President's speech to the European Council, April 23
Thank you Mr President, Heads of State and Government, Madam President of the Commission. We are at a watershed, and we are being called upon to assume a huge responsibility towards our fellow citizens, who are going through difficult times and are looking to us for a practical response commensurate with the seriousness of the situation.
Here are some statistics which together provide a snapshot of Europe today:
the automotive industry is forecasting a drop in demand of between 7% and 9% on the four main European markets;
the textiles sector is expecting sales to decline by half;
in France alone, 4 million more workers are already receiving unemployment benefit;
in Spain, the unemployment rate has reached 20%;
the Italian agri-food industry is reckoning with losses of EUR 4 billion;
plant nurseries in the Netherlands have seen their sales plummet by 70%, and put their losses at some EUR 2 billion;
the impact on the European tourism industry will be unprecedented, with revenue collapsing by 50% for hotels and restaurants and 90% for ferry companies and airlines.
The brunt of this crisis will be borne by low-skilled and temporary workers, most of whom are women and come from the poorest and most vulnerable families, with the result that a financial and economic crisis will turn into a full-blown social emergency.
The Commission should draw up a detailed assessment of the scale of the crisis, country by country, sector by sector.
The Member States have already taken a range of measures to cushion the immediate impact of the crisis. We are well aware, however, that the combined efforts made thus far by the European Union and the Member States will not be enough to address what is an unprecedented crisis. It is not simply a matter of deploying the resources required; it is essential that all the Member States have the instruments they need to protect their own citizens, to stabilise markets and to restart their own economies.
This is a time for unity. Europe’s market is a single market, and if we do not set out on this road together, there can be no question of relaunching economies which are closely interlinked and hugely interdependent. (It is unthinkable, for example, that the automotive industry could return to production in one Member State without the components manufactured in another, and without an internal market to take up the new vehicles).
The pandemic has not affected all the Member States to the same degree; some have paid a much higher price in terms of human lives.
The time has come to put blinkered self-interest to one side and to make the solidarity which is at the heart of the European project our guiding principle once again.
The EU institutions have already built a safety net to provide the liquidity needed to address the crisis in the short term, through the EMS, to cover health spending, through the SURE mechanism, to combat unemployment, and through the EIB, to provide support for SMEs.
This emergency assistance is vital, but we know very well that the real challenge facing us, which rests on your shoulders today, is how to exit the crisis and launch the recovery.
As you know, at its last plenary sitting the European Parliament voted by a large majority in favour of an extraordinary response in support of a massive programme of investment to boost the recovery and rebuild the European economy.
The huge investment required will have to be financed by a significantly strengthened MFF, which will draw on existing EU funds, but also innovative financial instruments, such as recovery bonds backed by the EU budget. Today more than ever, there is a clear need for agreement on a new basket of own resources, starting with the web tax, as suggested by President von der Leyen, and other resources, such as a share of the revenues from the ETS or a tax on non-recycled plastic.
In Parliament’s view, own resources are not an emergency instrument, but an essential component of a sustainable EU budget.
In recent days, many of you have put forward bold proposals which represent a step in the right direction and reflect the resolve to find common ground.
The idea of a dedicated recovery fund is one Parliament can work with, provided certain key conditions are met. First and foremost, the embedding of this fund in the MFF is the prerequisite for a long-term Community response to the crisis.
In our view, the solution must be a Community one.
The European Parliament, as the democratic representative of EU citizens and one arm of the budgetary authority, will do its part, and it expects to be fully involved.
What we need, as Presidents Michel and von der Leyen have also made clear in the road map presented today, is a modern-day Marshall Plan to finance the recovery, geared to the main priorities we have already pinpointed together. I am referring to the Green Deal, the digital transformation and measures to reduce social inequalities.
We therefore expect the size of the fund to be commensurate with the true scale of the crisis.
The recovery needs to come quickly, however. Citizens, firms and local communities need resources now if they are to safeguard the economic and social fabric of our regions.
The likely worsening of some countries’ sovereign debt exposure calls for solutions based partly on loans and partly on subsidies.
We cannot wait until next January for the resources to become available. As happened when the Juncker Plan was launched, consideration could be given to the provision by the EIB of a bridging guarantee, so that the fund can be operational immediately.
We are going through a period of great vulnerability, which is exposing the EU to the risk of interference and the acquisition of strategic assets. It will be important to explain clearly to our citizens just how much the European Union and all the Member State governments have done, so that they don’t have the sense that more help has come from outside the Union than from us.
I hope that, on the basis of the mechanisms established by the Commission, all the governments can work together to protect Europe and our heritage.
The world which emerges from the crisis will be a different one. The European project must seize this opportunity to shape this new era. Today more than ever, it is essential that Europe lives up to its own values, which, together with the rule of law, are the cornerstone of our joint project, the European Union.