Lead MEPs from Parliament’s political groups reacted on Wednesday to last week’s European Council and outlined their priorities ahead of the Rome declaration which will focus on the future of the EU. The majority of MEPs stressed the need for member states to set the EU on a course to tackle the immediate needs of citizens.
Click on names to view video of individual statements
Welcoming the Italian Prime Minister and the Council and Commission presidents, EP President Antonio Tajani said that the 60th anniversary of the Rome treaty would be “an opportunity to bring Europe closer to its citizens and to promote our values in the world.” (…) “Now more than ever, what we need is unity. We must change, but by no means weaken the EU.”
On Europe’s future, Council President Donald Tusk said “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”. He promised to strive in the Brexit talks for political unity among the 27, whilst ensuring that UK and EU stay “close friends”. “Doors will always stay open for our British friends”, he added. But he rejected “claims, taking the form of threats, that ‘no deal’ would be bad for the EU. It would be bad for both, but for the UK in particular”. Speaking in Dutch, Mr Tusk expressed solidarity with the Netherlands, a “place of freedom and democracy”.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker Juncker (part. 2) warned against narrowing the future of Europe to a “two-speed” scenario: “I don’t want a new 'iron curtain' in Europe”. Mr Junckerraised the Turkish attacks on the Netherlands saying these were “totally unacceptable” and that those responsible were moving Turkey away from the EU. He also noted that the new US trade policy was raising expectations for the EU to become the new world leader of multilateral free trade, but stressed that all free trade talks must include social partners and civil society.
If we do not reduce unemployment and leave the EU countries alone at the frontline of the migration crisis; if we give in to nationalisms and leave behind the weakest, “there will be no citizens’ trust in the EU”, said Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. On the “two-speed EU” debate, he said: “No to two Europes, big and small, east and west (...), but yes to one in which each country has its own level of ambition and can choose to join (...) at any time, now or later, and everybody is involved in the common project”.
For the Council Presidency, Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech said that the current times demand decisive action from the EU and member states’ leaders. He also warned against falling into negative mind-sets. On the EU’s future, Mr Grech said that the Rome declaration must be followed up concretely, but stressed that there should be “no second class citizens, no quick-fix solutions, and no knee-jerk reactions”.
Manfred Weber (EPP, DE) said “We have to ensure that people in Europe regard Strasbourg and Brussels not as external forces that impose things on them while national politicians book common successes to the credit of the nation state. They need to accept responsibilities. Explain back home, why and what they voted for at EU level”. On Turkey, he said that full EU membership “is not foreseeable in the near future”.
“The buzz-word of today is ‘multi-speed Europe’, but multi-speed Europe is just a method, not a strategy”, said S&D leader Gianni Pittella (IT). “Today, the problem of Europe is not the speed but the direction. We need a new direction for Europe that goes toward a strong social pillar and a powerful European investment strategy” to be financed by a toughest fight against tax evasion and tax fraud. “The more the EU is threatened, the more I believe in Europe”, he concluded
“The ship is sinking and we should be asking ourselves why”, said Raffaelle Fitto (ECR, IT), calling for a change of policies. In his opinion, the EU has become too centralised and distant from citizens. The ECR wants a renegotiation of the treaties and rejects any further ceding of national sovereignty, he added.
Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BE) accused Turkey's President Erdoğan of cynicism for advocating "freedom of speech" while journalists are imprisoned in Turkey. "Let's freeze the negotiations on Turkey's accession now, this is the only thing we can do now". He also advocated launching a process of "rebirth" of the EU while celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty, in Rome.
GUE/NGL leader Gabriele Zimmer (DE) doubted whether the Rome Declaration to be signed on 25 March would really signal a fresh start for the EU. “We need a clear signal about a strong and social Europe, as well as other immediate measures. I really hope we can all soon agree on the proposals for a Social Pillar, worked on by this parliament", she added.
Philippe Lamberts (Greens/EFA, BE) said that the 60th anniversary celebrations would be an opportunity for a “change of direction”. (…) “We need Europe to use globalization to progress towards social convergence and strengthened democracy”, he said, hoping that President Tusk would be up to this challenge.
"A two speed EU already exists" said Rosa D'Amato (EFDD, IT), adding that "there is the EU of the banks, big companies and lobbies, and the EU of the citizens; those who have lost their jobs and have no rights".
Matteo Salvini (ENF, IT) called for an end to all EU payments to Turkey and to its EU accession negotiations: “they should never have started”. He also blamed EU leaders for “wrecking the European dream”.
Council President Donald Tusk conclusions.