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(Check against delivery)
1. Managing migration
For too long, our citizens have been waiting for answers to the problem of how to manage migration. Thus far, only partial answers have been forthcoming. Let us take Italy as an example.
What people have been told about Europe is this: ‘the EU countries are closing their borders, they are digging their heels in over the relocation of just a few thousand asylum seekers, and they are quite happy to leave us to deal with all the refugees.’ This narrative influenced the outcome of the election.
The debate on immigrants – more than 700 000 – has been soured by the murder of an 18-year-old girl by a group of Nigerians. The tragedy of this teenage girl dominated media headlines in the immediate run-up to the vote.
Similar efforts to those deployed to close the Balkan route are needed to address the problem of the other Mediterranean routes on which millions of migrants could flood in.
If we fail to come up with an EU strategy, we will continue to play into the hands of the populists.
In November 2017, Parliament adopted by a large majority its asylum reform proposal to make the arrangements more effective, fairer and based more firmly on solidarity. The Council can no longer put off taking a stance, if need be acting by a qualified majority.
In its resolution of 14 March on the next Multiannual Financial Framework, Parliament called for a Marshall Plan for Africa to give hope to millions of Africans who are prepared to leave their home country because they feel they have no other choice.
We also need to channel more resources to Frontex, and invest more in Tunisia, Morocco, Niger, Mali, Chad and Libya in order to improve the control of our borders and combat people traffickers.
We must also fund reception centres in which asylum applications and returns can be dealt with under UN auspices.
2. Completing the internal market and tax harmonisation
We are still a long way from a genuine services, capital or energy market with proper network infrastructure.
In the digital sphere, Parliament’s view is that rules which guarantee that platforms operate in an environment characterised by responsibility and transparency are still lacking. The web giants are not subject to the same rules as other businesses as regards the protection of consumers, workers and intellectual property, tax, advertising and privacy.
I have invited the founder of Facebook to come to Parliament to explain how Cambridge Analytica came to use the personal data of millions of people to influence the outcome of the US presidential elections and the Brexit referendum. I intend to propose that a debate on these topics be held at the next part-session.
Parliament is determined to conclude all the trilogues under way on the digital package and the energy package. We hope that the 5G standard can be adopted quickly, as this would facilitate the transmission of data, including big data, and bring advantages for businesses and ordinary people. We have reached agreement on the frequencies; now we need to resolve the problems of access and user costs.
On 21 February, Parliament adopted its proposal on the completion of the internal electricity market. The relevant trilogues should now begin as soon as possible.
Yesterday we adopted in committee the report on the internal natural gas market and gas pipelines involving third countries, at the same time issuing a mandate to open the trilogue.
Parliament is working to establish a genuine capital market which facilitates access to credit. During the first half of this year, we will approve, inter alia, reports on the capital requirements for banks and the single resolution mechanism.
Some estimates put the size of the tax base hidden by special agreements concluded with multinationals and web giants at EUR 600 billion a year at least. The EU Member States are being deprived of tax revenues in excess of EUR 100 billion a year.
On 15 March, Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the introduction of a European minimum rate of corporation tax and for firms to be taxed where they actually generate value. Yesterday’s Commission proposals for a web tax are a step in the right direction. I hope that an agreement can be reached as quickly as possible.
In the resolution we adopted last week, we called for the web tax to be used to increase the size of the next EU budget without imposing an additional burden on net contributors.
2. European Labour Authority
Two days ago we reached – after difficult negotiations – an agreement on posted workers. As regards posted workers in the transport sector, we hope to adopt a negotiating mandate before the summer. The Transport Committee will adopt its report in May or June, taking account of the opinion which the Employment Committee will adopt on 25 April. This matter will be a priority for the Austrian Presidency.
We must continue our efforts to boost confidence in the internal market by combating unfair practices which undermine worker mobility and the ability of firms to do business wherever they want. The proposal to set up a European Labour Authority is a step in the right direction. Parliament intends to exercise to the full its role as co-legislator.
The Authority will play a vital role in mediating between national authorities and businesses, not least in the context of the restructuring of firms and the retraining of workers. Given the importance of its role, and given that the Authority will not start work until 2023, it would make sense to set up a task force now to address these problems.
4. The Balkans
Parliament supports the work of the Bulgarian Presidency in preparation for the Summit on the Western Balkans.
I agree that we must offer the region a secure future in the European fold. This is also essential in order to manage migration, control borders and combat terrorism.
I am convinced that, if they continue their efforts, Serbia and Montenegro will be able to accede to the EU by 2025.
5. Fairer trade
Europe and the USA are leaders in the areas of quality and technology and they have every interest in keeping markets open.
In last week’s debate, Parliament expressed concern at the US moves to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium.
The real problem is Chinese overcapacity and the unfair practices China employs in order to offload the products of that overcapacity on to others. Rather than engaging in a dangerous and escalating war of words, the USA and the EU should be addressing this problem together.
Parliament expects that the new trade defence instruments will be applied rigorously, not least in order to take account of social and environmental dumping. In keeping with that approach, on 14 March Parliament proposed a carbon tax on imported goods.
Parliament will set out its views shortly on the setting-up of an agency to scrutinise foreign investments in strategic technologies.
On behalf of the European Parliament, let me say that we continue to stand by the United Kingdom following the terrorist attack carried out 12 months ago in Westminster, a year to the day after the 2016 attacks in Brussels.
I should also like to express our solidarity with the British people in the wake of the appalling attack in Salisbury in which a Russian-made nerve gas was used in an attempt to kill two residents of the United Kingdom.
In conclusion, on behalf of Parliament, I should like to congratulate Michel Barnier and his team on the excellent result they have achieved in the Brexit negotiations, one which goes far beyond our expectations. We have secured the outcome we wanted in the area of finance, in the form of an undertaking by the United Kingdom to continue paying its contribution until the end of the period covered by the current multiannual financial framework. Above all, however, we have secured a comprehensive victory in the area of citizens’ rights, a guarantee of equal treatment for citizens already settled in the United Kingdom when that country leaves the Union and those who arrive during the transitional phase. It is a victory for all of us, and one we should be proud of.
In the light of the recent concessions made by Mrs May, we can also be more optimistic about the problem of Northern Ireland, and we welcome the British Government’s acknowledgement of the fact that the exit agreement (Article 50) must incorporate a back-stop (the de facto inclusion of Northern Ireland in the Customs Union) which would take effect if no other solution can be found.
The onus is now on the British Government to propose such a solution, but I want to make it clear once again that the European Parliament will not give its consent to a withdrawal agreement that does not incorporate solutions to rule out hard borders between the two parts of the island and which can be implemented immediately. We must heed the principle that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’, not least in order to ensure that the discussions on future relations are not hijacked by this delicate question.
As to the form which the post-Brexit agreement should take, in the resolution it adopted in March the European Parliament expressed its preference for an association agreement. Of course, if the United Kingdom were to alter its stance on its red lines, other possibilities would be opened up.