Keynote speech by President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen

Dear Prime Minister Kallas,

Dear Prime Minister Ngirente,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am grateful to join you today in Tallinn. Here in Estonia, the keyword of this conference – ‘connectivity’ – has a very special sound. Just next door is a country that is trying to use our inter-connections as a weapon against us. Because Russia is not only waging war on Ukraine. Russia is waging war on our energy, on our democracies and our values. Estonia – like the other Baltic States – has been warning Europe for years about the dangers of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels. And we should spell this out clearly: You were right, and Europe should have followed your example. Ever since you broke free of Soviet rule, you have worked hard to get rid of Russian fossil fuels and to disconnect from the Russian grid. You have invested in renewable energy, in LNG terminals, in new interconnectors with the rest of Europe. And on top, you have become global leaders in cybersecurity and in the digital field.

Today, you are standing strong before a hostile neighbour. From a small country like yours, comes a great example for our entire Union. This must be a lesson for all of us. Especially as the war in Ukraine has now entered a new phase. Faced with the brave Ukrainian resistance, the Kremlin has once again escalated its aggression to a new level. Putin has launched Russia’s first mobilisation since World War II. He has used sham referenda in an illegal attempt to change international borders by force.  All of this, while redoubling his efforts to destabilise global energy markets. This will only strengthen our resolve to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. But this new phase of the war also calls for renewed action on our energy independence, on our infrastructure, and on building new partnerships with the rest of the world. In short, it calls for a new investment into trusted connectivity.

Today, I would like to focus on three issues in particular. First, we need to protect our critical infrastructure. Second, we need to keep replacing unsustainable dependencies with more balanced cooperation. And third, we need to continue to build trust in global connectivity.

Let me begin with the physical infrastructure that underpins connectivity. The acts of sabotage against the Nord Stream pipelines have shown how vulnerable our critical infrastructure is. Pipelines and underwater cables connect European citizens and companies with the world. They are the lifelines of financial markets and global trade. And they are essential for services such as modern healthcare and energy. Submarine fibre-optic cables carry 99% of global internet traffic. And now, for the first time in modern European history, this infrastructure has become a target. So, the task ahead of us is clear: We need to better protect the lifelines of the world economy.

Let me briefly outline points of action for you. First, we must be better prepared. The good news is, that we have brand-new European legislation, which will strengthen the resilience of critical EU entities. What we have to do now is, implement it and make it happen on the ground. Second, we need to stress test our infrastructure. We need to identify its weak points and prepare our reaction to sudden disruptions. We will work with Member States to do stress tests in the field of energy and other high-risk sectors, such as offshore digital and electricity infrastructure. Third, we will increase our capacity to respond through our Civil Protection Mechanism. With this, we can support Member States in case of disruption of critical infrastructure – for example, with fuel supplies, generators, or shelter capacity. Fourth, we will make best use of our satellite surveillance capacity to detect potential threats. And finally, we will strengthen cooperation with NATO and key partners like the US. Critical infrastructure is the new frontier of warfare. And Europe will be prepared.

In the same spirit, we have to step up our support to our friends in Ukraine. Time and again, Russia has been trying to take down Ukraine’s IT systems. Therefore, the EU has mobilised financial support for emergency cybersecurity to Ukraine. We have helped move government servers to safe locations. And this direct assistance is multiplied by Member States, for example our Estonian hosts. You understand very well, that in the struggle between democracy and autocracy, the digital sphere is not a sideshow, but the front line.

My second point: We have to replace unsustainable dependencies with balanced cooperation. For that, we have to double down on our positive engagement with the rest of the world. And continue to act in the spirit of openness, cooperation, and trust. Just last year, we inaugurated the EllaLink transatlantic cable, connecting Europe with Latin America. And we are now deploying a new fibre-optic cable under the Black Sea. It will diversify internet access across Central Asia, and reduce dependency on terrestrial cables that go through Russia. This project is a typical model for Global Gateway, our EUR 300 billion investment package announced one year ago. We need more infrastructure like this in our neighbourhood. Also to connect Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkans more tightly to our Union. And we can do it. We have shown this. Weeks after Russia’s invasion, we successfully connected Ukraine to our electricity grid. It was initially planned for 2024. But we did it within two weeks. So now Ukraine has an important new revenue stream from electricity exports to the EU. And our Union can rely on electricity from Ukraine to help tackle the energy crisis. And in case of need, we can provide them with electricity.

This is just one example in the broad attempt to get rid of Russian energy supplies. We have been working hard over the last seven months – and with success: Last year, Russian gas used to be 40% of our imports. Today, it is down to 7.5% Russian pipeline gas. Again, having the right infrastructure in place is key. And the good news is that Europe is making more progress by the day. Just some days ago, we inaugurated a new gas interconnector between Bulgaria and Greece. It will bring gas from Azerbaijan, and from Mediterranean LNG terminals, not only to Bulgaria but also to Romania, Serbia and North Macedonia. These connections are game changers for Europe’s energy security. This means access to trusted and reliable sources of energy everywhere in our Union. And it means freedom from dependency on Russian gas.

Dear Kaja, you were so right with your reminder of the real price tag attached to our dependency on Russia. We need to keep this firmly in mind as we transition to renewable sources of energy. Because every kilowatt-hour of electricity that Europe generates from solar, wind, or sustainable biomass is not only good for the climate – it is good for our independence. But renewables often depend on scarce raw materials. Magnets for wind turbines, cells for solar panels. You know the examples. By 2030, Europe’s demand for those rare earth metals will increase fivefold. This is first and foremost good news, because it shows that our European Green Deal is moving fast. The not so good news is – one country dominates the markets: That is China. So we have to avoid falling into the same dependency on China – as we were with oil and gas from Russia. That is why we are working on a European Critical Raw Materials Act. It will help to diversify our supply chains towards trusted partners. And it will be another crucial domain for Global Gateway. Global Gateway will mobilise the public and private investment that is needed on the ground.

Our work on semiconductors is another example for my overarching theme of new forms of cooperation. These chips are in every digital device, from cars to phones to medical equipment. Without chips – no modern economy. Just look at Russia. With our sanctions we banned all export of semiconductors. The impact is by now tangible. The Russian military cannibalises washing machines and refrigerators trying to get semiconductors for their military hardware.

Semiconductors are crucial. Also for us. Therefore, our aim is to increase our global market share to 20% by 2030. And we have all we need to achieve this. We have world-class research and testing facilities. That is attractive for investors – but not enough to create the necessary ecosystem. Thus, our European Chips Act mobilises billions of investment for development and mass production of next-generation chips. We have just approved the first state aid decision, giving the go-ahead to a EUR 730 million investment by a Franco-Italian company to build a new facility in Sicily. It will produce, for the first time in Europe, large scale silicon carbide wafers, – the base of semiconductors. And in the coming months, a trusted American company is set to break ground with its new chips plant in Germany – a EUR 17 billion investment. This is what trusted connectivity looks like.

This brings me to my third and final point: It is about determining the rules of the game. High-tech is great – but what is the purpose you use it for? Who is setting the standards? Take personal data. Who is setting the standards that will govern and protect our societies? Is it the market? The government like in China? Or do we choose the human-centric approach? That is the European approach. Take the GDPR, born in Europe – for the first time the rules of the game were defined. And now they are setting data protection standards in Silicon Valley and beyond. Or take our Digital Markets and Digital Services Act. Here again, Europe is on the vanguard, bringing the rules of the analogue world into the digital world. For the first time, there are clear rules on how to deal with topics like hate speech, disinformation or terrorist content online. We are doing the same for product cybersecurity, with a regulation proposed last month.

Now, setting standards for Europe is good. But it is our engagement with trusted partners that makes European standards global standards. That is why our work with the United States, and recently also with India, through our Trade and Tech Councils, is so important. In addition, we have teamed up with the G7’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure. With our combined package of USD 600 billion, we are leveraging not just our investments, but our standard-setting power. Thus, step by step, we are anchoring the values- and rules-based order on firmer ground. Working with friends and partners – through trusted connectivity. The Roman statesman, Cicero, famously said: ‘The shifts of fortune test the reliability of friends.’ I am glad to be amongst friends. For we cannot always control what history has in store for us. But we can shape our fortunes – by standing tall for our values, and standing united with friends.

Thank you.