He has been in the European Parliament (EP) for three decades, since 2008 as spokesman, and he recognizes that the atmosphere among the MEPs he sees now is one of concern. Jaume Duch Guillot (Barcelona, 1962) assures that the ukrainian war has provoked, at the same time, an overwhelming union in the EU.
In a conversation with ‘El Periódico de España’ in Madrid, he states that one of the missions to be completed from Brussels is the energy disconnection of Russia. In this context, the interconnection of Spain with Europe to bring gas from North Africa “is no longer a Spanish-French bilateral issue, but rather a European one”.
Paris is suspicious of initiatives to create a gas pipeline that crosses Spain and France through the Pyrenees. About the fact that Poland and Hungary are hosting Ukrainian refugees by the millions just a few weeks after the green light was given to the economic sanction mechanism for these two countries for violations of the rule of law, Duch stresses that they are independent issues and that Parliament will continue to demand from the Commission activate it.
Lately you have a spokesperson for war.
It is rather a spokesperson version of crisis, but it is not the first. In recent years we have experienced a monetary crisis, a refugee crisis, and the covid crisis, tremendous in health, economics and social matters. Now we are experiencing a war on European soil. As in all crisis communication, one has to focus the messages and go to the essentials.
The so-called strategic communication?
The fundamental thing is that people know what the European Union is deciding. Let him realize the enormous degree of unity that has been achieved in a few weeks on such a delicate and complex issue.
Can that unit you speak of be maintained for a long time, or do you anticipate the risk of cracking?
I think that unity is going to be maintained. It was said that the EU was going to split in the Brexit negotiation, and it did not happen. The same later with the covid: many people said that it would be impossible to coordinate the competition of the countries to obtain the vaccines. In the end, everything was done completely jointly. And now it is the same with war. There has been unanimity in all the decisions of the European Council and in the proposals of the European Commission: sanctions, refugees, financial aid… even on the military issue. It seemed taboo that a part of the community budget was dedicated to helping the Ukrainians to access military material. Well, it has been done, and unanimously.
“The interconnection of Spain with Europe is no longer a Spanish-French bilateral issue, but a European one”
The second installment of 500 million cost a bit, right? With reluctance from Germany, which also put them with the Nord Stream 2 theme…
You have to understand that each country comes from different situations. Spain, which has a practically non-existent energy dependence on Russia, 7-8% of the total energy consumed, is not the same as countries like Germany, with around 50%. Some even have a dependency above 90%. The reactions are not the same because the consequences are not the same either.
Countries enter this crisis differently, but they will also come out differently. Are we heading towards a political reconfiguration?
We are going to a reinforcement of the EU. After each crisis, the Union emerges with a higher level of integration than before. After the economic and monetary crisis, political and economic coordination structures were created that did not exist before. With covid, a common health policy is being implemented, and 750,000 million euros of debt have been pooled, something previously unthinkable. Now the security policy is being reinforced, and overnight European rules such as the temporary protection of refugees have been put in place. The EU will come out different, but surely more integrated.
Hungary and Poland, how do they fit into this? Days before the war began, a mechanism was validated to penalize their human rights violations. Now it turns out that they are the vanguard in receiving Ukrainian refugees. Is the application of that mechanism going to be parked?
They are two different issues, and one thing does not cancel the other. Parliament continues to press the Commission to implement the measures provided for in the regulation of conditionality of the funds to respect the rule of law. Another thing is that, as we are actually seeing, Poland and Hungary have been activated regarding the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in a completely different way from their reaction in previous crises. That must be greeted and obviously it is positive.
It changes the dynamics of things and perhaps facilitates a discussion that is still pending: the updating of community regulations on immigration and acceptance of refugees. Until now, these issues were of particular concern to the countries of the South. It is now clear that those in the East and North are also concerned. The whole world is affected by the almost four million Ukrainians who have arrived on our territory, a figure that could double in the coming months. In the end, all the countries are interested in there being community legislation on this subject, which works and is effective. That was not the case a few months ago.
Regardless of how this conflict ends, relations with Moscow will have to be restored sooner or later. Does the Parliament maintain some kind of dialogue with Russia, or has the dialogue been completely cut off?
the president of parliament [Roberta Metsola] took the decision to ban the entry of diplomats and lobbyists of Russian companies in Parliament. Dialogue with Russia does not go through parliamentary mechanisms, but through the actions of the governments themselves and, in the case of the European Union, by the Council. We are in a war in which the EU is not directly involved but has taken a position: it supports Ukraine. To reestablish relations with Russia, it is first necessary to end the war and then see how the country and the Russian government evolve.
Are there any initiatives, movements or conversations between the parliamentary groups in the diplomatic field?
No, at the moment the strategy is the opposite: isolate the Russian government and isolate the Russian political and economic fabric. It is one of the ways to make this war last as short as possible and to support Ukraine in defending its territorial integrity and its sovereignty. The resolution on the war in Ukraine was supported by 637 deputies [de 705; hubo 36 abstenciones y 13 votos en contra]. In the European Parliament, the little support, tacit, not explicit, for the Russian government or its president is at both ends of the chamber. Nothing more. There are political forces that tiptoe past, even within those extremes. The vast majority, from the left to the right, have a practically unanimous position on such a sensitive issue.
What else can the European Parliament do for Ukraine?
The fundamental thing is to unplug the EU from Russia: to reduce energy dependence as quickly as possible. The goal is to lower it by two thirds by the end of the year, to finally achieve complete autonomy. It is possible to go further in the sanctions, after the four waves that have already been launched. We must also start talking about food autonomy: we have a dependency on Russia and Ukraine in grain or sunflower oil.
Where would the rectification in the food field go?
For a diversification of European production and supply markets. Practically 30% of the grain that reaches the EU comes from Russia and the Ukraine.
In this new energy scenario, could Spain be a key player for North African gas access to the entire EU, along with Italy?
Of course. They are the two countries that can facilitate access, for geographical reasons. Spain already has the gas pipelines. The Italian case is different, but there is a proximity that helps. We must solve the issue of the interconnection of Spain with the rest of Europe. I believe that this is no longer a Spanish-French bilateral issue: now it has become a European issue and, therefore, it is easier to find a solution. Spain is an example compared to other countries for investment in renewable energy, well above the average. And that’s part of the output. How to reduce dependence on Russia? Reducing dependence on fossil energy sources: oil, gas, coal. That, where does it go? For renewable energies.
“You have to choose between [vetar a RT o Sputnik] or have social networks flooded with disinformation created by this type of media”
Ukraine’s entry into the EU is a sensitive issue…
Ukraine is not going to join the EU next week. What Parliament has said – and it is in the resolution of March 1 – is that the European institutions have to work to make it possible, in due course, to start a negotiation process for accession. He is not saying that Ukraine will be a member of the EU tomorrow or in six months. He is telling the Ukrainians that there must come a time when Ukraine can become a member of the EU. But that has to be worked on. And we know that it is a process that takes time and has many demands. The so-called Copenhagen criteria must be met. A country cannot enter overnight because it will not be prepared to apply the legislation or to face the competition that suddenly joining an internal market entails.
Is there a debate about the closure of Russia Today and Sputnik?
Parliament has not prohibited the entry of journalists from these two media, but it does prevent them from using the facilities [para periodistas] of Parliament. They cannot use European taxpayers’ money to do work that Parliament does not regard as information, but as something else: disinformation, intoxication and interference in the policies of the Member States.
But in the battle for the story, it is one of the first tools that has been given to those who say that the EU censors the media.
You have to choose between that or having social networks flooded with misinformation created by this type of media.
For many of the MEPs the war will have been a shock. What atmosphere is there in the hemicycle?
I don’t think it is different from the atmosphere that one can breathe in the streets of the member countries. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a very relevant and very worrying fact. Probably at the height of the fall of the Berlin wall, with the difference that that was a very positive advance and this is a huge setback that calls into question things that we all took for granted, such as peace on the continent or as not there are civilized countries that invade neighboring countries.
It’s something you said [el responsable de la política exterior europea] Josep Borrell on many occasions: a policy of commercial agreements and cooperation is not enough to ensure that one is protected. The world has become very complicated compared to the last 20-30 years and it is necessary to have protection capabilities that years ago did not seem relevant. Before it was practically a taboo to discuss the increase in the military budget, and now all the member states are taking a look at their budgets because they have realized that they are going to have to put more money there.
Have we been naive in trusting Vladimir Putin?
Perhaps we have not always taken too seriously the warnings that reached us from European citizens who live closer to or more exposed to Russia. I am referring above all to the Baltic countries and Poland.
Were the signals that were broadcast from those countries not seen?
Maybe we played the Euromaidan game a little too hard [la revuelta europeísta de 2014 en Ucrania]?
I believe that the only way to analyze this issue is from the perspective of respect for each country to decide its own future. If the Ukrainians at that time decided to open the doors to EU collaboration and asked for an association agreement with the EU because they considered that it was the best way to consolidate as a country, that must be fully respected. That does not at all justify anything that happened afterwards.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.