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Olaf Scholz maps out response to Europe's 'turning point'

August 29, 2022

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has outlined his vision of how Europe can respond to a "turning point" in its history. Scholz described the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on future German and EU policy.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gives a lecture at Charles University in Prague
Scholz said that a wider and stronger Europe would be more able to stand up for its interestsImage: David W Cerny/REUTERS

The German chancellor spoke on Monday in the Czech capital, Prague, to set out a new vision for Europe in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

Olaf Scholz  was addressing how the European Union and its neighbors could respond to Moscow's aggression, which he in February described as a "turning point."

What did the German chancellor say?

Giving his speech at Prague's Charles University, Scholz said Europe faced a new political reality since Russia launched its invasion on February 24.   

"Right now, we're asking ourselves once again where the dividing line will run between this free Europe and a neo-imperialist autocracy in the future. I talked about a watershed following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February." 

"Putin's Russia wants to redraw boundaries with violence — something that we in Europe never wanted to experience again. The brutal attack on Ukraine is therefore also an attack on Europe's security order."  

"We are standing up to this attack with all due resolve. We need our own strength for this — as individual countries, in the alliance with our transatlantic partners, but also as the European Union." 

Scholz: Europeans won't take attack on peace lying down

Germany has already made fundamental changes to its military policy by announcing a €100 billion ($100 billion) boost in spending on defense, and sending heavy weapons to Ukraine. Berlin has previously had a policy of not delivering weapons to conflict zones.

Regarding Germany's supply of arms to Ukraine, widely criticized as inadequate and too late, Scholz promised that more would be done. Berlin has supplied some heavy weapons, including self-propelled howitzers and Gepard anti-aircraft tanks. 

"Germany has undergone a fundamental change of heart on this issue in recent months. We will keep up this support, reliably and, above all, for as long as it takes," said the chancellor. "This also goes for the reconstruction of the destroyed country, which will be a massive undertaking that will take generations to accomplish."

Desire to keep doors open

The German chancellor set out the need for an enlarged and reformed Europe, including the Western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova, and eventually, Georgia. Scholz said the EU's vision of Europe was open to all European nations "who share our values" and was a rejection of imperialism and autocracy.  

"We will not stand idly by and watch women, men and children being killed or free countries being rubbed off the map and disappearing behind walls or iron curtains. We don't want to go back to the 19th or 20th century with their wars of occupation and totalitarian excesses."

The need for Europe to strengthen global trade relations, and diversify supply chains — as underlined by the continent's dependence on Russian fossil fuels — was also a theme.

The chancellor also described the need for Europe to address old conflicts and challenges, including migration and debt, in a unified way.  

However, as the bloc widened, Scholz said each member's veto right would have to go, with a transition to a "majority voting" system so as not to slow down EU decision-making.

Ukrainian troops wait for promised weapons

He also described the importance of the European Union enforcing the rule of law among member states. Brussels has already decried the rule of law situation in Poland and Hungary, centering on perceived breaches in relation to the judiciary and media.

After delivering the speech, Scholz was expected to meet Prime Minister Petr Fiala for talks likely to focus on European energy policy, visa restrictions for Russian tourists, and arms deliveries to Ukraine. 

The Czech Republic took over the rotating presidency of the EU Council on July 1. 

The bloc's foreign ministers are set to meet in Prague on Tuesday and Wednesday, and a top-level EU summit is planned for the beginning of October.

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.