Conference of the Speakers of the EU Parliaments (EUSC) - Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament
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The European Parliament has launched a major debate on the future of the Union. Since the start of the year, at my instigation, we have invited a head of state or government to each part-session in Strasbourg to discuss the future of the European integration process.
Last week we played host to the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. His visit prompted a lively exchange of views with MEPs on matters ranging from external and neighbourhood policy, defence and security, the overhaul of the Dublin Regulation and the management of migration to personal data protection, the EU budget, a web tax and growth and employment.
It is politicians who will have the task of shaping our future. It is my belief, therefore, that as many European political actors as possible, starting with the national parliaments which you are representing here today, should be involved in that debate.
Our citizens are calling for a Union which is more effective, more political and more democratic, which addresses their main concerns: security, immigration, employment.
We need a reform of our Union which is based on enhanced dialogue and closer interparliamentary cooperation.
More than 80% of the legislation passed at national level is drawn up in response to EU laws. For that reason, cooperation between our institutions is essential.
We are on the right track. We already have cooperation and dialogue mechanisms: I am referring, for example, to the Conference of Parliamentary Committees (COSAC), the Interparliamentary Conference for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CSF-IPC) and the recently established Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group (JPSG) on Europol.
As regards the setting-up of the JPSG, I should like to congratulate the Estonian and Bulgarian Presidencies, which worked with the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to reach an agreement.
Turning to the issue of the subsidiarity principle, last week in Strasbourg the European Parliament adopted a resolution supporting the national parliaments’ call for improvements to the early warning system.
We are keen to offer the national parliaments more time and more effective ways of exercising their prerogatives under the Treaties.
At the same time, we must ensure that our legislation can respond more effectively to the practical needs of 500 million EU citizens.
The debate on the future of Europe
Seventy years after Europe embarked upon its great adventure, any assessment of its successes and failures can only come to a favourable conclusion. The benefits which ordinary people have reaped from it in the form of peace, democracy, the rule of law and greater freedom and prosperity are undeniable. The years since the end of the Second World War have been the longest sustained period of peace and prosperity in Europe’s history.
The establishment of a large area of economic and civic freedom has helped to create millions of jobs, a widespread sense of well-being and an open and creative economy and society.
The social market economy model - in which the market is understood as the means of creating jobs and widespread well-being - guarantees opportunities and the redistribution of wealth.
In 1957, the poor made up 41% of the European population and the middle class 50%. Since the signing of the Treaties, the EU’s per capita GDP has grown more than fourfold, contributing to a narrowing of social inequalities which is unprecedented in history.
The disparities between the poorest and most developed regions have likewise shrunk, thanks to European instruments such as the Cohesion Fund and Structural Funds which give practical expression to solidarity.
The return to growth in Europe is certainly good news. However, the gap between rich and poor, and between developed regions and regions which are lagging behind, is constantly widening.
In the EU, 23 million people aged between 15 and 34 are not in employment, education or training. Some 25% of our population is at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
The technological revolution, the free movement of capital and increasingly open markets have unquestionably fostered growth and competitiveness. But they have also triggered a race to the bottom in areas such as working conditions, tax or environmental standards.
Any sound policy must be based on a determination to solve the problems faced by ordinary people. Appropriate resources are needed to combat youth unemployment, manage migration and make our fellow citizens’ lives more secure.
The next EU budget should provide for an increase in own resources, to be secured not by increasing taxes on individuals or businesses that are already paying their share, but by taxing fairly those that are currently paying little or nothing, such as the web giants and those engaging in speculative financial transactions.
One of the most urgent challenges is that posed by migration.
In addition to protecting our external borders, thoroughgoing reforms are needed, starting with the management of readmissions and of applications for asylum. It is not right that virtually all applications for asylum should have to be dealt with by those countries (Italy, Greece, Spain and France) that are most exposed to arrivals via the Central Mediterranean route.
With this in mind, I would like to see action on two fronts:
firstly, consideration should be given to concluding with North African countries agreements similar to that signed with Turkey, which made it possible to contain the ‘Balkan route’ crisis;
secondly, a genuine ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa should be drawn up and implemented; in the medium and long term, this is the only solution to an era-defining challenge which will be with us for decades.
A plan of this kind would also give renewed hope to millions of people who are abandoning their homes and risking their lives to reach Europe.
Another crucial point is the post-Brexit agreements with the United Kingdom. The European Parliament has proposed a ‘partnership agreement’ covering the following main areas: access to the internal market, trade policy, internal and external security, scientific research, higher education and Erasmus.
In this context we have already launched a solid, structured dialogue with the national parliaments.
I should like to thank the Bulgarian Presidency for having made the Western Balkans one of the priorities of its term of office. The European Parliament supports accession to the EU for countries in that region.
I hope that your assemblies too, which will be called upon to debate this specific point, share our support for this objective.
Common European defence
I endorse Speaker Nestor’s decision to put defence at the top of the agenda. Tallinn is the ideal venue for such a debate, in view of Estonia’s history and its acute awareness of the importance of defence issues.
Estonia is also a leader in digitisation, in research into IT security and in ICTs.
The European Parliament is playing its part. In the annual report for 2017 on the introduction of the Common Security and Defence Policy, we stressed the need to develop that policy further and endow it with appropriate instruments.
We cannot continue to rely on military powers from outside Europe. Our security, our border controls, the management of migration, the fight against terrorism, stability at our borders – all these issues are our responsibility.
In the Rome Declaration, we undertook to revitalise the European Union, starting with a common defence policy.
The first step is to develop an industry and a European market which will exploit economies of scale and make for greater interoperability.
Twenty-five Member States have just taken the historic step of launching ‘permanent cooperation’ in the military sphere. The objectives include developing European defence instruments and carrying out joint security operations.
The EU Defence Fund, to be used to support our defence industry, is a step in the same direction. It will generate spin-offs by financing larger-scale research projects and the development of prototypes. More efficient use of funds at EU level will bring about substantial reductions in public spending.
Joint procurement and common standards will create a genuine single defence market and will improve our ability to conduct joint security operations.
The model to follow space policy, where European projects such as EGNOS, Galileo and Copernicus are helping to boost our competitiveness.
Similarly, the next budget must invest sufficient funds in defence and security. Europe should speak with a single voice in this sector, as elsewhere.
The future of the Union will depend on our ability to involve our citizens ever more closely in a project which has brought us 70 years of peace and prosperity.
With this aim in view, democratic, open, civil and democratic parliamentary debate is essential. The European Parliament, the forum for all Europeans, is always open to contributions from the national parliaments. Your assessments of European legislation are always noted and taken into account in our legislative procedures.
Lastly, I should like to remind you of the importance of the European elections in 2019. They will mark a turning point in the history of the EU. We are in the process of reforming the Union, and it is essential that our citizens should have a say on the path to be followed.
The quality of our parliamentary debates is vital, as a basis for adopting good laws and for defending our founding values: the freedom and dignity of the individual.
Let us join forces to ensure that as many people as possible cast their votes, an act which is the most complete expression of citizenship and the most noble feature of every parliamentary democracy.