Speech by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, at the European Council meeting on 14 and 15 December 2017

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  1. Brexit

I should like to congratulate the negotiator, Michel Barnier, on the excellent work he has done and express Parliament’s satisfaction at the unity we have shown.

In the resolution we adopted yesterday, Parliament noted the fact that sufficient progress has been made for the negotiations to move on to the second phase. Now we need to be vigilant for the next steps.

In the light of the statements made on the other side of the Channel last weekend, we want to underline that the joint report is a binding document, not an exercise in sleight of hand to enable us to move on to the second phase. There can be no discussions on future relations if the exit agreement is not applied to the letter.

The fact that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made does not mean that we have resolved all the problems. We still have a lot of work to do. Parliament will pay particularly close attention to the measures proposed to genuinely safeguard the rights of citizens and to the procedure which will be introduced to guarantee their special status.

I am also delighted that the British Government has agreed to honour its financial commitments. I never doubted that it would. As regards the issue of the Irish border, Ireland’s problems are the Union’s problems.

The United Kingdom must shed all ambiguity: the specific solution agreed for this border must not become a back door into the internal market.

As regards future relations with the United Kingdom, there are red lines which are non-negotiable: integrity of the internal market, decision-making autonomy of the Union, and third-country status, with all that that implies. In this difficult second phase as well, unity will be our shield.

We will play our part in drafting the agreement on future relations which Parliament will ultimately have to approve.

We face a series of challenges on matters which our citizens regard as priorities.

  1. Security and defence

According to the findings of the Eurobarometer survey, EU citizens want a Union which takes more effective action in the areas of security and defence. We cannot continue to rely on the military might of others. Our security, monitoring our borders, managing migration, fighting terrorism and the stability of regions immediately beyond our borders are our responsibility.  

In signing the Rome Declaration, we made a commitment to revitalise the Union, starting from a common defence. The first step is to develop a European industry and a European market which generate economies of scale and facilitate interoperability.

Twenty-five Member States have just taken an historic step forward by introducing arrangements for permanent military cooperation. The objectives include developing European defence instruments and conducting joint security operations. The EU defence fund, which is currently being discussed in Parliament and which would be used to support the security and defence industry, points in the same direction.

Our industry will benefit from spin-offs generated by research projects and the development of prototypes. The more effective use of funds at EU level will be matched by savings at national level. Common procurement procedures and common standards will enhance our ability to launch joint security operations.

We should follow the example of our space policy where European systems, such as EGNOS, Galileo and Copernicus, have helped to make us more competitive. Drawing on that example, the next budget must set aside the funds needed for proper investment in security and defence.

  1. Social, educational and cultural dimension

Globalisation and new technologies are serious concerns for our citizens, who want a Union which ensures that no one is left behind.

Digitalisation, robotics and artificial intelligence are transforming manufacturing and skills. The new jobs being created are not enough to offset those which have been lost to machines and technologies. Around half of all human activities could be replaced by automated processes.

The Union must steer this ongoing revolution, by investing in training. More effective coordination between universities, training centres and industry is essential if workers’ skills are to develop in line with changing needs.

The new EU budget should make additional resources available, not only for the Erasmus programme for students, but also for apprenticeships and traineeships for persons seeking to re-enter the labour market.

It is firms which create jobs, and for that reason any rational employment policy must be based on support for the real economy. 

Our entrepreneurs must be able to invest in Europe without facing unfair competition from businesses which deal with overcapacity problems by laying off European workers, while taking advantage of subsidies and selling their products below cost price. Parliament insisted that the new method for calculating anti-dumping duties should not impose any additional burden of proof on SMEs and take account of social and environmental dumping.

Parliament’s proposal on the Posted Workers Directive combines provisions to protect workers, enhance competitiveness and create a fairer market. I hope that an agreement can be reached with the Council as soon as possible.

If we want to create jobs, we must also focus on sectors of high labour intensity and creativity. Our history and culture, which go back thousands of years, offer potential for growth which we must exploit to the full.

I am thinking of tourism, design, the digitalisation of cultural sites, luxury goods and high-end craft products. We are not only the continent with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites; we are also still the leader in many branches of the cultural and creative industries.

In its resolution on A coherent EU policy for the cultural and creative industries, Parliament calls for measures to promote a sector which employs 12 million people.

In this sector as well, the digital revolution is opening up unprecedented prospects, provided that we come up with the right policies to govern it. Digital platforms must not be above the law. Like other firms, they must be accountable, pay taxes, guarantee transparency and safeguard social rights, minors, security, consumers and intellectual property.

The market for pirated and counterfeit goods is continuing to grow, thanks in no small part to the web. If we fail to safeguard creativity and the work done by product and fashion designers and creators of songs, films, articles and books, investment will dwindle, with serious consequences for Europe’s competitiveness.

Even more than our economy, culture is the glue which holds Europe together. Awareness of our own identity is the foundation for a strong and open Europe which sees diversity as an asset.

The European Year of Cultural Heritage, of which the European Parliament has been a strong advocate, offers an opportunity to rediscover and promote that identity and bring the Union closer to its peoples.

  1. Immigration

Our citizens are looking to us to resolve the migration crisis. They no longer accept the uncontrolled flows of migrants, pilgrimages of refugees hopping from country to country in search of asylum, mass deaths in the desert or at sea, or the appalling spectacle of markets where people are sold as slaves.

Piecemeal responses are the opposite of effective solutions. What we need instead is a strong European strategy, genuine coordination and more pooling of resources.

On the one hand, we need to step up checks at our external borders, turning back those who have no right to enter, or arranging quickly and firmly for their readmission; on the other, we need to show solidarity with those fleeing wars and persecution.

The current asylum system, which leaves countries of first entry to bear the full brunt of dealing with migrants, is not working. Parliament has approved by a wide majority an overhaul of the Dublin system, to introduce rules which increase the element of solidarity and make the system more uniform and effective. We want the system for the allocation of refugees to be automatic and to be based on fair and objective criteria, in keeping with the spirit of solidarity on which our Union has been founded from the start.

Now it is up to the Council to do its part, as quickly as possible. Although efforts to achieve a broad consensus on such a sensitive topic are laudable, it is not right to insist on unanimity at all costs in cases where the Treaties provide for decision-making by a qualified majority under the ordinary legislative procedure. The danger is not only that a decision of fundamental importance to EU citizens will be put off indefinitely, but also that Parliament will be deprived of its powers as co-legislator. As President of the European Parliament, it is my duty to safeguard its prerogatives.

At the Abidjan summit, the urgent need for us all to work together to stabilise Libya and protect human rights emerged very clearly. The African Union is calling on us to speak with one voice and coordinate our efforts.

Shutting down the central Mediterranean corridors will require investments similar in scale to those used to halt migration via the Balkan route. This money must be spent in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Niger, Chad or Mali. It must be used to train border guards and members of the security forces, or to set up reception centres under the auspices of the UN, where humanitarian protection can be provided and asylum applications dealt with.

The problem of migration, which is linked to demographics, climate, terrorism, wars and poverty, must be tackled at its root. We must offer young Africans real prospects, otherwise they will leave not in their thousands, but in their millions.

The EUR 3.4 billion investment plan for Africa, which we approved in July, is an important step in the right direction. But much greater efforts are needed if Africa is to develop a manufacturing base, farm efficiently, exploit renewable sources of energy and build up proper infrastructure.

In Abidjan I proposed that as from the next budget at least EUR 40 billion should be set aside for the investment fund. The leverage effect and synergies generated with the funding provided by the European Investment Bank could make it possible to mobilise some EUR 500 billion, thereby doubling foreign investment in Africa.

  1. Strengthening economic governance

We need to complete the Banking Union and the capital market. Reducing risks must imply pooling them.

Parliament is in favour of transforming the European Stability Mechanism into a European Monetary Fund. We also support the idea of appointing an EU Finance Minister; he or she would also be a Vice-President of the Commission and chair the Eurogroup, and would have the confidence of the European Parliament after going through a hearing and approval procedure.

These reforms must go beyond mere window-dressing; what are needed are real powers, a large enough budget and democratic scrutiny.

  1. A political budget

As I emphasised at the last European Council meeting, I agree with Commissioner Stylianides on the need to develop genuine European civil protection.  We could endow ourselves with the joint capabilities and resources needed to respond promptly and more effectively to requests for assistance from Member States and neighbouring countries. In so doing, we could show our citizens the more practical face of European solidarity.

This is another example of how pooling resources in certain sectors generates efficiency gains and savings for all the Member States.

Similarly, we need to pool more resources in the areas of defence, training, culture and immigration. The Union needs a political budget which reflects citizens’ priorities. This reform should be at the top of our list, and it does not even require an amendment to the Treaties.

We must not increase the burden on citizens and SMEs – they already pay too much tax. We need to generate Community own resources by collecting revenue from those who avoid taxes at the moment.

On the basis of the Monti report, Parliament is considering a series of possibilities. These include taxes on digital platforms, which would do away with the problem of tax dumping and the territoriality of profits, and on speculative financial transactions.

I also regard bolder action against tax havens as essential.