Speech by the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, at the European Council meeting on 15 and 16 October 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
Over the last few months, the COVID-19 crisis has affected every aspect of our lives. It has been so pervasive that it has overshadowed another major crisis, the climate emergency. As recent extreme weather events in Europe have tragically reminded us, climate change remains one of the most pressing issues of our time.
The pandemic and the measures we have taken to deal with it offer us unprecedented opportunities to forge a future based on environmental and social sustainability.
It is time for Europe to show leadership. Through the Paris Agreement, European nations made a commitment to lead the way towards a green transition. It is now our political and moral responsibility to deliver on those promises. The EU has the economic and political capacity to do so.
I regard the Climate Law as a cornerstone of the Green Deal, as it enshrines in law the 2050 climate neutrality objective and sets a more ambitious target for emissions reductions by 2030. The European Parliament’s position is that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030. The next decade will be crucial if we are to reverse the trend. We need a target which acts as a bright beacon on the path to climate neutrality. I believe it will be less costly to act decisively now, rather than wait and hope that more can be done later. Moreover, we must mobilise and support industry in working towards a more sustainable economy, so that industrial competitiveness and climate policy are mutually reinforcing. Protecting the environment means new jobs, more research, more social protection, more opportunities.
Efforts made by those who depend predominantly on carbon-based industries must be recognised and supported.
Climate change does not stop at national borders: a joint effort is needed to help the planet. We must act more resolutely at global level, in keeping with the Paris Agreement. This is true both for us Europeans and for our partners.
In the months to come, we will invest massively in the rebuilding of our economies and we must ensure that the recovery is not driven by the paradigms of the past. We should use the economic stimuli provided by public institutions to radically change our growth models while guaranteeing a fair transition that works for us and for future generations. No one should be left behind. The pursuit of climate neutrality represents an opportunity to narrow divides in our societies and restore balance by making them fairer and more inclusive.
This brings me to our partnership with Africa, one which is essential for growth, prosperity and security in that part of the globe. The stronger Africa becomes, the stronger we will be. Europe and Africa are united by a shared future. We therefore need to invest more in our cooperation at all levels, but with a special emphasis on health, education and climate change, which remain top priorities today. In stepping up our cooperation, we should also focus on innovation, the digital economy, energy and agriculture. We should also ramp up our humanitarian and development response in order to assist African countries in tackling the immediate health challenges they face. I welcome the Commission's initiative to establish an EU Humanitarian Air Bridge.
In addition, I should like to highlight the need to conclude the new post-Cotonou agreement, and I thank the German Presidency for its efforts to make finalising the negotiations a priority. I remain optimistic that the proposed new agreement will help to meet the aspirations of the citizens of the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific and of the EU and that it will incorporate a strong parliamentary dimension.
Two weeks ago, the European Council called for a de-escalation of tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean and urged Turkey to refrain from provocations in breach of international law. Unfortunately, things seem to be moving in the opposite direction. The Oruç Reis is back where it was in August. The Turks have unilaterally decided to re-open part of the Varosha holiday resort. Turkish rhetoric is growing increasingly aggressive and the country's intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is certainly not helping matters. Now is the time for the EU to fully support German mediation efforts, to stand united and speak with one voice. This is the only way to send a credible message and lend greater impetus to the de-escalation efforts.
Eleven weeks from tomorrow, the transition period with the United Kingdom will come to an end and EU law will cease to apply there. It will no longer be business as usual for workers, SMEs, students, researchers and traders in goods and services. There will be changes come what may, but they will be much more significant if we do not manage to reach a deal setting out the substance of our future relationship as from 1 January 2021.
We are at a critical juncture and we need to take stock, particularly with regard to our citizens and businesses, who want to know what to expect so that they can plan for the future and feel protected. It is our duty to safeguard their interests. We had hoped that by this summit we would be in a position to conclude an agreement, but that is not yet the case.
The EU has been crystal clear from the outset about what our fundamental principles are in these negotiations and on the issues which need to be resolved. We want a comprehensive agreement with free and fair competition at its core, a long-term, balanced solution on fisheries and a robust mechanism to ensure that the rules are observed. This is not about tactics, but rather about safeguarding the foundations and the very essence of the European Union, which can never be negotiated away.
And whilst the pace of the talks has picked up recently and the EU will continue to negotiate until the last possible moment, I am concerned about the lack of clarity from the UK side, as the end of the year is fast approaching. An agreement is in the best interests of both sides, but, as I have said before, this can never be at any cost. I hope that our UK friends use the very narrow window of opportunity that remains to work constructively towards overcoming our differences.
As regards the Withdrawal Agreement, we fully expect the UK to uphold the rule of law and honour the commitments that were painstakingly negotiated and ratified by both sides. Peace and stability on the island of Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement are at stake. Nothing that jeopardises these achievements can be accepted, and we have a shared interest in and commitment to avoiding a hard border. We therefore urge the UK to honour its undertakings and, as a matter of urgency, remove the controversial provisions from the Internal Market Act. This would constitute a step towards restoring the trust which is fundamental to our future relationship.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The global and geopolitical challenges facing the Union, against the background of a pandemic whose continuing spread is putting our Member States to a serious test, calls for prompt responses to the problems our citizens are enduring. Emergency measures have been taken, as we all know, but we cannot yet say whether they will be enough to vanquish a crisis which, as we are coming to understand more clearly every day, is unpredictable and far-reaching in its implications. A ‘second phase’, involving even larger-scale measures, cannot be ruled out. We are navigating stormy seas, and we must consider every option if we want to avoid a shipwreck. This is why Parliament is so determined to reach an agreement in the negotiations on the MFF and the Recovery Plan. Progress has been made in some areas. Good. This is welcome, but we need to keep moving forward. Parliament is not obstructing anything.
Recognising the urgency of the situation, in mid-September Parliament took the first steps on the road to ratification of the Recovery Instrument. However, we need to reach agreement on a binding timetable for the introduction of new own resources over the next few years, to at least cover interest and repayments.
More than two years after the Commission put forward its proposals, we also welcome the opening of talks on shielding the Union budget against the impact of breaches of the rule of law. We are determined to fight for a robust mechanism which can be applied effectively in practice.
There is one area where no progress has been made, however.
In July, quite understandably, you focused your efforts on the Recovery Instrument and the sums to be made available to each Member State. But cutting the seven-year programmes which have a clear European dimension is the wrong approach.
In an effort to reach a compromise, Parliament has retreated significantly from its initial positions on the MFF. In a spirit of constructive realism, I should like to summarise the key points for Parliament.
First of all, let me remind you that our negotiators asked for an additional EUR 39 billion. This is a paltry sum when set against an overall package worth EUR 1800 billion, but one which would make an enormous difference to the citizens who will benefit from our common policies.
We have put forward creative proposals to finance this 39 billion. In order to do this, we need an increase in the spending ceiling of 9 billion euros to reach exactly the same level of spending as in the 2014-2020 period in real terms.
Second key point: we are proposing that interest payments for Next Generation EU should not count towards the MFF ceilings. It should be remembered that the Next generation EU is an extraordinary commitment, and therefore the cost of the interest should be treated as an extraordinary expense as well. It should not come down to a choice between these costs and the programmes of the MFF.
Therefore, if we keep Next Generation EU interest payments outside the ceilings, we will have an additional EUR 13 billion available for the programmes.
Thirdly, we need flexible provisions which are robust enough to allow us to cope with unforeseen events and which ensure that not a single euro under either the MFF or the Recovery Instrument is wasted. Any unused funds should be redistributed to the programmes covered by the multiannual framework.
At present, the negotiations are stalled.
You have it in your hands to get them moving again.
If progress is to be made, the negotiating mandate issued to the German Presidency needs to be updated. We are not asking to start again from scratch. It is not about calling into question the July agreement, but taking a small step which would move us closer to final approval of the package.