on our work to bring Russia's crimes to justice, under your Presidency. I want to thank you for your support in setting up the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine.
During this European Council, we have discussed the topic of immobilised Russian assets. We, the Commission, will come forward with a proposal. We will focus prudently on the windfall profits from the immobilised assets of the Russian Central Bank.
Ulf, your Presidency has also been extremely active on the legislative front. And there is a lot of work behind it. You committed to brokering agreements on major outstanding files – I remember that when we started the Presidency in Kiruna – and you did so. I counted that, under your Presidency, more than 27 political agreements were reached, as well as over 30 general approaches from Council. And thanks to this work, we were able to finish negotiations on the Fit for 55 Package. It is the heart of the European Green deal, a centrepiece. Many thanks for this major achievement. On the digital transition, you brokered an agreement on one of the cornerstones of our Digital Europe roadmap, that is the famous Chips Act. And your Presidency is ending in style, with a key political agreement reached on Tuesday on the Data Act.
I also want to thank you for making Europe's competitiveness and Europe's economic attractiveness one of the governing dominant themes of your Presidency. It was a timely decision, it sent a strong signal to our industry, in the middle of a fierce global tech race. We have been very successful under your Presidency, for example in reducing one of the main obstacles, that is energy prices. It is an essential factor for our competitiveness here in the European Union. Just let me give you two figures: The wholesale electricity prices are now 80% lower than at their peak in August last year, and the wholesale gas prices are even 90% lower than August last year. This is a collective European achievement, but it is built on many concerted actions.
Of course, our competitiveness is much more than only energy. I remember that we had very intensive exchanges with business leaders of the European industry. And indeed, this was very valuable input into the Green Deal Industrial Plan – our to-do list, if I may call it that way. It is deepening our trade and investment ties to global partners; reskilling and upskilling our workforce – a crucial task; fostering investments in strategic technologies – we have discussed it in our Green Deal Industrial Plan; of course, the commitment to finally create a fully-fledged Capital Markets Union, was also repeated many times today in the European Council; and reducing the reporting obligations on companies. These are just some examples of the vast agenda we have, which we will be working on of course also in the next weeks and months to come.
This brings me to the next topic: China. There is a broad consensus, both among Leaders here and also with our partners in the G7, on the concept of de-risking, not decoupling. It would not be in our interest in any case to decouple, in view of the common global challenges we need to tackle and our deep economic ties. So we need to de-risk. And we need to de-risk economically as well as diplomatically. Economically, that means reducing our vulnerabilities in our economic relationship. That has been the core of the discussion today about China. Let me give you some examples.
First, for example, on trade, we need to address some critical, long-lasting imbalances. I will give you two figures. Over the last ten years, the European Union's trade deficit has more than tripled. Today, it reaches almost EUR 400 billion. This is simply not sustainable. Or a second example, the environment our businesses operate in. Too often, they are faced with unfair practices and hurdles that impede their access to the Chinese market, contrary to the level playing field that Chinese companies are benefitting from in our Single Market. I hope that the resumption of the EU-China High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue can help address this.
A third element, besides these trade issues, are very specific risks we have discussed today, too. For example, linked to critical dependencies – we know the high dependency on critical raw materials and rare earths, for example – or the vulnerabilities of our supply chains, or the risks linked to potential leakage of sensitive technologies. All this has to be taken into account when we speak about de-risking, not decoupling.
Diplomatic de-risking is also important because we want to keep open communication lines with China on issues on which we agree but of course also on issues on which we disagree, because this prevents misunderstandings. On issues on which we disagree, we have to be very clear. It was mentioned, Russia's war of aggression on Ukraine, and China's responsibility, as a member of the UN Security Council, is crucial to uphold the values of the UN Charter – and has to be addressed by us. All in all, this means continued engagement with China but following a European approach that is based on our interests and on our values.
Finally, let me emphasise the excellent work, Ulf, that the Swedish Presidency did on the migration file. Migration is a common challenge that requires a European response. The general position reached by the Council on the Pact on Migration and Asylum is a watershed moment – many thanks for the intensive work that has been done here. We can now take it forward with the European Parliament. And, of course, we count on the Spanish Presidency to bring it to a successful close. You know that this is the legal process. In parallel, we are working on operational tasks. I have summarised in a letter to the European Council all the different steps that we have been taking since the last European Council. Let me highlight only a few aspects. The centrepiece is that we have to crack down on criminal networks of smugglers and traffickers that exploit human despair. And we should develop alternative pathways to help people come to the European Union on safe ways because that breaks the business model of the smugglers and the traffickers.
For this approach with third countries, we need a new, comprehensive approach with the packages that we are able to offer to these countries to work together. This goes from investment, for example, in renewable energies – often countries with an abundance of resources for renewable energies – to investment in skills or education or people-to-people contact. At the same time, we aim to step up the cooperation with those countries against migrant smuggling, work on returns but also to have a clear concept on support to talent partnerships. So, the legal pathways to Europe.
The second element is that we highlighted, in a different context, our concerted outreach to partners, for example as we did with the Western Balkans. They have taken major steps in the last months, thanks to your Presidency, to align their visa policy with that of the European Union. And as a result, we have seen very clearly, since the start of this year, a reduction of 25% in irregular movements from that region mainly because of the alignment with the visa policy.
Finally, the third element I want to highlight is the strengthening of the external borders and the improvement of the efficiency of the border management, the procedures at the border. Here, we have two pilot projects that are set-up in Bulgaria and Romania, with the support of the Commission, but also Frontex, Europol and the Asylum Agency. They are now up and running. And I hope that these pilots will serve as a best practice for other external borders of the European Union.
Again, Ulf, many thanks. This was only a part of the vast achievements of your Presidency. Thank you very much for the excellent cooperation
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