Speech by the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani to the European Council meeting on 19 October 2017
This week a tragedy occurred: in Malta Daphne Caruana Galizia, a journalist closely involved in efforts to uncover truths inconvenient to people in positions of power, was murdered. The European Parliament will discuss this matter at its part-session next week. I call for a detailed, in-depth international investigation, possibly involving Europol. I count on the Maltese authorities to do what is needed.
I would also like to remember the victims of the natural disasters which have struck our continent in recent weeks. I am thinking in particular of the devastating fires which have affected tens of thousands of our fellow citizens in Portugal and Spain and have left many people dead or injured. I am thinking also of all the communities which, more and more frequently, are being forced to deal with earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and other cataclysmic events.
Confronted with these events and the sufferings of entire communities, we are quite right to ask ourselves whether we are doing enough, or whether we should in fact be doing more, taking more preventive measures, offering more solidarity, providing more emergency aid.
This year alone, more than 750 000 hectares of Europe’s forests have been destroyed by fire. In Portugal alone, more than 100 people have lost their lives.
We must improve our capabilities and cut red tape so that Member States can more easily obtain the immediate assistance they need.
President Macron’s excellent recent proposal to set up a European Civil Protection Force, which I applaud, would be one way of showing our citizens that the Union is taking practical steps to meet their needs. I was pleased to learn that Commissioner Stylianides has been given the task of examining the advisability of just such a step.
I am convinced that the European Parliament would enthusiastically support a formal EU proposal to establish such a force.
The ball is now in your court, and the Commission’s.
Dublin, immigration, Schengen
I am pleased to announce that this morning the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) adopted by a large majority the Wikström report on the reform of the EU asylum system.
It was not easy to find a compromise which enough Members could endorse, whatever their political and national sensibilities. The fact that we succeeded in doing so stemmed from an acknowledgement that maintaining the status quo is no longer an option: we simply have to accept that the current system does not work.
The Dublin Regulation, which determines which Member State is responsible for dealing with an asylum application, works on the basis of the ‘country of first entry’ principle. That principle means that a small number of Member States are being forced to shoulder the burden of dealing with the vast majority of asylum applications.
This system is not only unfair, it is also ineffective, as the recent migration crisis has demonstrated only too clearly.
Countries of first entry have no incentive to register asylum applicants, because they know that if they do they will have to process the applications themselves. The result has been immigrants going into hiding from the authorities and the unacceptable phenomenon of asylum shopping.
We must acknowledge that the system has been a key pull factor for new migrants.
The European Parliament is proposing a system which is based on fairer burden sharing among the Member States, which places the emphasis on security and which draws a clear distinction between those fleeing wars and persecution and those who come to Europe for other reasons, for example economic migrants.
I am happy to say that by putting forward this proposal Parliament has done its part.
We hope that the Council will soon secure the consensus needed for the opening of interinstitutional negotiations, so that an agreement can be reached before the 2019 European elections.
Today we have also adopted in committee a negotiating mandate on the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and next week we will vote on a negotiating mandate on the use of the Schengen Information System in the area of border controls in connection with the return of illegal immigrants to their third country of origin.
On 5 October we approved the agreement to set up a European Public Prosecutor’s Office, which was drawn up under the enhanced cooperation arrangements.
Posting of workers
I can also inform you that yesterday the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs adopted its report on the directive on the posting of workers.
It was a long and difficult process, but we achieved a compromise which a clear majority of MEPs could support. This outcome shows that it is possible to overcome national divisions and secure political agreement on fundamental issues such as fair competition between firms and equal treatment of workers.
As you know, we have also reached agreement on a new method of calculating anti-dumping duties, which the European Parliament will approve in plenary in November.
This was a major success for the Union, in which each of the three institutions played its part. We have succeeded in striking the right balance between open markets and fair competition and in offering EU businesses protection against unfair practices. On behalf of the European Parliament I should like to thank you and offer a particular word of thanks to the Estonian Presidency for the way it conducted the negotiations.
The internet and digital technologies are transforming our world. But rather than meekly accepting that transformation, we should be managing it.
At the Tallinn Digital Summit on 29 September 2017, for which I once again wish to thank Jüri Ratas, I was able to confirm Parliament’s willingness to take the steps needed to ensure the EU can give substance to the new digital area, and that it is stepping up its own work to complete the digital single market.
Online barriers are continuing to deny EU citizens the full benefit of the markets in goods and services. The prospects of digital start-ups and companies are being restricted, and governments are not able to take full advantage of digital tools. Those barriers must therefore be removed if we are to unlock our digital potential.
In a few weeks’ time, we will adopt a position in committee on copyright reform and the licensing of European audiovisual works.
Parliament is also working to update our common rules on data protection, and just this morning adopted a position on the protection of personal data in electronic communications and issued a mandate to open negotiations. It is impossible to over-emphasise how vital public confidence in personal data protection is for the success of e-Government.
But it is not simply a question of removing barriers and obstacles in the digital world. We must also boost its ability to protect itself. We must be able to prevent, deter and respond to cyber attacks. Parliament is ready to consider the Commission’s proposals on network security immediately.
As you know, the European Parliament views cybersecurity as a key issue.
I am sure that the discussions between Parliament and the Council on the cybersecurity package presented by the Commission on 13 September can be brought to a quick and successful conclusion.
The European Parliament hopes that in the near future public authorities will be able to offer citizens and businesses user-friendly digital services, and hence become more efficient and more transparent. This would reduce costs and administrative burdens and harness the benefits of the digital revolution. I personally believe that what Estonia has done in this field should be seen as an example for all other EU countries.
Parliament is also in favour of implementing the ‘one-stop-shop’ principle, which is to say the idea of establishing a digital single portal for citizens and businesses.
Tallin also provided an opportunity for me to speak about the taxation of online activities.
Parliament is calling for taxes to be paid in the countries where the value is created and where the economic activity is actually carried on, and will be sure to contribute to the debate recently launched on Web tax.
In this area, the Commission is doing excellent work on the enforcement of competition rules.
Security and defence
As regards the issues of security and defence, Parliament welcomes the major progress the EU has made since the adoption of the Global Strategy in June 2016, and wishes to be fully involved, in keeping with the Treaties, in the process which will culminate in the establishment of a European security and defence policy.
The EP has repeatedly stated that, in the interests of peace, stability and security, the EU must endow itself with genuine intervention capabilities and common defence arrangements.
Parliament supports, as a first step, the establishment of a European defence industry and market in order to exploit economies of scale.
It must be possible for our forces to interact on missions outside the Union as well as in the area of border control. Closer coordination and greater synergies are impossible without interoperability and common standards. We must also develop defence and security technologies using funding from the EU budget, among other sources. Parliament is considering the proposal for a defence research fund, on which it will vote before the year is out. But far more funding is needed, both for defence technologies and for security and cybersecurity.
More generally, we applaud the Member States’ willingness to implement permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) and hope for its swift adoption by the Council, possibly by the end of the year.
PESCO should receive genuine support from the EU, in a manner consistent with Member States’ competences in the field of defence.
As you know, we are also working on the Commission proposal on a European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP) and trust that swift and satisfactory agreement on this can be reached with the Council.
There is an obvious need for closer and deeper cooperation in the field of security and defence. In recent years we have witnessed significant changes in the European Union and its neighbourhood and the emergence of new threats and challenges, such as terrorism and changes in transatlantic relations.
We are faced with uncertainty over the nuclear deal with Iran and must use all our diplomatic energies to ensure that the agreement in its current form is safeguarded.
Parliament is concerned at the recent developments in Turkey, and especially the restrictions on freedom of expression, the treatment of journalists and the human rights situation (following the recent arrest of an activist). Turkey is moving further and further away from European values, and hence from accession to the Union.
There is a widespread feeling in Parliament that we can no longer simply wait and hope for things to work themselves out. The situation is giving rise to some confusion as to the nature of our relationship.
Turkey is in many ways a vital partner for the European Union. However, the question of whether that partnership can only exist within the framework of potential accession is one that is now being asked increasingly often. I believe that the time has come to adopt an unambiguous stance and give our relations with Turkey a clear and realistic structure. This will surely benefit everyone, including all those who trade with and do business in that country.
With reference to Brexit, and with a view to your discussions tomorrow, in which you will take stock of the progress made in the negotiations, I would draw your attention to the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on this matter. Parliament welcomed the constructive approach adopted by Mrs May in her address in Florence. At the same time, we fully agree with Mr Barnier that, for the moment at least, insufficient progress has been made.
We are still waiting for a clear response from the United Kingdom on all three of our key points.
The exit agreement must safeguard all the rights currently enjoyed by citizens. We must work together to find ways of dealing effectively with the issue of Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom must honour all the commitments it has made as a Member State – nothing more and nothing less.
Prime Minister May gave some encouraging hints in her address in Florence. These must now be converted into tangible commitments at the negotiating table over the next two months, so that a new chapter in the negotiations can be opened in December.
FUTURE OF EUROPE
Europe is thinking hard about its own future. We have to find answers to two fundamental questions: what it is that we want to do together in the future, and how we want to do it.
As you will remember, Parliament was the first to contribute to this reflection process, through the Brok-Bresso, Böge-Bérès and Verhofstadt reports.
President Juncker has presented the Commission White Paper setting out the possible scenarios and, more recently, President Macron put on the table a range of ideas and proposals that warrant in-depth consideration.
Parliament, as a democratic and open forum for debate, aims – and has the institutional duty – to be at the centre of the debate.
That is why the Conference of Presidents has decided to devote a series of debates in plenary to the future of Europe, and to invite the Heads of State and Government and leading European figures who wish to speak to outline their vision and debate with us.
I have already extended that invitation to some of you in person, and will be sending everyone a written invitation in the next few days.
We have noted that one of the items on the Leaders’ Agenda concerns the Spitzenkandidaten. I am sure that your aim is to make that arrangement the norm.
Thank you for listening. I look forward to your coming to Parliament to talk about Europe.