Sassoli: Today, at long last, Europe is in a position to reduce inequality 

Speech by the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, at the European Council meeting on 24 June 2021

Ladies and gentlemen,

As the vaccination rollout proceeds, we are – at long last – in a position to offer our citizens a return to some sense of normality in the summer months – a prospect that is so important for the recovery of those sectors dealt a particularly harsh blow by the pandemic, such as tourism, culture and transport. We took unprecedented measures in record time. Together we have put our faith in the digital green certificate as the right tool to facilitate travel within Europe and gradually restore the Schengen area – a pillar of the European Union – to its intended purpose.
We know, however, that the measures we have taken will only work if countries cooperate closely and apply them in the same way. There would be nothing worse than to have fuelled the hopes of our citizens and companies, only to let them down by failing to reach agreement among ourselves.

Looking ahead to the coming months and possible future crises, these measures are a key component of the action that the Union is taking to bolster public health prevention and preparedness.

The European Parliament is working quickly to adopt the negotiating mandate to give more powers to the European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and establish a mechanism to coordinate Europe’s response to cross-border health threats. We have the opportunity to build, step by step, the powers and mechanisms needed for a common health policy. This is also a top priority for European citizens, as emerged from the most recent Eurobarometer survey, and I believe the topic should be on the agenda at the Conference on the Future of Europe.

We firmly believe that crises can act as a catalyst for reforms that were once inconceivable and can also turn an impossibility into an imperative.

I know that today you will be discussing the next steps in adopting the national recovery plans. This is a colossal collective undertaking on the part of the EU institutions and Member States. The tremendous amount of work that is going into the recovery plans must be matched by their meticulous implementation, in line with the priorities we set together. As I have often said in recent months, the social objectives of our plans are crucial. In addition to the European Green Deal and the Digital Agenda, the third key factor in our recovery and the transformation of the Union will be the European pillar of social rights. The Europe we want to build must take into account the needs of workers. It must focus on fighting poverty and reducing inequality. It must help people live in dignity – dignity which they can find in fairly paid work.

These are the commitments we made at the Social Summit in Porto last month and that we must now honour.

As we embark upon this collective undertaking, we must not lose sight of the fact that it has to be funded. Now that the own resources decision has been ratified, the Commission can start borrowing funds to finance the recovery. What we must not do, however, is burden young people and future generations with debt by deferring the repayment of loans under the recovery package until 2058.

This is why Parliament is eager to see the initial proposals on the new own resources that the Commission will put forward in July, and we promise to take a consistent, rigorous approach – as indeed we have done throughout the pandemic.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Sunday was World Refugee Day. Last week, in the space of just 24 hours, over 700 people reached the island of Lampedusa and more and more will arrive on our shores during the summer months.

I have great faith in your discussions, and I know that in the past few days the Foreign Affairs Council and Justice and Home Affairs Council have also held further joint discussions on the measures contained in the Pact on Migration and Asylum.
We know that the external dimension is essential and that only by working together with our partners can we hope to regulate the mobility of persons, whether forced or voluntary, while upholding their rights.

But we also know that the external dimension alone is not enough without a common immigration and asylum policy at home. What is our shared responsibility in the face of this global phenomenon?

The European Parliament is considering the measures set out in the Pact on Migration and Asylum and we are ready to negotiate in a pragmatic and constructive way. Of course, this is a politically sensitive matter, but it is not acceptable that the fate of innocent people should hinge on the outcome of elections in our Member States.

We need a series of practical, properly thought-out steps laid down in a solidarity pact between us, and we can draw inspiration from our recent successful response to the economic challenges posed by the pandemic.

We need to set common standards for the reception of persons arriving on our shores, and for maritime rescue operations. We can no longer put off thinking about lawful channels for controlled immigration, and we must work together on humanitarian corridors and the tools offered by the common visa policy in order to protect people fleeing persecution and conflict who are entitled to international protection. Lawful mobility must be at the heart of our negotiations with migrants’ countries of origin - if we ignore this issue of vital importance to both sides, my fear is that concluding agreements tailored to specific countries will remain an uphill struggle. It is certainly an issue of vital importance to the European Union, which faces the challenge of falling birth rates and the no less important one of the post-pandemic recovery.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At a time when democratic values are coming under attack, Europe will only become the geopolitical force we all want it to be if our response is a firm one.

But if we are to be strong and convincing on the international stage, we need to be consistent and enforce the rule of law and the fundamental rights that we call on others to respect. Discrimination, whether on grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation, indeed on any grounds whatsoever, is incompatible with the fundamental values of the EU. This is why the recent legislative measures taken in Hungary are so worrying. No tradition or so-called cultural specificity can justify a failure to respect human dignity.

It was by reaffirming this message and these values during President Biden’s visit that the European Union made it clear that the Atlantic Ocean is our common sea and that democracy and the rule of law are essential values on both shores. Standing up for multilateralism is also hardwired into European DNA. I joined you in emphasising this to the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. He knows he can count on our support.

The same principles should govern our relations with Russia. I welcome the communication from the High Representative and the Commission. Parliament is pleased to note that the proposals it made in its resolutions have been incorporated into the draft text you have prepared. This convergence of views strengthens Europe’s position.

I also would like to remind you of the need to remain coherent and united when it comes to Russia. Any move towards dialogue with the Russian authorities is welcome, but to be effective it must be made at EU level. We must speak with one voice. Our weakness is their strength. The stronger we are, the less vulnerable we are, and the more reliable we will be in our dealings with our external partners.

This crisis can be an opportunity for all of us Europeans to renew and strengthen our common commitment to a sustainable, fair, inclusive and resilient European Union.

To achieve this, we must build on the great recovery plan that we have financed together and reflect on new rules and new mechanisms to strengthen the European economy and to respond to the challenges of our time.  We still have so much work to do. The important thing is that the EU and its Member States keep up their efforts. We owe this to our citizens, who have suffered and lost so much in the course of the crisis, and to future generations.

Thank you, and I wish you every success with your work.