The EU will survive “Russia’s blackmail” of energy supplies and the looming long winter but only if it manages to maintain “unity, determination and courage,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin warned on Tuesday (13 September).
Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Marin evoked a bleak outlook of the challenges the bloc is currently facing, including a worsening energy crisis and soaring inflation.
“Russia may challenge us, blackmail us and threaten us, but we will not give in,” Marin told EU lawmakers and European Commission officials, adding that “unity is needed now more than ever as Russia uses energy as a weapon against Europe.”
“Blackmailing our societies through energy supplies is a way to erode European support for Ukraine and break up our unity – Putin must not succeed in this,” she added.
Addressing the imminent energy crisis, the Finnish prime minister said the EU was paying a “heavy price” for its decade-long dependency on Russian fuels.
Despite the doom and gloom, Marin said, however, that “even in the darkest moments there is hope”, referencing the unity the EU’s 27 member states have shown since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February.
“Together, we have responded to Russia’s war of aggression with extensive sanctions and by providing armed, financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine,” Marin said.
“Ukraine will win the war with our support. There is no other alternative. In our hearts, the Ukrainians have already won it,” she added, underlining that the bloc needs to continue its support to the country.
“Above all, we must continue to support Ukraine in all its forms and be ready for even tougher sanctions. The stronger the effect we achieve with sanctions, the more expensive it will be for Russia to continue the war,” she told EU lawmakers.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the EU has agreed on several packages of sanctions that include asset freezes and visa bans on Russian oligarchs and officials, export controls, freezing central bank assets, disconnecting banks from the SWIFT messaging system and a ban on imports of Russian coal and oil.
However, EU diplomats admit that moving on with further measures is currently not planned, except for the attempt to close loopholes in the current packages.
Since the war started, Finland has taken an increasingly hard line against Moscow and started a bid to join NATO, reversing its decades-long tradition of neutrality.
In recent weeks, Helsinki joined its Baltic and Eastern European neighbours in a push for a broad ban on visas for Russian citizens. Finland is one of the few key entry points for Russians crossing into the EU.
“Sanctions must be reflected in the everyday lives of ordinary Russians,” Marin said in Strasbourg.
“It is not right that while Russia kills civilians in Ukraine, Russian tourists travel freely in Europe,” she added.
Looking beyond the current crisis, Marin also called for reforms but said they should not require changes to the EU treaties.
“Finland takes a constructive approach to the development of the EU. We take seriously the voice of the citizens and the new proposals arising from the Future of Europe Conference,” she said.
In their final document, citizens called for treaty change to establish an EU foreign policy that can face challenges such as the war in Ukraine.
However, Marin remarked that “the opening of basic agreements in the middle of the crisis is still not timely” adding that “our citizens did not so much ask for institutional changes, but for reforms that respond to humanity’s big challenges and their everyday concerns”.
Finland’s goal would be to “meet these needs within the current framework”.
According to the current treaties, foreign policy mostly remains a competence of national governments with rare exceptions.
This means that at the Council level, unanimity is the only way to make a decision on sensitive subjects, such as sanctions.
[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski/Benjamin Fox]