[Check against delivery)]. We are gathered today in this beautiful European city of Sibiu to take stock of the two-year process of reflection on the future of our Union.
The European Parliament has been one of the key players in this process and has adopted no less than five resolutions on the matter covering many facets and containing precise guidelines and proposals.
As you know, we have also held 20 debates on the future of Europe in plenary, in which many of you have participated. I can say with some satisfaction that these have offered an unprecedented opportunity to compare views and exchange opinions. If one includes the four Council Presidency countries, we have played host to 24 EU heads of state or government over the past two years.
I wish to thank you once again, on behalf of Parliament, for your participation and for the high quality of your contributions, for your proposals and for sharing your visions of the present and future. These have provided us with precious food for thought.
What was the upshot of the whole process?
The first thing to emerge from the debates was our desire to remain together.
Every single one of the heads of state or government who spoke at Parliament acknowledged the need to tackle the challenges of the future as one. They all described the European Union as an unparalleled example of supranational integration which has ensured lasting peace, prosperity and well-being since the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950. They all said that the internal market, the single currency, the Erasmus Programme, the regional, agricultural and cohesion policies and Horizon 2020 were key EU successes which, alongside its many other achievements, have greatly enhanced the welfare of the peoples of Europe.
The vast majority of the European public also believe that we must stick together. According to Eurobarometer surveys, 62% of Europeans see their home country’s membership of the EU as a good thing, and 68% feel that their country has benefited from EU membership. That is the highest percentage since 1983. The Brexit negotiations have shown the European public just how interdependent the Member States are and have highlighted positive aspects of belonging to the Union that may previously have been taken for granted.
However, many of you, along with numerous MEPs, have also highlighted the need to improve, bolster and reform certain facets of the Union in order to make it more efficient, more democratic and more responsive to citizens’ demands.
Many people, including myself, have stressed the urgent need to bridge the gap between the institutions and the public, to regain their confidence and to rekindle their enthusiasm for the European project.
Repeated reference was made in the debates to the host of internal and external challenges that we face, both now and in the future, and which we must continue to address in an increasingly unstable and complex international climate. I refer in particular to migration, terrorism, security, climate change, environmental issues, demographic decline, maintenance of the multilateral world order, completion of economic and monetary union and globalisation, and to free, fair and structured international trade, Europe’s role in the world, developing the social pillar and fighting to uphold our values.
Parliament is convinced that, in order to meet these challenges, the EU needs to take a further step forward at this historic juncture, embark on the requisite institutional reforms, complete what has to be completed, including as regards governance, adopt the right policies (and endow itself with the resources to implement these), and perhaps also to rejuvenate that spirit of cooperation and solidarity which has been so sorely tested in recent years.
First and foremost, there is an urgent need for institutional reforms to render decision-making processes more democratic and transparent and make the EU and its institutions more accountable, as well as to enhance its efficiency and effectiveness. This, I believe, is a sine qua non for regaining the confidence of the people of Europe.
Many of these reforms can be achieved by exploiting to the utmost the potential of the current Treaties, and especially by implementing the Lisbon Treaty to the full.
Other more ambitious but equally necessary reforms will require changes to the Treaties. Parliament considers that any review of the Treaties must be prepared by a Convention, as this is the only way to guarantee that this process is transparent and inclusive and to create a forum for reflection that is open to everyone, from EU and national institutions through to civil society.
In its resolutions on the future of Europe adopted on 16 February 2017 and 13 February 2019, Parliament made a series of precise proposals, which I shall briefly illustrate.
As for the institutional set-up, there is a pressing need for the European Parliament to be granted the right of legislative initiative as the mouthpiece of the citizens of Europe, who really cannot understand why their representatives are not entitled to bring forward any form of legislation. That right of initiative should not, of course, take the place of the Commission’s right of initiative, and neither could it do so because Parliament does not have the same technical capacities as the Commission for framing detailed legislation. It could be limited to setting out general principles and objectives, leaving to the Commission the task of expressing these in the form of detailed proposals.
It might initially be limited to certain spheres and the proposals subject to adoption by a large majority.
There is also a need to strengthen Parliament’s powers of scrutiny and, in particular, its right of inquiry, which is provided for in the Treaties but not yet implemented. Parliament presented its proposal for a regulation designed to give proper effect to the work of its committees of inquiry as early as 2014. That proposal remains blocked in the Council.
With regard to the other institutions, Parliament notes that the European Council has extended its own rights of political initiative in response to recent crises, sometimes encroaching into the legislative field to the detriment of the Commission’s right of initiative and bolstering the intergovernmental approach. We, on the other hand, believe the Community method to be the most appropriate one for the Union. After all, the European Council is poorly suited to conducting legislative business, which should be left to the Council, as provided for in the Treaties.
We propose that the Council be made a genuine legislative chamber, on an equal footing with Parliament, and that increased transparency be injected into its decision-making processes. Council decisions should be taken by a single legislative Council, while the current specialised Council configurations could be converted into preparatory bodies along the lines of Parliament’s committees.
Parliament would stress once again that unanimity voting in the Council, which the Treaties require in certain fundamental matters, presents an almost insurmountable obstacle to major decisions at key times. It must be abandoned as soon as possible in order to avoid the kind of paralysis that occurred with the reform of the asylum system. At the very least we must avoid extending it to fields in which the Treaty itself provides for voting by a qualified majority.
Parliament also strongly supports the use of the ordinary legislative procedure in all the fields in which it can be applied. This can be done, in accordance with the Treaties, by using the various passerelle clauses or, in the case of enhanced cooperation, by using Article 333 TFEU.
As regards the Commission, we believe there are several ways to make this a more flexible and effective institution by adjusting the structure and working methods of the college of Commissioners. For example, Vice-Presidents could be appointed to head policy groups, and a system of senior and junior Commissioners introduced. We also take the view that, as in the past, the Commission should make the effective implementation of EU legislation and monitoring of its proper application one of its top priorities.
Finishing what needs to be finished
It has become clear that we must ‘finish what needs to be finished’ and is still not working, since nothing unfinished can be expected to work. In many respects we are still midstream.
We must either forge ahead or decide to turn back. We cannot simply wait halfway across to be swept away and possibly perish when the waters rise again.
This is particularly true of the Economic and Monetary Union. Although Europe has managed to contain and in part overcome the worst of the economic and financial crisis, major reforms are still urgently needed at EU and Member State level regarding economic governance in general and the euro area in particular, not to mention the consolidation and completion of the single market.
It is essential for us to ensure a more solid and effective governance framework with stronger democratic scrutiny by Parliament and greater decision-making transparency if we are to garner greater public confidence. The joint Franco-German declaration in Meseberg is a step in the right direction.
It is accordingly necessary to continue the process of consolidating and completing the Economic and Monetary Union, so as to help stabilise the single currency and align more closely the economic, fiscal, labour market and social policies of the Member States.
Parliament believes there is a need for greater political commitment and more effective governance with regard to the European Semester also, where scrutiny by both the European Parliament and the national parliaments is essential. This would guarantee greater social, economic and democratic legitimacy for euro area financial governance, not to mention improved follow-up on Union recommendations.
In addition, national and European budget calendars need to be better coordinated throughout the process in order to involve both the European Parliament and the national parliaments more closely in the European Semester.
Finally, we believe that responsibility for economic and budgetary policy should be shared between the Union and its Member States.
Parliament is pleased to note that France and Germany are moving towards agreement on a budget for the euro area but believes that this should be developed within the EU framework.
We also agree with the Commission proposal on the creation of a European Minister of Economy and Finance who is simultaneously the Commission Vice-President responsible for economic affairs and the President of the Eurogroup. We believe that this would help resolve the problem of parliamentary accountability at European level.
Parliament also stresses the importance of commitment to the process of completing the Banking Union in a bid to guarantee openness and equal treatment for all participating Member States and stresses the urgent need to complete the Capital Markets Union, which goes hand-in-hand with this.
Launching good (and adequately funded) policies
As I said, over the next decade we will also need the right policies to effectively meet the needs of our citizens and the appropriate funding to implement them.
Parliament believes that the EU budget should support the modernisation of EU policies and provide suitable funding to meet new challenges. I would again stress the need for increased funding through additional own resources. I reiterate that EU spending can save money at national level by avoiding duplication and through economies of scale.
Continued reflection on ways of reforming the EU budget system is also necessary in order to strike a better balance between predictability and response capacity, while ensuring that funding mechanisms are no more complex than necessary to achieve Union objectives. We also believe that policies should be subject to stricter ‘conditionality’ where necessary without, however, compromising programme implementation, so as to ensure the sound and effective financial management of Union spending.
Repeated references to individual policies have also been made in the course of debates on the future of the Union. I shall mention just a few of them. First of all, a recurring theme has been the central importance of the common agricultural policy in the history of the Union and its fundamental role in keeping rural areas alive and well, protecting food supply and food security and helping to ensure environmental conservation for the benefit of European citizens. It must be properly reformed and suitably funded.
It should not be forgotten that agricultural and rural development policies have enormous potential in terms of supplying public goods. Their benefits are not limited to farming and farmers but also extend to the promotion and development of the wider rural communities in which they operate. Agriculture employs 46 million people and plays a crucial role in mitigating the effects of climate change and promoting sustainable development. EU agricultural policies also play a fundamental part in preserving the soil, water and other natural resources and ensuring the quality thereof.
It has also emerged from the debate that environmental protection is, and must continue to be, a top Union priority and mainstreamed into all Union policies and initiatives, given the worsening situation in this area. We must continue to take effective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels necessary to achieve the targets set by the Paris Agreement.
This is not of course to overlook the fundamental importance of other policies, such as energy, transport, industry, research, consumer protection and the social pillar, all of which must be implemented to the full.
In general, Parliament reiterates the need to carry out a more in-depth assessment of the social and environmental consequences of all EU policies, bearing in mind also the cost of failure to legislate at European level (the so-called ‘cost of non-Europe’).
You can continue to count on the full cooperation of Parliament in the legislative area. During my term of office, I have signed over 200 pieces of legislation, which is evidence, if needed, of the effectiveness and reliability of Parliament as an institution.
Europe’s place in the world
Europe is a force for good in the world and our ambition is to continue to be so, defending our values, supporting multilateralism and upholding international law. Let us not forget that the Union and its Member States donate the lion share of development aid.
Parliament therefore welcomes the Council decision establishing permanent structured cooperation (PESCO), the coordinated annual review on defence (CARD) and the European Defence Fund (EDF). These are important and long-hoped-for steps towards a common defence policy.
Recommendations have also been made by a number of Member States concerning an EU Security Council and the European Intervention Initiative.
Our proposal is to establish a permanent Council of Defence Ministers chaired by the Vice-President of the European Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (VP/HR). This, together with enhanced cooperation between the European Parliament and national parliaments, would ensure proper democratic accountability for decisions taken in this area.
We also believe that the common commercial policy must continue to be a fundamental pillar of EU external policy and be consolidated through integration into a broader strategic framework.
The Union can and must assume a leading role in multilateral and bilateral world trade policy in a bid to uphold an open, regulated, fair, sustainable and development-oriented global trading system, ensuring that EU companies can operate on a global scale under equal conditions, with predictable rules, fair competition and defined obligations.
At the same time, it is necessary to keep Parliament fully and promptly informed on the negotiations and the Council’s remit while international agreements are being implemented, in order to ensure that it is able to exercise its powers and prerogatives.
And there is the rub. Parliament is greatly concerned at the lack of agreement between Member States on priorities and on the implementation of a global immigration policy at EU level to facilitate measures such as the management and regulation of migratory flows, more effective EU external border control and cooperation with countries of origin and transit, as well as ensuring respect for the fundamental rights of migrants and asylum seekers. We are in no doubt that, if we wish to avoid jeopardising the European integration project, which is directly affected by migration being used as an issue, we must overcome the conflicting interests being advanced by Member States, as these are at the root of public disaffection.
Parliament accordingly stresses the urgent need to review the Dublin system, as well as the importance of underpinning its partnership arrangements with Africa.
A rejuvenated spirit of collaboration and solidarity
As I said earlier, in addition to institutional reforms, the completion of governance arrangements and the judicious implementation of effective and suitably funded policies, Parliament considers that the Union should promote a rejuvenated spirit of cooperation and solidarity among its members, based on Articles 2 and 3 TEU and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, while the Lisbon Treaty goal of ever closer union between the peoples of Europe should continue to inspire Union actions to strengthen European integration and effectively address future challenges.
I shall therefore conclude with the text of the resolution of 13 February, which contains the key message that Parliament wishes to contribute to the debate on the future of Europe:
Parliament ‘underlines that the Union must tackle the challenges of its future with greater and better political integration, with full respect for and promotion of human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic principles and by working together; highlights that citizens want a Europe that protects their rights, welfare and social model on the basis of shared sovereignty, which requires appropriate political integration; invites the heads of state or government to pursue this path in a renewed spirit of solidarity and collaboration;’
Thank you for your attention.
 Malta, Estonia, Bulgaria and Austria
 Brok / Bresso report on improving the functioning of the European Union building on the potential of the Lisbon Treaty;
Berès / Böge report on budgetary capacity for the Eurozone;
Verhofstadt report on possible evolutions of and adjustments to the current institutional set-up of the European Union;
Bresso report on the implementation of the Treaty provisions on Parliament’s power of political control over the Commission;
Jáuregui Atondo report on the state of the debate on the future of Europe;
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