04 November, 2022

European transport: a whistletop tour


What did the Romans do for us?” echoes in my head every time I tackle challenges on the Transportation Committee of the European Parliament. “What does Europe do for us?” might be the updated version of that old Monty Python line. Over the last three days I have been on a study visit undertaken by the European Parliament’s Transportation Committee looking at transport projects in Germany, Austria, and Italy.  In a sense the trip looked at what the EU is doing for us, two thousand years on from the Romans' achievements. The EU's budget provides €25.6 billion for grants from the EU’s 2021-2027 budget to co-fund Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) projects in the EU Member States, and this was an opportunity to see how this money is being spent. As the Greens / European Free Alliance group's MEP who acts as coordinator on the European Parliamenets Transport Committee it was good to get out of the office and see projects like this at close hand.

Wednesday kicked off with a visit to Deutsche Bahn’s massive rail freight yard in Munich. At EU level we constantly talk about the European Green Deal, and a future that is smart, green, and digital. This was a practical example. The German state-owned rail company is working to automate the coupling and decoupling of rail freight wagons. If successful, this could transform dirty time-consuming work and make it easier and faster to send goods by rail. I was impressed with the work of Dr. Evelyn Nikutta, CEO of  Deutsche Bahn cargo who gave us a masterclass on the challenges she faces, and then brought us into the freight yard and showed each of the MEPs present how to put join up and then dissemble freight wagons. For me, the take-away from all of this is that automation and digitalisation is hugely challenging, but if successful, can be transformative in achieving a modal shift to rail for long-distance cargo. In Ireland it is hard to make rail freight successful as the journey lenghts are short, but I intend discussing what Germany is doing with my colleagues back home who cover transport issues. There's certainly scope for Iarnród Éireann to transport more freight by rail, and in doing so help meet our climate goals

That evening we travelled by coach to Innsbruck, Austria and had a working dinner with the incoming Governor of Tyrol, Anton Mattle and we discussed making the Single European Rail Area a reality. Josef Dopplebauer of the EU Agency for Railways highlighted the regulatory minefield that needs tackling: different voltages, regulations in each Member State for braking systems, Italian requirements for a second person in the locomotive cab and on it goes. Quite a challenge, and hopefully new EU regulations can tackle this, but worryingly the European Commission has not been vocal on this issue since the Fourth Railway Package of legislation was legislated for the best part of a decade ago.

On Wednesday I kicked off the day meeting former Austrian Green MEP Eva Lichtenberger. She explained the challenge of traffic in these steep Alpine valleys, where noise from traffic is a big issue for many, and pollution can be trapped with temperature inversions during the winter months. The new tunnel will help, but with traffic set to increase with economic growth in the coming years the gains from greater rail traffic will be offset by the overall growth. It was clear to me that we must decouple economic growth from environmental damage.

Then it was off to the Brenner Base Tunnel, under the Alps that will revolutionise rail travel on the ScanMed corridor between Scandinavia and the Mediterranean. Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament is the EU’s coordinator for this massive Trans-European Network Transport (TEN-T) Corridor which stretches from the Baltic Sea to the tip of Italy. In reality, even this section of the route is a series of separate projects that link up to achieve a transformation in connectivity, and I couldn’t help but think that even greater co-ordination is required, as the opening date for this particular section of the route was kicked back from 2028 to 2032, and parts of the rail network won’t be completed until 2040. It was humbling to hear from engineers who started off working on the project just after they finished college, and who will retire before the corridor is completed. After the discussions and a safety briefing, we travelled several kilometres by bus inside the mountain and walked through some of the enormous caverns that have been excavated. The main tunnel will be fift kilometres long, one of the biggest engineering projects underway in the world. I learnt that tunnels like this are hot, wet, loud, and dirty. Water dripped down from the cement sprayed on the ceiling, and this far underground the ground temperature can be in the mid-thirties. There’s enormous potential to use this geo-thermal energy, and in a nearby project it has been used to heat the waters of a fish farm that cultivates sturgeon.

Years ago, the engineer managing the Dublin Port Tunnel told me that for him the project was a communications exercise, more so than an engineering project. Here in the Alps the same issue came up, but more importantly the importance of getting the contracts right seems to be a crucial factor in fast-tracking the project. The project was due to come in at €8.8 Billion, but this seems set to rise, as the main power source for tunnelling is electricity, and energy costs have gone through the roof in recent months. Fun fact: trains in Italy drive on the right, and in Austria and Germany on the left, so the two rail tunnels cross each other half-way through the mountain. It was dark by the time we emerged from the tunnel, and we drove down the south side of the alps to Bolzano in the Italian province of Trentino Alto Adige.

On Friday morning, it was lashing rain, and we headed on our bus to an Industrial Estate on the outskirts of Bolzano. There we visited Alpitronic, a company that makes fast chargers for electric vehicles. Philipp Senoner one of the four founders of the company explained their meteoric growth from thirty-eight employees five years ago to two hundred today, in the process becoming a market leader in France, Germany, Italy and Austria for installing EV chargers. Their hypercharger can deliver 300 kW, and fully charge a vehicle in 15 minutes. Recently US President Joe Biden announced a $7.5 billion boost for “Made in America” chargers under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but investment in the EU, and even in Germany will surpass this. Philipp made a plea to us as EU legislators to achieve harmonisation on the calibration methodology and regulation at EU level, a request that I will send on to the mandarins in DG Move, the European Commission’s Transport department. Interestingly he started off his studies in Munich, and their initial products were ground supply power units for aircraft, but now EV charging is the future. One aspect of trips like these is the opportunity to spend time with colleagues from across the political divide. I may disagree with my EPP and ID colleagues when I stress the urgency of green issues, but spending time in each other’s company allows discussions to take place that would not happen in Brussels.

Before I travelled back home by taxis, trains, and a Ryanair flight from Bergamo to Dublin I paid a quick visit to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. There the mummified remains of Ötzi the iceman are exhibited in an refrigerated exhibition case. He died on an Alpine pass 5,300 years ago, and his frozen body was exposed by a melting glacier in 1991. I did not have time to take in the entire display, but the wealth of information that we have learnt about his life at a time before Newgrange and the Pyramids were built is an extraordinary story that will bring me back to this part of Italy at some stage.

04 November 2022

20 October, 2022

Decarbonising Buildings: the road ahead


On Friday 7th October 2022 I spoke at the Irish Building and Design Awards at the Intercontinental Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Thanks to Louis Gunnigan, my former colleague from TU Dublin for the invitation! I explained what the European Union is doing about tackling climate change, and I spoke specifically about the challenges that we face in the building sector. Here’s what I said:

I want to talk to you about a revolution. Do not panic, it is a gentle revolution, and you are already part of it. In fact, we are living through it. Called the European Green Deal, it is the ‘big idea' behind the European Union’s actions over recent years. Initiated by European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, it underpins the work of the European Commission, the European Council, and the European Parliament. Some see it as a growth strategy, some see it as a means for a Just Transition, and others see it as a mechanism that can deliver the climate action that science demands over the coming years. It changes the way we produce and use energy; the way we travel, the food we grow and eat, and lastly, and importantly the buildings that we construct and renovate.

Agriculture, Energy, Transport, Construction: all these sectors are adapting to meet the demands of our changing climate. Of course, we cannot just clap our hands and say, ‘Make it so!” We need new laws, and revisions of the existing ones to decarbonise Europe, and currently there are about twenty draft laws on the table. The Energy Efficiency Directive, the Renewable Energy Directive, and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive are all being updated to meet our new ambition. They are part of the so-called ‘Fit for 55’ package, aiming to reduce emissions by 55% between 1990 and 2030, no easy task.

Since the European Green Deal launched, we have seen Putin’s murderous invasion of Ukraine, and our energy supplies from Russia are reducing. However, we want to be completely independent from Russian fossil fuels before 2030, and that is the overarching aim of the EU’s ‘RePowerEU plan’. A central element is installing a massive number of solar panels and heat pumps in the coming years.
I am the rapporteur or chief negotiator on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, and it will play a central role in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, rolling out renewable technologies to homes across Europe, and achieving our climate goals.   

Research tells us that the buildings that house the 450 million people living in the EU consume 40% of the energy and are responsible for 36% of the greenhouse gas emissions. This impact is enormous, and that is why we need to decarbonise our new buildings, and the existing building stock to reach near zero emissions by 2050. 80%/90% of the buildings we use today will still be with us in 2050, so renovating the existing stock will be crucial. Retrofitting existing buildings to an A rating is quite the challenge over the next 25/30 years. The most sustainable building is the one that already exists. And there will be opt-outs for Protected Structures. We have no intention to put a rooflight over the Pantheon or apply external insulation.

With the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, I am pushing for very ambitious targets. However, I must collaborate with colleagues from different political groups, and I suspect my ambition will be tempered by their cautiousness. The final draft of this legislation should be approved by the middle of next year. For now, allow me to give you an overview of what we want to achieve from the outset.

First, we want to have one-stop shops in every country that can provide free impartial advice for energy upgrades to households and businesses, and we want to prioritise a neighbourhood approach so that communities can work together to reduce their bills and achieve savings with economies of scale.

Second, we have ambitious plans on electrification. We want to phase out the installation of heating units that use gas or oil, and electrify everything our heating needs, and yes, we need to reinforce the grid to make this happen. We want EV charging installations in all new buildings from 2025.

Third, a key element in the new law will be Minimum Energy Performance Standards for new buildings and upgrades, so that we are firmly on a glide-path to an A-rating for most buildings in the coming years. Of course, these are in place in Ireland for new builds, but many other countries do not have these. Of course, social safeguards will be required to protect tenants who may be at risk of renoviction.

Fourth, we have pushed for all new buildings to be Zero Emission Buildings by 2025 for residential, < 60 kW/m2 pa, but using renewable sources either generated on site; from renewable energy communities; or from district heating systems. We want existing buildings to achieve a C rating by 2030, though this target may be pushed back in the political discussions that we are having. The key moment to undertake works is at the trigger point when a building is sold or leased. We of course differentiate between existing and new buildings, public and private, housing, and other uses and have different targets accordingly. We know there are bottlenecks and shortages in terms of skills, and materials, but these will reduce over time. We also know it will create jobs, perhaps half a million by the end of the decade and these are professional, skilled, and unskilled jobs that will support local and regional economies across the EU.

Finally, we need the money. The cost of these works will run to trillions of euro. But from the conversations I am having with financial institutions they are saying they want to lend and will do so once the legislation is enacted. And the rates of return will increase as we rely less on expensive fossil fuels, and the returns will be predictable. Even the European Investment Bank is rebranding itself as the Climate Bank, and it is already lending to local authorities here in Dublin to fund deep renovations. 

Friends, colleagues, the aim of the EPBD is to decarbonise all buildings in the EU by 2050, and this is no mean feat. We will need ambition, money, skills, and supplies to get us there. As members of this industry - whether you are a construction worker, an architect, a supplier of renewable technologies, or a building owner - we all have a role to play in this gentle revolution. I know many of you are already meeting or exceeding these targets in your work, and that is fantastic to see. It is great to have you with us on this, and I wish you the very best with the work that lies ahead.

Uploaded 20 October 2022

30 May, 2022

Forty years a growing

Let's take a moment to look back. 

 In 1982 I was a teenager, and I read a column by Michael Viney in the Irish Times where he talked about:
“A storehouse economy, non-exploitative approach to nature, land reform, human-scale institutions, alternative technology, a basic, unearned income for all, and the decentralisation of political power.”        

That column led to me joining the Green Party, and attending the first Convention in the Glencree Reconciliation Centre where we agreed our founding principles forty years ago. . My memories of the early days included Esperanto, Basic Income, Acid Rain, our cold damp office on Stephen Street, and then Fownes Street. I remember canvassing for Liam de Siún in Bray in the early 1980s. Back then people left their front door key in the lock on the outside of the front door. Times have changed! I remember Ubi Dwyer storming out of our first convention in Glencree  because some of us had driven there; Maire Mullarney on the Late Late Show, extolling home schooling; Roger Garland keeping Ireland open, and having rows with rural Fianna Fáil TDs; Patricia McKenna annoying the establishment; John Gormley criticising Bertie Ahern on his use of the Government Jet. We still have rows, with others and within!

On reflection I feel we spent too much time railing about what we were against, rather than promoting what we were in favour of. People need a vision to believe in, as well as problems to oppose. So let’s look ahead:

We need to be more propositional, rather than oppositional. We need to get out of our comfort zone, rather than cherish the comfort of like-minded people. We need to check our privilege, and remember that Ireland is one of the wealthiest nations

There’s a few awkward truths we also need to confront. Covid vaccinations rely on the extraordinary advances of modern medicine. Nuclear energy is keeping the lights on in France and other countries. Ukrainians want weapons to fight an evil invasion

I don’t want to suggest that we need to drop our commitments to preventative healthcare, to clean energy, or to peace, but we must accept that what we hold dear is not necessarily held dear by others and we must respect that.  Looking ahead: We need to be a stronger voice for women, for children, for minorities, for marginalised communities and for those less privileged than ourselves. We must be  known for our leadership and vision, rather than our dissent.

We should look to our German, our Austrian, Finnish and Swedish colleagues. We should listen to the concerns of young people advocating change. We need to seek out, listen to, and learn from dissenting voices.

We must work across political divides. It is what I learnt from the Council chamber, but it took me 20 years to learn how to do so. That’s what I now do every day in the European parliament in order to achieve success.

To succeed in the next 40 years we need a better gender balance. We need to be more inclusive of all communities, and I applaud the work of Roderic O’Gorman  and Joe O’Brien  on this. We need more coherent economic and social narratives. Sure, we favour basic income, but then what? We need to have more to say about big data (thanks Ossian), and small businesses, about start-ups and innovation. We need to have more to say about cities, and about towns, and Malcolm Noonan and others are making this happen

To suggest 40 years ago that there were natural limits that we had to live within was radical. It is now generally accepted. What we then called alternative energy is now mainstream. The European Green Deal has been endorsed by the vast majority of European public representatives, and this is what Grace O’Sullivan and I are legislating for in Brussels.

In 1990 John Gormley published a Green Guide for Ireland. He asked whether being green would involve a return to a harsh and spartan existence. In reply he wrote that “We are at a stage of human development where we can combine the technology of the new with the wisdom of the old to make for a better world.” John’s words were prescient then and are relevant now.

Over the next forty years we must change. We require a relationship to the land that replenishes and rejuvenates the soil. We must produce, store and utilise clean energy for everything that we do. We must retrofit our homes to be powerhouses that keep us safe and secure. Our neighbourhoods must be safe and easy to get around for the young and not so young. We must reclaim our streets from the tyranny of car dominance and allow public space, and life to flourish. We must cherish biodiversity, and work with all on protecting our climate. Back then we said that the poverty of two-thirds of the world’s family demands a redistribution of the world’s resources. This is still the case.

Friends, today’s challenges demand cooperation across borders. There are enormous challenges ahead. We know that the challenges of globalisation, of migration, of climate, of Covid, of peace demand cooperation and coordination across the globe. They cannot be solved by the nation-state alone. The green message is a clear one. To take care of this fragile and precious earth we must work as one.

10 March, 2022

Greenways and nature-based solutions

Waterford Dungarvan Greenway

In March 2022 I was invited by Roy O'Connor of the Roads and Transport section of Engineers Ireland to open their seminar on Greenways. I made the point that Greenways are not simply a recreational phenomenon, but can be at the heart of our efforts to decarbonise by encouraging walking and cycling. My opening address can be found below.

Thanks to Roy O'Connor, and Engineers Ireland for inviting me to open this seminar.

Good morning and greetings from Strasbourg in France where I am attending the plenary session of the European Parliament. It is a dark moment in Europe, and we hope that de-escalation will occur. It is a week in which the energy rulebook for Europe is being re-written, in order to reduce reliance on Russian energy. That means less coal, oil and gas, and hopefully an acceleration of the green energy transition. This has significant implications from transport, and may assist in decarbonisation.

From a transport and mobility perspective, that means more support for active travel, public transport, and electrification. Active travel covers walking and cycling and now is the right time to boost these sustainable modes. The 2018 Strategy for the Future Development of National and Regional Greenways states, “Greenways are not simply a means of getting from A to B, they are an experience in and of themselves. They are also a means to experience the communities through which they transport us.” I’d like to flip that around and stress that they ARE a means of getting from A to B, and with the rise of pedal-assisted bikes, they can be transformative in achieving a favourable modal spilt for short and medium length journeys. 

However, let me backtrack for a moment. There was a lightbulb moment around twenty years ago when Fáilte Ireland realised that Ireland Inc was generating more revenue from cycle holidays than golf holidays, and this thankfully has led to a rise of investment in greenways. Nevertheless, we know that the reasons for greenway investment go far deeper than that. Increased concern about local air quality, particularly post-Covid have reinforced the importance of clean air, and travel on foot, or by bike and Greenways help achieve this. Active travel also helps tackle our obesity crisis. 63% of Irish men and 48% of Irish women have a Body Mass Index higher than 25, and being active daily tackle this. Ireland is above average, in a bad way and greenways can address this. 

The climate and biodiversity crises are further reasons for investment in greenways as they can, if designed correctly improve this at a local level. Greenways can also assist in climate adaptation. Embedding sustainable drainage systems from the outset can help nature heal, and provide resilience. Last week I visited Valkenburg in the Netherlands as part of a European Parliament delegation examining the aftermath of the deadly floods last summer that took hundreds of lives in Germany and Belgium. Tellingly, no lives were lost in the Netherlands and the mayor Valkenburg Mr. Daan Prevoo painstakingly explained the Dutch approach of giving ‘Room for the River’, a phrase I had previously heard from Henk Ovink, the Dutch water ambassador. You know all about these challenges, and I would like to think that we are moving away from concrete to more reliance on nature-based solutions, though I certainly see this argument raging within the Office of Public Works and other agencies. You know, I think we all need to go back to school every once in a while, and learn about new approaches to how we carry out our work. I know this leads to practical challenges: how for instance can we incorporate permeable surfaces that are strong enough to withstand extreme rainfall events that are becoming more common. We must work with nature, not fight against it. 

 The Irish Government has pledged a million Euro a day to walking and cycling. However, we cannot just throw money at projects, we need do it right. Continued Professional Development is crucial. While temporary Covid-related mobility measures have been positive, they have often come with a lot of plastic baggage attached! I hope that we can rely more on wood, green concrete, and trees and planting in the future. I live close to the Phoenix Park, and while I welcome the smooth resurfacing and plastic wands that now firmly delineate the cycle path, perhaps we could consider a row of cherry trees next time out. Nature can help with sustainable solutions. Transport and mobility has come full circle since I first campaigned about urban motorways in Dublin over thirty years ago. Back then, the mantra was that the car is king. We now know it was a pretender to the throne. The transport pyramid now puts teleworking on the top of the ladder, and the pedestrian, wheelchair user and cyclist on the rungs below, and that is the way it should be. Delivery vehicles, public transport and shared mobility come next, with dirty diesels barely making it onto the ladder, and being phased out as electrification takes hold.

 I am glad that land acquisition will figure in your discussions. That nettle must be grasped. So many Dutch towns have the cycle path safely planned at a short distance away from the main road, and that requires the purchase of land, a small price to pay for sustainable infrastructure. Greenways can transform our tourism offer, and our transport infrastructure at a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the carbon footprint of our motorway network. Let us ensure that local transport needs are central to the planning of greenways, not just for recreational use, but also for serving local everyday journeys. I hope the investment in active travel will also lead to a re-thinking of rural roads, where too often road markings consists of a dashed white central divider. In Denmark, on such roads the central divider is not present, but instead solid white lines on both sides delineate a metre of shared space that is available to cyclists and pedestrians. The psychological impact of this also helps reduce vehicle speeds. 

Before I conclude, may I make a final plea on the subject of way finding, or signage. It is clear that many who choose to drive are not aware that walking and cycling infrastructure exists. We need to improve the quality and quantum of signage that indicates active travel infrastructure. The Slí na Sláinte signs do this, but we need a similar system for all active travel routes. Such signs could list destinations, but also travel times. Over the years, we have reduced road signage to a listing of letters and numbers that are unintelligible to the layperson. The N17, as far as I know the only one of these that has acquired any cultural recognition. Let us get back to using authentic and grounded place-names that have been neglected, but that have a rich cultural grounding. I of course have to remind you, that in doing this we do not wish to create excessive signage and that we also need to declutter our streets and roads.

Thank you, enjoy the day!

04 March, 2022

A Green response to Russian Aggression in Ukraine



Green Party Ukraine Crisis Webinar March 2022
On 3 March 2022 the Green Party organised a discussion around the Ukraine Crisis at short notice. It was a webinar like no other: listening to Ukrainian MP Maria Ionova speaking to us from Kiev with sirens in the background. Minister Eamon Ryan TD, gave us an introduction, and Professor Donnacha Ó Beacháin from DCU outlined the need for support from Ukraine and Grace O’Sullivan MEP and myself gave a perspective from the European Parliament. Garret Kelly our Foreign Affairs Working Group chair joined us from Sarajevo and Senator Vincent Martin chaired the evening’s proceedings. Below are my speaking notes. 

Maria, I cannot imagine what you are your family are living through in Kiev. 

I ask myself, what can we do? How can we de-escalate? This is the key question this evening. As we watch the violence on our screens, we feel powerless at this remove. Lenin stated, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen." Meanwhile European Commission President von der Leyen said this week: "This is a clash between the rule of law and the rule of the gun; between democracies and autocracies; between a rules-based order and a world of naked aggression.”

Putin’s murderous actions must be condemned. However, we must avoid a direct confrontation between NATO and Russian forces. It was important for the European Parliament to be united yesterday in condemning the invasion, showing solidarity with the Ukrainian people, and calling for the EU to act on issues like greater humanitarian assistance and refugee protection. It is right that Ireland will play its part in welcoming refugees, despite our housing and homelessness challenges. I am pleased that in the European Parliament this week we voted for €1.2 Billion of aid for Ukraine.

Last week I was in Albania, as a member of the Delegation to the EU-Albania Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee. They have waited for many years to be on the list for EU accession.  Today, Georgia and Moldova have applied for EU membership. It is clear that there is now renewed pressure on the European Union to speed up the process for countries that wish to look towards Brussels. Also today, Ministers in the Justice and Home Affairs Council have agreed, for the first time, to trigger the ‘Temporary Protection Directive’ to support people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

The Greens/EFA Group are calling on EU Member States and the Commission to ensure that all people fleeing the war can find sanctuary in the EU. I am glad that Ireland has agreed to play its part in this. The European Union was founded as an economic entity; the Steel and Coal Community, and it has become an environmental and social body. I am worried if it were to morph into a military body, and I am not convinced of this need. I ask myself where would it end? Of course, innocent citizens must be able to defend themselves, and Ireland must provide humanitarian aid. However, the EU must not become a military organisation. This would take away from its key role.

A year ago, I contributed to the public consultation to the Commission on the Defence Forces. I said then that our strengths as a neutral nation have served us well in our peacekeeping role abroad, and in humanitarian tasks in the Mediterranean and elsewhere.   Ireland sits on the United Nations Security Council; it can again assist in tackling global challenges. Our neutrality can be an asset.  In line with the Irish’s State’s constitutional commitment to neutrality, the triple-lock must be respected in terms of any external deployment of the Irish Defence Forces. 

This week’s economic sanctions are strong and significant. Ukrainian resistance is high. A year ago, I raised concerns over attempts that may have occurred involving the hacking of such infrastructure such as undersea cables by foreign forces, and the unannounced incursion of defence aircraft and submarines into Irish waters and airspace. These concerns must inform our defence capabilities.

Ukraine is a breadbasket. It is also rich in coal, oil, and gas, and nuclear. I had not considered concerns about nuclear installations in times of war, I had been more focused on terrorist attack. Clearly, I’d be more worried about a nuclear facility being a battlefield than a windfarm.  The EU’s dependence on Russian oil and gas is now in plain sight. Filling our cars with petrol fuels Putin’s ambitions. 

Now is the time to hit two birds with one stone: end reliance on Russian fossil fuels by promoting a 100% renewable energy economy which helps us tackle the climate crisis. The more we invest now in energy efficiency, energy storage, demand management, peak-shifting and renewable energy, the quicker we’ll be able to stop funding Putin’s war by buying less of his gas and oil. 

Update, 12 March 2022

Back in 1994 Putin made his intentions clear. Michael Stuermer, author of ‘Putin and the Rise of Russia’ was listening carefully. Referring to the 20 million Russians who lived beyond his country’s border Stuermer quotes Putin as saying “For us, their fate is a question of war or peace.” It seems clear that any solution to Russia's war in Ukraine will require assurances for ethnic Russians living there. He sees NATO expansion, and to a lesser extent the EU as a threat.

Earlier this week I had a meeting with Commissioner Frans Timmermans in Strasbourg. He speaks Russian and also knew Putin going back to the 1990s. He had his fair share’s of run-ins with him, over the behaviour of Russian embassy staff in the Netherlands, and Russia’s treatment of Dutch diplomatic staff in Moscow. He even negotiated with him for the release of a Greenpeace ship that was detained in Russia. He is acutely aware of Russia’s power after 192 Dutch citizens died after a Russian missile downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Eastern Ukraine in 2014. Timmermans believes that sharp and severe economic sanctions will have an impact.

However, I repeat, the focus right now must be on de-escalation. Hopefully peace talks will achieve this.

Thank you.