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Speech by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, to the European Council meeting on 25 November 2018

Speeches
Brussels
25-11-2018

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Mr President, Heads of State and Government, Mr President of the Commission,

Today, you are getting ready to initial the agreement ratifying the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

I am sure that this occasion is giving rise to mixed emotions in all of us. On the one hand, there is relief and satisfaction that we have reached an agreement, in spite of all the obstacles which had to be overcome.

On the other, there is regret at seeing the United Kingdom leave our shared European house, after 45 years of fruitful cooperation within the Union.

Today, it is important to emphasise that Brexit is a decision that we respect, but it is a decision that none of us wanted, and I believe that, in the wake of the negotiations, no-one can be in any doubt that there is no upside to any of this: it is a lose-lose situation. This is therefore not a moment for celebrations.

There are some grounds for satisfaction, however.

On 29 April last year, the European Council adopted the guidelines for the negotiations on the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union: at that meeting, it drew attention to the danger of divisions emerging among the 27 and among the institutions and cautioned against the temptation to put individual interests before the general interest.

Today, after eighteen months of intensive and difficult negotiations, it is clear that we have succeeded in maintaining the spirit of unity that the Union is capable of demonstrating in the most difficult circumstances. We should be proud of that, and we should stick to this approach, because there is still much to be done.

The principal architect of this unity among Member States and institutions has been Michel Barnier, to whom I express heartfelt thanks, on behalf of the European Parliament, for the brilliant work he has done thus far: for the even-handedness, tenacity and common sense which he has brought to the negotiations and for having kept his nerve at all times.

I thank him for having liaised so closely with Parliament and its Steering Group, demonstrating unprecedented openness, respecting the prerogatives of the institutions and displaying absolute loyalty to the values underpinning the Union.

We urge, therefore, that the ‘Barnier method’ also be used in preparing the negotiations on the agreement on the future relationship and during the negotiations themselves.

Parliament welcomes the outcome of the negotiations, which it regards as balanced and comprehensive. It is an agreement which will safeguard the interests of the Union and its Member States, while taking into account of the United Kingdom’s key demands.

For that reason, we hope that the UK Parliament will draw on the store of wisdom it has acquired in its 800-year history and approve the agreement. Obviously, it will not be easy.

 

Withdrawal Agreement

Parliament is satisfied with the Withdrawal Agreement, because it sets out appropriate responses on the three key issues we raised in our resolutions and which we have continued to emphasise throughout the negotiations.

I am referring, first and foremost, to citizens’ rights, which were our number one priority from the start.

The agreement safeguards the right of three and a half million EU citizens in the United Kingdom and more than a million UK citizens in the Union to continue living, working and studying where they are now.

The choices they and their families have made, on the basis of freedom of movement and Union law, will not be jeopardised.

We are also satisfied with the solution found on financial issues. The fact that the agreement focuses not on the amount of the financial obligations, but on the method of calculating that amount, has spared us unseemly haggling over figures.

Lastly, Parliament is greatly reassured by the substance of the protocol on Northern Ireland, which points the way towards a resolution to the problem of the border between the two parts of the island and offers guarantees that the Good Friday Agreement will be upheld.

It is our hope, of course, that the backstop never enters into force and that a definitive solution can be achieved by July 2020.

Nevertheless, it is important to ensure that an agreement establishing a single customs territory incorporates, in the form of rules on equal conditions and implementing mechanisms, commitments which guarantee fair competition between the Union and the United Kingdom. In that respect, I believe that the agreement does everything required.

 

Political Declaration on the future relationship

Parliament also welcomes the Political Declaration on the future relationship and regards it as an excellent basis on which to develop our post-Brexit cooperation with the United Kingdom, which we hope will be as close as possible. The United Kingdom will always be a special partner for us, because what unites us is greater than what divides us.

After consulting the parliamentary committees, we are pleased to note that the Political Declaration addresses most of their concerns.

In particular, we appreciate the fact that explicit reference is made to the Association Agreement as the basis for our future relationship, as Parliament had suggested.

We note also that the Declaration preserves the integrity of the internal market and the inviolability of the four freedoms, issues which for us are non-negotiable, because they are fundamental to our coexistence in the Union.

We would point out, however, that the section on the movement of persons is rather weak. We understand why, but we hope that in future we can take the same ambitious approach to the issue of the movement of persons as we have to the movement of goods, services and capital.

 

Governance and implementation of the agreements

On behalf of Parliament, I should like to draw attention to a number of matters concerning governance and the implementation of the two agreements.

The Withdrawal Agreement is a very lengthy document, with many provisions and clauses. The same will probably also be true of the agreement on the future relationship. Great care and attention will be needed, therefore, in implementing the two accords.

Parliament has every confidence in the Commission, which will be responsible in the first instance for implementing the two agreements. However, I should like to draw your attention to one important aspect which also concerns the Council.

The need to protect the Union’s decision-making autonomy was one of the guiding principles which ran as a thread through the negotiations. The agreements cannot and must not be implemented in such a way as to call that principle into question.

In cases where the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement calls for a change to the acquis, Parliament, like the Council, must be able to exercise its legislative prerogative. No restrictions must be imposed on its legislative power, and no changes must be approved automatically.

Secondly, we want to make it clear that Parliament must be consulted before changes to the Withdrawal Agreement necessitated by new circumstances are made and before important provisions, such as Article 132 on extending the transition period, are activated.

As regards the issue of governance, therefore, it will be necessary to devise a mechanism which ensures that Parliament, as Co-Legislator, has a say in decisions which the Union takes in the Joint Committee provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement. Since this matter also concerns the other Co-Legislator, the Council, I suggest that before the consent procedure in Parliament is concluded we work together to draw up a written common understanding on the arrangements for such a mechanism.

 

Unilateral declarations

I should like to end by saying that Parliament would understand perfectly if some delegations were to want to annex unilateral declarations to the Withdrawal Agreement or the agreement on the future relationship.

Although this would not make the discussions with the United Kingdom any easier, we have no objection, provided that any such declarations do not jeopardise the unity of the 27 and the institutions, which has been our trump card thus far and must continue to be in future negotiations.

In conclusion, Parliament is satisfied both with the substance of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration and with the method employed to draw them up, and I can say that, should the Agreement be approved by the UK Parliament, we too will quickly be able to complete the assent procedure, perhaps even in January.

The European Parliament could go ahead and vote on and approve the agreement, even if it were rejected by the UK Parliament.

You can count on our loyal and constructive cooperation in this new phase as well, which we hope can begin after the vote in Westminster. It too will be long and difficult.

Thank you for your attention.

For further information:

europarl.president.press@europarl.europa.eu

 

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