In his statement to EU27 leaders at the European Council, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani expressed regret with developments in the UK, stressing that the European Parliament hopes that a potential extension of Article 50 is as short as possible, and granted only if an exit treaty agreement is reached in the House of Commons next week.
President Tajani then shared the European Parliament’s position in view of the EU-China summit and ongoing efforts to protect citizens from risks stemming from disinformation campaigns in view of the upcoming European elections. He also expressed regret that Member States have not been able to reach an agreement on a web tax, a proposal strongly supported by the Parliament.
President Tajani concluded his speech by recalling the 25th anniversary of the European Economic Area and highlighting the European Parliament's initiatives to tackle climate change.
Here are some highlights from his speech:
Yesterday, I received representatives of the 3.5 million European citizens living in the United Kingdom and of the British citizens on the continent. They are very concerned and are calling for their rights to be protected whatever the future holds, even in the event of a no deal. The European Parliament is ready for a political battle to ensure that these rights are protected. Member States and the European institutions have shown great unity and a sense of responsibility in dealing with this issue over the last two years. We have shown great patience, going as far as possible, without jeopardising the internal market, our most precious asset. One week on from the 29 March deadline, it is now up to the British to find a way out. Parliament continues to believe that the negotiated agreement remains the only solution available to ensure an orderly exit and limit the damage to citizens and businesses.
With regards to Mrs May's request for an extension of Article 50, Parliament hopes that any extension will be as short as possible, bearing in mind 11 April, the deadline by which the United Kingdom must decide whether or not to organise European elections. Secondly, in our view such an extension only makes sense if next week the House of Commons votes in favour of the Brexit agreement. If it does not, a short extension would be pointless. In that event, the UK can request an open-ended extension and organise European elections.
The issue, therefore, is not its duration. The choice is not between a long extension and a short one, but between an extension that useful and one that is useless.
However, I must point out that, as regards the ratification of the agreement, the last European Parliament sitting before the elections will take place on 18 April. Furthermore, from 23 to 26 May the European elections will take place. It is imperative that the arrangements are made clear before people go to the polls, in order to avoid legal issues, linked not only to the composition of the European Parliament, but also to the electoral laws in force in Member States and the voting rights of their citizens.
The European Parliament does not consider China to be a market economy. In fact, Beijing systematically uses subsidies and removes European technologies through unfair practices. Even on procurement, there is no reciprocity. While Chinese-controlled companies can bid in Europe, sometimes with EU funds, European companies in China are often discriminated against. European companies are leaders in quality and technology. Yet, because of these unfair practices, the EU has a trade deficit of 150 billion euros with China. The European Parliament has called for and obtained strict anti-dumping rules, in which the burden of proof lies with those accused of unfair practices. Today, the EU regulation for the control of foreign investment in Europe is also published in the Official Journal, which will make it possible to verify whether a foreign investment is intended to steal European technologies or patents in an improper manner.
The development of the 5G network and standards is essential for our security and for the progress of digital applications. Those who design and build these infrastructures potentially gain control over a great many areas, not just of a commercial nature. Before relying on Chinese technologies and companies, analysis and control are needed. That is why, last week in Strasbourg, Parliament voted by a large majority for a resolution expressing great concern about the possibility of Chinese companies being entrusted with the development of 5G. Parliament also calls on the Member States to adopt rules and certifications to prevent security breaches in Europe's digital infrastructures. The European Union must continue to demonstrate unity and determination. Only in this way can we protect our citizens and our businesses from unfair Chinese practices, which have already cost us jobs and lost competitiveness.
Risk of disinformation in the next European elections
Last week in Strasbourg, the European Parliament adopted, by a large majority, a resolution recognising that in recent years Europe has been the victim of propaganda and disinformation activities by Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. The free choice of European voters must be guaranteed. Parliament is calling for rules that force social networks to remove content aimed at manipulating public opinion and ensure that online platforms work with law enforcement agencies to identify sources of foreign disinformation. Finally, sanctions are needed for all organisations that misuse citizens' personal data to unduly influence their vote.
The European Parliament is calling for digital giants to pay taxes. That is why, last December, we adopted in Strasbourg, by a large majority, the two opinions on the proposals for Council Directives on the taxation of digital companies operating in the EU.
It is regrettable that, at the last ECOFIN summit last week, Member States were unable to reach agreement on this point. Our citizens and businesses demand digital services, but they do not accept tax avoidance or unfair competition from web giants. It is time for the Union to give a strong and cohesive response to the big digital platforms for fair and efficient taxation.
Click here to read President Tajani’s speech in full.
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