Guy Verhofstadt: ‘EU must stop financing Putin’s war’

Guy Verhofstadt, Thursday in the auditorium of the Complutense University of Madrid.Claudia Alvarez

Guy Verhofstadt (Dendermond, Belgium, 68) is bursting with energy. The past five weeks, the darkest in Europe in decades, have been a tumultuous activity, but he feels he has much to do and little time to lose. After a busy day in Madrid, the former Prime Minister of Belgium (1999-2008) and the decades-long leader of the Liberal Group (ALDE) in the European Parliament hosted EL PAÍS on Thursday. Verhofstadt, who in addition to being an MEP and co-chair of the Future of Europe Conference, never stops gesturing and uses every moment, even at the request of a photographer, emphasizes that the EU has tightened sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

To ask. you posted last week tweet Where he assured that if Russia is successful in Ukraine, the next will be another Eastern European country. What convinces you of this?

Reply. A few months ago everyone believed that [el presidente ruso, Vladímir] Putin will not go so far as to attack Ukraine. And we were wrong. The Minsk agreements and guarantees, ratified when Ukraine became independent (the Budapest Memorandum signed by Moscow, Washington and London in 1994), were in force and none of them were implemented. The fight for Ukraine is a fight for Europe, on the path they chose in 2014 with the association agreement with the EU, which received very clear popular support, even among Russian speakers. I think war really has nothing to do with protecting language; What worries Putin is the presence on the borders of another democratic and pro-European country. So if he invades Ukraine, I think it is possible that he will soon go to, say, the Baltic countries, to countries with Russian-speaking minorities.

IN FRONT OF. The ruble will recover as EU countries pay €700 million a day for imported Russian oil and gas. Are the sanctions imposed by the EU sufficient?

R. No, no, clearly not. We cannot continue to fund Putin’s war. We must impose a temporary embargo on Russian gas, oil and coal. The sanctions should not only apply to oligarchs who work with their lawyers to evade them, but also to the second layer of the Russian elite, such as some mayors or officials. Our initial reaction after the invasion was good, then the lack of unity held us back.

IN FRONT OF. And what is the solution to end our dependence on Russian hydrocarbons overnight?

R. Prices would rise even higher, but the cold would end and the embargo would be lifted once the war was over. If we really want to show solidarity, we must be prepared for the consequences of sanctions. The United States vetoed Russian oil imports and recently announced it would release one million barrels a day from its stockpile. Meanwhile, we are talking about plans to end Russia’s energy dependency in five or ten years, but now it is useless; Temporary embargoes and necessary measures are needed to mitigate the impact on European societies.

IN FRONT OF. What kind of measures? Approve another European Recovery Fund?

R. probably. We need to build on the current fiscal capacities achieved in response to the pandemic. It is essential to be able to respond to crises such as current or future, to make rapid investments in the affected sectors and to mitigate the impact on citizens.

IN FRONT OF. Surprisingly, Russia does not completely dominate the airspace and Ukrainian fighter jets can still fly. Can the West do more to perpetuate this situation?

R. Yes, I understand you don’t want to impose a no-fly zone because it involved direct NATO involvement, but they have to provide fighter jets and anti-aircraft missile systems for Ukraine to exist.

IN FRONT OF. And should we also continue to supply more weapons?

R. Everything Ukraine asks and needs to continue to defend its integrity and its European values.

IN FRONT OF. Is it time to create European armed forces?

R. It is time to organize European defense not against NATO, but as part of the alliance. This is an urgent and priority issue. The annual military expenditure of the EU countries is about EUR 240 billion and we are not prepared to defend ourselves against Russia, which has an investment of EUR 65 billion. This is partly due to duplication of work. And now we have a good relationship [el presidente de EE UU, Joe] Biden, but it can happen, I hope not [Donald] Trump or someone like him is back in power.

IN FRONT OF. Are you in favor of creating an accelerated path for Ukraine’s accession to the EU?

R. What I don’t understand is that we have to wait for the committee’s conclusion on the approval. The months are lost. I think formal negotiations should start now. And it will be a process that will take years, as many necessary reforms will have to be implemented in a devastated country.

The former Prime Minister of Belgium after an interview.
The former Prime Minister of Belgium after an interview.Claudia Alvarez

IN FRONT OF. More than three million Ukrainians fled to EU countries fleeing the war. Will they be able to find a long-term solution?

R. The purpose of applying the European Temporary Protection Directive is that people can return to their country of origin after the war. I think that’s right, we have to show solidarity now and wait for the circumstances to return.

IN FRONT OF. Russia and Belarus have been cracking down on the political opposition for years. Can Brussels do more than that?

R. Getting more and more sanctions. And I think we should be strict with the oligarchs, but have a more positive attitude towards Russia in general. Millions of Europeans speak Russian, it is a language we should encourage. To facilitate the arrival of Russian and Belarusian students, artists and scientists.

IN FRONT OF. Hungary is one of the countries most reluctant to tighten sanctions, except that it does not allow weapons destined for Ukraine to pass through its territory. Some of the rules put in place by the Executive Director of Victor Orb.n in recent years clearly contradict the substantive values ​​of the European project. What is the relevance of this week’s parliamentary elections?

R. They are crucial. In the European family we see how one of its members creates an authoritarian regime and this is unacceptable. We believe that the elections will be free and fair.

Source: La Neta Neta