Press release, 9 April 2019: Speakers Conference Debates Further Development of the EU
Austrian Parliament, 9 April 2019
Wolfgang Sobotka urges more the EU to involve citizens more closely in decision-making processes
Vienna (PK) - The second day of the Conference of the Speakers of European Union Parliaments and the European Parliament taking place in Vienna started with a discussion on the further develop-ment of the EU and future cooperation between the national par-liaments and the EU institutions. German Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble, Dutch Eerste Kamer President Ankie Broekers-Knol, French Sénat President Gerard Larcher and Polish Sejm Mar-shal Marek Kuchcinski gave keynote addresses and were largely in agreement that in future the EU should concentrate more on the “big issues”. Mr. Kuchcinski accused the EU of applying double standards in the rule-of-law procedure against Poland.
Austrian National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka also advo-cated giving the Member States more leeway to deal with issues that directly affect their citizens. He expressed his conviction that it would strengthen citizens’ confidence in the European Un-ion if the small issues were addressed in closer proximity to its citizens. At the same time, it is important to bolster the EU’s clout in foreign and security policy and in trade policy so that Europe can remain abreast of international competition.
Moreover, at the beginning of the conference’s second panel dis-cussion Mr. Sobotka also emphasised the importance of a shared commitment among the EU Member States to the rule of law, to fun-damental and human rights and to parliamentary democracy. Those casting doubt on these basic principles are calling the founda-tions of European integration into question, he warned. Further-more, the modern secular state must be defended as a central pil-lar of Europe in order to stand against radical Islamic or other extremist forces; anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia must also be combated.
Wolfgang Schäuble: Europe is capable of overcoming its problems
German Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble stressed that the EU is more than capable of overcoming its own problems. It is true that the EU is currently undergoing a stress test, he said, but even in the past the EU has been able to emerge from crises even stronger and continue to advance the unification process.
In this context, Mr. Schäuble expressed his optimism in light of growing EU approval among its citizens. However, there are rising doubts about European institutions’ ability to solve problems. The Bundestag President proposed concentrating pragmatically on the most urgent tasks at EU level as an approach to enhancing ef-ficiency. As examples he cited environmental policy, border secu-rity, migration and economic policy. A common European Security and Defence Policy is also a must, Mr. Schäuble stressed.
Mr. Schäuble also said that it is incumbent on national politi-cians and parliaments to step up. Issues with a European dimen-sion require cooperation, the ability to compromise and the will-ingness to trust in majority decisions taken at EU level. Nation-al interests and particularities often limit parliamentarians’ field of vision, but in debates it is important to take both a national stance and a European perspective, he said.
Ankie Broekers-Knol: Always blaming the EU is not right
Dutch Eerste Kamer President Ankie Broekers-Knol also stressed the importance of cooperation among the EU Member States. Many problems, such as terrorism, climate change and migration, can no longer be solved on the national level. States must stand togeth-er and cooperate to achieve their desired objectives. However, Ms. Broekers-Knol said that was not necessary to have a federal European state for this purpose; the goal must be to develop pol-icies for citizens.
The involvement of national parliaments and parliamentarians is essential for increasing acceptance of EU policy, Ms. Broekers-Knol stated. Constantly shifting blame onto the EU is not right; rather it is important for political leaders to explain the added value of EU decisions to their citizens. Making decision-making processes and decisions transparent is a key step, she said.
Gérard Larcher: 2019 is the year for a new awakening
For French Sénat President Gerard Larcher, 2019 will be somewhat of a turning point. Either the EU will break apart or there will be a new beginning, he said, expressing his definite optimism that this new beginning will succeed.
Many citizens have difficulties identifying with the EU, the French Sénat President said. This is certainly due to the fact that national governments often make the EU the scapegoat for their own failures. But Europe must also focus more on concrete initiatives. People want a Europe that protects and a Europe that grows. It is important to act pragmatically and not to get bogged down in institutional debates. In areas such as foreign and defence policy or trade policy, the EU is not as active to the extent it could be, Mr. Larcher said.
Mr. Larcher proposed extending the “yellow card” deadline for EU Commission proposals from eight to twelve weeks and introducing a right of initiative for the national parliaments (“green card”) in order to strengthen the national parliaments’ role in the EU legislative process. Mr. Larcher expressed his impatience with regard to Brexit, calling for a binding timetable.
Marek Kuchcinski: The EU treats old and new members differently
Marshall of Poland’s Sejm Marek Kuchcinski accused the EU of treating those Member States that joined the EU in 2004 differently from older Member States. The organisation of the judicial system is a national competence, and the reform introduced by Poland is not only in compliance with the Polish Constitution and the European Treaties, but is also in line with judicial systems in many other EU Member States, he affirmed. Therefore, allegations against Poland that it does not respect the rule of law are completely unfounded, he stated, citing interference in internal affairs and saying that this is unacceptable for Poland going forward.
Mr. Kuchcinski also called for more emphasis to be given to Europe’s common values and Christian roots and for not limiting a common European identity to economic issues, detached from cultural and social concerns. It is necessary to restore the balance between the EU institutions and the national parliaments, he stated, pointing out that the EU’s strength stems from its community of states; it is important to accept the diversity among the Member States and their particular cultural attributes. In this context, Mr. Kuchcinski also criticised the proposals for the new EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), as well as the cuts in agricultural and cohesion funding the new MFF would entail.
Deepening cooperation between national parliaments and EU insti-tutions to strengthen citizens’ trust in the EU
Against the backdrop of the upcoming European elections and Brexit, the subsequent debate focused on how to meet citizens’ expectations and voters’ concerns in the light of the diverse challenges currently facing the EU. Answers to the problems of the 21st century must be must be drawn from the principles of pluralism and solidarity, according to the overall tenor of the debate. Many emphasised the essential role of national parliaments in bringing the EU closer to its citizens and strengthening their confidence in the EU.
The majority of parliamentary speakers also seemed to agree that the major challenges today in migration and security, combating terrorism and anti-Semitism and climate change can only be solved at European level. In many areas, such as cyber security, it is important to develop a common stance and to establish a broader consensus. A shared integrated vision and perspective must also be developed in service of a common EU foreign policy. Several conference participants stressed the need to revise the Guidelines for Inter-Parliamentary Cooperation and the need to ensure a more efficient, informal and rapid exchange of information.
Some participants problematised increasing nationalist tendencies in Europe, populism and Euroscepticism. In this context, many recalled the fundamental values of the European Union, pointing out that after all, the European idea was first and foremost a project of values taking pluralism and the principle of subsidiarity into account. National parliaments have a shared responsibility to develop and promote democracy throughout Europe in order to strengthen the rule of law and to ensure the independence of the judiciary and freedom of the press.
PLEASE NOTE: Photos of the Speakers Conference can be found on the Parliament's website: