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Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the preparation of the European Council meeting of 10-11 December

Speech on 25 November, 2020 in Brussels |

“Check against delivery”

Grazie, Presidente,

Honourable Members,

I come to Parliament today to report on our plans for the next European Council on 10 and 11 December. But before I turn to that, please allow me to update you on two other topics: about Brexit and about the situation we are facing with respect to the Multiannual Financial Framework and NextGenerationEU.

Honourable Members,

These are decisive days for our negotiations with the United Kingdom. But I cannot tell you today, if in the end there will be a deal. There has been genuine progress on a number of important questions: on law enforcement and judicial cooperation; on social security coordination. And also on goods, services and transport we now have the outline of a possible final text. In these areas there are still some important issues to agree, but they should be manageable. However, there are still three issues that can make the difference between a deal and no deal. The crucial topics for the European side are of course questions linked to the level playing field, governance and fisheries. With very little time ahead of us, we will do all in our power to reach an agreement. We are ready to be creative. But we are not ready to put into question the integrity of our Single Market – the main safeguard for European prosperity and wealth. This is why we need to establish robust mechanisms, ensuring that competition is – and remains – free and fair over time. In the discussions about state aid we still have serious issues, for instance when it comes to enforcement. Significant difficulties remain on the question how we can secure – now and over time – our common high standards on labour and social rights, the environment, climate change and tax transparency. We want to know what remedies are available, in case one side deviates in the future. Because trust is good, but law is better. And crucially, in light of recent experience: a strong governance system is essential to ensure that what has been agreed is actually done. Concerning fisheries: No one questions the UK´s sovereignty on its own waters. But we ask for predictability and guarantees for our fishermen and women, who have been sailing in these waters for decades, if not centuries.

Honourable Members,

The next days are going to be decisive. The European Union is well prepared for a no-deal-scenario, but of course we prefer to have an agreement. I fully trust the skillful steer of our Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier. But one thing is clear: Whatever the outcome, there has to be – and there will be – a clear difference between being a full member of the Union and being just a valued partner. I am fully aware of the challenges the current situation is creating especially for this Parliament and the ratification procedure. This is why I want to sincerely thank you for your support and understanding. As in the past, we will walk those last miles together.

Honourable Members,

At the same time, the Union is waiting for the green light for our next Multiannual Financial Framework and NextGenerationEU. In May, the Commission presented its NextGenerationEU recovery plan and the multiannual budget. The Heads of State or Government of the 27 Member States negotiated over four long days and nights in July and reached a compromise. You, honourable members, further developed this package. The outcome takes appropriate account of the numerous political concerns that had been voiced. Now, two Member States have raised doubts. The best way forward would be to remove these doubts. In July, all 27 Heads of State or Government agreed on a new conditionality mechanism for breaches of the principle of the rule of law that threaten the EU budget – and only for those breaches. It is appropriate, proportionate and necessary, and it is difficult to imagine anyone in Europe having a problem with that.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For anyone who would nevertheless harbour doubts, there is a clear path: they can go to the European Court of Justice and have the new rules scrutinised down to the last detail. That is the place where we usually thrash out differences of opinion regarding legal texts. And not at the expense of millions of Europeans waiting desperately for our help. We all owe them a prompt reply. To those who, for the good of us all, have had temporarily to close their restaurants and businesses. To those whose very livelihoods are on the line. To those people who fear for their jobs, including in Poland and Hungary.

Honourable Members,

This is especially the case as the pandemic situation remains serious. With nearly 3,000 deaths a day COVID-19 was the number 1 cause of death in the EU last week. Hospitals remain under stress, and in some regions intensive care units are overwhelmed. I know that shop owners, bartenders and waiters in restaurants want an end to restrictions. But we must learn from the summer and not repeat the same mistakes. Relaxing too fast and too much risks a third wave after Christmas. Weeks ago, I said that this Christmas will be different. And yes, it will be quieter. This is also a question of solidarity between Member States. But there is also good news. The European Commission by now has secured contracts with six companies. The first European citizens might already be vaccinated before the end of December. There is finally light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines are important, but what counts are vaccinations. Member States must get ready now. We are talking about millions of syringes and the cold chain, the organisation of vaccination centres, training of personnel, you name it. In short: Member States have to prepare the logistics for the eventual deployment of hundreds of millions of doses. Because this is our ticket out of this pandemic.

Honourable Members,

Whether COVID-19 or not, there is another crisis that rumbles on: global warming, the crisis of our planet.

Honourable Members,

A growing number of countries have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050. Good news. I firmly believe we all must put a price on carbon. These words could be mine, but they are not. These are remarks made by António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, at the G20 Summit last weekend. For the first time in four years, the G20 agreed on a clear commitment to fight climate change. Europe has been proudly leading the way. By now, more than half of the G20 members have committed to climate or carbon neutrality around 2050. It demonstrates that being courageous pays off. And it shows that we have chosen the right course when we decided to cut CO2 emissions by 2030 by at least 55%. This should also encourage the Heads of States or Government to confirm this goal at the next European Council. Finally, I would like to address public security in Europe. I am sure that I am speaking on behalf of the whole Union when I say that Europe stands together with the people of France and Austria. Europe is united in the face of terrorist attacks in the hearts of our towns and cities. Europe is ready to act. On 9 December the Commission will present a new European counter-terrorism agenda. With that agenda, we want to strengthen cooperation between security services, give border guards the modern technology they need, step up our efforts to prevent radicalisation and better protect public spaces. But there is only so much we can do, when Member States do not put into practice what they agree upon. For example, the strong rules against money laundering and terrorist financing or against the use of firearms. Implementation is key. I am sure the European Council will be an opportunity to turn to action quickly.

Honourable Members,

From Brexit to the fight against the pandemic, from the budget to the fight against terrorists: it is when we manage to join forces, that we Europeans can achieve most. It is when we negotiate hard and then stick to the compromises found, that we move forward best. This is how we will finally leave the corona world, and continue to build our future.

Lang lebe Europa.

Vive l’Europe.

Long live Europe.

Compliments of the European Commission.