Chairman Speech

Preparation of the European Council meeting of 15 December 2016

14.12.2016 - 09:30

Dear Presidents, dear colleagues! The world is holding its breath.

We are all shocked by the images coming out of Aleppo that we are seeing today in the newspapers. Hundreds of thousands of people and children are living in hell on earth. Of course, we welcome the possibilities for withdrawal that have now been announced. But for us, especially for the European Council on Thursday, it means that we have to act, that Europe has to act now.

The first thing needed is humanitarian aid to try to bring emergency aid onsite, to support the people, to provide means. And after what we learned yesterday from the Yazidi women to whom we awarded the Sakharov Prize, we must also talk of the reception of refugees in Europe.

Secondly: we need a stronger foreign policy. Europe was absent. The international community failed. We therefore need more unity, also in the area of defence.

Thirdly: Russia’s policy. Aleppo - our attention is drawn to Moscow. Yes, dialogue is necessary, even with Moscow. However, it is a fact that Aleppo has only developed as it has because of Russian military assistance. Children, families - according to United Nations estimations, a third of the deaths are children. For us, the EPP Group, it is therefore evident that an appeasement policy approach towards Russia is not possible. Putin has blood on his hands. The European Council must also clearly articulate this.

We are glad that François Hollande and Angela Merkel and the other Heads of State and Government yesterday apparently agreed on the prolongation of the sanctions against Russia. It is a good sign that we aren’t accepting this kind of Russian policy.

The second issue is Turkey. The terror attacks shocked us all. Istanbul is a colourful, open, liberal city which has now suffered many victims of terrorism. We must firstly show the victims our solidarity and sympathy and that we are on their side. Nevertheless, it is also evident that we are worried about the evolution in Turkey: the parliamentarians who have lost their immunity, the media outlets which have closed down. The facts are well-known. This is why, on this issue, I ask the European Council not to simply say ‘keep it up’, but to be honest, also with our Turkish partners.

We reach out to handle common tasks, for example as regards the fight against terrorism. But it is evident that Turkey is moving in the wrong direction and therefore I request that the European Council freezes accession talks, as a large majority of this House called for.

The third thing I want to speak about today is Europe, because in the European Parliament we are now also in a new situation. In the last weeks and months, we often criticised the Council on its national egoisms, on the national split, on the blockade we saw. I am thinking of the migration issue, I am thinking of the trade defence instruments, where there is a blockade in the European Council and where the European Union is not advancing.

Now, my Group and I, we see that the European Parliament could also slide towards a certain blockade, which is a party political blockade that is maybe in the offing. I think that the debate between parties is necessary - that’s beyond question. In 2019, when the next elections take place, we will hold firm discussions. However, in our Group we feel that now is not the right moment.

Previously, Martin Schulz was honoured as a President who gave the Parliament perception. The two and a half years of this legislature were shaped by the fact that the pro-European Groups could deliver together, that we were able to achieve results. I would like to highlight an example which is that we succeeded in having the lowest unemployment figures in the European Union since before the crisis in 2009; we reduced unemployment figures thanks to the Juncker Plan, thanks to a lot of initiatives. This is just one of the successes we have achieved together.

I think that in the Parliament we can be proud of the two and a half years where we achieved results together by consensus - where everyone had to approach one another. I would like to say on behalf of my Group that we want to keep up this approach. We want to deliver to the citizen. We want to achieve results by consensus of the pro-Europeans and democrats. We don’t want to put what the Parliament decides in the hands of populists and extremists.

Let me finish with a quote of a Left-wing politician, an important European politician, namely Altero Spinelli - he was even a Communist - who said: “The separation line between progressive and reactionist parties runs between those who fall back to nationalism and in- party fighting and those who work together for European unity.” My group is still game for it!

(Translation from the original German)

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