Speech by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, to the European Council meeting on 22 June 2017
Mr President, Heads of State and Government, Mr President of the Commission,
I should like to join President Tusk in wishing a warm welcome to President Emmanuel MACRON and Prime Minister Leo VARADKAR, who are with us for the first time.
Recent election results and many opinion polls are pointing to a clear shift in public opinion on the European Union.
One reason for this can certainly be found in the economic recovery Europe is experiencing, but it is not the only reason.
Brexit, the crises inside and outside our borders and the fears engendered by globalisation are prompting more and more people to seek protection in a united Europe. We cannot ignore this yearning for protection. If we fail to come up with solutions to the problems of security, immigration, unemployment and climate change, the populists will rush in to fill the void left behind.
We cannot go on leaving people traffickers to manage migration.
The right of asylum, like solidarity, forms part of our founding values. But that does not mean that we should not take firm steps to combat illegal immigration.
The current system of burden sharing has failed. The onus is on all the EU institutions to take decisions without delay on the reform of the right of asylum.
Since 2012, more than 3.5 million people have applied for asylum in the European Union; in the last two years alone, the figure is 2.5 million. Under the current rules, a handful of countries of first entry are required to deal with most of those applications. It is unfair that they should be left to shoulder this responsibility alone, along with that of patrolling the Mediterranean and launching rescue operations at sea.
Parliament is working to improve the Commission proposal on the introduction of a fairer and more effective asylum system. The vote will be taken in plenary before the end of the summer. Now the Council must do its part.
Reform is essential if we are to introduce an automatic, solidarity-based mechanism for reallocating asylum seekers from those countries which are currently being forced to cope with an unmanageable number of applications and draw up standard criteria for obtaining asylum which would apply throughout the EU.
Harmonised rules - involving a switch from directives to regulations - are needed in order to spare migrants an endless odyssey in search of countries which offer more favourable reception conditions.
But that is not enough. According to conservative estimates drawn up by the UN, in the coming years Europe will have to cater for more than 500 000 new migrants each year on average, in particular from sub-Saharan Africa.
That migration has many causes: desertification linked to climate change, famine, population growth, poverty, terrorism and instability.
A serious response calls for a European strategy which goes to the root of the problems.
We must act on a range of fronts. We must tighten up external border controls, which will mean providing the European Border and Coast Guard Agency with the resources it needs to do its job. And we must build a new partnership with Africa which focuses not only on the challenges we face, but also on the major opportunities for growth on that continent.
We need economic diplomacy which is robust and much better funded. We must invest more and better in infrastructure, technology transfers, efficient use of resources and the sharing of industrial know-how. We must work together to foster training and lawful mobility, the Erasmus+ programme and exchange schemes for African students, researchers and workers.
This would provide the basis for framing more effective readmission agreements and for establishing, with European and UN agencies, reception centres south of the Sahara, so that the safety of migrants can be guaranteed, medical care, water and food provided and the rules on asylum and readmission properly applied; so that migrants can be made aware of the huge risks involved in embarking on the journey to Europe.
If Europe is to be a credible partner, it needs a proper budget. I hope that Parliament and the Council can reach agreement quickly on the development fund for Africa proposed by the Commission. As you know, the fund will amount to EUR 4 billion which will be used to mobilise EUR 44 billion in investments. But we need to be more ambitious. In my view, in the next EU budget the appropriations set aside for the fund should be quadrupled at least. I hope that these proposals win broad support, as we look ahead to the EU-African Union summit in Abidjan.
On 25 March, in Rome, we signed a Solemn Declaration to revitalise the European Union. One of the priorities we said should be addressed without delay was immigration.
Yesterday, Parliament held an event involving many of the people who are at the sharp end of asylum and immigration policy. The attendees included representatives of institutions, governments and international agencies, but also many others who are on the front line of the migration crisis: mayors, coastguard and customs officers, port managers, people working for NGOs and for the authorities responsible for dealing with asylum applications and readmission procedures.
Now that attacks have become an almost daily occurrence, terrorism is more than ever the main concern of ordinary Europeans.
If we are to safeguard our great area of freedom, we need to strengthen security inside and outside that area.
The solutions being put forward by the so-called sovereignists – who see withdrawing behind national borders as the answer to our problems – are not only damaging, but also counterproductive. True security depends on our ability to work together, to trust one another; to share information and technologies, and exchange good practices and to coordinate the work of European intelligence agencies and their counterparts in third countries.
The European Parliament encourages exchanges of information between police forces and is involved in the work of the Experts Group on the establishment of a single interoperable database for EU intelligence services.
Strengthening Europol must be a priority. In the last year alone, 127 anti-terrorism investigations have been carried out on the basis of information passed on by the agency.
The European Parliament is working towards the adoption of ETIAS (the European Travel Information and Authorisation System) with a view to improving checks at our borders.
As regards defence, it is becoming ever more clear that the Union needs an operational capability.
We are ready right now to discuss the Commission proposal for a European defence fund.
That fund must provide the basis for the increase in appropriations in future EU budgets which is needed to step up European research in the area of defence and security. It is also the prerequisite for the development of a common defence industry and market, with open procurement and genuine economies of scale.
Our forces must be able to work together, and if they are to do that interoperability and joint standards are essential. The greater efficiency this would bring could save the Member States up to EUR 36 billion every year.
Climate change is not a myth, but a terrifying reality which is disrupting the lives of millions of people affected by drought and other extreme weather events. In addition to generating massive costs, including in the form of human lives, this phenomenon is one of the main causes of migration.
At our last part-session we played host to the President of the Marshall Islands, who issued a heartfelt appeal to Europe to remain in the vanguard of the fight against climate change, despite the US withdrawal from the Paris agreements.
In the coming years, energy efficiency, renewables, the circular economy and smart grids will be key factors in generating new investment and jobs.
This is another reason why one weapon in the fight against climate change must be a technological alliance between firms in the EU and around the world. Research and industrial innovation offer the best means of limiting the impact of environmental disasters.
A more competitive Europe
The public want a Europe that can create jobs, in particular for young people. A three-pronged approach is required:
(i) Complete the work of establishing the single market in services, the digital single market, the single capital market and the single energy market; (ii) Implement a coherent industrial policy; (iii) Secure access to international markets on equal terms.
It has been calculated that merely by completing the digital single market, Europe can generate EUR 415 billion in new revenue and create 200 000 jobs.
Europeans have no wish to see industries continuing to relocate, perhaps because the firms involved prefer to invest in places where there are fewer employment rules and where environmental standards are less stringent.
Some 80% of all innovation and exports comes from industry, as do many jobs.
For that reason, the main focus of our policies must be strengthening Europe’s industrial base.
At our last part-session we launched a debate on ‘Building an ambitious industrial strategy for the EU’. That initiative is intended to clear the way for coherent measures to safeguard and strengthen Europe’s industrial base.
Our ability to manufacture and export high-quality products, and to make our world-class skills and know-how available to others, will translate into millions of jobs. We have, therefore, a very real interest in promoting open markets.
The agreement with Canada is a good example of an economic and trade partnership that will help European SMEs. We must continue our efforts to conclude further agreements which serve our interests, initially with Japan, Mexico, Chile and Mercosur.
In 2016, Parliament rejected by a wide majority the proposal to grant China market economy status. Yesterday, our Committee on International Trade adopted by 33 votes to 3 the report on the new method of calculating anti-dumping duties. In July that report will be adopted in plenary.
I believe that Parliament’s work on this issue represents a step in the right direction: we are offering our firms better protection against unfair competition.
China should represent a great opportunity for, and not a threat to, our firms.
We are seeing a significant increase in Chinese investment in Europe. In general this is good news, provided that there is reciprocity and provided that it does not lead to inappropriate transfers of sensitive technologies. Parliament is prepared to work on a Commission proposal to strengthen the controls on investment in strategic industries in Europe.
Yesterday the European Union received the Princess of Asturias Award for Concord. This prestigious prize recognises the work done by so many Europeans to make our continent, for the first time in its history, a model of freedom, peace and prosperity which is unique in the world. We should be proud of that achievement and we should make a commitment to safeguard and promote Europe’s values, by working together to address the concerns of our citizens and guarantee their security, their prosperity and their future.
Thank you for your attention.