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EU leaders urged to take a firm stance on Russia, trade deals and Brexit talks

Action to stop massacres in Syria, implement migration policies and border controls, and ensure a balanced approach to trade deals while defending EU industry are the key challenges that EU heads of state or government should tackle at their 20-21 October meeting in Brussels, said Parliament’s political group leaders in a debate with the Slovak Council Presidency and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday.

Click on the speakers’ names to view their statements

Ivan Korčok, Slovak Secretary of State, outlined the Presidency’s ambitions to overcome divisions amongst EU leaders over EU trade policy and migration management and announced a broad political debate on Russia.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the EU Commission, expects the European Council to agree on concrete actions to pave the way for “digital Europe” and to implement agreed migration policies. Bulgaria will receive € 108 Mio to put EU border and Coast guards in place and 130 additional staff, he recalled. He called on member states to contribute to the EU Fund for Africa set up by the Commission in order to help prevent economic migration and save people from perishing at sea.

Mr Juncker added that he wants the trade agreement with Canada (CETA) to enter into force within a few months and promised a separate declaration “taking on board the concerns of all member states”. He added that he favours  strong defence instruments in trade relations, in particular to protect Europe’s steel industry.

Manfred Weber (EPP, DE) welcomed UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that the UK would trigger Article 50 to start “Brexit” negotiations in March 2017. “If one wants to leave, one should not block the further deepening of the EU”. The four freedoms of the EU, including free movement of people, are not negotiable, he repeated. Mr Weber blamed Russia’s President Putin and Syria’s President, “mass murderer” Bashar al- Assad, for causing the “biggest humanitarian tragedy ever since Sarajevo’s siege” and called on EU leaders to “stop the madness”. On the Nord Stream II pipeline project, “This is no time for doing business with Putin”, he added.

Gianni Pittella, for the S&D group, criticised Ms May for announcing that her government will scrap EU laws, as this would have a bad impact on EU citizens living in the country. He called for an expansionist economic policy “to avoid falling back into recession” and a strong industrial policy to avoid falling “victim to multinationals (…) who exploit workers”. Referring to progress on CETA and doubts on TTIP, he stressed that trade agreements should never lower EU social, environmental and health standards. Finally, Mr Pittella called for an immediate cease-fire in Syria to allow humanitarian aid.

Syed Kamall (ECR, UK) replied that the UK government wants to ”make stable UK laws”. He called the Bratislava summit a “failed opportunity” and urged EU leaders to address the real concerns of citizens: jobs, growth, and migration control by “returning those who are not fleeing persecution”. Mr Kamall asked EU leaders to send a clear signal in favour of open trade with Canada and to maintain sanctions against Russia until the Minsk agreement is fully implemented.

Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BE) added to Mr Weber’s priorities for EU leaders moving forward on a full-fledged Banking Union and economic governance. On Brexit, he insisted that there must be no pre-negotiations, that the negotiations must be completed before the next EU elections and that the EU’s future relationship with the UK must be ”close”, bearing in mind that 48% of voters wanted to remain. He reiterated that the four freedoms must not be split.

Gabriele Zimmer (GUE/NGL, DE) said she was against starting a new “Cold War”; rather than military cooperation, Europe needs to build a “Social Union” to survive. She expects clear declarations by the Council on European values with a view to the Hungarian referendum and the Polish government’s plans to forbid abortion.

Philippe Lamberts (Greens, BE) voiced firm opposition to CETA: “The deal might benefit some of our multinationals, but would destroy 2 million jobs (…) and come at the expense of democracy.” He urged EU leaders to complete the internal market and stop tax competition.

David Borrelli (EFDD, IT) called for more “courage, balance and rapidity” in migration policies and more transparency in international trade negotiations. “We need to defend the ‘made in Europe’ label”, he said.

Marine Le Pen (ENF, FR) said that in referenda all over Europe, people are expressing strong opposition to the EU migration policies. She hopes for a referendum in France as soon as possible, she added.

Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the Commission, responded that “Fences and walls will not solve the problems! We need a comprehensive approach. There is no “pick and choose” – we need to do it all and at the same time: protect borders, redistribute and resettle refugees, and help develop the economy in countries of origin.”

Catch up with the plenary debate on EP Live

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