European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the scale of destruction in the war-ravaged country 'staggering'
Berlin (AFP) - German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday that rebuilding Ukraine was a “generational task” as experts gathered for an international reconstruction conference for Ukraine in Berlin.
Scholz as current head of the G7 club of wealthy nations said Ukraine could count on the support of the international community for decades to come as it seeks to repair and upgrade essential infrastructure.
“What is at stake here is nothing less than creating a new Marshall Plan for the 21st century – a generational task that must begin now,” Scholz said as he opened the conference.
Rebuilding Ukraine marks a “challenge for generations”, Scholz said, but one that also provided a chance to modernise its roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and transport links.
The chancellor also stressed that Ukraine should be reconstructed with its hoped-for accession to the EU in mind.
“The European Union’s commitment to Ukraine as a future member is one of the most consequential geopolitical decisions of our times,” he said.
Speaking at the same event, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the scale of destruction in the war-ravaged country “staggering”, with the World Bank estimating the toll of the damage at 350 billion euros ($345 billion).
“This is for sure more than one country or one union can provide alone,” she said. “We need all hands on deck.”
- Budget hole -
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was also addressing the one-day conference, which brought together international organisations and private sector representatives as well as political leaders.
He appealed to international supporters to cover his country’s $38-billion budget hole for 2023, saying such assistance was essential if Ukraine is to get back on its feet.
“At this very conference we need to make a decision on assistance to cover the next year’s budget deficit for Ukraine,” he said, speaking to the event via video link.
“It’s a very significant amount of money.”
His prime minister Denys Shmyhal said funding was urgently needed “to help us survive this winter to save the people from humanitarian catastrophe”.
He said alleviating the crisis would also “save the European continent from the migration wave, from the immigration tsunami” that has already seen millions of Ukrainians fleeing to the EU.
- ‘To be or not to be’ -
Speaking during a panel session at the event, Ukraine’s communities minister Oleksiy Chernyshov said reconstruction work should begin as soon as possible.
“It is clear we should start it immediately” to build a country that will lure back those who have fled the war, he said.
“We need to act now,” Werner Hoyer, president of the European Investment Bank, added. “The later we start, the higher the bill will be one day.”
“It is now that energy is needed. It is now that basic services for the population should be delivered. It is now that transport links should work or be reestablished. And it is now that businesses working under unimaginable conditions should be supported,” Hoyer said.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki urged Europe to stand strong against Russia as the war grinds on, warning against attempts to seek an end to the fighting at any cost.
“The policy of appeasing Russia is bankrupt and everyone who is still trying to enact it drags Europe down,” he said.
Quoting Shakespeare, Morawiecki said it was a moment of truth for Europe to stand up for its purpose and values.
“The world only deals with strong players – Europe must prove its strength. It is our ‘to be or not to be’ moment,” he said.