President Sassoli's speech to the European Council


This afternoon (17 October), European Parliament President David Sassoli opened the European Council in Brussels. This was the first time he has attended the Council in his role as President of the European Parliament.

President of the European Council,

President of the Commission,

Heads of State and Government,

This is the first time I have had the pleasure of opening a meeting of the European Council, and I take pride in speaking to you on behalf of the European Parliament.

We are at the start of a parliamentary term set in process by elections held at the end of May in which, for the first time in many years, the downward trend in voter turnout was reversed.

This is significant, showing that the European public grasped exactly what was at stake at a crucial moment in the European integration process.

Our citizens voted in huge numbers for parties and movements that, although with different political beliefs, identify with the main principles underpinning the European project.

The upsurge in support for populist and nationalist forces which many had predicted did not materialise.

This outcome should not mislead us or prompt us to lower our guard: EU citizens did not come out in favour of business as usual.

They instead issued a call for a new Europe, which is more attentive to their needs, is greener, is more resolute in safeguarding the rule of law, is more protective of social rights, and is more effective and transparent in its decision-making.

We need a Europe in which the people feel their voices are heard.

EU citizens elected a European Parliament that is very different to its predecessor. The balance of power among the political groups has shifted and no one group can go it alone.

However, this is not the constraint it may appear at first glance.

Today in the European Parliament, pro-European forces have the opportunity to raise their profile, and seek a consensus based approach to the public’s call for change.

The European Parliament is not a dysfunctional brake on the decision-making process; rather it is the basis of legitimacy for the European democratic system.

The start of this parliamentary term has been difficult.

The will of the European Council not to take into account the "Spitzenkandidaten", although legitimate according to the Treaties, represented for the European Parliament, a wound that will have to be healed.

For that reason, we have issued a call for a conference on the instruments of democracy in Europe to be convened.

The hearings of the Commissioners-designate are still under way and the vote on the new Commission headed by President Von der Leyen is due to take place in November.

That vote has been delayed by roughly a month. The blame for the delay cannot be laid at the feet of the European Parliament, which has and will continue to carry out its duty conscientiously and in line with its prerogatives under the Treaties.  

Let me say this clearly today to you: as it has shown in its first few months, the European Parliament intends to assert its role as one of the main actors in the European decision-making process.

It will do this constructively, working side by side with the Council and Commission; but it will also stand up for itself and its prerogatives.

 

MULTIANNUAL FINANCIAL FRAMEWORK (MFF)

President Von der Leyen was elected in Strasbourg last July based on a very ambitious programme. That programme can be implemented only if the political undertakings given are matched by appropriate funding.

The European Parliament set its own goals for the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 well ahead of schedule, in November 2018, and has been ready to negotiate since then.

Our position, which we reiterated last week, is based on the assumption that the decision on revenue and expenditure should be a ‘single package’.

On the revenue side, we need to introduce a basket of new own resources which reflect the EU’s main political priorities and offer incentives to work towards achieving them. We will push to secure a transparent budget and we believe that the time has come to do away with the whole system of rebates.

On the expenditure side, the European Parliament regards it as crucial to boost the programmes which have proved most successful — for example in the fields of youth policy, research and innovation, environment and climate transition, infrastructure, SMEs, digitalisation and social rights — while maintaining in real terms the level of funding for traditional EU policies, in particular cohesion, agriculture, and fisheries.

We need to ensure that the EU has sufficient resources to address the new challenges it faces, such as migration, external action, and defence. We also need to respond to the difficulties and economic problems that so many EU citizens face. For that reason, we are convinced that the European social model must be strengthened.

A minimum European income, European unemployment insurance, measures to combat child poverty, the Youth Guarantee, and an assistance fund for people in need are measures which must be properly funded.

The fight against climate change must be mainstreamed into all Union policies. We are keen, therefore, to hear the Commission’s proposal concerning the European Green Deal.

We need an ambitious budget, equivalent to 1.3% of gross national income. That figure is the result of a careful bottom-up assessment of the funding required for the Union’s programmes and policies.

After all, which European government would be prepared to take responsibility for a failure to honour the proposals put forward by President Von der Leyen?

We need an ambitious budget to help Europe grow.

However, it must grow in a manner consistent with our values. That is why it makes sense to introduce a new budget protection mechanism that would penalise those who disregard the rule of law without affecting payments to final beneficiaries or recipients.

A timely agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework and own resources would make it possible to conclude the negotiations on sectoral programmes and avoid the delays which beset the implementation of previous financial frameworks.

I hope that negotiations with the Council can be opened as soon as possible. We are ready to take a constructive approach, but also determined to reject any position that disregards parliamentary prerogatives or fails to take proper account of our positions.

 

CLIMATE CHANGE

Many debates and discussions in the European Parliament revolve around effective measures to combat climate change. We want to ensure the European Union takes a global leadership role in safeguarding the planet through sustainable policies. We warmly welcomed the proposals put forward by President Von der Leyen, which are in line with Parliament’s positions.

Last spring, we called the target of carbon emissions neutrality by 2050. Regrettably, the European Union was not able to sign up to this. However, it must be acknowledged that progress has been made. In particular regarding private sector climate finance and commitments.

We urge those Member States that have not yet done so to increase their contributions to the Green Climate Fund and to support the establishment of a European Climate Bank.

These policies call for far-reaching changes to the way our societies and our economies are organised. What we need to do, therefore, is agree on an appropriate investment plan and fund the green transition fairly. It is a strategic choice, which must be seen as an opportunity to develop innovative industries and create jobs.

The Green Deal will only succeed, however, if we make available the resources needed to guarantee a Just Transition.

 

BREXIT

We welcome the agreement reached with the government of the United Kingdom. We express our heartfelt thanks to the Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, for the work he has done and the result achieved.

Over the next few hours, the European Parliament will examine closely the terms and substance of the agreement to verify that it is consistent with the interests of the European Union and of its citizens. Parliament will continue to act with the sense of responsibility that we have shown to date.

 

ENLARGEMENT

Europe must play an even more prominent role in the world. To do this we need to invest in its unity and credibility. When we call on neighbouring countries to make an extra effort to change and they do so, it is our duty to make a similar effort.

This is why we support the immediate beginning of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. The European Commission is in favour of this and we would find it hard to explain to the people of those countries why we are delaying it.

Of course, much remains to be done and the accession negotiations are a long road. They will not be completed overnight, and there is a limit to how much this can cost, but their successful conclusion should also be viewed as a form of insurance for the European Union. A stable Western Balkans is essential for our security, as is ensuring that the future of the region, and Europe as a whole, is not shaped by outside interference.

 

TURKEY

For days, people throughout Europe have been following with dismay and anger events in our neighbourhood. The Kurdish population of north-eastern Syria, which fought bravely against the terrorists of the so-called Islamic State, is now under attack by a NATO country.

It is no wonder that our citizens feel a strong sense of gratitude towards the Kurds, because the battle against ISIS has been fundamental to our security.

For these reasons, we emphatically and unreservedly condemn Turkey’s military action in north-eastern Syria. This constitutes a grave violation of international law, is undermining the stability and security of the region as a whole, bringing further suffering to people already affected by war, as well as obstructing access to humanitarian assistance.

This military action must cease immediately.

We welcome the decision to coordinate national embargoes on future sales of arms to Turkey, but regard this as just a first step.

It is our duty to send an unambiguous message by promoting a joint EU embargo not just on future arms shipments but also on those already on their way.

The EU’s decision to impose sanctions on Turkey for an unacceptable action such as the offshore drilling in waters near Cyprus is positive, but it is difficult to understand why the military aggression in north-eastern Syria should not have prompted a similar response.

We must consider the full range of economic sanctions when deciding what action to take in respect of the Turkish Government. These must target individuals and businesses and must not affect civil society and a people already hard hit by the country’s economic crisis. 

The EU enjoys the sort of credibility and diplomatic tradition in the Middle East that will allow it to meet and talk with the key actors.

We must do everything in our power to stop this act of aggression and launch an initiative that can be thrashed out within NATO and submitted to the UN Security Council. By doing so, the European Union would show itself to be speaking with one voice when working for peace in multilateral fora.

Against this background, the European Parliament reiterates its call for the accession negotiations with Turkey to be suspended.

We consider it unacceptable and firmly reject any attempt by the Turkish authorities to establish a link between its military action in north-eastern Syria and the fate of Syrian refugees on Turkish territory.

It is worth reminding our citizens that the European Union is not funding the Turkish authorities but contributing directly to assisting and improving refugee living conditions through the work of UN agencies and humanitarian organisations. Human beings in need must never be used as a bargaining chip to justify violations of international law.

 

MIGRATION

On the issue of migration, although we welcome the Malta Declaration on shared management of immigrants arriving by boat in the EU as a positive first step, we remain convinced that a solution can only be found at Union level on the basis of an overhaul of the Dublin Regulation – something which, as you know, the European Parliament has long called for.

Faced with serious crises at our borders, the European Union has a duty to guarantee the protection of people who are entitled to it, including setting up a voluntary system of genuine humanitarian corridors. With the help of the relevant humanitarian agencies, such corridors would enable those in need to make the journey to Europe without having to entrust their lives to human traffickers.

Ladies and gentlemen, Parliament continues to view dialogue with the Council as crucial. We must draw on our values to help us address the events of our times wisely and avoid being caught unaware. I am sure that if we stay on the same wavelength this will be a highly successful parliamentary term.

Thank you.

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