Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the university Sciences Po in Paris about the current developments in Ukraine

Speech given by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Sciences Po university in Paris about the current developments in Ukraine and the implications for the European Union (EU) and NATO.

This speech was given prior to consultations with the French government.

Ladies and gentlemen, students, young Europeans,

I want to talk to you today.

I want to talk to you about Europe.

About European cooperation.

And about our transatlantic alliance.

No theoretical debates or technical discussions today.

But fundamentals: peace, freedom and security on our continent.

For the vast majority of Europeans, these have been certainties for the past 75 years.

A major war in Europe in the twenty-first century seemed inconceivable.

But that illusion was shattered with one act of unprecedented aggression.

In the night of 23 to 24 February, the unthinkable became thinkable and the impossible possible.

War has returned to Europe.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a new chapter in world history has begun.

One of the darkest in our continent’s history since the end of the Second World War.

Putin’s regime has cast a shadow of malice, revanchism and revisionism over Europe.

Ukraine, a free and democratic country, has been attacked without provocation or justification.

Ukrainian cities are being bombed and besieged.

Ukrainian civilians driven out, wounded and killed. 

It’s shocking.


And criminal.

As we meet here today in Paris, the city of liberté, egalité and fraternité, our thoughts are with Ukraine and our hearts go out to its people.

From this place, I say to them:

We are with you.

Europe is with you.

We are family.

And we will provide shelter for Ukrainians who have fled their country.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will – no, I must – begin my speech with the words of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

One of the bravest people I’ve ever met.

In one of his video messages from a Kyiv under fire, he made clear that Russia’s aggression is more than an invasion of Ukraine.

It is also – and I quote:

‘…the beginning of a war against Europe.

Against basic human rights in Europe.

Against European unity.

Against all rules of coexistence on the continent.

Against the fact that European countries refuse to divide borders by force. (…)

When bombs fall in Kyiv, this is happening in Europe.

When missiles kill our people, this is the death of all Europeans.’

Hard words, but true.

And a message that resonates especially strongly in France.

The country of the Enlightenment.

Of brilliant minds like Montesquieu and Voltaire – and their revolutionary ideas.

Separation of powers.

Tolerance of dissent.

And freedom of opinion.

Values that make up the foundation of our modern western societies.

Soft values in a hard, uncompromising world.

By invading Ukraine, Putin has put all that at risk.

In the words of President Emmanuel Macron, who is also an alumnus of this distinguished university:

‘Democracy has been called into question right before our eyes.

Our freedom and the freedom of our children are no longer a given.’

It’s a loud wake-up call.

Russia has willingly ignored diplomacy at every turn.

It was simply beyond our powers of imagination.

And we failed to see it for what it really is: pure aggression that will not stop if left unchecked.

There’s no denying it now.

We have to face the ugly truth.

And turn our fear, anger and disgust into action.

To de-escalate the situation and restore peace in Europe.

Acting with resolve and reason.

And responding to the geopolitical sea change unfolding before our eyes.

For politicians, that means focusing above all on our primary task: keeping our countries and our continent safe.

We must do that together.

Within the framework of the European Union and NATO.

International structures that make us safer and more stable.

Confronted by the threat we now face, it is our solemn duty to make these two organisations that are essential to Europe even stronger.

With fresh ideas and flexible thinking, free of old taboos and fixed dogmas.

And today I’d like to suggest some ways we can do that.

Let me begin with the European Union.

Our response to Russia’s aggression has been resolute, unified and determined.

We’ve shown that we are capable of taking a stand.

But we have to follow through.

We’ve been given a final warning.

This is the time to act.

We have to enhance our open strategic autonomy.

Something France has been urging for a long time.

To be able to defend ourselves and our way of life.

In cooperation, and therefore “open”, with our democratic partners around the world.

We need to be less dependent on Russian gas and less vulnerable in the digital domain.

To make our economies strong enough to take a hit.

And put our house in order.

And that starts with the foundation: our economy.

Our most powerful weapon.

Europe’s combined economic power is immense.

And so is the potential leverage it gives us on the world stage.

For example, in imposing sanctions.

That works best if our own economies are at peak fitness.

But they aren’t.

Economic growth is sluggish and our debt burden is too high.

The only remedy is structural reform.

The COVID recovery fund is the perfect opportunity.

For the first time ever – thanks in part to Dutch efforts – financial support has been linked to necessary reforms.

That’s a winning combination.

Linking investment with structural reforms will make our economies fundamentally stronger.

The same goes for our fiscal rules.

Which can also be linked to reforms.

Countries that reform their economies would then get more time to reduce their debt.

And those that fail to meet the agreements would be subject to stricter enforcement by the European Commission.

This will make our economies more robust and more competitive.

It will create jobs and prosperity, and maximise Europe’s influence on the world stage.

But our strong position in the world is undermined by our energy dependence and our digital vulnerability.

We can’t do without Russian gas at the moment.

And that plays into Putin’s hands.

The Russians are masters at the game of pipeline politics, which allows them to keep a foot in Europe’s door.

And Russian aggression in Ukraine, and rising energy prices are hitting us all in our wallets.

This isn’t new to us.

We knew it.

But we’ve dragged our feet for too long.

Now is the time to find alternatives.

Different providers, different sources – including nuclear energy.

And advancing our green response.

Investing in sustainable energy, like solar, wind and hydrogen.

And linking up our energy networks and markets.

So that solar energy from Portugal can heat a school in Riga and wind energy from the North Sea can power a lamp in Athens.

This is a win-win-win investment: in our climate goals, in new technologies and jobs, and in a stronger geopolitical position.

The European Commission has just presented plans to speed up efforts in this area.

There’s no time to lose.

Let’s make it happen.

We also need to reduce our digital vulnerability.

The Russian invasion shows that we are facing hybrid threats these days.

Alongside the conventional conflict, an information war is being waged.

And cyberattacks are part of the enemy’s arsenal.

We need to be able to withstand threats like these.

And reduce our dependence on others.

For that reason, I applaud the comprehensive EU Chips Act presented by the Commission.

Its aim is to bolster our own semiconductor industry.

At the same time, we must continue to look beyond our borders and seek cooperation with other democratic partners.

Create a democratic alliance with partners in the US, South Korea and Japan, to stop our advanced technologies falling into the wrong hands.

And to keep production lines open in times of crisis.

We must work together globally to ensure our digital autonomy.

Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot keep our continent safe on our own.

We are protected by NATO: our transatlantic alliance and the most powerful military partnership in history.

This is and will remain the cornerstone of Europe’s security.

For a long time, we have leaned on the broad shoulders of our strongest ally, the United States.

But now, as European Allies, we must do more ourselves.

Invest more in our defence.

Increase our deterrence capability.

Prepare our armed forces to counter new threats.

Work harder to foster military cooperation between European allies.

And between the EU and NATO.

So we can be stronger partners within NATO and, in that way fortify the Alliance as a whole.

Not everyone needed a wake-up call.

For the Baltic states and countries like Poland, the need for robust armed forces was never in doubt.

And France, too, has always been a leader in calling for better European cooperation on defence.

Now we are all going the extra mile.

Germany has taken a remarkable step financially – and in its thinking – by making an additional investment of one hundred billion euros in its armed forces.

It’s also supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz called it ‘eine Zäsur’, a turning point, in Germany’s foreign policy.

The significance of this shift cannot be overstated.

In the Netherlands, too, when the new government took office earlier this year, the coalition agreed to increase the defence budget by 25 per cent.

And we’re looking at what else is needed, now that the security situation in Europe has changed dramatically over the past few weeks.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has plunged Europe into a new era of uncertainty.

We don’t know where Russia’s aggression will end.

And we don’t know what the implications will be for our continent.

But we must do everything we can to keep Europe’s future in our own hands.

We must work to ensure a resilient European Union and a powerful NATO Alliance.

Standing strong on the world stage.

For our norms and values.

Shoulder to shoulder with our European family in these most difficult of times.   

My friend on the European Council, President Emmanuel Macron, is taking the lead in this regard.

I admire his courage, his energy and his ability to imbue Europe with the strength of France’s renowned diplomacy and armed forces.

I’d like to close with a notable quote from his recent address to the nation.

On the Russian invasion of Ukraine he said:

‘It is a turning point in the history of Europe (…) and there will be long-lasting, profound consequences on our lives and the geopolitics of the continent. (…)

The ghosts of the past are rising again, but we will not give up one iota of our unity or the principles of liberty, sovereignty, and democracy.’

Ladies and gentlemen,

We need to send that message loud and clear.

Within Europe.

And from Europe to the world.

Thank you.