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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR)
News article1 February 2024Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations5 min read

Opening remarks by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel following the special meeting of the European Council of 1 February 2024

President von der Leyen

Today is a very special day. The European Council re-confirmed Europe's unwavering commitment to stand with Ukraine. We all know that Ukraine is fighting for us. So we will support them with the necessary funding and provide them with the much-needed predictability they deserve. These EUR 50 billion for four years also send a very strong message to Putin, just ahead of the second anniversary of his brutal invasion. 

But today, we also agreed on the first-ever revision of our multi-annual budget. It confirms the priorities that the Commission presented back in June. And I am very satisfied that we got 80% of the funding we asked for. We had certainly some difficult choices to make, but we have a very good result. We reaffirmed our commitment to fighting illegal migration. We reaffirmed our commitment to supporting our partners in the Western Balkans, with the Growth Plan, – and in the southern neighbourhood. We will also increase our ability to deal with natural disasters in Member States and humanitarian crises, such as Gaza. Furthermore, STEP will support the much-needed development of critical technologies in Europe, including on defence, and increase our competitiveness. With this agreement, Europe stands united and is well equipped for the challenges ahead. In other words: Today, Europe got stronger.

We will also continue to support the brave Ukrainian armed forces, to fight off the brutal invaders. So far, the European Union and its Member States have mobilised EUR 28 billion worth of military equipment. And of course, more is coming, and more is needed – more tanks, helicopters, air defence systems, missiles. As well as more ammunition. The European defence industry has already increased its production capacity by 40% – and this is still growing. Over 80 European manufacturers have responded to our call for proposals. So we will be signing the contracts in a matter of weeks. We are working with the Member States to get that ammunition to Ukraine – be it from the national stocks or be it by diverting other orders or making new orders, as I have just described. We will have delivered 520,000 rounds of artillery shell by March. And we will more than double this amount by the end of this year. On top of that, we have been training Ukrainian soldiers – 40,500 by mid-February. But this support must increase, and that was the discussion today. In fact, Russia's invasion has also been a wake-up call for the whole of the European Union. So while we keep supporting Ukraine, we need to bolster our own military capacities, too. We are working to take our defence industry to the next level. This is why the Commission will soon present a new Defence Industrial Strategy. It will introduce a stronger European dimension across our defence industries. This goes from planning to procurement, we will have a greater coherence and coordination at the European Union level. With this Strategy, we aim to make Europe move from the emergency response to a defence readiness.

Let me add a few words on the discussion on agriculture. Farmers play an essential role in Europe's economy and society. Their work contributes greatly to our food security and indeed also to our way of life. And they are key actors in ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources. They live with nature and from nature. It is after all the basis of their livelihoods and thus also the basis of our livelihoods. European farmers are dynamic. In 2022, productivity improved 13%, thanks to their efforts. They also contribute positively to our external trade. Last year again, agri-food exports increased by 5%. So, I think it is fair to say that our farmers have shown remarkable resilience in the face of the recent crises. But many challenges remain. For example, the tensions on agri-food prices or a very competitive global market that leads to uncertainty, and of course, the need to remain competitive while working to high standards and environmental protection – a very complex endeavour.

Farmers can count on European support. The Common Agricultural Policy budget allocates close to EUR 390 billion, that is almost one-third of the European budget, to agriculture. In 2023 alone, Europe provided exceptional assistance of over EUR 500 million to farmers most affected by crises. We know that this support is crucial, and we know that farmers are making good use of it. But in parallel, the Commission is now working closely with the Member States to address the immediate challenges. This week, for example, we have proposed additional flexibility to farmers on the so-called fallow land use. And we have proposed safeguards on poultry, eggs and sugar imports from Ukraine to avoid a significant surge in imports.

Finally, of course we have to defend legitimate interests of farmers in our trade negotiations, in particular, in ensuring a level playing field in terms of standards when we have trade agreements. And I am very sensitive to the message that farmers are concerned by administrative burden. This is a general topic, you know that this is close to my heart, to reduce these administrative burdens. So we will work with the Belgian Presidency on a proposal that we will then present ready in time before the next Agricultural Council to work on reducing these administrative burdens.

Last but certainly not least, our mid- and long-term proposal. As you know, we have started last week the Strategic Dialogue on the Future of Agriculture in the European Union. In other words, we have convened all the different stakeholders, of course the farmers' representatives, the young farmers, but also the food processors, those who work in environmental NGOs, Greenpeace, other stakeholders across the whole agricultural sector. The aim is that, together, we develop an idea, a vision and a roadmap on how to reach our common goals. It was very reassuring to hear that all stand behind the common goal to reach climate neutrality by 2050. But how to get there, this has to be developed with the farmers and with their knowledge, because they have many interesting ideas on how to move forward on this topic. The strategic dialogue will also bring answers in the mid and long term, that will feed in the programme of the next Commission, and certainly will have an influence on the next negotiations on the CAP.

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