'We need to provide more military equipment': Charles Michel on Ukraine

'We need to provide more military equipment': Charles Michel on Ukraine
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Shona Murray
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Euronews Correspondent Shona Murray sits down with European Council President, Charles Michel, to discuss support for war-ravaged Ukraine and the lack of consensus among EU leaders on the situation in Gaza.

The upcoming European elections, widely regarded as the world's largest transnational vote, are set to bring about significant policy shifts, affecting the EU's position on Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war, the transition to a greener continent and various economic challenges.

Over 400 million European voters will take the polls in June and elect a new Strasbourg-based parliament that will, in turn, appoint Brussels' next line of top officials. 

European Council President, Charles Michel will remain in his position as representative of the 27 member states at EU summits until his mandate ends in December. Michel had announced he would run for election but revised his decision at the end of January.

If he had been elected, EU leaders would have needed to quickly agree on a successor or allow Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whose country is set to assume the rotating presidency on the EU Council in July, to lead the organisation.

As the EU budget comes under close examination, the bloc aims to reinstate pre-COVID fiscal rules aimed at limiting debt and deficits, Brussels is currently managing the consequences of borrowing approximately €807 billion over the past four years to mitigate the economic and social impacts of COVID-19.

To watch this episode of the Global Conversation, click on the video in the media player above, or read the interview in full below.

Shona Murray, Euronews: Forty-six per cent of voters say that they want less influence by the European institutions, the European Council, the European Commission and more power, particularly going to national governments. Why do you think that is? Do you think that represents some sort of failure by the institutions, a lack of perception?

Charles Michel, President of the European Council: No, I'm not surprised. But on the other hand, I know that many people across the EU, know, for instance, if we face COVID-19, that the answer, the solution will be at the European Union's level - if there is an energy crisis, if there is inflation, if there are challenges related to climate change. 

We need more European cooperation and coordination. And I think it is a mistake to try to oppose the national level and the European Union's level. If we have strong member states, if we have a strong European Union, then it will be good and positive for all our citizens across the EU.

Shona Murray, Euronews: And on that issue of delivering peace in Europe, you said yesterday that if we don't give Ukraine enough support now to stop Russia, we here are next, we have heard this a lot over the past two years, but it is resurgent. 

We heard, for example, the Spanish defence minister saying she said she doesn't think that people realise the grave danger we're in right now. Why are you saying that right now? What evidence do you have, and what are you calling for?

Charles Michel, President of the European Council: I must first tell the people the truth. We are facing a huge challenge with this decision made by Russia to invade Ukraine. And it's not only a challenge for the Ukrainians, it's a challenge for all of us, who believe in the fundamentals of democratic principles. And I am absolutely convinced that this is a serious threat. 

That's why I feel that we did and are doing what's needed. We immediately decided and we are united to support Ukraine and to sanction Russia, to put pressure on Russia. But this is not enough. We need to do more. 

We need to act quickly. And it's why, once again, we try to make concrete steps to provide more military equipment to Ukraine, more financial support for Ukraine and to put more pressure against Russia. This is needed if we believe in peace, security and prosperity which are the premises of the founding fathers of this European project.

Shona Murray, Euronews:  But you're going far beyond that. You're calling for a war economy, essentially the mobilisation of all sectors of the economies throughout Europe. It's a fundamental shift in the structure of societies.

Charles Michel, President of the European Council: Yes. And you are absolutely right that I want us to do more. Why? Because if we observe the last decades, this European Union project was built on the idea that we have common values and that we need to cooperate for more prosperity. All of us understand that we need to adapt our economic model. We need to invest much more in our defence industrial base to protect our stability and security.

Shona Murray, Euronews: But why are you saying a war economy now? Is it because of the situation in Ukraine that there's a stalemate, that there doesn't seem to be any significant gains predicted for Ukraine in the coming year?

Charles Michel, President of the European Council: On the one hand, I think it is very good that Ukraine succeeded in resisting and pushing back, but it's not enough that it succeeded in taking more control of the Black Sea. This is very important. We don't talk so much about it, but from a strategic point of view, this is important. 

On the other hand, today this is not a secret that, Russia is in a stronger position from a military point of view in terms of ammunition and military equipment. And that's why there is this sense of urgency, that we need to provide more military equipment. Now, not in two years. It would be too late. Now. 

That's why we concretely support, for instance, this Czech initiative. I commend this decision made by the Czech authorities to propose to many other countries, to purchase together military equipment so that very quickly this equipment can be delivered to Ukraine.

Shona Murray, Euronews: I want to move on to another major issue, which is the situation in the Middle East because obviously, part of your role as president of the European Council is to build consensus on complex issues amongst EU member states. And we're seeing quite heartbreaking scenes in Gaza at the moment as a result of Israel's response to Hamas's brutal terrorist attack against Israelis on 7 October. 

But we're hearing things like starvation used as a method of war, as Josep Borrell has said, the monumental death toll on children and the lack of basic medical supplies for amputations. Has the EU been weakened by this? Do you feel that there may be double standards, that there's not as much unity or sympathy for Palestinians as there is for Israeli civilians and Ukrainian civilians?

Charles Michel, President of the European Council: First, I'm observing that we are more and more united at the European Union level. But we should tell the truth. This was exactly at the beginning, following this, attack launched by Hamas. We were on the same page in the condemnation of Hamas. There's no doubt that this was a terrible terrorist attack. But on the other hand, it was more difficult to have a unanimous position in the European Council. Why? Because our member states have their own relationship with Israel and with Palestine, their own history. 

But what's very important is, we are making huge progress. And I'm very confident that in a few days, we will be united with a very strong message based on two or three fundamental pillars. 

1.  Humanitarian access. No double standards. Each civilian life matters. It must be extremely clear. And all communication from the EU should be crystal clear on that topic if we want to be credible at the international level. 

2. We must do everything to avoid any further regional escalation. Lebanon, the Red Sea. It's extremely important to do everything from a political and diplomatic point of view.

3. We are fully in support of the two-state solution. And on this topic - 27 member states, agreeing without any ambiguity on this important question.

Shona Murray, Euronews: But do you feel that there have been double standards?

Charles Michel, President of the European Council: I feel I'm being very sincere with you. On COVID-19, we did very well on climate change. We are setting the tone. We are setting, standards and others are following. The war against Ukraine - we succeeded in getting united to have a strong position. When it comes to the Middle East - I accept the criticism, that it took more time to get united because, from a starting point, there are differences between the member states. 

But in a few weeks, a few months, we will be in a position to make significant progress. And the trend, this is the unity, the direction is this - it is true that when there were some ambiguous communications from the EU leadership, it was being used by Putin, by the Kremlin to fuel this idea of, so-called Western hypocrisy. 

And I engage a lot, you know with African countries in the global South: Africa, Latin America, Central Asia. And I can feel that those countries are expecting us on the EU side to be very clear, to promote always and everywhere, international law and rules-based order, including in the Middle East.

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