Ahead of tomorrow’s State of the European Union at the European Parliament by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, the biggest political Parliament groups briefed the press to address the most pressing issues that EU will have to face in the future.
Juncker’s speech will be followed by a debate with Members of the European Parliament, and this year’s debate also constitutes the Commission’s contribution to the informal meeting of the 27 Heads of State or Government in Bratislava on 16 September 2016.
The State of the European Union speech will kick-start a dialogue with Parliament and Council to prepare the Commission’s 2017 Work Programme, foreseen in the Lisbon Treaty.
Thus, the press briefing was a chance for all the parties to express their stand on a large array of issues, from economy measures to security issues, through Turkey’s visa liberalization and Poland constitutional crisis, an issue that was also addressed on Tuesday by First Vice-President Frans Timmermans.
Junckers’ Investment Plan and economic measures
Gianni Pittella (PD), president of Socialist and Democrats group, auspicates that Juncker will give a strong direction to the European politics regarding economy in his speech tomorrow. Pittella auspicates Junkcer to strengthen his Investment Plan – doubling the funds until 2019 – specifically for some geographical areas considered weaker than other, like Greece, the East of Europe and the South of Italy.
“We are left shocked in front of the persistent determination of Weber and Schäuble in imposing blind austerity policies. We believe that the EU Commission should direct its effort towards investment policies that would create job places and growth,” explained Pittella.
For Manfred Weber (CSU), president of the European People’s Party (EPP), the priorities have to be set elsewhere, specifically on TTIP and CETA negotiations. Weber auspicated that the negotiations will soon be able to continue as they these agreements are going to crucial for attracting investments and promote economic growth across the continent.
Moreover, the fight against tax evasions was also one of the most important topics touched by Pittella: “It’s unfair that a baker in Strasbourg is paying more taxes that a multinational corporation”, while the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group president Guy Verhofstadt expressed his approval regarding Juncker’s decision of withdrawing the 90 days’ limitation over roaming charges. “It is like giving somebody a cake with the disclaimer that they can only eat one quarter”, he remarked.
The two biggest political group also diverged on the recent Mediterranean EU member states leaders’ meeting, also known as the Club Med. “It’s important not to frame it as an alliance of socialist Prime Ministers of the south against the countries of Northern Europe but more a panel to propose alternatives to a failed fiscal austerity policy”, said Pittella.
On the other hand, Weber stressed out the importance of sticking to the agreement regarding EU economic policies, pointing out that the new Portuguese government “is moving away from the necessary reforms needed by the country”.
Safety and Security
The Greens stressed out the importance of increasing the cooperation in all sectors to overcome the current issues of security and safety. “We want Juncker to stress out that only through cooperation the EU can respond to the surge of nationalism and skepticism” stated the party co-president Rebecca Harms (EFA). An increased cooperation and a shared database were also auspicated by the EPP on the issues of safety and security: “We are pushing for increasing the security of our external borders and forge a common European anti-terrorist approach through a shared network of information” said Weber.
Turkey, Poland and Hungary
A point of convergence was instead found over the topic of liberalization of visa with Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey. Both EPP and S&D groups expressed concerns over the current situation in Turkey after the failed coup, strongly condemning Erdogan excessive reaction and repression of the rule of law.Weber and Pittella agreed in expressing criticism regarding opening the visa liberalization process.
Both groups also excluded supporting any punitive measures against Hungary after the recent Asselborns’ declaration, agreeing that they will end up harming the Hungarian citizens”
The constitutional crisis in Poland was also among the greatest matters of concern. “We need to protect the rule of law in Poland, without interfering in their citizens’ decisions” stated Weber, stressing out that while on one hand he supports the European Commission, on the other hand the EPP is worried about human rights and democracy in the Eastern country.
The Apple Case
Philippe Lamberts, co-president of The Greens, praised commissioner Vestager’s decision on Apple ruling. “Although we acknowledge that some countries have a better position in terms of attractive investments, we don’t believe that providing fiscal advantages is the way to go”. The Greens expressed their support to Vestager ahead of the European Court of Justice after Ireland’s appeal.
European Defence and the US
Verhofstadt welcomed the proposal of a common European Defense Community put forward last week by Germany and France. “US President Obama was clear in Hannover: we cannot always rely on US for securing the continent from the current threats” explained Verhofstadt. “The European countries spend together 42% of the US military budget while carrying out only 15% of their operations, so it’s not only a question of effectiveness but also a budget’s one”.
ALDE’s leader also commented on his recent appointment as top negotiator for Brexit talks: “It’s an honor for me. I believe that the UK should trigger Article 50 as soon as possible so we can finalize the agreement before the start of the new mandate in 2019” he commented, adding that if the UK wants to remain in the single market it has to accept the free movement of people. “The four freedoms are a key principle for the existence of the EU” concluded Verhofstadt.
Verhofstadt was then asked an opinion about possible career’s choices for former national prime ministers. The Belgian MEP replied saying that they should follow his decision and join European politics. “It is a good advice also for David Cameron” he concluded.
Schulz’s extra term
Over the confirmation of Martin Schulz as President of the European Parliament, Pittella expressed concern over the equal representation of all the political forces in the EU institutions: “We cannot have 3 presidencies all in the hand of one political force. This is unacceptable”.
Barroso’s Goldman Sachs issue
Additionally, Pittella urged the Commission to come out with a stricter ethical and disciplinary code to prevent former European Commissioners from accepting positions in private companies. “The Barroso example is simply unacceptable” he concluded.