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Published on March 24, 2014
Press conference given by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, at the European Council (excerpts)

Brussels, March 20, 2014



THE PRESIDENT – The other item on the agenda was linked to the serious situation Ukraine is experiencing, and particularly the decisions taken following the false consultation – or at any rate, a true referendum but a false procedure – carried out in Crimea. About 10 days ago the European Union set out a number of principles, with a scale of sanctions. Certain measures had already been taken; that’s what we called Level One.

There was a need to take other measures, given that there was this very serious act which consisted in challenging Ukraine’s integrity and conducting a procedure to incorporate Crimea into Russia. The EU therefore decided to step up its sanctions to Level Two. This will concern the visas and financial assets of a number of people.

Thirty-three people will be on that list. There’s also a determination to send Russia a clear signal so it will understand that it can’t continue and must get onto the path of dialogue. In this regard, the summit planned between the EU and Russia was cancelled, as were the bilateral meetings at member state level that were due to be held or could have been held in the same timeframe.

There was also a determination to do everything to ensure the OSCE could send observers to Ukraine in sufficient numbers to assess the situation. This mission must be established in the coming days. If, due to obstruction by the Russian side, it’s not possible to go ahead with establishing this mission, then Europe will have to stand in for it.

Finally, in the event of any new decisions reflecting additional tension, an escalation, a destabilization of Ukraine, the Commission was asked to prepare targeted measures that could be a response to what isn’t wished for but could possibly happen. I say “isn’t wished for” because there’s room for dialogue and negotiation. But there can’t be an idea on Russia’s part that it’s possible to continue disregarding Ukraine’s choices and wishes and seeking to disrupt the process.

What is the process? It’s the one that must lead to a presidential election on 25 May. Everything must be done to ensure this election is transparent, free and guaranteed by the presence, there too, of international observers.

There’s also a desire on Europe’s part to help Ukraine. Tomorrow the political part of the association agreement will be signed, and the trade aspect will also be put in place very quickly. There’s a reaffirmation on the EU’s part of the support, the help that must be lent to that country, which has already been suffering for many months, which must embark on major economic reforms and which must also cope with deadlines. Everything must be done – i.e. with the EU but also the International Monetary Fund and the whole international financial system – to ensure Ukraine can meet the deadlines it faces.

That’s the bulk of the European Council’s work; it wasn’t so easy to reach unanimous agreement on the necessary response, on how to approach the Ukraine issue or on the scale of sanctions that could be decided in the event of an additional escalation. The 28 [EU member states] achieved it with the same determination and firmness towards acts which are unacceptable and are also not accepted by the international community: the challenging of borders, the attack on a country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, the organization of a referendum that isn’t legal, the incorporation of a part of a territory, Ukraine, into Russia, whatever links exist – historical, cultural and military – between Crimea and Russia.

There was this unanimity in the face of the situation, to help Ukraine, to define this scale of sanctions and to seek the path of dialogue and send this OSCE or, if not, EU mission. So tomorrow, as I was saying, the political aspect of the association agreement will be signed. I think this is also the best response the EU could make, to show both its solidarity with Ukraine and its determination to end the tension, which is now having consequences on international life as a whole. (…)

Q. – On Ukraine, why no Phase Three – stronger economic sanctions expected after the acts of annexation of Crimea? And also a second, important question in the eyes of the Ukrainian Prime Minister, whom we saw a little earlier: he wants to join the EU. Ultimately, do you recognize Ukraine as having a European future?

THE PRESIDENT – Ten days ago we were on Phase One of sanctions. We’ve moved on – given what’s happened in Crimea in particular – to Phase Two, with a list of people who won’t be able to travel as they intend and financial assets that will also be controlled. The summit between the EU and Russia has been cancelled. That’s Phase Two.

Phase Three would be triggered in the event of a new escalation. To deter this, to avoid it, to prevent it, the European Commission was asked to work on targeted measures which could also themselves be in proportion to what happened. We’re not yet in this Phase Three, which would concern major economic sectors. So the approach laid down at the European Council 10 days ago is now being implemented.

On the second question, we’re currently looking at association and the signature is still only partial. I’ve always believed Ukraine must be associated with the EU but can’t expect to be an EU member.


Q. – I had a question about the OSCE mission you talked about. You said “a few days”. How much time are you giving yourselves, because in Vienna the Russians are apparently dragging things out by inventing new pretexts each time, as far as we’ve understood? What will be the goal of this EU mission, if it takes place? Will France take part in it?

THE PRESIDENT – Two questions in one. The first, how much time are we giving to seek an OSCE mission? A few days. Otherwise – if there’s any obstruction – there will be an EU mission. Will France take part in it? Yes. In both cases, by the way!

The goal of the mission is to have a certain level of capability, firstly in terms of resources, to take into account what’s happening in the territory and make an assessment of a number of groups, behaviours, situations, demonstrations etc. so that the presidential election – planned on 25 May and due to be held on that date – can be free, transparent and under international control.


Q. – I wanted to know if the EU envisages – as the United States has done – sanctioning a Russian bank or banks specifically? The ones close to the Russian government? Is this an option you’ve taken or are considering? Do you agree that the EU has fallen short of what the United States has done today against Russia?

THE PRESIDENT – As for banking, there hasn’t been this approach. But as I’ve told you, two decisions seem to me very important. The first is about the people. They’re not entirely the same as those on the list drawn up by the United States. The second decision is the cancellation of a number of international meetings – at least, European meetings as far as the Russia/EU summit was concerned; the G8 could become a G7 – and also the suspension of bilateral summits.

This is also what France has done, because as you know, on Tuesday there was due to be a visit to Moscow by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. I decided they wouldn’t go. What was done by France will be done by the other member states.

I don’t think we can make comparisons of the “who’s doing the most, who’s doing the least?” variety. What counts is effectiveness, not in creating additional tension but in ensuring that the path of dialogue and negotiation can now be taken and that the election can be held in Ukraine to choose a new president. (…)

Q. – More and more voices in Europe and France – I’m particularly thinking of M. Luc Ferry – deem these sanctions counter-productive. At the end of the day, it’s clear that Vladimir Putin isn’t budging. He’s a strong, authoritarian leader. We’re seeing you bolstering the Russian nationalists, who are telling Europe: “finally, one day, we’ll be able to do without you”. It’s clear that Phase Three, beyond the general agreement today, could deeply divide the European states. So in hindsight, aren’t you being led into a kind of dead end?

THE PRESIDENT – Well, what would people say if we did nothing? If, faced with an act which is contrary to international law, there was inertia from Europe? Moreover, what would you, the press – who have been following us for a long time and expect a great deal from Europe – say? That, once again, it was hesitant, slow and unable to take a decision since unanimity, after all, is sought?

Are these sanctions effective? First, we’re only at the start of a process which may not be taken further if the path of discussion and negotiation prevails. But at what moment will the sanctions be effective? Once they affect people who are well and truly in the decision-making circle, certainly, and inflict economic damage which deters Russia from going further.

But as I said to colleagues in this European Council: for a sanction to be effective, there must be a cost for those who decide it and those subjected to it. No sanction is so miraculous that it would be decided and only have a cost for those it targets. No, that doesn’t exist. So an effort must be made. The effort, clearly, is to help Ukraine. The effort can also be to move to a new stage of sanctions. Is there military deterrence today? No one imagines that we’re going to get involved in an armed conflict. So there can be deterrence only on the economic question.

There may be, what you yourself called a “nationalist” temptation to go and stir up a number of feelings among people. Let’s admit it: this exists everywhere, not just in Russia. What point has to be considered in the medium term? We need to know how much of a burden this tension is going be for an economy. And this is what we’ve got to assess here.

This is the role the Commission has been given: to prepare targeted measures so they are as effective as possible. But when it comes to deterrence, it’s preferable not to use the weapons one has. It’s the very principle of deterrence. So I think the European Union was right to have this scale of decisions, measures and sanctions and to stick to a proportionate, incremental approach.

Q. – In what economic sector does the Commission have a mandate to consider sanctions in Phase Three? Is there a consensus among the 28 on those sectors? And in the event of a new escalation by Russia, will a new European Council meeting be necessary in order to implement them?

THE PRESIDENT – I’ll answer straightaway: yes, a new European Council meeting will be necessary. First of all to look at the different impacts the Commission itself has been able to identify, through the choice of a number of targeted measures. Secondly, what are the most important, most strategic sectors? That’s what the Commission must also work on. (…)./.

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