How has the mood in Brussels changed in recent weeks?
Even before there was an open military annexation of all of Ukraine, there was surprising agreement about what evil Russia stood for. This is a consensus that I have never seen in the European Parliament. In the early days of the invasion, it was clear that the Council of the EU, which took the executive decisions, was a little taken aback. However, she reacted very quickly to her situation, the first package of sanctions was perhaps the day after the invasion. However, the fact that the disconnection from the SWIFT payment system was not resolved immediately turned out to be a bad decision at the time. But since then, things have changed here too. But it is not only European unity that is important, but also the unity of the West and of the majority in the UN. We can only regret that the reaction came with this drama and not before.
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Did the Czechs surprise with their tough attitude? So far they have been more difficult in the EU.
It’s not fair to see everything through the prism that we had problems in the refugee crisis, which was a really unfortunate episode. The European Union is made up of 27 troublemakers, with every country having problems. In this situation, on the contrary, we, Poland or the Baltic countries, were supposed to have a strict position towards Russia from the very beginning. And we have accomplished it.
Of course, you see changes in the mechanism of the whole of Europe. Whereas in the past the German chancellor was the leader in many respects, today’s German government has taken a completely different position. In the position of someone who is going to invent something that isn’t really good at first, but who hopefully can fix it fairly quickly. On the other hand, President Emmanuel Macron, and I hope not just because of the upcoming presidential election, is very active and helping the Western coalition to play an important role.
Did the Germans disappoint you?
I expected a coalition with the Greens, Liberals and Socialists to be much stronger on some issues. Some statements by the German government were strategically flawed and indicated incompetence. Take, for example, Olaf Scholz’s statement that shutting off gas supplies means Germany will wake up to a completely different world the next day. For a time, we gave the impression that cutting off energy supplies from Russia would be a bigger problem for Europe than for Russia. Which is not true, and it strengthens Vladimir Putin’s position. However, the Council and the German government were able to review their decisions in a few dozen hours. This is something we haven’t seen in the past.
We had a discussion with American diplomats, and it was said that the sanctions were the third biggest economic and political maneuver in the world. They saw Marshall’s plan to change our continent as the greatest, and they called the creation of the European Union the second greatest maneuver. I don’t think Vladimir Putin could have imagined something like this would happen even in his worst dreams.
Do you think oil and gas deliveries from Russia will be interrupted?
If we were talking about the European Parliament, which does not decide on the matter, I think that a slight majority would emerge here. I do not think there is unanimity on this issue within the Council. It’s a shame, but as an economist, I have to say that trivializing the issues involved would be a mistake. But now we have to weigh the economic difficulties against the deaths in Ukraine and the hundreds of thousands of prisoners in Mariupol. It’s easy for me, but I would go the way of stopping supplies.
Just because it’s probably not feasible doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do something that will at least come close. From the start, I have called for the freezing of the money we send to Russia. The question is whether this would prompt the Kremlin to stop these supplies. But it should be considered. In my opinion, the maximum restriction of these supplies is an absolute necessity. It has two components. One is diversification, which is difficult in the case of oil and impossible in the case of gas. The other side is the reduction of consumption.
How do you get people to touch each other?
I would like support for comprehensive consumption reduction measures at European Union level. The winter season is coming to an end, so it’s not as relevant anymore, but I consider the agreement to reduce the heating standard slightly to be quite significant and I think the public would accept it. The International Energy Agency speaks of increased support for public transport, perhaps a reduction in individual transport in cities. Reducing speed on motorways would have a significant effect, as consumption increases with speed. Instead of 130 kilometers per hour cutting through 120, it’s not a major intervention in life. Electromobility plays a crucial role, on railways, roads and public transport. A faster transition from gas to electricity is also needed. That is to say, where it is effective, avoid the use of gas and use electricity, for example to use heat pumps instead of gas boilers for individual heating.
The Czech Republic may not be as affected as Germany, but how can you insure yourself in the event of a supply disruption?
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