Address by President von der Leyen at a joint session of the Canadian parliament

Prime Minister, dear Justin,

Mr Speaker of the Senate,

Mr Speaker of the House of Commons,

Excellencies, Senators,

Members of the House of Commons,  

Distinguished guests,

People of Canada,

Thank you for welcoming me to the heart of Canada, the home of Canadian democracy. They say hard times reveal true friends. And this is what the European Union and Canada are: true friends. The history of our democracies is tied together. So many Canadians have their family roots in Europe. Many of your parents and grandparents fought in Europe during two World Wars. They were sent to faraway places on the other side of the Ocean. Tens of thousands of them lost their lives in the trenches of Belgium, in the heat of Sicily and on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. I am a European of German nationality. It was German Nazism and Fascism that brought death and destruction upon Europe and the world. But Allied Forces brought liberty back to all of us. The united democracies freed us from dictatorship. Thus, we owe our democracy also to you, the people of Canada. And we will be forever grateful for the sacrifice your parents and grandparents made, and for the invaluable gift of freedom.

Almost 80 years after the end of World War II, the values of freedom and democracy are still a strong bridge between the two shores of the Atlantic. You, the people of Canada, have built this country as a community that is open to all, beyond ethnicity, language or religion. A true community of values. And it is the same spirit that brings us Europeans together. 27 proud countries, 24 official languages, almost half a billion people, in one Union, the European Union. We are a community of values. And we are a community of destiny.

But today, the very values that unite us are challenged like never before. One year ago, Russia sent tanks, drones and missiles against a sovereign and peaceful country. Since then, countless lives have been shattered. Countless families separated. Hundreds of thousands of young Ukrainians had to kiss their loved ones goodbye and left to the front to fight for freedom. Millions more had to leave not only their homes but all their dreams behind. All of this because Putin refuses to recognise their freedom and their independence. And this we simply cannot accept. We will never accept that a military power with fantasies of empire rolls its tanks across an international border. We will never accept that Putin denies the very existence of Ukraine, as a state and as a nation. We will never accept this threat to European security and to the very foundation of our international community. And I know that Canada's commitment is just as adamant as ours. Canada and the European Union will uphold the UN Charter. We will stand up for Ukraine to be the master of their own future. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. And we will keep supporting Ukraine, for as long as it takes.

Canada has a very special connection to Ukraine. Many proud Canadians are also very proud of their Ukrainian heritage. And you understood the gravity of events in Ukraine before many others, including many Europeans. In 2014, Putin invaded Ukraine for the first time. Already back then, Canada decided     to set up a training mission for the Ukrainian military. Operation UNIFIER has trained over 35,000 Ukrainian soldiers. And this has proved to be vital in the hours that followed the full-scale Russian invasion of last year. Putin believed that he would get to Kyiv in three days. What a huge strategic mistake. Ukraine's resistance has stunned the world. That was primarily because of the courage of the Ukrainian people. But it was also, and crucially, because of the professionalism of Ukraine's soldiers, many trained by Canada. I cannot overstate this: Canada has saved Ukraine. And I want to thank everyone involved in Operation UNIFIER for your amazing service. Canada's response to the war in Ukraine has gone above and beyond the call of duty. And I am so grateful, dear Justin, for our constant close cooperation during this year. Everything we did for Ukraine, we did together. Because we believe that Ukraine and the values that it strives for must prevail in this war.

First, we believe that Ukraine deserves our steadfast military and economic support. The support package that Europe has put together, worth almost CAD 100 billion, is unprecedented in living memory. Canada is also contributing well beyond your fair share. And now, European military trainers are working side by side with Canada's trainers. Second, we believe that Russia must pay for its crime of aggression. Our sanctions have been closely aligned since day one of the invasion. And now because of our common price cap on oil, Russian proceeds from crude oil and petroleum products have plunged by 48% in February from a year ago. And third, we believe that Ukrainians must be the masters of their own future. They have a right to choose their association. Ukraine has made its choice. They want to be a member of the European Union. But Putin wants to force Ukraine to be part of Russia. He has achieved the opposite. Today, Ukraine is a candidate to join the European Union. And Europe is leading the effort to help Ukraine rebuild their country. And Canada is a key partner for this, focusing not only on infrastructure, but on healing the physical and mental wounds of Ukrainian victims. We cannot ease their pain and suffering, but we can ease the healing. This is what it means, Europe and Canada, to be like-minded partners. We share the same purpose, the same beliefs. And this is true not only for our governments but also for our peoples.

Think about the way Canadians and Europeans welcomed Ukrainian refugees. When Ukrainian refugees knocked on our door, Europeans did not hesitate for one moment. And today, four million Ukrainians live and work inside our Union. The people of Europe opened their hearts and their homes. And the same is true for the people of Canada. You are now hosting more than 165,000 Ukrainians – an incredible amount for a country on the other side of the ocean. But beyond the numbers are the stories, your stories. Stories of heart-wrenching separation, dangerous flights to safety. And finally, a warm embrace here in Canada. I know that some of you are with us today, in the gallery. So please join me in honouring them, and all the Canadians who make this country a land of solidarity and hope.


Mesdames et Messieurs,

La guerre a aussi rapproché le Canada et l'Europe pour une autre raison. Avant l'invasion, l'Europe était très dépendante du gaz russe. Et Poutine a essayé de nous faire chanter avec cela. La Russie a coupé le gaz à l'Europe de 80% en huit mois. Et les prix de l'énergie en Europe sont montés en flèche. L'été dernier, nos factures d'énergie ont grimpé de 300%. Mais le chantage de Poutine a échoué. Nous avons remplacé le gaz russe manquant avec plus d'importations venant de fournisseurs fiables. Le Canada a joué un rôle important en augmentant sa production de GNL. Entretemps, nous avons amélioré notre efficacité énergétique, en réduisant notre consommation de 20%. Mais surtout, nous avons investi massivement dans les énergies renouvelables. Elles sont propres, elles sont produites sur place et elles nous offrent l'indépendance. Mais notre travail ne s'arrête pas là. Comme l'avenir de l'énergie, c'est les énergies renouvelables, notre partenariat avec le Canada est crucial pour accélérer la transition vers l'énergie propre.

Le Canada et l'Europe sont des leaders mondiaux pour l'action climatique. Nous avons fait de nos objectifs climatiques des lois. Nous avons fixé un prix pour le carbone. Et nous avons prouvé qu'on peut développer l'économie et réduire les émissions. Mais de nouveaux défis nous attendent. La course mondiale aux technologies propres a commencé. Il y a une concurrence croissante pour attirer les investissements et pour contrôler les maillons les plus importants des chaînes d'approvisionnement clefs. Dans cet environnement plus compétitif, le Canada et l'Europe doivent jouer dans la même équipe. Ces chaînes vitales ne doivent pas être contrôlées par des puissances autocratiques. Nous, Européens, nous avons appris cette leçon à nos dépens. Les démocraties doivent travailler ensemble pour écarter les risques. C'est une question de sécurité nationale mais aussi de cohérence avec nos valeurs. Prenons les matières premières. Le Canada est un partenaire naturel pour nous en raison des minéraux que vous exploitez, et aussi de comment vous les exploitez. Nous, Européens, tenons au respect de l'environnement, aux droits des travailleurs. Nous voulons que les communautés locales et autochtones bénéficient de nos investissements. Et c'est exactement ce qu'il se passe au Canada. En matière de valeurs, le Canada et l'Europe parlent le même langage. Unissons donc nos forces pour le climat, pour nos économies, et pour nous libérer de nos dangereuses dépendances.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

After the two World Wars, the world declared that all human beings are entitled to equal and inalienable rights. But today, some powers are explicitly trying to destroy this basic principle. I was in Bucha, right after its liberation by Ukraine's army. I saw the body bags lined up by the side of the streets. I heard the stories of rape and executions in cold blood, carried out by Russian troops. And Russia continues to commit atrocities, bombing civilians, striking the most vulnerable. The UN says Russia is using rape and sexual violence as part of its ‘military strategy' in Ukraine. This is not only a war on Ukraine. It is also a war on human rights. It is a war on women's rights.

Ukrainian women are fighting back. They have been fighting back ever since 2014. When the first Russian invasion happened, women were not allowed to carry out combat duties. But they did not care.  And they started joining the army. Let me quote Lieutenant-Colonel Melanie Lake of the Canadian armed forces, who led Operation UNIFIER. She said: ‘Ukrainian women did not wait for doors to be open for them to serve in all capacities. They broke the doors down.' These women also smashed a glass ceiling, right over the head of the Russian invaders.

Since the start of the war, the number of women serving in the military has more than doubled. And it is not just about women in the army. One Ukrainian woman above all has become a global symbol. The First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska. She stayed in Kyiv in the darkest hour. Together with her husband, she is emblematic of the courage of her people. I saw her in action on the global stage, as an advocate for her people, especially those most vulnerable – an unbreakable force for good. These women are an inspiration for all of us. And I want to honour them on the eve of International Women's Day.

At war or in peace, we need all our talents to live up to the big challenges of our times. Canada knows this well. Eight years ago, when asked why he appointed a gender equal cabinet, Prime Minister Trudeau replied ‘because it is 2015'. As simple as that. And I am proud to lead the first gender-balanced College in the history of the European Commission. And before the end of my mandate, 50% of all managers of the European Commission will be women. As in Canada, Europe knows that men and women bring different perspectives. Diversity leads to better decisions, better societies. But gender equality does not ‘just happen'. Not even ‘because it is 2023'. It requires day-to-day attention and commitment to ensure that women and girls can be free from violence; that women as well as men can have both a family and a career; that women earn the same as their male colleagues, because they deserve it; that they can reach the very top levels, because they are qualified. We have a duty to set an example to society and the economy of what a world of fair chances looks like. And this duty counts every day, not just on International Women's Day.

My dear friends in this august House, no democracy is perfect. But all democracies are perfectible. This is our mission. And this is what brings us together. It is the mission that has moved generation upon generation of great Canadians and Europeans. They had the audacity to look beyond the imperfection of what is, to see the beauty of what could be. The generation that brought Europe together after two World Wars, and after the fall of the Soviet Union. And the generations that made Canada the inclusive and welcoming country it is today. A country that is proud of its heritage and open to the future. The home of indigenous people as well as newcomers. A place of traditions and innovation. Where it does not matter who you are, how you pray and who you love. Where you can make the most of your life and the best of our community. This is also my vision of Europe. This is what I work for every day. Let us walk this path together.