Scholz: “Europe stands together”

Government statement in the Bundestag Scholz: “Europe stands together”

“The challenges of our time require a new mindset and courageous action on the part of every one of us,” said Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz in his government statement. Forward-looking decisions had already been taken in view of Russia’s imperialist war of aggression against Ukraine, Scholz said. In his speech, the Federal Chancellor outlined five strategic areas in which Germany and the EU would tackle these challenges.

Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaking in the Bundestag.

“Nobody – whether families, pensioners, students or businesses – should be afraid of having to struggle to pay for electricity, gas or district heating,” said Federal Chancellor Scholz.

Foto: Federal Government/Kugler

First challenge: the war in Ukraine

As the Federal Chancellor clearly stated: “Putin will not achieve his war objectives.” Ukraine’s partners, including Germany, would provide the country with political, financial and humanitarian support – and with weapons – “for as long as necessary!”

Scholz noted that Germany was providing what Ukraine needed most urgently: artillery and air raid defences. Germany had been one of the first countries to pledge modern air defence systems to Ukraine at the beginning of June, he said, the first of these having recently been delivered, and that three more would follow. Germany had also supplied anti-aircraft missiles and Gepard tanks, said Scholz. 

He added that the EU had once again increased the pressure on the Russian government by imposing a further package of sanctions: “We will stick to this strategy for as long as Russia continues its brutal war of aggression.” 

Reconstruction conference and international coordination

At the European Council meeting starting in Brussels, EU leaders will also be talking about how to help Ukraine with reconstruction. At the international conference on 25 October, “experts from academia, business and civil society” would offer proposals for reconstruction – “providing input for an international Marshall Plan for Ukraine”, Scholz announced.

Progress was also being made in terms of more closely coordinated European and international military support for Ukraine, said Scholz.  EU foreign ministers had agreed on a new training mission for some 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers, he noted, and one of the two headquarters would be located in Germany: the aim was to train a complete brigade of up to 5,000 soldiers by spring. 

European cooperation in air defence

Germany is also repositioning itself in terms of security policy, as demonstrated by the special fund for the Federal Armed Forces, the refocusing of the armed forces on national and NATO defence capabilities and the fact that Germany is taking on greater responsibility on NATO’s eastern flank. Scholz pointed out that this was also supported by his idea of closer European cooperation in air defence, which had already been taken up by 14 European countries. “This is exactly the kind of synergy and smart distribution of tasks that we need to ensure Europe’s security right now,” said Scholz.

Second challenge: hunger as a weapon

Russia’s war was not only having an impact on Europe, it was also resulting in shortages of food and fertiliser worldwide, said Scholz. “This is not something Putin is just taking in his stride – he is deliberately using hunger as a weapon,” Scholz stressed. The concerns of countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean had to be taken seriously, he pointed out, so that they would continue to stand up for international law in the face of aggression.  

This was why the EU had started establishing alternative export routes for Ukrainian grain early on, said Scholz. An alliance for global food security had been set up too, he explained, with pledges of 14 billion dollars from the G7. In this way, said the Federal Chancellor, “we at least have a chance of averting global famine”. 

Third challenge: energy as a weapon

Putin was also using energy as a weapon, said Scholz. Putin had hoped to blackmail Europe by turning off the gas tap, the Federal Chancellor noted. “But here, too, he miscalculated. Because here in Europe, we stand together.” 

Germany and Europe had made enormous efforts to strengthen energy security, Scholz emphasised: new supply contracts had been concluded by Germany, for example, and alternative import structures had been set up, such as the liquefied natural gas terminals in Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbüttel. Emergency measures had been taken too, he said, such as the use of three nuclear power plants throughout the winter. In addition, businesses and the population at large were doing what they could to economise, said Scholz. “I’m extremely grateful for this! Together, we’re looking to reduce our gas consumption by 20 percent.”

The Federal Chancellor also welcomed the EU-wide gas savings target of 15 percent, saying that this was “a powerful signal of European solidarity” – especially for Germany, which had been particularly dependent on Russian gas up until now. 

Given all these measures, Scholz said he was confident: “I believe we can make it through this winter together.”

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Fourth challenge: price trends

“There’s no question that the price of electricity and heat, gas, oil and coal has to come down,” said Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, adding that this was also an issue due for discussion at the European Council meeting. The EU had already demonstrated its capability for action with its introduction of a cap on the price of electricity, said Scholz, thereby adopting a joint strategy to relieve citizens. 

The whole thing was a bit more complicated when it came to the price of heat and gas, Scholz pointed out. The Federal Chancellor particularly welcomed the European Commission’s proposals to coordinate gas procurement more closely. European companies could form purchasing associations, for example, or European gas storage facilities could be filled collectively, he said. However, a politically imposed price cap on gas would run the risk that “in the end, we Europeans don’t get more gas, but less,” said Scholz.

Economic protective shield

Scholz also mentioned national efforts in the form of a 200-billion-euro protective shield which included a cap on the price of gas. The Federal Government was now implementing proposals put forward by a commission of experts, said Scholz: by March at the latest, all citizens with gas or district heating would receive a discounted basic quota. 

The Federal Chancellor stressed that given these measures, “nobody – whether families, pensioners, students or businesses – should be afraid of having to struggle to pay for electricity, gas or district heating”. 

The Federal Chancellor pointed out that Germany’s economic protective shield was designed to take effect over a period of two and a half years in order to be prepared for the next winter. He said this was equivalent to about two percent of gross domestic product, which meant it was on the same scale as packages that had been put together elsewhere in Europe.

The EU had extensive financial resources at its disposal to confront the crisis, too, with more than 600 billion euros still available from the Recovery and Resilience Fund. This money could be used to expand renewable energies, said Scholz. 

Fifth challenge: transformation at a watershed moment

The Federal Government was maintaining its goal to phase out fossil energies, said Scholz. Renewable energies and greater energy efficiency were the best strategy for a secure and affordable energy supply, the Federal Chancellor stressed: “Every wind turbine on land or at sea, every photovoltaic system makes us that bit more independent of expensive oil and gas!” And he promised: “All the regulations and all the important laws that are needed for Germany to achieve its climate targets will be in place by the end of the year.” At the EU level, the aim was to reach a final agreement on the Fit for 55 package in the coming months, he said.

The power of democracy

At the end of his speech, the Federal Chancellor once again emphasised why Putin’s war against the free world was doomed to fail. In autocracies like Russia, the aim was to get everyone to toe the same line as far as possible: dissent was punished, those in opposition disappeared, he explained. 
But in democracies, he said, there was debate and controversy over the best way forward, with free media and public criticism constantly providing impetus for change and progress. “This is the strength of an open society! This is the power of democracy! This power, this strength, ladies and gentlemen, is being dramatically underestimated by Putin and his henchmen.”

Roman Schwarzmann was present as a special guest in the Bundestag. He is a Ukrainian Holocaust survivor from the city of Odessa who was deported to the ghetto with his family in 1941. He has been actively involved in helping Jewish survivors in Ukraine for 30 years. Federal Chancellor Scholz thanked him for his visit and recalled how those who had survived terror and persecution under the National Socialists were now having to fear for their lives yet again.

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