Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the preparation of the European Council meeting of 14-15 December 2023

Thank you very much, Madam President,


Honourable Members,

I want to focus this morning on two main issues. One is the enlargement topic and the other one the mid-term review. We should remember that exactly two years ago, right here in Strasbourg, we discussed for the first time Russia's military build-up at Ukraine's border. These have been two painful years. We all remember every moment of them. We remember the siege of Kyiv, the people taking refuge in subway stations, the maternity ward in Mariupol, the body bags in Bucha. We remember all the pain that Putin has inflicted on innocent Ukrainians, as well as on Europeans with his energy blackmail. But besides the pain, we must also remember the light that has shone through these dark days, the courage of the Ukrainian resistance, the joy of those who were liberated from Russian occupation, the solidarity of an entire continent standing at Ukraine's side. None of this seemed plausible or even possible two years ago. So let me first of all thank all of those who made it happen. Above all, the amazing people of Ukraine, but also Europe that stood tall and united. Ukraine has resisted also because of the people of Europe who have opened their hearts and their homes, because of the Member States' financial and military aid, and because of this Parliament's unwavering support. You have empowered Ukraine's resistance and you have kept hope alive.

Now, a new winter of struggle approaches for Ukraine. We have a duty to be clear-eyed about what we have achieved so far and what lies ahead. When Russia invaded Ukraine, many feared that Kyiv would fall within days. That did not happen. Instead, Ukraine has driven Russia out of half of the territories it had captured. At sea, Ukraine has pushed back Russia's fleet and re-opened the maritime corridor to deliver grain to the world. I think this is completely underreported. In the air, Ukraine has become incredibly effective at shooting down Russian missiles and drones. And on land, Ukraine is imposing massive losses on Russia. Tens of thousands of young Russian soldiers get killed or wounded every week. And further away from the battlefield, Finland has become a NATO member. Sweden soon will be. Ukraine is on its way to EU membership.

The Kremlin has deprived itself from Western economies and innovation systems and made itself dependent on China. Putin is not only missing his strategic goals, he is also imposing a dramatic cost on his own country. But we all know that Putin's failure will not automatically translate into Ukraine's victory. As the war drags on, we must prove what it means to support Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes'. Ukraine is not only fighting against the invader, but for Europe. Joining our family will be Ukraine's ultimate victory. And for this, we have a decisive role to play.

Ukraine is making great strides to pass the reforms that will lead to our Union. Our enlargement report from last month showed clear progress on all steps that we had identified. Over 90% of those reforms had been completed at that time. We identified four reforms to fully complete all steps. And in this month between the enlargement report and now, Ukraine has continued to work on all of them. The Rada has just approved two anti-corruption laws, on the staff of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and assets declaration, as well as an amended law on national minorities to address the remaining recommendations of the Venice Commission. This law will allow greater use of minority languages in schools, in books, and in public events. Actually, national minority groups have already reacted positively to this law. And our initial assessment is also positive. If effectively implemented, these actions can fulfil three of our four outstanding recommendations. Ukraine's government has also proposed a new law on lobbying to curb the power of oligarchs and address our last recommendation. Honourable Members, this is hard work and the goal of fulfilling all seven steps is within reach. I think Ukraine is showing us by this hard work and the speed how much they care about our Union and our values. And we should match their determination.

Honourable Members,

Besides our political support, Ukraine also needs our sustained financial support. And this will also be discussed, of course, in the next two days at the European Council. When we shaped the current EU budget in 2020, no one could predict an all-out war on European soil. Its shockwaves have spread well beyond Ukraine. The Union's budget had to deal with an energy crisis, with a global food crisis, and with the arrival of millions of Ukrainians fleeing Russian bombs. All of this against the backdrop of rising prices and interest rates. Because of course Russia's war had also added to the inflationary pressures of a global economy that was just recovering from the pandemic. And now the deadliest war in decades has erupted in the Middle East, calling for greater European support not only in Gaza but across the region. None of this could be predicted when the MFF was agreed. None of this can be solved by simply shifting money within the budget. This is why we have proposed a revision of our budget.

We have proposed a package of four major updates to the MFF. The first is that we want to guarantee stable and substantial financing to Ukraine over the next four years. This will provide confidence to the investors and, of course, this will provide hope to the Ukrainian fighters. We must give Ukraine what it needs to be strong today so that it can be stronger at the table tomorrow when it is negotiating a just and lasting peace for Ukraine.

The second element is on migration. You all know that, in these four years, we have raised our ambition on anti-smuggling, on managing our external borders, and on partnerships with third countries. We have designed the New Pact on Migration and Asylum – and an agreement has never been so close. Now, greater ambition on migration must be backed with appropriate funding at European level.

The third element is competitiveness. All Member States want to boost the clean-tech industries of the future, rightly so. We should support them by making better use of the available investments we have with simplified rules and speedy procedures. Because we all know that the future of these strategic industries must be made in Europe.

And the fourth point, we also need some technical adjustments to the budget. The Union's budget, like national budgets too, is feeling the pressure of inflation and higher interest rates. This is of course a consequence of war and pandemic, and we have to factor this in.

What I see in all the preparations for the European Council and the discussion that we have: There is a growing consensus on the priorities. Of course, the question is how to finance them. We know that national public finances are under pressure. We will all face difficult choices. And we must leave no stone unturned. This is why, more than ever, the Union must be able to finance its priorities with its own resources. This has been a long-standing plea of this Parliament. A plea that I fully support. Thanks to the Parliament, back in 2020, we agreed on a roadmap to put in place new revenues for the Union budget. We need to make this happen now. The next long-term budget is just around the corner. And Europe must have the financial firepower to deliver on the historic tasks of this decade and the next.

Honourable Members,

These will be the main topics discussed at the European Council. I thank you for your attention. And long live Europe.