The political agenda of the European Parliament for the coming years will be very demanding. In the short term, we have to find an agreement with the Council on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which ensures that we have enough budgetary resources to deal with the serious challenges we face.
Among these challenges are the need for greater convergence and the fight against inequalities as well as migration, defence and security, climate change, decarbonisation and the digital transition.
At the same time, we have to push for a more growth-friendly fiscal policy in the Eurozone, as the European Central Bank has requested, so that fiscal policy can - together with monetary policy - address the slowdown in our economy and deliver better results in terms of prosperity and job creation.
More urgently, from a structural perspective, there is still a lot to be done on the reform of the Economic and Monetary Union, the conclusion of the Banking Union and the implementation of both the new European Green Deal and the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Other important issues will also be high on our agenda; namely migration policy and the respect for rule of law in the EU.
On both issues, we must ensure that our fundamental European values are fully safeguarded. All these and other topics will be up for discussion in the Conference for the Future of Europe, which starts in May.
This Conference is a major opportunity to engage with European citizens and debate where we want to go from here in building a fairer, more prosperous and democratic Europe.
On top of this, if you add the negotiations with the UK on the future relationship with the EU following Brexit, it is clear that we will have an extremely busy agenda in the European Parliament.
“I would say that the committees are paramount in the whole process of democratic policymaking in the European Union”
I think that the greatest challenge facing the European Parliament and MEPs is the task of delivering better results for our citizens.
We cannot ignore the rise of nationalism in Europe, which has taken the form of a strong populist, anti-European extreme-right movement.
However, for the first time in four decades, the European elections last May showed an increase in the overall turnout of voters, particularly among young people.
What’s more, the outcome of the elections gave a strong mandate to pro-European forces. Nevertheless, if you look at the current composition of the Parliament, you can see that Eurosceptic parties are tighter and better-organised under the common goal of undermining the European project, while selling illusions on going back to old borders and divisions.
Sadly, European history shows how misleading and damaging these ideas can be. For this reason, it is of utmost importance that we stay united behind a strong pro-democratic, pro-European front, one that works to promote unity, consensus and trust as well as address the legitimate concerns of European citizens.
Fighting misinformation and fake news, improving our democratic procedures, promoting our European values and delivering more concrete results to our citizens - these are the best ways in which the Parliament can foster a strong feeling of belonging in the European Union.
The European Parliament held decisive political sway in shaping the new Commission, contributing to a better and more transparent choice of the College of Commissioners. It also improved on the original proposed agenda for the next five years.
Parliament is already playing a key role in the MFF discussions and for good reason; we want Europe to be able to implement our citizens’ main expectations. In order to do this, we need to have the appropriate financial means, without the major cuts initially proposed by the Council.
This will not be an easy task, but I hope that we will be able to reach a compromise among the three institutions, even if it takes longer than expected.
Converting the Social Pillar from words into eﬀective action with clear and broad commitments will undoubtedly be one of our most important political initiatives in the upcoming years.
Let us not forget that among the proposals in the Social Pillar are the creation of a Child Guarantee to fight poverty and exclusion and establish a European minimum wage - two crucial aspects that we, as social democrats, want to turn into reality.
I hope that citizens will recognise that European democracy is improving. The European Parliament - the only one of the institutions directly elected by the people - will play a leading role during the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe.
“Trade agreements emerge as an opportunity for the EU to play a major role in the global economy, but also to promote sustainable development, environmental goals and workers’ rights”
This is a Europe-wide initiative that will ask citizens to participate, debate and express their views on what kind of Europe they want for the future. This will be a cornerstone of our mandate and I, as Vice-President for democracy, will follow the debates very closely.
The Committees of the Parliament play a fundamental role in shaping the whole decision-making process, as well as scrutinising the work of the European Commission.
By allowing for specialised debates by the committee members - which often gather the opinions of experts in a certain field - the committees provide the necessary space for discussion among political groups, allowing for a much-needed consensus in shaping EU policies.
I would say that the committees are paramount in the whole process of democratic policy-making in the EU. As far as the new Commission under Ursula von der Leyen is concerned, I must say that up to now, the cooperation has been very positive and the Green Deal is undoubtedly an important milestone.
The S&D Group deserves much of the credit for putting this on top of the EU agenda, making sure that the new Commission would follow through with our proposals and hear the hopes and aspirations of European citizens.
I believe that Commissioner Frans Timmermans has done remarkable work in a very limited time. We will now work with the Commission to translate this strategy into legislative proposals and financial instruments.
It will take some time, but the political signal is there - Europe is taking the lead against climate change. The European Parliament and the S&D Group have been calling for a more ambitious green agenda at European level, namely on CO2 emission targets.
I am glad to see that the ambition is clear: we want Europe to be the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050. Climate change is a serious problem that requires full political commitment.
I can only echo what António Guterres, the Portuguese Secretary-General of the United Nations, said recently when he called for greater action at global level, asking major economies to pull their weight in order to avoid reaching the “point of no return.”
The fact that there is no single political group with an overall majority in Parliament is far from a new situation in the framework of the European political outset, and I do not believe that the power balance is significantly diﬀerent from the previous term.
The main political families are still the same and political compromises are still needed. This is how democracy works in the European Parliament.
“It will take some time, but the political signal is there - Europe is taking the lead against climate change”
The Parliament has always taken its political responsibility very seriously and, despite some diﬃculties in a number of issues, we are normally able to build compromises across diﬀerent political groups in order to have a strong position in negotiating with the Commission and the Council.
This was quite clear when we recently rejected three proposed European Commissioners and when we decided, of our own accord, to elect David Sassoli as Parliament President.
I do not see any reason for the European Parliament’s political position to be weaker this time when dealing with the other Institutions.
Moving on to trade, I would say that - despite the current trade war and protectionist trends - we live in an ever-increasing interdependent global economy.
The EU’s highly ambitious trade agenda gives the bloc a major strategic role on the world trading scene, pushing for an open and fair global order.
The EU aims to achieve wider opportunities for people and companies, removing trade barriers and creating eﬃcient multilateral cooperation between partners.
Trade agreements emerge as an opportunity for the EU to play a major role in the global economy, but also to promote sustainable development, environmental goals and workers’ rights, among other features.
We must bear in mind that the EU is the world’s largest exporter of manufactured goods and services and the main economic and investment partner for 80 countries in the world.
Our success as a Union also depends on the relations that we manage to establish with other regions. As the rapporteur for the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, the most important bilateral trade agreement ever concluded by the EU, whose two partners represent nearly a quarter of world’s total GDP, I can tell you that this agreement will be a game-changer.
Due to the removal of tariﬀ s and various trade barriers, together with the inclusion of a highly progressive sustainable development chapter, this agreement is a great example of how the EU is actually capable of shaping global trade rules, promoting its values and rejecting protectionism.
When it comes to the UK’s imminent departure from the EU, I would say that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, and therefore the existing proximity between the EU and the UK will no longer be the same.
Even an ambitious agreement, widely and extensively negotiated, as envisaged, will not be able to keep things as they are.
Nonetheless, we will work together to build a sound and positive relationship, doing our best to ensure the integrity of the single market while fully protecting citizens’ rights.