Donald Tusk faces the European Parliament on UK deal

On Wednesday, the European Council President debated the settlement for the UK during the European Parliament’s plenary session.

By Erik Tate

25 Feb 2016

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, said that the last European Council was a difficult end to his term. Although there was a common solution, the real test is now ahead of them in the form of the UK’s referendum on its EU membership. They have agreed on a new settlement for the UK within the EU. This was unanimously agreed, is legally binding and is irreversible, he said. This is in conformity with the Treaties and cannot be annulled by the European Court of Justice. However, it will only enter into force if the British people vote to stay.

They have agreed to do all of this in a way that does not compromise the EU’s fundamental values, such as the freedom of movement and the principle of non-discrimination, without compromising the development of the European Economic and Monetary Union. Despite many difficulties, leaders did not walk away because of an awareness of the stakes involved. He expressed sincere thanks to President Juncker and his entire team, as well as the European Parliament’s negotiators. He recalled crucial talks with President Schulz and several group leaders, which allowed them to take into the interests of the Union as a whole.

The European Union will respect the decision of the British people. If the majority votes to leave, then that is what will happen. This would change Europe forever and would be a change for the worse. Prime Minister Cameron said in the House of Commons on Monday that now is not the time to split the West, and he could not agree more. On the other hand, if Britain decides to stay, Mr Tusk hoped that the Parliament would ensure that the agreement would be transformed into the necessary legislation and enter into force.

On the migration crisis, leaders agreed that the Action Plan with Turkey is the priority. This means that the high numbers have to go down quickly. They are therefore holding a special meeting with Turkey on March 7. The European Council focused on building consensus to tackle this crisis and looking for a synthesis of different approaches. There is no alternative to a comprehensive European response, he said. A European response does not only come from Brussels, but even more so from the decisions taken in the capitals. However, the EU should seek to improve the coordination of these decisions.

Lastly, they must all respect the rules and laws that have been adopted together. This concerns the decisions on relocation and going back to a situation where all Member States fully apply the Schengen Borders Code. They need to restore Schengen, he said. There may be countries unable to cope with this challenge, but Europe will there to assist them. Its future will be one of the key issues to be discussed by leaders on March 7.

Separately, leaders confirmed the need to keep humanitarian aid flowing to Syria and the Syrian refugees in the region. They welcomed the donors’ conference in London where two-thirds of the pledges came from Europe, and agreed to move quickly to disburse the €3.3 billion pledged for 2016 as well as the €3 billion agreed to help the refugees in Turkey. This is not only a European responsibility, however, so he would continue to build a global response to this crisis at the G7 and G20 meetings later this year.

He concluded by saying that “we have entered a most dangerous time in the European history. We must act with resolve.”

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, said that there was a difficult negotiation with the UK, but this proved that Europe is capable of taking such big decisions. He paid tribute to President Tusk in concluding the debate, and extended the same compliments to President Schulz and the European Parliament’s Sherpas. The UK Prime Minister got the most that he could, and the other Member States offered as much as they could.

The deal is fair, balanced and complies with the great principles of the European Union, he said, while taking into account the considerations of the United Kingdom. He hoped that the British people would agree with these arrangements. From the day of the approval of this agreement, the Commission will publish legislative texts for the Council and European Parliament.

The European Council also looked at refugees and migration issues, confirming what it had decided in principle in the past. It is now about ensuring that the decisions are implemented, he said. On March 7, a further European Council will take place with Turkish colleagues to work out how all can quickly apply the Schengen protocol. Only a European approach to the refugee crisis will achieve the objective; proceeding nationally will not allow them to do this. There is currently a conflict with Austria about the measures, he noted, and they are now in contact about how to deal with this matter, and he hoped that there will be successful result.

Manfred Weber (EPP, DE) said that Europe finds itself in a situation where it is surrounded by war, has an imperialist neighbour in Putin, and many people are looking for employment and prosperity within Europe. It was very difficult that at the last European Council fair welfare benefits and the priorities of the City of London were the priorities on the agenda. The British wanted to discuss these special requests as requirements to remain in the EU. It is very good that they now have an agreement, however, saying that the EPP group supports the core of the deal. It is clear that if the people of the UK choose to remain in the EU, they will find support from the EPP in implementing these. This agreement must be respected, he said.

If people are being told that a better deal could be achieved if they vote to leave, then they are not being told the truth. This is the agreement that the EPP will support and there will be no follow-up negotiations. This debate is now up to the British people. Nigel Farage (EFDD, UK) has said that the UK can perform much better outside the EU, but it is growing strongly and both the US and India are asking the UK to remain. Mr Farage has also said that terrorists are entering the UK from the EU, but military leaders argue against this. He wants to pedal mistruths to the people of the UK so that they leave the EU, which would be supported by people such as Putin. We live at a time of major uncertainties and insecurity, he said. Europe is weaker divided is tackling these issue, so hopefully the UK will address these together with them in the future.

The President of the European Commission has said that the decisions taken at European Council have been confirmed in migration, but there is still a lot of national egoism and party politics at work. There is a clear commitment that there needs to be effort secure the borders of Europe, he said. While the people who are fleeing bombs in Aleppo should not be neglected and abandoned on the Turkish border, at the same time they have to regulate things at the Greek border. There has been enough talk and now there has to be action.

The Bertelsmann Foundation a few days asking people about their opinions found that 79% of people want to keep the free movement of people in the EU and that 69% of people want to do more to help refugees. Sometimes people know more than politicians, he said.

Gianni Pittella (S&D, IT) said that the United Kingdom must remain in the EU, and not just for reasons of convenience. Any possible Brexit would be a leap in the dark with unknown consequences, particularly for British people themselves. The UK is also part and parcel of Europe, he said, and they have a shared history and culture. Without London and the UK, Europe would not be the same thing.

He said that they could not accept being taken hostage by the internal imbalance in the British Conservative Party. The principle of the free movement of citizens is intact and will not be touched. However, he was not convinced by the social dimension. There is a danger that some people would have fewer rights than another because they are not British, and this is discrimination. He hoped that this would be said after the results of the referendum by the European Commission.

Mr Pitella said that they would fight to make sure that Britain stays with them, although it is down to British citizens to take their choice. They have been world leaders and a strong factor for peace and democracy around the world. The best way to bring these principles forward would be by remaining in the European Union and working with European partners, he concluded.

Ashley Fox (ECR, UK) said that the deal struck last week was hard fought by all sides and significant hurdles were overcome. They found an agreement that enshrines the UK’s special status as a country never joining the euro or the Schengen zone, nor as part of the European political project. However it can play an important role in the European Union. The ECR group welcomes this deal, he said, and declared that he would support the campaign to remain in the European Union.

Britain’s economic recovery is still fragile, and would not want to put this at risk, he said. He also believed that UK citizens would be safer and the country more secure if they continue cooperation with European partners. There are good people who disagree with him. however, there are also those who are not respectful of other people’s choices. The latter compare the EU to the Soviet Union, he noted, which is foolish and offensive to those living under communism. Unlike the USSR, any country is free to leave the European Union. The voters in Britain will exercise their sovereignty and will decide whether to remain or to leave.

The EU must concentrate on the migration crisis it faces, he continued. The Dutch Prime Minister said that they had 6-8 weeks to save Schengen 5 weeks ago, he noted. The migrant crisis was exacerbated by Chancellor Merkel’s unilateral announcement, which broke a number of European rules, but people complain when Hungary enforces the rules at the external border. They must get the basics right of processing, detention and returns, while also preventing asylum seekers and economic migrants to move freely around the EU. They must work to end the conflict in Syria and to help camps in third countries, he said, and this must be the focus at the next EU summit.

Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BE) wondered whether Mr Fox was speaking rather that Mr Kamall because the latter remained undecided. He said that this deal is not about Europe, but actually a deal to reunite the Conservative Party. He may not know the result of the referendum, but knew that it would not reunite the Conservative Party. Boris Johnson is an ambitious politician, but he is now taking this to another level. While being the mayor of London he is acting against the interests of the people of London for his own personal gain.

The pound is rapidly falling, the unity of the UK is under threat and the US is calling on them to stop and adding that they will not make a trade deal with the UK outside of the EU. It turns out that the special relationship is perhaps not so special. People in the UK should not think that they can say no after the referendum and then return to the table only to voter again. They can now see how the currency is suffering, the UK is alienated from the US and that it is being transformed into a Little England.

This is also a dramatic debate and an important one for Europe, because they have to unite. The only ones to gain from a divided Europe are Putin and Assad. Instead of standing up to them and showing a strategy, they are showing division and internal weakness. Some are complaining about the deal and highlighting the downsides. His appeal is to do the opposite. It should put Europe back on track and. Have nothing with giving a special status with Britain, if they agree that they can go ahead in their integration. This is needed to tackle the multiple crises they are facing, such as the refugee crisis. They should do as much to solve this and finding a solution for the Brexit.

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