President's speech at the European Council
Mr President of the European Council,
President of the Commission,
Heads of State and Government,
This is the second time I have addressed the European Council, which today is chaired for the first time by President Michel, whom I wish every success in his new role. I also extend warm greetings to Ms von der Leyen, who is here for the first time in her official capacity as President of the European Commission.
I would also like to congratulate the new Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, on her appointment.
LAUNCH OF THE NEW INSTITUTIONAL CYCLE
On 1 December, in a wonderful ceremony at the House of European History which I attended with Presidents Michel and von der Leyen and the President of the ECB, Christine Lagarde, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and the launch of the new institutional cycle.
For me, and I believe for many others, it was a very emotional moment, one imbued with great symbolic significance.
Ceremonies and symbols are not enough, however. Last May, European citizens sent a very clear message that they are willing and able to resist the sirens of populism and nationalism, confirming their faith in the European institutions and the European project.
But the faith that they have placed in us is not a blank cheque. Our citizens want a different Europe, more democratic, more open, greener, more social and inclusive, more secure and more attentive to their needs.
The next few years will be decisive for the future of Europe. We have no margin for error.
Following a process which started with the May elections and went on for several months, the renewal of the main institutions is now finally complete.
During that period, the European Parliament, the first to renew itself, demonstrated a very mature approach and the ability to act openly and responsibly, in particular in the process which culminated in the election of the new Commission. In addition, the hearings showed that the European Parliament has taken on a key role in shaping the Union’s political agenda, exercising its powers to the full.
I applaud President von der Leyen for her obvious willingness, right from the outset, to listen to Parliament’s proposals and grasp their importance. In the course of the last few months, the Commission programme was improved. Parliament’s assessments led to changes in the appointees and in the make-up of their portfolios.
This give-and-take between Parliament and the future Commission not only enhanced the democratic legitimacy of the new College of Commissioners - elected in November with far broader support than the team originally proposed in July - but also made for a very positive and constructive dialogue between the two institutions.
That dialogue, expanded of course to include the Council, must now continue, starting with the process of setting priorities for the next few years. This multiannual legislative programming exercise is the first of its kind following the adoption in 2016 of the Interinstitutional Agreement on Better Lawmaking.
Parliament outlined its priorities for the current parliamentary term clearly during the Commission hearings, in an open and transparent manner, and welcomes the commitments made by the Commission. Each institution now needs to play its own part in ensuring that we offer EU citizens practical solutions to the challenges we face.
Parliament therefore awaits the Commission’s proposals with interest. It will assert its status as an active participant in this process and play a constructive role, with a view to formulating a ‘Joint Declaration’ and finding a common approach which takes proper account of the diversity and prerogatives of each of our institutions.
Against that background, I am delighted that the Council, through its Strategic Agenda and the Leaders’ Agenda, has recognised the real need for planning and greater efficiency.
We hope also that the whole exercise will be overhauled and conducted boldly, because that transparency will benefit all the institutions, and first and foremost Parliament.
The fight against climate change is surely EU citizens’ number one concern and must therefore be one of the priorities of our shared agenda.
The Union must play a leading role in addressing this challenge.
I would like to thank the Commission and its President for presenting its Communication on the Green Deal in a timely manner, enabling Parliament to hold an initial political debate yesterday.
It is particularly welcome that the first two legislative initiatives announced by the Commission in the Communication on the Green Deal should be the Climate Act and the Just Transition Mechanism.
Two weeks ago, Parliament recognised the unprecedented nature of the existential threat that humanity faces. It declared a climate and environmental emergency and pledged to take immediate practical measures to tackle it.
I urge the European Council to assume its own responsibilities without delay and to set as of today the same goal of climate neutrality, to be achieved by 2050. This goal must be translated rapidly into an agreement on the proposal that the Commission will present for a Climate Law in line with the global objective set in the Paris Agreement of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C at the very most.
How we get there is just as important as where we are going. The next decade will be crucial if we want the Union to be climate-neutral by 2050. If we are to achieve that goal as cost-effectively as possible, we must as soon as possible step up our commitments for the period to 2030 and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by that date. If the EU does not agree on more ambitious commitments as soon as possible, how can it urge other emissions-generating countries to do the same over the next year ahead of COP26? We all know that the Union as it is today will not meet its 2030 targets. We therefore need to act, and to act now. Business as usual is no longer acceptable!
Pursuing these objectives will open up new economic and technological possibilities for people and firms in terms of employment and innovation. These major changes must be seen as an opportunity for the Union, to be grasped by means of investment in industrial innovation to stimulate growth, enhance competitiveness, promote the acquisition of skills for the future and create jobs.
At the same time, we know only too well that they will bring with them profound changes in our societies and economies.
This is why the measures we take must support competitiveness and be accompanied by far-reaching social and inclusion measures, in order to guarantee a just transition which fosters job creation and reflects the need for a high level of welfare protection.
We also need a preventive and participatory strategy, which ensures that the transition benefits everyone, including those in the most vulnerable regions and communities.
With that aim in mind, Parliament warmly welcomes the Commission proposal to set up a Just Transition Fund as an overarching instrument at European level whose purpose is to guarantee an inclusive transition by targeting the people and regions worst affected by decarbonisation. The Just Transition Fund represents the response to a call made by Parliament some time ago; that is why you will not be surprised to hear me say that we will be particularly determined to secure all the funding necessary for the Just Transition Mechanism as part of the Green Deal. The aim is to mobilise at least EUR 100 billion, part of which must consist of new resources.
No one must be left behind. Efforts made by those who depend predominantly on carbon-based industries must be recognised and supported.
The Green Deal must therefore be a comprehensive and ambitious strategy to deliver a climate-neutral Europe, and the Commission will need to adapt all its relevant policies accordingly, in particular in the areas of climate and energy, agriculture and transport. Integrating the Sustainable Development Goals into the European Semester process and the ‘sustainability check’ which all future proposals must undergo will be crucial to its success. Parliament will keep a close eye on the process, to ensure that the policies implemented are coherent, fair and sustainable.
If it is to achieve these objectives, the Union must not only make its budget ‘green’ across the board, but also endow itself with sufficient financial resources. The Green Deal can only be a success if we mobilise all the resources needed to guarantee a green Just Transition.
The topic of resources is a crucial one if the Union is to meet its own citizens’ expectations. We need to find an agreement as quickly as possible in order to avoid delays in implementing the Union’s policies and programmes.
Parliament's stance is well known, and I outlined it clearly in the speech I gave to the October European Council.
This is why I was very surprised by the latest proposal from the Finnish Presidency, which - and I say this with all due respect, esteem and friendship for the Helsinki Government - falls well short of the expectations of all Parliament’s political groups.
Parliament regards cohesion policy as the driving force behind European integration, since it has supported the economic development and social and environmental sustainability of regions and communities.
The same is true of the substantial cuts proposed in funding for many important instruments, such as the Connecting Europe Facility, whose budget has been reduced by almost 30% in the energy and digital sectors as compared to our proposal and that of the Commission, and the European Social Fund, for which funding has been cut by 17%. The cuts being proposed for the Integrated Border Management Fund, whose funding has been reduced by a third, and for the European Defence Fund, including military mobility, whose budget has been slashed by half, have left us equally perplexed. It is clear that these cuts could jeopardise Europe’s geopolitical potential and its role in international relations.
I obviously don’t want to repeat everything I said in October. I will merely point out that the European Parliament regards the decision on the multiannual budget as part of a ‘single package’, involving the introduction of a basket of new own resources and an ambitious commitment on the expenditure side to raise spending to 1.3% of gross national income. The aim must be to maintain funding for EU traditional policies at its current level in real terms, boost the most successful programmes and ensure that the Union has sufficient resources to meet the new challenges it faces.
Parliament is ready to negotiate on that basis in a spirit of constructive dialogue, but without compromising its prerogatives and on an equal footing with the other institutions.
On that point, I should like to draw your attention to the findings of the most recent Eurobarometer survey, which revealed that 58% of EU citizens would like Parliament to be granted more powers.
We are currently negotiating on many important sectoral proposals. For us, however, these negotiations are inextricably linked to the overall package on the MFF. In that connection, I feel I must draw attention to the widespread and growing dissatisfaction among the political groups, including those which supported President von der Leyen, which stems from what they see as a failure to take proper account of Parliament’s prerogatives. That dissatisfaction, which concerns both the method and content, could have an adverse impact on the continuation of the current negotiations between the co-legislators.
Let me be absolutely clear: no one should make the mistake of taking Parliament’s consent for granted without having listened to what it has to say.
Proper funding is required to implement the initiatives announced by President von der Leyen. According to Parliament’s initial estimates, tripling the budget for the Erasmus+ programme and the proposed funding for the Just Transition Fund, the Youth Guarantee and Youth Employment would give an expenditure requirement some EUR 30 billion higher than the original Commission proposal presented in 2018. According to some calculations, the budget currently being proposed would not even be enough to fund the Council’s own strategic agenda drawn up last June.
Continuing along this path makes no sense.
Parliament set out its position some time ago. We deplore the fact that the Council has not yet done the same, but we look ahead very confidently to the coming months and we have every faith in the ability of President Michel and the incoming Croatian Presidency - whose representatives I met a few days ago in Zagreb - to achieve an agreement. It seems to me that now would be the time to initiate formal meetings at the level of the Presidents, as provided for in Article 324 TFEU, in order to move the negotiations forward, encourage conciliation and bring the institutions’ positions closer together.
We eagerly await that agreement, and we are keen to sit down together and start the dialogue, in order to avoid unacceptable delays in launching the new policies and projects.
CONFERENCE ON THE FUTURE OF EUROPE
Time is of the essence, because our fellow citizens are looking to us for practical answers. I am delighted that the Conference on the Future of Europe is on the agenda for this meeting of the European Council.
For the European Parliament, this will be one of the priorities for the current parliamentary term, and we intend to be a driving force in the organisation of the conference and in its proceedings.
In my view, we are at a crucial juncture in the history of the EU. Even as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, whose full potential we have yet to explore, our three institutions have agreed that the Union must enhance its ability to act, its democratic legitimacy and its effectiveness.
We welcome the fact that the Commission has taken the step of proposing a conference, but I am even more pleased that, for the first time in these 10 years, the Council/the Member States are also keen to launch a wide-ranging debate on the future of Europe and reach agreement on a shared vision of how we can improve our policy-making in order to achieve practical results and benefits for our citizens.
Parliament has already started work on defining its approach. I believe it is essential that Parliament, the Council and the Commission work on an equal footing in organising the conference.
That process should be constructive, and conducted in a spirit of consensus.
In my view, and I have said this to President von der Leyen and President Michel, it is vital that the Presidents of the three institutions show joint leadership by taking on a personal role in this process, in order to emphasise the importance of this initiative.
Parliament also believes that it will be important to involve European citizens and civil society in an open and inclusive way, along with institutional actors, such as the national parliaments, regional and local authorities, and the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee.
Parliament’s in-house working group, which I set up in October, will present its conclusions to the Conference of Presidents on 19 December and we will adopt a resolution in plenary in January, so as to be ready to start discussions with you and the Commission early next year.
I have great hopes for the Croatian Presidency, which will have the task of supporting the process of launching the conference and the conduct of the conference itself. The objectives are ambitious, as is the timetable: the time has come to get to work.
Before I conclude, please allow me, on behalf of the European Parliament, to thank the Finnish Presidency for the outstanding work it has done during a difficult six-month period dominated by the institutional renewal process, and once again to wish the Croatian Presidency every success in its work.