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Speech by President von der Leyen about negotiations for a new partnership with the United Kingdom

June 17, 2020 | Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the preparations for the European Council of 19 June 2020, and the negotiations for a new partnership with the United Kingdom

“Check against delivery”

Mr President, Honourable Members,

The negotiations with the United Kingdom always promised to be difficult. And they have not disappointed. Two days ago, President Sassoli, President Michel and I discussed the way forward with Prime Minister Johnson. The Prime Minister confirmed that he does not want to extend the transition period beyond the end of this year. We, on our side, have always been ready to grant an extension. But it takes two to tango. This means that we are now half-way through these negotiations – with five months left to go. But we are definitely not half-way through the work to reach an agreement. With little time ahead of us, we will do all in our power to reach an agreement. We will be constructive, as we have always been. And we are ready to be creative, to find common ground where there seems to be none. What we are not ready to do, is to put into question our principles and the integrity of our Union. Because it is our duty to protect the interests of European citizens.

Michel Barnier has explained many times why these four outstanding issues are so crucial. First of all, on the level playing field. The fundamental issue at stake here is fair competition. We are ready and willing to compete with British firms. But it cannot be a downward competition. Just think of labour standards, or environmental protection. It should be a shared interest for the EU and the UK:

  • to never slide backwards,
  • and always advance together towards higher standards.

Second, on 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 those waters for decades. It is very clear that there cannot be a ‘comprehensive’ trade agreement without fisheries, a level playing field, and strong governance mechanisms. Governance may sound like an issue for bureaucrats. But this is central for businesses and private citizens both in the UK and in the EU to ensure that what has been agreed is actually done. Finally, on police and judicial cooperation. We want our citizens’ liberties, fundamental rights and data to be safeguarded in all circumstances. This is why we expect a role for the Court of Justice of the EU where it matters.

These are our objectives – not only in our discussions with the UK, but in any relationship with any partner. Because these principles are at the heart of our Union.

  • Fair competition.
  • Rising social standards.
  • The protection of our citizens and the rule of law.

This is who we are, and it is not going to change.

Honourable Members,

I am particularly glad for the unity that all institutions have shown, and for this Parliament’s full support throughout this process. This will be even more important in the next phase of the talks. No one can say with certainty where these negotiations will be by the end of the year. But I know for sure that we will have done everything to reach an agreement and to have a good start with the UK as a third country neighbour.

Honourable Members,

Unfortunately, our British friends have decided to take a step back. They want to leave the EU and the common market. We will continue to work on cushioning the economic impact this will have on our Union. At the same time we face unprecedented challenges from the health and economic crisis. The European Commission has stepped up to the mark. In Next Generation EU we have presented a brave and ambitious proposal.It is also a balanced proposal. It helps those countries where large numbers of people have died or fallen ill. And it also helps those that have been hit indirectly because supply chains have broken, factories have come to a standstill and unemployment is on the rise. But Next Generation EU is much more than just a rescue package.It is a boost for science, innovative research and investment in the technologies of the future. If we do this right, Next Generation EU will not only allow our internal market to recover but strengthen its competitiveness and innovative power. We are speeding up the long overdue modernisation that will make us stronger than before the crisis. Next Generation EU is also a contract between the generations. Yes, we must now invest heavily to get ourselves out of the crisis. But with this money we are building a new, sustainable and digital Europe. Europe is moving forward! Other regions of the world are following closely what is happening here right now. That is precisely why we have designed Next Generation EU in such a way that it strengthens Europe’s position in its immediate neighbourhood, just as it does on the world stage. We now have the opportunity and the responsibility to build a Europe, which is better able to weather global storms – and provide a safe home for future generations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have already had several opportunities to explain the MFF and Next Generation EU to you, we will also explain it to the European Council on Friday. The broad lines of Next Generation EU have been given a positive reception. The market reaction has also been distinctly positive. At the same time, given the scale and complexity of the task before us, detailed explanations and discussions, including in this House, are also important. Of particular importance to me are:

  • the role of the European Parliament;
  • the right balance between national reform efforts in the Member States and our European priorities, in particular the European Green Deal, digitalisation and resilience;
  • and the importance of new own resources for the Union according to a well-founded repayment schedule.

I firmly intend to discuss this intensively with you. We must all pull together – we cannot afford any delay.

Let us do this together!

Let us do it for Europe!

Compliments of the European Commission.