Madame President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for this new opportunity to take stock of this very long and extraordinary negotiation that I have the honor to lead on behalf of the Commission and on your behalf for more than four years now. Together, with your Parliament and the Council, we have already succeeded in enabling an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom, as it wished. It is for this withdrawal agreement that Maroš Šefčovič has just spoken of, that I would like to thank personally, and in front of you, for his tenacity and the efficiency with which he and our teams have succeeded in specifying all the concrete and operational modalities so that this Treaty, ratified last year by your Parliament and the British Parliament, be implemented in due time – as is normal and necessary for peace in Ireland, the economy of the whole island and the protection of the internal market. What I’m here to tell you about is our second negotiation.
Beyond its exit from the European Union, it is a question of knowing whether the United Kingdom will leave in ten days, the single market and the customs union with an agreement or without an agreement. We are at the moment of truth. We have very little time left, a few useful hours in this negotiation, if we want this agreement to enter into force on January 1.
As our President Ursula von der Leyen told you two days ago here, the possibility of an agreement is there, I think as a negotiator, but the road is very narrow. Now is the time to make decisions. It is also the moment for everyone to take responsibility. For my part, I will take mine – as I have always done throughout my public engagement – in accordance with the mandate that was set for me by the 27 Member States of the European Union and which was supported and confirmed by the vast majority of political groups here in the European Parliament, through your resolutions.
Today I would like to recall three fundamental elements of this negotiation. It was the British who set this very short deadline to which we are now forced, by refusing in June any form of extension of the transition period. What it is about is an extraordinary negotiation, carried out in 9 months, as never we have had in the past – never – on so many subjects, which are at the heart of your resolutions and our mandate.
Even if we regret that the British did not want to go further, through an agreement, which we were ready to negotiate, on foreign policy, defense and cooperation. It’s their choice. It takes two to negotiate and to reach an agreement. But we have nevertheless covered a considerable field. On virtually every subject, we have sought to establish new cooperation with the UK, in other forms, in a new framework, in areas where we have for 47 years worked and acted together under the Union. And that is why this partnership is unprecedented.
Both by the time of negotiation – I would remind you that it took 4 or 5 years to negotiate an even more modest agreement with Canada, or with Japan – and by the scope of the subjects dealt with. Finally, in such an agreement, it is our mandate, it is your resolution, all the parties form a cohesive whole. There is no agreement on anything, as long as there is no agreement on everything. (“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”) It is therefore not surprising that in the last hours when we find also concentrated the very great difficulties of the negotiation, the most difficult and hard points. The British have set since the start of these negotiations, and this is even the reason for Brexit, a fundamental requirement: they want to regain their sovereignty. We have always respected this requirement, because it is the very purpose of Brexit.
At the same time, the British must respect the sovereignty of the Member States of the European Union. They must respect the fact that this Union of 27 Member States, which functions democratically on a voluntary basis and under the control and impulse of your Parliament, is founded on values, common policies, an economic and social foundation which is the single market, which is more of an ecosystem than a free trade area, and that we ask to preserve these values, these principles and this single market. We want open and ambitious trade and economic cooperation. But it must also be fair and equitable. Free and fair. It must therefore be based on a “level playing field”. I prefer to say fair competition, fair competition. Fair competition rules and high standards in terms of the environment, climate and social standards.
If the UK wishes to diverge in the future, that is its right. But this cannot be without consequences when it comes to having access to our market without tariffs and without quotas. With regard to fishing, the United Kingdom also wishes to regain its sovereignty, to be able to control access to its waters. As I just said, we accept it and we respect it. But if the United Kingdom wants, after a period of credible and sufficient adjustment, to be able to cut off access to its waters at any time, the European Union must also have a sovereign right to react or to compensate.
By then adjusting the conditions of access to its market for all products, and in particular for fishery products, and this is where one of the major current difficulties in negotiation is found. It would be neither fair nor acceptable for European fishermen to have only transitional rights in UK waters, which one day evaporated, while everything else in the deal – especially for UK companies – would remain stable. It would not be fair or just. These are the main points that separate us today. Of course, there are many other very important dimensions in the partnership that we have negotiated.
I am thinking of a very broad economic cooperation through an ambitious free trade agreement, unique and such as we have never offered to a third country, which includes market access without tariffs and without quotas, with credible rules in terms of level playing field. I am thinking of connectivity in air and road transport, and in energy. Or even cooperation in the field of social security. I am also thinking of our partnership on internal security, where we have a common interest in the protection of our citizens.
That is why we have already agreed on close cooperation in eight specific areas: Europol, Eurojust, Prüm, extradition, exchange of information on criminal registers as well as the freezing and confiscation of criminal records. active. And this cooperation is based on two prerequisites: respect for fundamental rights, in particular as they are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, and the protection of personal data. This is where we are.
The points which remain open in these crucial hours are fundamental points for the Union. Because we are asking for nothing more than a balance between rights and obligations, and reciprocity when it comes to access to water and to markets. Nothing more, but nothing less.
While it is obvious that we want an agreement, it is just as obvious as this agreement, we will not do it at any cost. As I speak to you, I cannot tell you what will be the outcome of this final straight line of negotiations. We need to be prepared for all scenarios. And that is why you will vote today on contingency measures to prepare us for a possible no deal. On this point, I would like to thank you, thank the European Parliament for its speed and its availability to adopt these measures very quickly, which will allow their entry into force without delay, if there is no agreement, January 1 next. And tell you that we are working in parallel to quickly operationalize the new Brexit Adjustment Reserve.
On leaving you, as the President asked me yesterday, I will resume negotiations with David Frost and his team for a final attempt to find an acceptable agreement, in particular on the question of fisheries. We are not sure that we will achieve this if everyone does not make a real and concrete effort to find a compromise. Once again, I thank you for your trust and support which has never been denied since the beginning of our common journey.
This confidence is based on a method that I proposed from day one and which was supported by President Jean-Claude Juncker and then by President Ursula von der Leyen, which is that of dialogue and permanent transparency. I know there are additional requests. We are trying to answer them. There is also the general balance of this agreement which is not finished. I have tried, our services, the team of the Task Force, to be as available as possible to provide you with the elements you need throughout this long negotiation. I think that is the reason for the trust that you have always shown in me, for which I want to thank you. I know and I understand the constraints which are yours for the democratic examination to which you are entitled and which is normal. I was a member of your assembly and I was a national parliamentarian for a very long time. This democratic question is at the heart of this negotiation which must be known, detailed and approved by national parliaments and the European Parliament.
Throughout this negotiation, I kept in mind three points of perspective and reference.
> The first point is peace in Ireland. It was a fundamental point, and it remains a fundamental point, for me. And that is why I thank Maros Šefčovič for the work that has been done to ensure the conditions for this stability in Ireland.
> Second point, obviously, I was mandated to defend the interests of the Union, the single market, consumers, citizens and businesses.
> Third point: beyond Brexit, the UK is a great country that we respect, a partner country, neighbor, friend, ally, with which we must have, one way or another – if not It’s not today, because we don’t come to an agreement, it would be later – a strong and extremely ambitious bond.
Compliments of the European Commission