European Council: speech of Antonio Tajani

This European Council meeting will be remembered for a long time, but we cannot yet say whether it will be remembered as a success or a failure. That will depend on us, on the responses we offer to our fellow citizens’ most pressing concerns, in particular those linked to the migration crisis which is putting our cooperation arrangements and our determination to work together to a serious test.

The issue is a complex one, and it poses a particularly daunting challenge, given the contrasting national interests at stake: nobody is unaware of this problem, least of all the public.

However, our fellow citizens are looking to the European Union to do what it was primarily set up to do,  namely to find common solutions to common problems, not least (and in particular) when national interests diverge.

There surely cannot be a single european citizen anywhere who does not want us to come up with a common solution. Unilateral solutions are by definition partial solutions, and therefore ineffective, not to say dangerous.

If the ‘every country for itself’ approach prevails, the Schengen system will not be the only thing which is in jeopardy: the very credibility of our common project will be dealt a body blow from which it will be difficult to recover.

As regards the external aspects of the migration problem, on which there is broad consensus, a number of practical measures will have to be agreed on today. As regards the internal aspects, on which there are more diverging views, we must work together to bring the opposing positions closer together and find compromise solutions which are acceptable to everyone.

 

European citizens are caught between their humanitarian instincts and their fear of uncontrolled migration.

Against that background, the first thing to do is to halt the constant stream of migrants leaving transit countries and the coast of Africa and ensure that only people genuinely entitled to asylum arrive in Europe, and do so safely.

Our fellow citizens want a Union which shows solidarity towards people fleeing persecution and war, but which is resolute in turning away those who do not have the right to enter or remain in Europe.

I want to emphasise once again that our Union is founded on a set of basic values, which include the imperative of upholding human rights and international law. All our decisions, in whatever context, must stem from an acknowledgement that human beings are at the centre of the debate.

That said, we must also acknowledge that european citizens have the right to feel protected and that they want a Union which is capable of keeping its borders secure and maintaining full control over migration.

The number one priority, therefore, must be to shut down the Mediterranean routes. Taking our cue from the agreement concluded with Turkey, which led to the Balkan route being shut down, we must invest at least EUR 6 billion in an effort to achieve that objective.

The European Commissioner to the Budget and Human resources has described that figure as realistic and possible. These resources are needed immediately, so that we can continue and step up our cooperation with transit countries and help them protect their borders. The need for closer cooperation with Libya is particularly pressing. We must support the efforts made by the authorities in individual African states to combat people traffickers and police their coastlines, by helping them to strengthen their coastguard services. We must ensure that the people smugglers can no longer get rich at the expense of the most vulnerable.

Between 2014 and 2017 alone, at least 13 000 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean, and tens of thousands more perished in the Sahara.

People who genuinely need asylum cannot be left to the mercy of unscrupulous traffickers.

We must therefore build on what is being done in Niger and set up protection and reception centres run by the United Nations and the European Union in as many African transit countries as possible.

These centres must be established along the main routes taken by asylum seekers in Africa. This would serve to create ‘asylum corridors’ which people fleeing war and persecution could use and by so doing obtain assistance and submit applications for international protection without being forced to put their lives in the hands of traffickers or risk death in the desert or at sea.  In these protection centres, each migrant’s circumstances would be assessed quickly with a view to determining their legal status. Persons entitled to asylum would be transported safely to Europe or elsewhere and then allocated fairly under resettlement schemes run by the United nations for the refugees, as already happens at the camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

We must therefore step up our cooperation with, and offer more funding to, the United nations for the refugees and the International Organisation for Migration.

We must work with Libya, of course, but also with other countries, such as Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, and provide technical assistance, financial aid and investment through appropriate forms of economic diplomacy.

In mid-July I will be travelling to Niger, a country with a key role in the context of the migration problem, and I will also be leading an economic diplomacy mission with European entrepreneurs.

Some EUR 3 billion out of the total of EUR 3.4 billion available under the european emergency fund for Africa for the Horn of Africa, North Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad region has already been used to fund projects intended to improve the management of migration and the policing of borders. The following statistic is proof that this approach works: in 2016, 150 000 migrants passed through Niger; the figure so far for 2018 is only 5000.  If we are to continue and step up our efforts, however, we need new resources now.

In the medium term, measures to stabilize Libya and help with the reconstruction of a state which can act as our partner are essential, not least in view of the share of responsibility we bear for the instability besetting the country.

I will be travelling to Libya shortly to discuss the role that the european Parliament can play in that process and in the organisation, in the future, of democratic elections. We are ready to make our resources and skills available, if necessary, for example at a conference held at Parliament which brings all the stakeholders together.

The second main focus of our efforts must be securing our external borders.

I have followed with interest the recent discussions on the proposals put forward.

Before we do anything else, we must increase the strength of the European Border and Coastguard Service; the number of officers should reach 10 000 by 2020. Just as urgently, that service must also be transformed into a genuine border police force, so that its powers and its ability to take action, not least in the context of returns and readmissions, can be enhanced.

The European Parliament also supports the proposal to turn the european asylum support office into a fully fledged european agency. That agency must be given the resources it needs and entrusted with the task of processing immediately asylum applications submitted both inside and outside the Union.

In addition to ongoing efforts to patrol the Mediterranean, close cooperation among European police forces is also essential if we are to thwart the people traffickers.

Lastly, we need to secure the prompt return of persons who are not entitled to remain in the European Union. Readmission agreements remain central to this approach. They are working, but we need to conclude agreements of this kind with more countries of origin.

We must use all the instruments at our disposal, including increased investment, economic diplomacy and trade policy, in the form of conditionality clauses, and also give priority to introducing legal immigration quotas, drawing on the existing model of the mobility agreements.

I am convinced that progress in these areas will make it easier to overhaul the asylum system.

The overhaul of the asylum system remains the key to the whole problem. We must simply accept the fact that the Dublin system was designed to deal with normal migration flows, not with migratory pressures on this scale. We all agree, admittedly for differing reasons, that it needs to be changed quickly.

The burden which the countries of first entry are being forced to shoulder is excessive. It is now quite clear that these countries cannot cope alone with such a large number of arrivals. The burden must be shared, therefore.

On the other hand, it is also clear that some countries are reluctant to accept the principle of compulsory resettlement without guarantees that migratory flows will be brought under control once and for all.

Then there is the problem of secondary movements, which, I would like to emphasise, are also a consequence of the current Dublin system. The key to resolving this problem also lies in the overhaul of the asylum system.

Parliament therefore wants to see the whole asylum package approved without delay.

It has adopted only five of the seven measures proposed. Negotiations on these five proposals from the Dublin package are already at an advanced stage, and those on the european asylum agency are almost ready to be adopted. Parliament, therefore, has not wasted any time.

But on the two more controversial issues as well, the Dublin Regulation and asylum procedures, as long ago as November 2017 and April 2018 adopted by a wide majority a reform proposal which, as I stated in my recent letter to you, could provide a sound basis for discussion.

The onus is now on you to find a common position on these two issues as well and to open negotiations as soon as possible.

We are ready, and we are convinced that the necessary compromises can be found. The alternative is to disappoint the citizens of Europe and offer an image of a Europe which is incapable of finding joint solutions. For the European Parliament, the key point is the introduction of a solidarity-based mechanism. That mechanism can take any one of several forms, provided that it is effective and it works.

We must also tackle the problem of migration at its roots. By 2050, the population of Africa will have doubled to more than 2.5 billion. If we fail to take action now, the hundreds of thousands of migrants we are currently dealing with will turn into millions, all of them fleeing the instability and security affecting large parts of Africa and the Middle East and problems such as terrorism, poverty, famine and climate change. The consequences for Europe will be devastating.

We must use the next budget to fund an investment plan for Africa which offers young Africans prospects and hope and thus a reason to stay in their home countries.  It has been calculated that we would need at least EUR 40 billion, in order to attract EUR 500 billion in investment over the next decade.

To conclude my remarks on this issue, please allow me, as a Roman, to quote Titus Livius: Dum Romae consulitur, Saguntum expugnatur: whilst Rome talks, Sagunto falls.

If we continue to talk without finding solutions, it will be the european Union and its values which fall. Their conquerors will of course not be migrants, but those who wish to tear down everything we built so painstakingly over the past 60 years.

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Urgent decisions also need to be taken on the Multiannual Financial Framework, in order to make the forthcoming negotiations easier.

It is quite clear that a budget amounting to only 1% of Europe’s gross national income will not go far.

The multiannual financial framework, not including the european development fund, in fact represents just 1.08 % of the gross national income of the 27 Member states of the european Union. That figure is not nearly ambitious enough and too far short (1.3 % of the gross national income of the 27 Member States).

If this is to be the final figure, then we can forget any ambitions we may have, since ambition alone is not enough.  We need a budget commensurate with our ambitions if we are to realise them.

Otherwise, what will happen to protecting our farming industry, scheduling multi-annual investment in our regions and implementing the effective immigration policy we talked about? What will happen to security, defence and the plan for an innovative Europe?

This is why Parliament is hoping for – and has voted by an overwhelming majority for – an increase in resources.

I know that some Member States are actually in favour of an even smaller budget, and are calling for it not to exceed 1% of european gross national income.  But it is illogical to call for ‘more Europe’ and at the same time support cuts in the european budget. We see no realistic way of ‘doing more with less’.

We must also acknowledge that in many cases our stated aims can be achieved more effectively by means of european Union than by means of national spending.

Parliament regards it as essential that the european allocate funding to new priorities such as migration and innovation, but this must not be at the expense of the european’s traditional policies or increase the pressure on its citizens.

We warmly welcome the proposal on new own resources, which we see as a key means of offsetting the cost of the United Kingdom leaving the european Union, and we hope that these will soon be supplemented by the tax on digital platforms.

We believe in a very simple principle: the revenue generated by the european’s policies and activities must feed back into the european budget.

It is not a question of having to choose between increasing Member States’ contributions and imposing new taxes on their citizens. There are a vast range of possible solutions in between. We must be creative. Take, for example, the tax on plastic. This is not actually a tax the public will have to pay, but rather a means of reducing pollution whilst also bolstering the european budget.

This is why expenditure and revenue must be discussed in parallel with one another. And, as you know, Parliament will not approve the multiannual financial framework unless that condition is met.

As regards the timetable, I must repeat what I have already said: to be convincing and to demonstrate our ability to act, we need to reach agreement on, and adopt, the best multiannual financial framework we can before the European elections. If we do so, then all the sector-specific proposals can also be adopted quickly, which will mean that the new programmes can start on 1 January 2021.

The European Parliament is ready and willing to launch formal or informal talks and enter into negotiations at any time.

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Ladies and gentlemen,

The return to growth in all the Member States is encouraging. However, in many european regions youth unemployment remains particularly high and economic and social inequalities are widening. We must make every effort and carry out all the reforms required to support growth and employment.

The successful conclusion of the support programme for Greece marks another step towards a stronger, more cohesive and more inclusive European Union.  Parliament supports the process of consolidating growth in Greece through measures to open up access to credit and foster competitiveness and investment.

On 19 June, it was approved the proposals on capital requirements and bank resolution mechanisms. This important package will stimulate the provision of credit in the real economy by striking a better balance between growth and stability. I hope that agreement can be reached with the Council as quickly as possible and that, in parallel with risk reduction and risk sharing measures, this package can help to speed up completion of the Banking Union and of the Capital Market.

Fair taxation of european companies remains one of our priorities.

On 15 March, it was adopted a resolution calling for the introduction of a European minimum rate of corporation tax and for firms to be taxed where they actually generate value. I hope that agreement can be reached as soon as possible on ways of taxing the profits hidden by means of the special deals offered to multinationals and Web giants.

In addition, I should like to point out that from the outset Parliament has championed a more efficient, transparent and democratic form of economic governance.

We welcome the proposals on enhanced fiscal capacity for the Union, on a European Finance Minister and on the conversion of the European Stability Mechanism into a European Monetary Fund, provided that the Community method is employed to carry out these reforms.

Parliament is in favour of tangible reforms in support of growth, employment, convergence, and of effective tools to counter economic and banking crises.

If we are to become more competitive, we need to complete the single market.

Significant progress has been made towards establishing a single energy market. The agreements reached in recent months between Parliament and the Council on energy efficiency and renewables provide a sound regulatory framework which can reconcile the needs of businesses with the imperative of protecting the environment. We must stimulate the kind of investment in sustainable energy that not only creates jobs, but also encourages the development of new technologies that can make us world leaders in this field. In the same vein, Parliament is hoping that the negotiations on completing the electricity market can be concluded as swiftly as possible.

Parliament is also working to complete the digital single market.

I view the agreement reached in early June on the Telecoms Code, like the one on roaming, as a very positive development which will pave the way for new services that stimulate the competitiveness of the market and cut phone charges for the public. I can also inform you that it has approved the negotiating mandate on copyright reform. This is a first step towards tackling the challenges the internet can pose. In this digital age, we must protect our content creators whilst guaranteeing broad access to creative content and freedom of expression. The added value generated should benefit the people who create the content, rather than just the web giants.

A few weeks ago, Parliament, the Council and the Commission reached agreement on rules under which data can be stored and processed anywhere in the European Union. By introducing the principle of the free movement of data, these new rules will help establish a competitive data economy that could drive an increase in gross domestic product of up to 4%.

Lastly, on 31 May Parliament issued a mandate for the opening of negotiations with the Council on European Civil Protection. This emphasises just how seriously we take the situation of EU citizens affected by disasters. Let us hope that the negotiations are swift and successful.

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Today you will also be discussing defence.

I must say that I am very pleased with the agreement reached between Parliament and the Council in late May on the European Defence Industrial Development Programme.  This is an important move in support of the competitiveness of the European defence industry and its ability to innovate. Parliament will vote on this matter next week.

It had repeatedly called on the Council, the Commission, the High Representative and the Member States to start working seriously on defence. For the first time, it has created a specific budget heading devoted to defence. This is a crucial move towards guaranteeing the security of the peoples of Europe.

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As you will know, on 13 June it has adopted a proposal about the screening of foreign direct investments in the European Union.

We need to establish a single legislative framework that acts as a point of reference for all the Member States and specifies the action to be taken on suspicious investments, and we must improve our arrangements for exchanging and sharing information.

The proposal on the screening of direct investments in the european Union is a key part of this legislative package, and the european institutions must reach agreement on it.

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In conclusion, a few words about Brexit.

In recent months, progress has been made on significant aspects of the withdrawal agreement. But progress is still needed, as a matter of urgency, on the problem of Ireland, on governance and on the issue of the protection of intellectual property and indications of geographical origin. In Parliament’s view, without an agreement on Ireland there can be no orderly Brexit, no transitional period and no trust, and trust must be the basis for our future relations.

I should like to stress once more that close future relations with the United Kingdom are in the interests of the 27, but not at any price. Parliament will not accept solutions which would jeopardise the indivisibility of the four fundamental freedoms and the Union’s decision-making autonomy.

We are also keen to see the agreements which have been reached on citizens’ rights applied in full.

Thank you for your attention.

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