Speech by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, at the European Council meeting on 13 December 2018
(check against delivery)
Mr President of the European Council,
Mr President of the Commission,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Before turning to the topics on the agenda for today’s meeting, I should like to express the European Parliament’s solidarity with the French people and with President Macron following the appalling attack perpetrated on Tuesday evening in Strasbourg and extend the condolences of all MEPs to the injured and the families of the people so brutally murdered. Yesterday, in plenary, the European Parliament observed a minute’s silence, in order to express its own grief and as a gesture of friendship towards France and the City of Strasbourg, but also in order to emphasise our feelings of revulsion at this vile and craven act that, unfortunately, is only the latest in a long series of attacks carried out in cities around Europe in recent years.
In this regard, I can inform you that the European Parliament adopted the final report of its Special Committee on Terrorism yesterday. It puts forward significant proposals that, I hope, are given serious consideration.
Parliament is calling, for example, to draw up a shared “black list” of radical preachers; for persons convicted of terror-related crimes to be denied asylum; and for harmonised measures to be taken at the EU level, including prosecution of foreign fighters returning to Europe.
Furthermore, it is calling to extend the powers of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office to cover terrorism and organised crime, as well as suggesting that the future the President of the Commission be personally responsible for a specific EU security portfolio. It also puts forward practical proposals concerning ways of improving exchanges of information and cooperation between intelligence agencies.
Lastly, the European Parliament welcomes the work that is being done, together with the Council and the Commission, on new rules to combat the dissemination of terror content on the internet. We need to continue these efforts in order to reduce the gap between existing anti-terrorism legislation and the laws fighting online terrorism.
The European Parliament’s message on Brexit is simple, clear and reflects a unanimous position: we favour working towards greater clarity on our future relations with the United Kingdom, if it helps our British friends to understand that the backstop is a safeguard clause, not a trap imprisoning the United Kingdom in the customs union.
We hope that it will never come into force: taking out fire insurance does not mean that one wants to burn one’s house down.
We are therefore prepared to clarify the terms of our future relations, but, as far as the Parliament is concerned, the withdrawal agreement on the table is the only deal possible, and cannot be reopened under any circumstances.
The backstop is the guarantee that there will be not be a hard border, under any of circumstances, between the two parts that make up the island of Ireland. This is not negotiable, as far as the Parliament is concerned.
Finally, I would like to underline that in case of a “no deal” Brexit, an outcome that we cannot rule out and for which we must prepare, we should adopt a pragmatic approach, agreeing on immediate measures with the United Kingdom that protect both European and British citizens, ensuring that they are not the ones who pay the highest price.
You will also discuss immigration today.
The European Parliament has always maintained that a holistic approach is needed manage migratory flows.
We must step up our cooperation with third countries, with a view to dismantling the networks of traffickers and facilitating the return of irregular migrants.
We must protect our external borders.
Lastly, we must improve our asylum rules in such a way as to share the burden more fairly, make the system more effective and prevent abuses.
We have said it repeatedly: the time for action is now.
The moment is propitious, given that the number of migrants trying to enter the Union has dropped considerably.
We must seize this moment, therefore, to introduce a robust system which can cope with the future crises which, we can be sure, will arise once the winter is over.
In its conclusions of 28 June 2018, with reference to the Common European Asylum System, the European Council emphasised ‘the need to find a speedy solution to the whole package’.
As you know, the co-legislators are very close to reaching agreement on five of the seven proposals in the package.
Parliament is prepared to adopt them, if the Council approves a negotiating mandate on the overhaul of the Dublin Regulation and the asylum procedure. We are all well aware that some are urging us to adopt only the five proposals on which agreement has been reached, leaving the two others pending or adopting only a series of general principles to govern the matters in question. However, we in Parliament are not convinced that the ‘something is better than nothing’ approach is the right one, because without these two proposals, that are the fundamental ones, the philosophy which underpins the whole package would be compromised.
I can tell you that Parliament is ready to consider a new proposal which sets out mandatory solidarity mechanisms based on distribution as the general rule, but which gives Member States the option of implementing alternative forms of solidarity (for example financial), provided, of course, that they can put forward objective reasons for doing so.
Furthermore, Parliament emphasises the need to strengthen the operational capabilities of the European Coastguard Service and to put it in a position to cope with future crises.
I must say that we are very disappointed by the negotiating mandate adopted by the Council, which lacks ambition and factors in only some of the elements proposed by the Commission. We are therefore calling on the Council to adopt a comprehensive mandate which covers all the aspects, and not just those concerning returns and cooperation with third countries, however important those matters may be.
Multiannual Financial Framework
Europe suffers from uncertainty and instability. We therefore need a Multiannual Financial Framework that delivers a stable and predictable financing system, commensurate with the Union’s growing responsibilities.
Predictability and stability of funding is crucial for our regions and for our policies. We must not forget that the EU budget is the biggest investment tool in Europe, and as such, has a real impact on the daily lives of all European citizens.
Today, for the first time, you have the opportunity to discuss in detail political choices for the future and ways of ensuring that we have sufficient resources to deliver our priorities.
I shall never tire of reiterating that the new post-2020 budgetary framework will have to be political, which means that it must be based on a clear political strategy and not purely on redistributive principles.
The budget must reflect political priorities, not vice versa.
On 14 November, Parliament adopted, by a large majority, its position on the Multiannual Financial Framework and own resources, which states that the budget must be set at an overall level commensurate with the Union’s needs.
The 1.3% of EU-27 Gross National Income figure is not a random one. It is based entirely on a detailed calculation of the implications of the EU’s most important policies and new priorities. It synthesises the real needs of European citizens, and it points to the kind of Europe we want for the future.
Parliament reaffirmed its opposition on any financial cuts to the main policies of the Union, such as cohesion funding and the common agricultural policy. We oppose any cuts that might adversely affect the nature and objectives of these policies, and we consider it crucial to maintain funding levels for these policies for the EU-27 at 2012-2020 budget levels in real terms.
What is more, no one can fail to be aware that it is essential for Europe to finance new priorities, such as effective control of migration flows, the fight against terrorism, security and the promotion of innovation. However, this must not be done at the expense of other policies.
The economic crisis is over and the European economy is growing. Despite that, youth unemployment remains a serious problem in many parts of the continent.
To this end, the European Parliament is calling for resources allocated to the European Social Fund to be doubled in order to tackle unemployment among our young people.
There is also a need to increase support for small and medium-sized enterprises. To this end, we are also proposing a doubling of the specific funding for SMEs from the levels set in the COSME programme, within the Single Market programme.
The external dimension of European policy also requires a long-term strategic vision.
As I have said on many occasions, we must maximise investment in Africa by increasing existing allocations by €40bn.
This is not just about aid: it is an investment in our future that could solve many of the problems that Europe is facing today and will face tomorrow.
During the period covered by the current financial framework, we know just how important it has been to maintain a degree of flexibility in order to cope with the migration crisis.
Let us learn from this experience: seven years is a long time, and any number of things could happen. We must therefore increase the amount of flexibility in the future EU budget. In any case, I must make it clear that Parliament will not accept any attempt to weaken the current flexibility arrangements.
As you know, in the eyes of the European Parliament, a specific budgetary capacity for the euro area should be part of the EU budget, calculated over and above the MFF ceilings, and should not affect funding for other MFF programmes.
Following the recommendations of the Monti report on the future financing of the EU, we believe that fiscal capacity can be financed through the creation of own resources which, for us, remains the only solution and should even make reducing Member State contributions possible.
The prospect of a European Union with greater responsibilities and less funding is not the right response to the legitimate expectations of our citizens.
Let me take this opportunity to repeat that, for us, revenue and expenditure will have to be treated as a single package during the forthcoming negotiations, and I would like to remind you that it will not be possible to reach an agreement on the future MFF, unless it is matched by progress on the Union’s own resources system.
This is the essential precondition for obtaining the consent of Parliament.
Before I conclude my remarks on this matter, I must raise an institutional point of procedure.
As has happened in the past, the Austrian Presidency has put forward a ‘Negotiating Box’ in order to facilitate negotiations between the Member States.
In addition to figures, it also includes important parts of the legislative proposals for sectoral programmes, which would thus be excluded from the negotiations with Parliament and agreed only between Member States.
On this point I must be very clear: Parliament will not be prepared to waive its power of codecision and, if the prerogatives conferred on it by the Treaties are not respected, it will conduct its first reading on each of the sectoral programmes unilaterally.
Finally, Parliament notes, not without regret, that it will not be possible to reach an agreement before the elections. However, we hope that the next presidencies will be able to make substantial progress over the next year, so that the new financial framework can enter into force without delay in 2021.
The Single Market
Just yesterday, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Single Market Package, to mark the fact that this year we celebrate 25 years of the Single Market.
In fact, in 1993, we established the four fundamental freedoms of the Union. Citizens, European consumers, our businesses and our professionals have all benefited from a single, direct approach. A single set of European rules affords protection and business opportunities much more effectively than 28 different sets of national laws.
The Single Market is probably our greatest success. We should celebrate the fact that we have been able to safeguard its integrity during the Brexit negotiations.
Now, however, our job is to look to the future. The European Parliament is ready to press ahead immediately with the legislative proposals still in the pipeline. We are committed to reaching agreement on as many proposals as possible before the elections.
I will give you just a few examples.
On the free movement of goods, the Committee on the Internal Market last week approved the agreement reached with the Council on the mutual recognition of lawfully-marketed goods.
Parliament has also undertaken to conclude, by next February, the negotiations on the Regulation on compliance with Union harmonisation legislation on commercial products. I am sure the Council is equally committed to this.
As regards the Digital Single Market, Parliament is ready to open interinstitutional negotiations on the Regulation on fairness and transparency for consumers of online intermediation services. I am sure that we can reach agreement on this too before the elections, and hence ensure transparency and protect online consumers.
Europe must also lead the way in the field of artificial intelligence. We need to strike the right balance between data protection and the use of anonymous data in order to enable our firms to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the digital economy.
As I speak, in Strasbourg Parliament and the Council are finalising the reform of copyright law.
Following yesterday’s trilogue, the two co-legislators are very close to agreement on provision of digital content that guarantees that purchasers of online content enjoy the same contractual rights everywhere in the EU.
That proposal ties in with the Sales of Goods proposal, on which the Council finally adopted a compromise position last week. The two proposals are linked in a way that shows that we must take the same approach to the Single Market and to the online market. That is why Parliament called in the resolution it adopted yesterday for there no longer to be any separation between the Single Market and the Digital Single Market.
Lastly, we must look to complete the Single Market for Capital and the Banking Union. To this end, Parliament is calling for a minimum level of tax harmonisation for businesses in Europe, and for multinationals and the web giants to be taxed properly at last. How much longer can we tolerate these inequalities, I ask myself, and the fact there are tax havens in the EU.
The Single Market must also guarantee easier access to credit for businesses and households, while at the same time safeguarding bank stability. The agreement reached with the Council and the Commission on the Banking Package is a step in the right direction.
This week, Parliament granted a mandate for the opening of the trilogue on the Regulation on managing non-performing loans. Our position is that the volume of non-performing loans should be reduced in a measured manner. I hope that the Member States and the Commission will recognise the benefits of that approach and that the trilogue negotiations can be concluded as swiftly as possible.
Parliament has always championed completion of the Banking Union and of the capital markets union with a view to guaranteeing the efficiency of the banking system. It is good that the Council has reached agreement on the European Stability Mechanism as a backstop in the management of bank resolutions. However, we have always called for the European Stability Mechanism to be incorporated into EU law so that the European Parliament can exercise the necessary democratic scrutiny in this area.
All this bears witness to the need for us to continue our efforts to do away with the remaining barriers and deliver quick and tangible results in terms of growth, innovation, job creation, consumer choice and new business models.
Turning to external relations, on 20 November the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission reached agreement on a European Framework for the Screening of Foreign Direct Investment. This final text, which has broad support, will be put to the vote in plenary in February.
At present, the European Union has no screening mechanism comparable with those introduced in the United States, Australia, Japan and Canada. Fewer than half the Member States have adopted legislation in this field. Thanks to this instrument, we will be able to closely monitor purchases of European strategic assets by companies from other countries, and particularly from China. This will enable the EU and its Member States to better protect their key interests in strategic sectors such as research, space, transport, energy and telecommunications.
We will thus be able to prevent foreign investors from controlling or influencing European firms whose activities are key also to security and public order.
As for the issue of Ukraine, I shall simply point out that yesterday Parliament held a ceremony marking the award of the Sakharov Prize to Oleg Sentsov. I need say no more.
Aas you no doubt know, Parliament yesterday voted by an overwhelming majority to give its consent to the EU-Japan Agreement.
Before I conclude, let me mention the High-Level Forum Europe-Africa convened by Chancellor Kurz and the President of the African Union, Paul Kagame, which will take place in Vienna next Tuesday.
This is an excellent initiative, for which I would like to thank the Chancellor. I would also like to thank and congratulate him for Austria’s excellent presidency.
The European elections are approaching, and immigration will be one of the main topics of the electoral campaign. As I have already said, the only long-term answer to the problem of how to manage migration lies in the development of Africa.
That is why I welcome this Forum, which I will attend. I hope to see you there.
In closing, and in relation to bringing the European Union closer to its citizens, the European Parliament engaged specifically with young citizens, from a wide range of geographical and social backgrounds on a number of occasions. The highly successful European Youth Event held in Strasbourg in June, culminated with the celebration of a Youth Parliament in the European Parliament in Brussels in November.
The Youth Parliament produced very interesting ideas and it is of the outmost importance to take them on board. The full set of conclusions will be presented to you in the coming weeks, as we prepare for the summit on the Future of Europe in Sibiu in May 2019.
Thank you for your attention.