CETA and Russia dominate debate with Juncker and Tusk

Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker briefed MEPs on the political conclusions of the latest EU summit in Wednesday’s plenary debate. Political group leaders focused on the proposed EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) recently rejected by Wallonia’s parliament, EU-Russia relations, trade defence instruments and migration

Click on the speaker’s name to view the full statement (VOD)

Opening of the debate, Parliament’s President Martin Schulz reminded MEPs of the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the “heroic fight of Hungarians against Sovjet occupation and dictatorship.” He added that “This fight for freedom was also a fight for Europe.”

European Council President Donald Tusk, reported that the EU leaders’ assessment of EU-Russia relations was “without illusions”. “Disinformation campaigns, cyber-attacks, political interference – as Russia tries to weaken and split the EU, we need to stick to our values and stand united”, he said, adding that all possible options should be considered to stop hostilities in Syria. On CETA, he hoped that the agreement would be finalised soon, while calling on Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to tackle national difficulties blocking the EU-Ukraine agreement. British plans to exit the EU were not discussed at the summit, insisted Mr Tusk, but given Prime Minister Theresa May’s short intervention, he reiterated the EU27 position: “We want as close relations as possible with the UK and there must be a balance between rights and duties.” The UK can enjoy full access to the single market, but this entails “accepting all four freedoms.”

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on CETA: “I trust that an agreement will be reached in the course of today within Belgium, Wallonia and other parts of the country”, so that Belgium can sign the deal when appropriate. “We want fair trade, not just free trade bought at any price”. He also stressed that last week’s summit saw some progress on migration, such as agreeing on equipping the new EU Coast Guard and consolidating the deal with Turkey on refugees, which has already reduced the number of migrants crossing into Greece.

Jean-Claude Juncker on migration

Jean-Claude Juncker  on CETA

Jean-Claude Juncker on European Investment plan

EPP leader Manfred Weber (DE) said that the task of the European Council is to give strategic direction. “But looking at trade policy and other topics, it only creates confusion, with national egotisms leading to deadlock. We in the Parliament push through good proposals, but the Council cannot stop squabbling.” On Russia, “We have to show strength. We have instruments to respond to Putin after the Aleppo bombings.” And on Brexit, Mr Weber underlined that “we now see its damaging economic consequences.” UKIP’s Nigel Farage, he said, is “no longer the winner of the referendum. He is fleeing his responsibilities, while some of his troops behave like ruffians.”

S&D leader Gianni Pittella (IT) attacked EU member states and the Council for failing to take decisions: “The Council’s silence on migration is deafening. They continue to talk about extending the Investment Plan, we want to adopt it!” On CETA, described as the “most progressive trade deal to date”, he stressed that people are asking for clarifications on various issues and the EU should continue to work towards “a good and balanced solution”.

Syed Kamall (ECR, UK) said that the term ”gridlock” best characterised the EU Council, be it on failing to reach a trade deal with Canada or to tighten sanctions against Russia. “Inaction also has consequences. If leaders fail to listen and to make their case, don’t be surprised that citizens turn to extremist parties and simplified solutions”, he added.

Sophie in ’t Veld  (ALDE, NL) said that “the inability of Council to take any kind of decision” causes severe damage to the EU. “The winners are Russia, China etc.” She compared the EU to a three-engined plane with one dead engine: “It still flies, but cannot stay on course”. Extensive veto rights put the Council at risk of rapidly making the EU irrelevant as a world player. It is the EU leaders’ duty to citizens to end the paralysis, she said.

For the GUE/NGL, Neoklis Sylikiotis (CY) said on the war in Syria: “there are no good or bad bombs”, just as it is right to condemn Russia, so “we should not ignore what our allies do” in this theatre. He also attacked the deal with Turkey on refugees, saying “It is against international law and increases trafficking”  and that “we need safe and legal routes for refugees.”

Philippe Lamberts (Greens/EFA, BE) said “The Walloon NO is a YES to a citizens’ Europe”, Wallonia is reflecting and representing an unprecedented cross-border mobilisation of citizens against ultra-liberal free-trade. He called for a renegotiation of the investor protection clause in the CETA in particular, even if this takes time. “We have traded with Canada for centuries, so a few more months can’t hurt”, he said.

Nigel Farage (EFDD, UK) regretted that presidents Tusk and Juncker were “too busy to discuss Brexit” or might wrongly “hope we might change our minds.” He called Mrs May’s demand for full access to the single market and a full say on borders a “mixed message, which could be taken as a sign of weakness.”

Marine Le Pen (ENF, FR) said that the Walloon Parliament was doing what it should do: protect its citizens by rejecting CETA. She called for Brexit-style referenda in France and other EU countries.