The Russian invasion of Ukraine might make everyone wake up and realise that democracy, freedom and food are things that we cannot take for granted, European Commissioner for Financial Sustainability, Financial Services and the Capital Markets Union Mairead McGuinness has said.
Speaking at an Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) meeting in Athenry, Co Galway, on Thursday night, the Commissioner said farmers need to be given credit for feeding Europe.
“We take that for granted. Maybe what’s happening now might make us all wake up and realise – take nothing for granted.
“Don’t take democracy for granted, don’t take freedom for granted, don’t take food for granted,” she said.
Commissioner McGuinness said that the real concern is that if Ukraine does not plant because of the war or if plantings are very much reduced, this will have a big impact on global supplies.
“It’s [Ukraine] a very significant player in wheat, in soya bean, it has the right soil and is part of the whole global chain. Take that away and immediately you have a situation where supply is restricted.
“If we add into that the impact of high fertiliser prices, which were in place before the outbreak of war, and now because of disruption potentially to gas, because gas is required to make fertilisers, we are looking at a situation where I hope it doesn’t happen, but I think we need to be realistic, where input costs will be oppressive and it will impact at farm level,” she said.
She said more resilience needs to be built within Europe rather than Europe being over-reliant.
“If you look at energy, Europe is far too dependent on Russia for gas and oil. Today, the supplies continue and there are enough stocks for a considerable time period."
“But, I hear already people are asking should we still be trading with Russia? Because, clearly, we pay for what we get, that funds the war machine – these are very difficult issues for us to deal with,” she said.
Hit the war machine
On the sanctions imposed on Russia, she said the sanctions are the most significant package of sanctions that have ever been proposed and adopted.
“They will hit the war machine, because freezing central bank assets is having a huge impact on the Russian economy, hitting oligarchs where it hurts and we should have done this perhaps earlier, but now it’s being done.
“I really want to insist our target is not the Russia people, this is not their war. We’re trying to target the war machine of Putin and those who support him,” she said.
Food price inflation
The Commissioner said that food price inflation needs to be looked at.
“We’re already dealing with energy price inflation. I’ve discussed with my colleagues that we need to be mindful of food price inflation.
“This was before Russia invaded Ukraine. This is an issue that needs to be looked at. There will be parts of society that will find it very difficult if they have to pay more for energy and more for food.
“There needs to be discussion around the value we put on food and what we are prepared to pay for it. What I would hope comes across is the issue of sustainability shouldn’t be looked as a threat,” she said.