President’s speech to the European Council on 19 June 2020
Mr President, Heads of State and Government, Madam President of the Commission.
When I last addressed you, we were in the throes of the pandemic. While the health situation in the EU seems to have been brought under control by the measures taken at EU and national level, the magnitude of the crisis and its economic consequences have now been thrown into starker relief. Time is a luxury we cannot afford. We need to act urgently and courageously, as EU citizens, businesses and economies need an immediate response. Our citizens expect bold action. Now it is time for us to deliver.
I should like to start by thanking the Commission for putting forward an ambitious proposal. However, ambitious as it may be, in our view it only scratches the surface of what needs to be done. We will accept no retreat from this initial position, which we should take as our starting point and improve upon, to ensure that the critical decisions we take now benefit everyone. Nobody should be left behind.
This brings me to my next point. Parliament is keen to stress that any common debt issued must be repaid fairly, without burdening future generations. We can achieve this with a drive for work and social wellbeing. In that connection, let us not forget that providing support solely in the form of loans would have an asymmetric impact on the indebtedness of the individual Member States and would be more costly for the Union as a whole. We have an opportunity now to refashion Europe and make it more equal, greener and more forward-looking. To this end, we should seize our chance to introduce a basket of new own resources.
We need to reform the revenue side of the budget and, in Parliament’s view, the introduction of new own resources is an essential prerequisite for any overall agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework. Our message to you today is clear: as our legacy to future generations, we want to settle the revenue issue once and for all, with solutions that will make the EU strong and more self-sufficient and its finances sustainable.
The overwhelming majority of Parliament believes that any overarching agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework must meet this condition.
Aside from addressing the short-term challenges, we need to look to the future with a strategic vision. While the Commission’s swift response to the coronavirus crisis had our full backing, its revised proposal for the Multiannual Financial Framework is not yet fully aligned with the priorities we agreed upon at the beginning of this legislative period – priorities which are all the more pressing today.
We need to protect our citizens, but also provide opportunities. We cannot talk about investing in young people while at the same time underfunding Erasmus+, nor can we meaningfully support the Green Deal and digitalisation while reducing the budget for the Connecting Europe Facility. I am deeply concerned about the impact that the crisis is having on people’s lives. I have received – as I’m sure you all have – pleas for help from many charities working with our nations’ most deprived people. We must listen to these voices and reassure them that we will never waver in our support for those in need.
As one arm of the budgetary authority and co-legislator, Parliament has a duty to citizens that it has every intention of fulfilling. In particular, we need to ensure we have a say in decisions on the implementation of the Recovery Plan and on how money is raised, allocated and spent.
The recovery we have mapped depends to a large extent on EUR 500 billion in external resources, guaranteed by the budget. It would be unthinkable for these resources to evade Parliament’s democratic scrutiny. This brings me to the nub of my message: we need a common approach, with the broadest possible consensus, that combines urgent action with a forward-looking vision to build a stronger and more resilient Europe that serves everyone's interests. Now is not the time to water down our ambitions. We need to show our citizens the value of Europe and our ability to come up with solutions that matter in their lives.
These instruments will reduce inequality and ensure Europe leads the way in the epoch-defining transformations ahead. The digital transition, the green economy, universal access to technology, job creation: these are the challenges Europe has to address for the future.
I extend my thanks to the Croatian Presidency. Croatia has found itself at the helm of the Union for the first time in what has been a turbulent six months, blighted by an unprecedented crisis and by a tragic earthquake. A special mention must go to the Prime Minister, and my friend, Andrej Plenković, with whom we have enjoyed a very constructive and harmonious working relationship.
Finally, turning our attention to EU-UK relations, yesterday Parliament adopted its resolution by a majority of 81% of the votes cast. Our message, which I conveyed to the UK Prime Minister at the High-Level Conference, is clear: we will push for an ambitious, overarching and comprehensive agreement in line with the joint commitments undertaken in the political declaration. We believe that this is the best possible outcome for both sides and, despite the limited time available, with goodwill and determination, it is still possible. We have every faith in our negotiator, Michel Barnier.
I also emphasised to Prime Minister Johnson that the political declaration, painstakingly negotiated by both sides, is the foundation on which we have to build an agreement. There is no possibility, but also no reason, for that declaration to be renegotiated or called into question.
While we should remain optimistic, we also need to be realistic and make sure we are prepared in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
We are on the verge of making some important decisions. We hope that the governments echo our support for the Commission’s proposals.
Lao-Tzu taught us that ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. If we set off on the right foot, we will go far together.