President’s speech to the European Council, 17 July 2020
Mr President of the Council,
Heads of State and Government,
Madam President of the Commission,
As we prepare to take important – I would go as far as to say historic – decisions for the future of the European Union, I would like to start by saying ‘thank you’. Tackling this emergency has not been easy for anyone; we have taken measures that would have been unthinkable not long ago, broken with the clichéd thinking of the past, and taken a leap towards a new common recovery approach. We can be proud of what the European Union has achieved and of the Member States’ efforts. We must build on and learn from this experience, in order to enable our countries and this Union to respond better to global challenges. We should be proud of our institutions for their timely response. Parliament also displayed a great sense of responsibility and, in using innovative methods to carry out its work, it enabled the European Union to continue operating as usual.
It’s been a difficult few months, but now we are embarking on a new chapter. The discussions to come and the decisions in our hands will reshape the Union for decades to come.
We are all clear on what we want to achieve. The notion of endless growth has had its day. The decision now is how and in which direction to grow for the well-being of our citizens and the planet. The pandemic has given us new responsibilities and duties: the responsibility to make choices and the duty to do so in the interests of the many, not the few. If we take this as our brief, it becomes obvious where we should invest: in the green economy, health, education, and in digital, democratic and social rights. ‘Inclusion’ – rather than ‘exclusion’ – is our watchword. Incidentally, this was precisely what Parliament had in mind when we gave a vote of confidence to the Commission chaired by Ursula von der Leyen. Back then, our priorities were already the right ones; now the crisis has merely hardened our resolve.
Now, it’s a case of all or nothing. As Chancellor Merkel has quite rightly made clear on several occasions, the very survival of the Union and its internal market is at stake. I have every confidence that our collective leadership, guided by our sense of duty, will find a way to overcome this colossal challenge.
But how will we go about this? We have a proposal on the table whose overall structure is a matter of consensus. I would like to thank the Commission President for devising it.
The recovery plan must be commensurate with our ambitions. It must help to transform our economy and address widening inequalities. We should fear this crisis because it is indiscriminate in unleashing its social effects and wiping out jobs.
The package of measures the Commission unveiled on 27 May marked a watershed in the long history of European integration: for the first time, the Commission proposed borrowing up to EUR 750 billion on the financial markets using a new recovery instrument. This tool will prove indispensable to Europe as we tackle the crisis. Parliament backs this approach, the level of funding and the proposed split between grants and loans.
The Next Generation EU programme must not impose a burden on future generations, however. Our legacy to them cannot be increased national deficits or debt levels, or downsized EU policies. For that reason, the new own resources will primarily serve to repay the loans and then to provide the Union with stable revenue, to make it self-sufficient. We expect a basket of own resources to be introduced with a commitment that they should enter into force as soon as possible, and at all events before 2023.
We also believe that the time has come to do away with all the rebates granted to Member States, which are unfair and difficult to justify.
These are priorities for Parliament, along with a governance mechanism which clearly establishes the principle of democratic scrutiny over the allocation of resources and approval of the national recovery plans. Joint arrangements for contracting loans must be matched by management consistent with the Community method.
It is unthinkable that a Europe which has reached agreement on a joint response to the crisis should sideline Parliament. The budgetary authority must have a say in the proper allocation of resources in keeping with the political priorities set. In addition, Parliament, as co-legislator, must be able to exercise its prerogatives to ensure that these huge volumes of resources are channelled in an appropriate manner into the MFF programmes.
It would be a serious mistake to set aside all the economic governance reforms carried out in Europe following the last financial crisis.
Let’s not beat about the bush. Parliament is disappointed with the MFF proposal presented here. We have long been calling for an MFF which guarantees a sufficient level of funding for convergence policies and at the same time provides the resources needed to meet the priorities which are universally regarded as fundamental: the Green Deal, digitalisation and resilience. If it is to be effective, mid-term planning, covering the next seven years, must be credible and consistent with our objectives. If we are too timid with our spending targets, who will take us seriously? As you can see, dear members of the European Council, it is not possible to separate the recovery plan from the MFF. It is simply not realistic. We need budgeting which strikes a balance between an extraordinary temporary instrument, and an ordinary permanent one. We need to better synchronise the two instruments, in terms of both time scale and impact.
If we are to bring about a recovery, we need steady, long-term funding. This is a prerequisite for Parliament’s consent.
We have recognised that the only way out of the crisis is through solidarity. And the solidarity we are now demonstrating represents a united Europe in its most visible form. Solidarity calls for responsibility and coherence. Shared values have helped us grow. Let’s not reduce the European Union to the role of a cash dispenser. Parliament attaches great importance to the sound management of common resources and, at the same time, to observance of the rule of law. There is no alternative: solidarity and the benefits of the single market go hand in hand with respect for our values. Our fellow citizens are looking to the institutions to make sure that there cannot be one without the other. That is a condition which can safeguard the nature and independence of our institutions.
As I’m sure you understand, Parliament will give its consent to the MFF only if the priorities I have outlined today are met. I say this with all due respect for your role, but also with the authority deriving from the mandate issued to Parliament by a very significant majority through the resolution adopted last May.
Members of the European Council, in past years we have been told that what was good for the rich would also be good for the poor. We all know that it didn’t turn out that way. For too many decades, people who were born poor have stayed poor. For too many decades, social mobility, which was so important to my generation, has stalled. It is for these reasons that Parliament is calling for a more ambitious plan. We represent all EU citizens, and most of them are struggling to get by. If we fail to live up to our responsibilities, if we fail to respond with courage and a sense of justice to all these people, who have a right to a secure future, for themselves and their children, we will have a problem which casts doubt not only on the European integration process, but on the very ability of democratic institutions to function.
The whole world is watching. Those for whom Europe is a trusted partner – who believe in the power of Europe, share its values and perhaps even aspire to join us one day – look to us with hope. Others are watching with a different kind of hope, that of seeing our Union fall apart so that they might usurp us on the international stage. They do not want to see a Europe that is strong, democratic, economically and socially advanced and fair, that upholds the rights of individuals, both at home and abroad. That Europe clashes with their model of society. We cannot let our detractors win. Let’s do our citizens and international partners proud.