Donor conference on May 5 should become a starting point of the Marshall Plan for Ukraine
Exclusive interview of President of the European Council Charles Michel to the Interfax-Ukraine agency, which he gave by phone from Warsaw, where on Thursday, May 5, a donor conference initiated by Poland and Sweden will be held to raise funds for Ukraine.
Text: Iryna Somer
Can you give us more details about upcoming conference?
First of all, it is important to mentioned that this idea of a trust fund was expressed directly by president Zelensky and myself a few weeks ago. Because I understood that it’s extremely important for us, as the EU, to be concrete that we are operational and to identify the priorities but also to mobilize the means that are needed. That is one first element. Second element – I made a proposal to the European Council to support politically the launch of this conference. It means that we are supported by the 27 heads of states and heads of government, and we decided when we have the debate in the European Council and also in the frame work of the contact we had with president Zelensky that we want to involve an international community in this conference to make possible for many donors coming from other part of the world to show our solidarity with Ukraine. This is one first element. And that is why I’m so pleased that Poland together with Sweden took a decision to launch in Warsaw this conference with a full support of the European Commission and full support of myself. This is one first element.
Second element. In closed cooperation with Ukrainian friends I see three priorities in this conference and three goals. The first is humanitarian support. We want to make sure that Ukrainian authorities are supported as much as we can in order to provide humanitarian support that is needed. Because of all that atrocity and all this suffering, difficulties for the people in Ukraine, the internally displaced people for instance and many others concerns that we have. That is the first goal – humanitarian support.
Second goal is the liquidity. It is important to support as much as we can Ukraine with budgetary support, with grants and loans in order to support at the economical level as much as possible the country. And that is why we think that this trust fund can be useful in order to give a strong signal of confidence, of trust and to make possible for the government, for the authorities to run the country. In the short term and also in the midterm.
And third point. It is extremely important and this is rebuilding of the country. When I went to Kyiv last time, especially when I went to Borodianka about ten days ago, I understood very well how it’s important to deal immediately without waiting, immediate signal that we start working for the rebuilding of the country. This is extremely important. That are three goals: we want to mobilize money, we want to convince all the friends of Ukraine across the world to demonstrate their solidarity and we want strong tool, strong instruments which is a trust fund in order to facilitate as much as possible the possibility for the friends of Ukraine to mobilize money, to mobilize financial means for Ukraine.
In my opinion, this conference tomorrow should be, must be, in my opinion, the starting point for kind of European Marshall Plan for Ukraine. This exactly what we must do, we must sent very strong signal that we will support Ukraine as mush as possible. And I see a comparison with last century when visionary people took a decision to invest in order to rebuild European continent after the World War II, and here for this century we are facing tragedy, this war against Ukraine is a human tragedy and means that visionary leaders today have to stand up and to give a signal that we will be courageous, we will be extremely firm in order to support Ukraine not only with word, not only with speeches – this is not enough – we need decisions, we need money, we need strong coordination, we need political will and this is tomorrow, in my opinion, must be tomorrow the starting point for kind of European Marshall Plan for Ukraine.
You mentioned that this trust fund also can goes for budgetary support. So, when this trust found can be activated, and when this, for example, midterm financial support for state budget can go to Ukraine?
In my opinion, as soon as possible. It’s means that this decision tomorrow must be the starting point. And you know, that we already started to support Ukraine by providing macro financial assistance. Not only the EU, but also partners and friends. But here we try to marge our efforts more coordinated, more massive. It must be the goal. And this important, in my opinion, to make sure that Ukraine’s authorities will be able in the following days and weeks to have the money they need in order to meet the three goals that I mentioned: humanitarian support, liquidity and to start rebuild the country.
If I may, another extremely important element and show that we really want to listen to Ukraine’s authorities, to understand very clearly how we can be operational, how we can be concrete. When I went to Kyiv, I had a very long meeting with president Zelensky and his team and he also mentioned this idea to build, what he called twinning between regions in Europe, municipalities in Europe and regions and municipalities in Ukraine. And this is important because it would mean that we would strengthen people to people approach which is in line with EU application, that being expressed by Ukrainian authorities in order to make sure that the people in Ukraine and the people in the European Union they have the occasion to work closely together, to know better each other in order to take decisions and to put in place mechanism which will make sure that we will connect Ukraine to the EU as much as possible.
I would like to understand little bit more about how exactly this money will go to Ukraine – will be somebody in charge, will it be on bases of trust to Ukrainian side? How exactly it will work?
The exact technicalities are prepared by the European Commission. Commission will clarify what are the exact technicalities that they will proposed. But it’s mean indeed is there is a trust fund that there is a governance for this trust fund it’s needed. And let me share with you my opinion on that. I think, that basic point is very simple – we trust the Ukrainian authorities, and governance must show that we trust Ukrainian authorities. And with is what we have done with budgetary support and with macro financial assistance. We trust them. Of course, we will maintain all interactions regarding the reforms that are needed. But also taking into account the fact that today there is war launched by Russia and it means that reforms are more difficult. We understand it very well. But when it comes to rebuilding its important also to support the goals expressed by president Zelensky. We understood very well that the goal is not to rebuild Ukraine of the past. The goal is to build a modern prosperous, forward looking Ukraine. It’s means that, for instance, it will be rebuilding of infrastructure and important to build infrastructure that are modern in line with the needs of the future, taking into account climate change, the digital transformation of the world and those challenging we are facing across the EU and everywhere in the world. Its must be also a preparation in order to support this political will, this political choice, this free political choice expressed by the Ukrainian authorities with the support of the Ukrainian people to choose for this European Union destiny.
Right now we are talking about international and the EU money, but the cause of what is going on in Ukraine is Russia. They also have to pay. How realistic is the idea to use frozen Russian finance for this purpose?
Personally, I’m absolutely convinced that this is extremely important not only to freeze assets but also to make possible to confiscate it, to make it available for the rebuilding country. I’m personally convinced. I recognized, because by a profession I use to be a lawyer, I recognized that legal level is not so simple. There are 27 legal systems across the EU and in many EU members states this needed decision taking by a court in order to make it possible. It’s takes time, it’s a difficult and long process. But I instructed the legal service of the Council to prepared some possible ideas in order to find legal solution in line with the principals of rule of law, that would facilitate and make possible the confiscation of the assets of the people who are sanctioned by the EU or by other countries in the world. In my opinion, this is question of fairness, not only idea to freeze the assets, but the confiscation to make this money available for Ukrainian authorities for trust found and for the all this goals that I mentioned, especially for the rebuilding of the country, is a question of fairness, question of justice.
I have a very specific question. Do you support the idea of transferring 10% of the Special Drawing Rights of the member states to Ukraine and how this can be done?
This is also a topic I discussed directly with President and I mentioned the support of this idea. This is probably a topic which will be discussed tomorrow in the framework of this conference. We are in closed contact with the IMF and also with a different countries across the world and also across the EU. I think in deed this option is an interesting option, and we must look at that in order to see if it’s possible and for which member states it will be possible to take such a decision. I don’t see that we have already taken a definite legal decision on this because it is a decision of the member states on the national level, but in my capacity as Chair of the European Council, and Ukrainian friends know that they can count on me in order to support this. Is it immediately 10% or we will start with 5% and will try to raise more – the exact modality, we should see what is possible, what is realistic, of course. But you understand I’m supporter of this idea.
I would like to touch the question regarding sixth package of sanctions. After President of the European Commission announce in details what it can be, Hungarian government already said that they are not happy with this. Do you really believe that in such circumstance Budapest will support this package?
Look, we see, systematically in the past there were some concerns that we would not be able to be united. We were systematically able to adopt united position. And, of course, it required some negotiations, talks, decision. We need the support of the 27 governments. A few weeks ago I said publicly in the European Parliament that sooner or later oil and gas would be part of the sanctions. This is an important stap. With proposal putted at the table by the Commission and we are, I’m working with my colleagues because this is Commission which make a proposal but these are the governments, this is Council which takes a decision. I can assure you that I’m working very hard with my team and with my colleagues in order to make sure that we will be able in very short term to take united position on the proposal putted on the table by the Commission.
Exactly to avoid situation like this, prime minister of Italy Draghi said that it’s time for the EU to abolish unanimity vote. What is your opinion on this?
I think, it’s good that political leaders are active on the questioning, on this debate of the future of the EU. In a few days in Strasbourg next Monday will be the report of the Conference of the future of Europe. And this is good, even if it’s not visible in the press. In recent month we asks public opinion, citizens across Europe to think together with European institutions about the future we want for this political project. And one big topic is related to the decision making process. From my side in my capacity I would like first to listen to different opinions, different views before we will have a debate at the level of the Council or at the level of the European Council. I’m confident that we can be innovative and we can use also tools that are existing in the current treaties. I give you one example. The European Peace facility. After three day of the war we decided to provide lethal military equipment to Ukraine. It was also direct request to me by Zelensky. When we took this decision, we used what we call the constructive abstention. It shows that there are tools. In one hand it showed that we are united and have a broad support when we took a decision because when we are united we are able to take a decision by unanimity then we have a strong position. If we are not united we have weaker position. It’s mean that this debate is legitimate and will take a place. We have many legal tools in our hands in order to find systematically the balance between the unite which make us stronger on the one hand but also possibility to taking into account some sensitivities, some different opinions across the table of the European Council.
About Ukrainian application for the EU membership. In June you will have, I mean, Council will have conclusions from the European Commission. What will happened then? Can Ukraine wait for the Council decision immediately or it will be some kind of discussion?
I’m always absolutely transparent with Ukrainian people and Ukrainian authorities. First, in fact, we took a quick decision, in a few days after the application by Ukraine – we decided immediately to task the European Commission to issue the opinion. Usually it’s takes 8-9 month. De-facto, here we took a decision in a few days and give a mandate to prepare the opinion. Point one. Point two. Commission already announced that the goal of the Commission is to published this opinion in June. In Council it will be my responsibility in my capacity to assess when we will be ready to put a topic on the agenda of the European Council. Time will depend on the content which will depend on the preparation together with the member states. I’ll consult with all actors in order to assess when this is the best moment when we will be prepared to hold this debate at the level of the European Council and last important element – you know that already in Versai I took a decision immediately to put this debate for first change of views. We want to support the free choice of Ukraine. This is the basic principal. There are the treaties, there are conditions, there are a prosses, we need to bring objectivity in this process and we will see. Next step is very clear – next will be the European Commission and based on that it will be my responsibility to see when we can put topic on the agenda of the European Council – is it a June or is it later – I’m not able to define answer today.
Will reforms of the country be a necessary condition for membership or it can be granted without it?
This is very clear that this is a process which based on reforms because the question about membership is related to the common approach on fundamental elements – the rule of law, the independence of justice, the fight against corruption, the single market, the economic reforms. It’s means that we have a clear vision. It’s a lot of efforts. I want to add something. This is very clear in opinion that the enlargements topic is a complex debate across the EU. But it also very clear because of the war in Ukraine the European Council will have a responsibility to clarify how we will manage this topic of enlargement because this is geopolitical question for the future of the Europe, for the future of the security, the prosperity, the stability across this European continent. And you can count on me in order to make sure that we will not escape this debate and we will have in the following month at the level of European Council the political debate about the future orientations for the engagement policy of the EU. It’s also our duty to clarify for those who want to join to us, how we see the way we will cooperate and coordinate in order to take formal legal positions sooner or later on this question.
One last words. This is not only a question of geopolitics, this is not only a question of economical consequences of the crisis, this is really question about being human being. I do not react only as the President of the European Council, I react also as father of children. Last year I have an occasion to discover this great country. Last year I went three times in Ukraine and I sincerely convinced that what is happening in Ukraine is disaster, a tragedy, and this is our responsibility to take right decision to be courage today because this is the condition for the future of our children in Ukraine but across Europe and may be in the world.