Upcoming European Council debated in plenary

On October 5th, the European Parliament held a Plenary debate to discuss the upcoming European Council meeting

By Christopher Ball

05 Oct 2016

Ivan Korčok, representing the Slovak Presidency of the EU, began by saying that there are three points on the agenda of the meeting of Heads of State.

  • Migration – The European Council will start the debate on the principle that there can be no return to uncontrolled flows. The EU must have full control of its external borders and he would like to see movement on a common asylum policy. He called for assistance for Bulgaria to protect its external borders. The European Council will need to take stock of the progress made. On the external boarders’ protection, the European Coast Guard and Border force will begin work. This must be made fully operational. In order to manage successfully the migration challenge, it is important to look beyond European borders. The European Council will thus look at the migration compacts. On the external dimension, there will be a review of the implementation o the EU-Turkey statement.
  • Trade – there will be a two-track approach to this debate. There needs to be a broad discussion on the future of trade policy. Trade is an engine of growth and the EU needs to use trade to exert its influence on the global stage. On the other hand, there has to be a reflection on how the European public sees trade policy. There will also be a debate on particular issues including MES for China, TTIP and the finalisation of CETA. Trade defence instruments will also need to be discussed.
  • Russia – there will be an overall debate on the question of the relationship with Russia.

Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker explained that the Commission presented an action programme a few weeks ago and it now wants to see the co-legislators adopt these ambitious texts as soon as possible. He then raised the question of the Bratislava meeting of EU27, where the State of the Union address was welcomed by the Heads of State. The EU27 adopted a roadmap, but this was not sufficiently concrete enough. He called for a timetable that would place obligations on certain parties. The Slovak Presidency has done excellent work. There needs to be a working programme agreed by the end of the year between the three institutions. This is true for all the proposals that the Commission has presented and especially those on digital union. These proposals are the maximum achievable in this area and they are indispensable. He accepted that there may be a difficult debate, but he called for the European Council to decide on whether it will be left up to individual ministers to decide on questions like the radio spectrum. Member states must take decisions.

On migration, the Bratislava meeting decided to implement the decisions already taken and the Hungarian people decided the same. On the post-Dublin system, he noted that it will be important to see how different viewpoints can be reconciled. He then said that the Commission has made it clear to the Bulgarian government that it will assist them in carrying out better controls of its borders. He then claimed that the agreement with Turkey is working as the number arriving in Greece has fallen drastically. This does not mean that everything is working in Turkey. He then stressed the need to tackle the root causes of migration and argued that the external investment plan should help in this regard.

Moving on to the question of trade, he said that trade is essential. He raised the example of the South Korea FTA which he argued created 210 000 jobs. Trade is a job creator. The agreement with Canada must enter into force. The final agreement will include a specific declaration to deal with the concerns of member states. Trade defence instruments cannot be forgotten. The Commission made proposals in 2013 and he called on the Council to decide on this question. The Council is split down the middle on this proposal, but it must find a compromise. This is essential to protect European industry. 

His speech can be found in full here.

Manfred Weber (EPP, DE) noted that the youth guarantee has created 1.4 million jobs. This shows what can be done. He said that the EPP supports the Commission in respect of CETA. He then stressed the need for clarity from the UK government on Brexit. The four freedoms of Europe are not up for discussion. This is a red line that cannot be crossed. He welcomed that Farage is not here. The UK is no-longer number two on the league table of economies in the EU – it is now number three. Farage has cost the UK a lot of money. He then criticised the arrogance of the UK government. The Bratislava meeting called for progress on defence union, but the UK has said that it will block progress on this whilst it remains a member. He then expressed his hope that Theresa May will work on developing a plan for her country.

He then raised the issue of Syria. Putin and Assad are committing mass murder. He asked why the peace demonstrators are not on the streets about this. Humanitarian considerations must be put centre stage. Appeasement of Russia has failed and the EU must recognise that Putin cannot be a partner for the EU whilst he still believes that force is a tool of policy. He noted that Farage and Le Pen have both praised Putin, the latter he understands since the FN receives funding from Russia. He called for the European Council to call into question all cooperation with Putin across the board including pipelines.

Gianni Pittella (S&D, IT) argued that Bratislava was a wasted opportunity. The UK Government seems to be delaying Brexit. The UK is also threatening to unilaterally reject all EU law. Mrs May seems to have started her negotiations very badly. The EU must send out a strong message on how it wants to progress. He called for a real industrial policy as the EU cannot exist only to serve multinationals like Caterpillar and Alstom. Tax fraud must also be combatted. Migration must be tackled. On trade, he agreed that it is an engine on growth, but dumping must be protected against. The S&D is opposed to granting China MES. As for Syria, he stressed the need to work against these crimes against humanity.

Syed Kamall (ECR, UK) claimed that the UK government plans to transpose EU legislation into UK law. There will be no unpicking until the UK leaves the EU. Bratislava was a wasted opportunity. He noted that perhaps the only difference was that the EU27 could not blame the UK for a lack of progress. If the EU is to truly resolve its problems, the European Council must show results. There must be progress on migration, internal security threats and trade. Citizens must be shown that the EU understands their concerns. Illegal migration must be tackled whilst offering asylum to those that need it. Russia must also be shown that its actions do not come without consequences. He then called for red tape to be removed to allow for jobs. He also called for support for CETA.

Martin Schulz then announced that Lord Kirkhope will be leaving the European Parliament after this session.

Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BE) warned that the challenges of the next European Council show that the EU risks falling into the hands of the populists and demagogues. There must be decisive action on what is happening in Aleppo. Humanitarian aid is not enough for this crisis. There must be sanctions on Putin and Assad and a no-fly zone over Aleppo. The economic crisis must also be finally resolved. The financial mess in Europe still exists. There must be a fully-fledged banking union and proper economic governance. This just creates further uncertainty. The failure to resolve the banking crisis is just prolonging the crisis. He pleaded that the European Council finally works on the Five Presidents report. Brexit must also be discussed. This cannot be ignored as the European Council must respond to the announcement of Prime Minister May. There can be no pre-negotiations. Negotiations must be completed by the next European Parliament elections. The new relationship with the UK must be close. Whatever this relationship is, the four freedoms cannot be infringed upon.

Gabrielle Zimmer (GUE/NGL, DE) asked if the EU is finally prepared to build a social union. Without this, the EU has no future. This is part of the migration debate as well. The member states must not dilute European values. There must be clear statements on women’s rights in Poland. On trade, she asked if the Council will talk about the need for more negotiations on the future of CETA. She also said that sanctions are not the way forward for Putin. He is committing war crimes, but is not acting alone. Sanctions and isolation achieve nothing. The EU must not be drawn into the American political campaign in this regard.

Philippe Lamberts (Greens/EFA, BE) noted that after a record year in climate temperatures and massacres in Syria, the numbers of people dying in the Mediterranean are at a record level. The deal with Turkey is not working well and populism is rising in the EU. What will the Heads of State do in the face of this? They will discuss CETA which will cost 200 000 jobs in Europe. The deal will also hurt the climate. Perfecting the internal market would be a far more beneficial tool as would real investment in energy transition. He called for an entire rethink of how employment and labour are organised. The benefits from the digital transition must not be snatched by a happy few. On migration, he argued against fortress Europe and for real solidarity to be shown. With sufficient political will, this is all achievable.

David Borrelli (EFDD, IT) said that a strong message must be sent that there is a desire to deal with migration. On trade, he said that it must serve the common good and provide benefits for everyone and not just the few. Why is the Council not defending the EU and taking common decisions on trade? Why is the EU not using its size to influence the global trading system?

Marine Le Pen (ENF, FR) argued that CETA is just a smaller TTIP that will benefit only multinationals. On migration, only 30 percent come from Syria. Is this actually thought about? The European people do not want more migrants. She then said that Russia is fighting Islamic terrorists.  The Americans caused the chaos in this region of the world. Why is the EU investing in Africa when Europe is getting poorer? She then claimed that the UK is actually doing better than it was prior to the referendum. 

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