Speech by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, at the European Council
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The delay with which Europe grasped the risks linked to the migration crisis and the time lost before delivering concrete answers, have given our citizens the impression that Europe is unable to deliver manage this issue.
That, admittedly, is a perception, but we have to face up to it.
Some have taken advantage of the situation by stoking up fears and constructing an anti-European narrative that has taken hold in many EU countries. The perceived ‘migration peril’ is an issue that is continuing to dominate the political agenda in some Member States.
However, we need to look at facts lucidly. EU action has brought forward solutions that have proven to be effective, albeit temporarily.
The numbers arriving via the Balkan route have fallen practically to zero since the agreement with Turkey.
EU funding and the cooperation with Niger have helped to reduce the influx of irregular migrants into Libya and Europe have dropped from 300 000 in 2016 to just over 10 000. In Italy, landings have fallen by 80%. The decrease is as much as 95% for the EU as a whole. There is still, of course, the problem of asylum seekers already on European soil.
This has to be explained to citizens, and when propaganda is spread by those seeking to fuel fear and discontent with repeated assertions that Europe has done nothing, a firm stand must be taken against it. We need to stress in our political messages that migration has been reduced as a direct result of EU action and of the pooling our resources.
However, we have to realise that the agreements are fragile and geared towards short-term considerations.
More resources are undoubtedly needed, and these must come from the current and the future financial framework.
The Trust Fund for Africa needs to be increased substantially. The EUR 3 billion already spent must be matched by a further EUR 3 billion, in keeping with the approach taken on the Balkan corridor. Without new resources, we cannot go on working with key countries in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and North Africa.
Similarly, at least EUR 40 billion are needed for a Marshall Plan to mobilise investment in the region of EUR 400 to 500 billion, offering Africans the prospect of a decent life in their home countries and paving the way for return agreements.
This, to my mind, is absolutely essential: unless we consolidate and step up our efforts, all the good that we have done so far may be for naught.
As I said in June, a long-term strategic approach hinges on joint action in Libya, where the power vacuum is leading to uncontrolled migration, as well as creating a fertile breeding ground for terrorism and arms and drug trafficking. The resulting insecurity and instability have a devastating impact on the region, Mediterranean countries and, in the final analysis, the EU as a whole.
Last week I met the mayors of two major Libyan cities, Tripoli and Zintan. They both made a heartfelt plea for EU countries to stop supporting one side or the other, as this is further undermining what is already a highly precarious situation. EU discord is leaving the field wide open to Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and all countries out to further their interests. We have to end this situation.
It is time for the EU to start speaking with one voice and firmly support the UN-led political process to bring about reconciliation and build a democratic state in Libya.
Overhaul of the European Asylum System
I believe it is clear to everyone that there can be no lasting solution to the problem of migration without an overhaul of the European asylum system, based on fairer burden-sharing between all countries.
Many people, not just in the south of Europe, feel the current system is unfair, as it requires countries of first arrival to process asylum applications and to take responsibility for the applicants. Of the 650 000 asylum applications submitted in 2017, 416 000 were lodged in just three countries: Germany, Italy and France.
They would like to see more balanced sharing of these burdens between the countries of the Union. It is no longer just a matter between governments. The peoples most affected by migration who are calling for solidarity from the other peoples of Europe.
I appreciate that some Member States are not ready to accept compulsory quotas. But I believe that a Union based on solidarity and cooperation must not fail on an issue as crucial as this.
We act together, at least in part, because ‘together we can get things done better than we ever could on our own’.
On behalf of Parliament, I would ask you to put an end to this stalemate, demonstrating leadership, political will and also creativity.
Solidarity does not only mean shouldering responsibility for part of the problem but also, and above all, understanding others’ needs and seeking, sincerely and constructively, to solve the problem. Together.
There are many ways in which this could be done. Those who do not want to take in asylum seekers should be able to display their solidarity by other means, for example by providing financial or administrative support to the States receiving refugees or by financing the Africa Investment Facility. I believe that the proposal drafted by the Bulgarian Presidency last year was a good starting point, and I call upon the Austrian Presidency to take it up again.
It is also a question of effectiveness. Without an overhaul of the Dublin system to make it more effective, it will also be impossible to persuade third countries in Africa or the Balkans to accept reception centres on their territory.
As I saw during my visit to Niger, the established system does work, provided that a destination is genuinely available in Europe or elsewhere for the refugees that these centres receive. How long do you suppose that the authorities in Niger will be prepared to run reception centres in which more and more migrants are arriving, but from which not even those who have a clear right to asylum are departing?
A few days ago, the Prime Minister of Montenegro, who had been invited to the Strasbourg Plenary, said that his country is willing to receive asylum seekers. But how can we take up his offer if there is no redistribution system that allows for the rapid processing of applications?
In 2016, the Commission submitted seven legislative proposals for the overhaul of the Common European Asylum System, as part of a comprehensive strategy to address the migration and refugee crisis.
The regrettable fact is that, two and a half years after their publication, we have still not managed to adopt them, despite the institutions have given priority to the package.
I would remind you that Parliament adopted its negotiating position on all the proposals in the package some time ago.
However, while the negotiations on border control measures and agreements with third countries on the management of migration have been successfully concluded, the Council has not yet been able to adopt a negotiating mandate on two of the proposals: those concerning the new Dublin Regulation – the cornerstone of the reform – and the Asylum Procedures Regulation.
I have to say that we at Parliament find it to understand why the Council does not apply the qualified majority rule, but continues to insist on seeking a consensus instead.
We cannot go on being hostages to the unanimity principle. The Union’s history has shown that efforts to reach consensus at all costs leads to paralysis. The impasse caused by reciprocal vetoes can be resolved only if Member States are also willing to accept a majority decision as provided for – not without good reason – by the Treaties.
As regards the other measures recently proposed by the Commission, I would inform you that the European Parliament has already started work on the new rules to strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, with the aim of adopting them before the end of the parliamentary term. As it has already stated in a number of resolutions, Parliament fully endorses the proposal to revise the Agency’s structure and its budget in the light of its broader remit and to increase its staff to 10 000 by 2020.
We are also working on the revised version of the 2010 Return Directive, as recently proposed by the Commission with the aim of speeding up the return of asylum seekers who are not entitled to asylum, particularly in border areas.
Our aim is to adopt a negotiating mandate before the end of the parliamentary term and, if possible, to launch trilogues.
Parliament is also prepared to work quickly on the amendments that the Commission put forward in September to its own proposal (from 2016) on the Asylum Agency, a proposal on which provisional agreement was reached between Parliament and the Council in June 2017.
You will also be discussing internal security today.
In recent years, Parliament and the Council have adopted legislation designed to enhance our collective security, for example in the areas of passenger name records and the fight against terrorism. Parliament hopes that the Member States will implement the legal texts and the provisions they contain in full.
Having said that, however, it is essential that we bring our laws more closely into line with models and operating methods that are constantly changing. In particular, we must improve the interoperability of our information systems and our databases. Although a great deal of progress has been made with the development of information systems, further efforts are now needed to ensure that these systems can work together. On Monday this week, Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs adopted two reports on the interoperability of the Union’s databases.
Parliament has also started work on new measures to prevent the diffusion of terrorist content online and intends to adopt them as soon as possible.
Lastly, we are considering the Commission proposals to broaden the powers of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office to handle cross-border terrorism. The LIBE committee is deciding whether to draw up a resolution in response to the Commission communication.
As regards measures to combat disinformation and fake news, I am delighted that the European Council regards the protection of our democratic system as a priority. It is true that we need immediate action to safeguard the European elections from cyberattacks and any other kind of interference. The time to take action is now, before the election campaign starts. We cannot stand idly by while our citizens’ rights to choose their elected representatives, freely and in full knowledge of the facts, is jeopardised.
We have all read with concern recent reports confirming Russian interference in elections in the United States. But electoral interference does not only take the form of actions by third countries. Private individuals and bodies here in Europe are also involved, as the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal showed. The development of techniques such as profiling, algorithms and the micro-targeting of voters, on the basis of the illegal processing of personal data, poses a threat to the fairness and democratic nature of electoral processes.
We are equipping ourselves to address this threat by taking action on a range of fronts, from introducing the Code of Conduct for social platforms and search engines to drawing up measures dealing with the transparency of political parties and political advertising, including measures designed to improve protection against cyberattacks.
As you know, after wide-ranging consultations, the Commission put forward proposals for a European Approach to tackling online disinformation, initially on the basis of self-regulation. That first phase was to be followed by a review. In a second phase, and on the basis of the findings of the review, legislative measures would be taken to remedy any shortcomings identified.
The European Code of Practice on Disinformation is the outcome of the initial self-regulation phase. It came into force a few weeks ago and has been signed by the leading platforms, including Facebook, Google, Mozilla and Twitter.
The other measures announced as part of this package, which Parliament welcomes, include support for the establishment of an independent European network of fact-checkers and, subsequently, a secure European online platform on disinformation, to be used by trusted flaggers, and the promotion of voluntary online systems which make it possible to identify those providing information.
Parliament also supports the Commission proposal to strengthen the protection of personal data in the context of the European elections by making provision for the imposition of penalties on European political parties and political foundations for breaches of the data protection rules perpetrated with the aim of deliberately influencing election outcomes. Political parties and other actors should not engage in political profiling.
Following a series of in-depth hearings, which began with the meeting the Conference of Presidents held with Mark Zuckerberg, next week Parliament will adopt a resolution on the use made by Cambridge Analytica of the data of Facebook users and the implications for data protection.
In addition to endorsing the Commission’s package of measures on the European elections, the resolution urges the Member States to introduce a mandatory ‘fingerprints’ system for election campaigns and digital advertising in order to guarantee transparency and accountability. The resolution also takes the view that the Member States should carry out, with assistance from Eurojust, investigations into disinformation spread by foreign powers. Lastly, it calls on the Commission to consider breaches of the data protection rules in the context of competition policy.
In addition to what is being done in this area at European Union level, I believe that it is important to remind the Member States that they alone are responsible for organising and conducting elections, including the European elections. I would ask you, therefore, on behalf of Parliament, to do everything possible to counter interference of any kind, online disinformation and forms of manipulation which could compromise the democratic nature of the forthcoming European elections.
In this matter, you can count on Parliament’s full support.
Multiannual Financial Framework
With regard to the Multiannual Financial Framework, I would like to inform the European Council that Parliament has decided to present specific figures on the sectoral programmes in its interim report in November, figures based on well-defined political priorities.
I would like to emphasise that the overall figure for the EU budget favoured by Parliament – 1.3% of the EU-27’s Gross National Income – has not been chosen at random, but reflects political priorities based on the real needs of European citizens: it is a response to the question of what kind of Europe we want for the future.
We therefore need new ideas and new solutions, such as the new own resources system. It is clear that this type of solution must not serve to increase the burden on EU citizens and SMEs. In other words, the new own resources system should reduce, rather than increasing, the contributions of the Member States.
As you know, Parliament regards it as essential that revenue and expenditure should be treated as a single package in the forthcoming negotiations. I would therefore reiterate that no agreement can be reached on the next MFF unless corresponding progress is made on the issue of the Union’s own resources.
The growing uncertainty, both at global and at European level, will make flexibility in the European budget ever more vital. Parliament will not therefore support any attempt to limit the existing flexibility instruments.
The principle that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ will be a key one for the European Parliament.