The Future of Europe is at Stake
German Government statement on the European Council meetingJanuary 06th, 2024
Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz began his government statement on the European Council meeting by congratulating Donald Tusk, who had been sworn in as Poland’s prime minister in the morning. He was looking forward to “working side by side with Poland to make progress in the European Union and with regard to German-Polish relations,” said the Federal Chancellor in the Bundestag on Wednesday.
Scholz described Poland as an “essential part of our European Union,” adding that the country’s role in and for Europe was now more important than ever before. This was in part due to Poland’s contribution to security policy in connection with the Russian offensive against Ukraine, Scholz said: “Germany and Poland took in more refugees from Ukraine than any other EU member state.”
The Russian war of aggression is a key security policy challenge
Russia’s offensive against Ukraine started almost two years ago. It will be among the central issues to be addressed at the European Council meeting on 14 and 15 December. This war, Scholz said, continued to be “the key security policy challenge for our continent”.
Olaf Scholz expressed his admiration for the Ukrainian soldiers who had liberated regions and achieved other objectives. Ukraine's air defence had improved significantly as a result, he said, adding that Germany had greatly contributed to this by providing Gepard anti-aircraft tanks, the Iris-T systems and the Patriot air defence system.
This support for Ukraine was urgently necessary, as in the meantime, Russia had transformed its economy into a war economy with weapons being produced at full speed, Scholz explained. In addition, the Russian President had been sending tens of thousands of soldiers to the front without caring about losses.
Support for Ukraine for “as long as necessary”
Considering this development, international support for Ukraine could not decline, said Scholz. Almost all EU member states agreed that Ukraine needed 50 billion euros worth of aid over the next few years, the Federal Chancellor said, adding that only Hungary had not yet given its approval. The decision concerning further support was also closely linked to negotiations about the EU budget, Scholz said.
Scholz promised that he would therefore stand up for sustainable and reliable financial aid for Ukraine at the European Council meeting. The Russian war of aggression was also putting Europe’s security at stake as well as the question of “whether borders in Europe will be safe in future”, he said. This question would in part be answered in Ukraine, the Federal Chancellor pointed out. One element of the proposals for the 2024 federal budget was therefore to ensure Germany’s support for Ukraine – “for as long as necessary” – he continued.
The Federal Chancellor went on to say that this support included eight billion euros for arms deliveries, financial aid for the Ukrainian state budget and an expected over six billion euros for supporting Ukrainian refugees in Germany. “Considering that the war is likely to last a long time, Germany has a key role to play in supporting Ukraine,” the Federal Chancellor said.
A clear message to the Russian leadership
The Russian offensive and its consequences were being discussed not only by the European Council, but the G7 had also agreed on security guarantees for Ukraine, Scholz said. 31 countries had joined this initiative to date, which was all about “joining forces to expand Ukraine’s defence capacity to such an extent that Russia will never again dare to attack the country,” the Federal Chancellor stated.
Germany and France were in charge of the area of air defence in this context, for example, aiming to send a very clear message to the Russian leadership, he said: “You cannot wait out this war.”
Federal Government in favour of entry negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova
The Expansion policy of the European Union was also part of the strategy in connection with the “struggle for peace in Europe”, Federal Chancellor Scholz said.
He added that the Federal Government was expressly in favour of starting entry negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, as had been recommended by the European Commission. As “free European nations”, these countries were on their way towards joining “a free and united Europe”, Scholz said, adding that Georgia should also be granted candidate status, just like the Western Balkan countries. It was a historic opportunity to “firmly anchor the region in Europe once and for all,” which would be beneficial for the region, as well as the geo-political situation of the EU, Scholz said. Before the European Council meeting, the Federal Chancellor will be attending the EU Western Balkans Summit in Brussels. The goal of this summit is to reinforce the European perspective of the Western Balkan states and to stress the EU’s comprehensive support for the region.
The Federal Chancellor endorses decision-making with a qualified majority
As part of his government statement, the Federal Chancellor also advocated an increase in decision-making with a qualified majority, both during the accession process and in the areas of foreign and tax policy. Those who expect reforms from candidate states should not “shy away from doing so themselves,” the Federal Chancellor said.
At the European Council meeting, he would like to agree that a clear schedule for the reform process is drawn up by next summer with input from the Commission, and for practical reforms to be implemented after the EU elections. The European treaties were sufficiently flexible and would therefore not need to be amended, Scholz said.
A two-state solution is and remains the goal
The situation in Israel will also be discussed at the European Council meeting. Scholz explained that the EU’s stance concerning the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel had shown how hard it could be to reach a European consensus in key foreign-policy issues.
Following long and difficult negotiations, the European Council had agreed that Israel had the right “to defend itself against this horrific terrorism,” said Scholz, adding that the Federal Government would continue to make all efforts to prompt Hamas to release all hostages without delay. Humanitarian ceasefires were essential at the same time, to be able to serve the most basic needs of the population of Gaza, Scholz said, adding that this humanitarian aid for suffering civilians was essential and had to “flow reliably”.
It was also important to focus on the time when the guns fall silent, and that Europe wanted to contribute to this discussion, the Federal Chancellor said. An order had to be reached in which Israel’s citizens were provided with reliable protection with involvement of the countries of the region, Scholz pointed out. In addition, the Palestinian Authority’s political responsibility for Gaza had to be reinforced, and all of this could only be achieved through a political approach, he said. “This approach is and remains a two-state solution, which must be approximated gradually,” according to Scholz. The Federal Chancellor said that he wanted to advocate for the EU to also think about post-conflict scenarios, in the same way that the Federal Government was engaged in international talks on this topic.
Reducing red tape, controlling migration and reforming the stability and growth pact
With about six months to go before the EU elections, the Federal Chancellor also took the government statement as an opportunity to list the priorities for the rest of the EU legislative period. He named the adoption of the EU asylum reform as a top priority: “We need to agree with the European Parliament concerning the European asylum system. That is a top priority for Germany.” Closer cooperation with countries of origin and transit was just as important, he explained: “This also includes breathing new life into the EU-Turkey statement.”
Further central issues he mentioned were a reduction of red tape and to reach an agreement concerning the reform of the stability and growth pact. Scholz said he was confident that following the finance ministers’ hard work on the portfolio “an overall agreement could be reached shortly”.