During a debate held today (26 October) in the European Parliament, MEPs criticised the European Council for its inability to decide on issues such as CETA and EU-Russia relations, with calls for Council President Donald Tusk to “end paralysis in the Council”.
Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker briefed MEPs on the political conclusions of the 20-21 October EU summit. Political group leaders focused on the issues on the summit agenda: the proposed EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) recently rejected by Wallonia’s parliament, EU-Russia relations, trade defence instruments and migration.
Tusk said that the EU leaders’ assessment of EU-Russia relations was “without illusions”. He repeated that Russia wanted to split the EU, and was waging “disinformation campaigns, cyber-attacks, political interference”.
Russia’s strategy is to weaken the EU, Council President Donald Tusk said following a five-hour summit discussion on the Union’s relations with Moscow, described as “tough” by diplomats.
On CETA, Tusk said 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.
At the EU summit overnight (20-21 October) Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte obtained little support for his proposals for a way forward following the referendum in which his compatriots rejected the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
Juncker said that on CETA, he trusted that an agreement would be reached in the course of the day “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,” Juncker said. 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.
Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said that the EU had learned its lessons from last year’s refugee crisis and that the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency would be a “game changer” in securing the Union’s external borders.
The leader of the EU’s largest political force, the European Peoples’ Party, which Juncker and Tusk belong to, slammed the European Council and member states for creating.
“Europe needs unity, decisiveness, and leadership. But the European Council is creating confusion rather than direction,” said Manfred Weber MEP, Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament.
On CETA, on trade defence instruments, on migration, the European Commission has put forward very good proposals, Weber said, adding that the European Parliament was capable of raising majorities to support these texts. “It is the EU states that create blockages and splits and cannot stop squabbling,” he stated.
On CETA, Weber said the deal would be good for the EU’s economy as it would create jobs, especially for young people. He lamented that an overwhelming majority of member states wanted CETA to be a mixed agreement, meaning that it needs to be ratified not only by the European Parliament, but via national parliaments.
“Now we see the result. The EU is blocking itself. For the EPP Group it is clear that European topics have to be dealt with in the European Parliament only,” said Weber.
The head of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, Gianni Pittella also slammed EU member states for the Council’s failure to take decisions.
On CETA, which he 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, leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group (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.
‘The winners are China and Russia’
Sophie in ‘t Veld, Vice-President of the European Liberals and Democrats group (ALDE), said that CETA was held hostage for purely domestic political reasons.
“The credibility of the European Union has been severely damaged. The winners of this episode are not the Walloon farmers or manufacturers. The winners are China and Russia. They will get to set the standards, not Europe”, she said.
“Some parties are welcoming the veto by Wallonia because they are against CETA. But that is a dangerous kind of opportunism: welcoming a veto when it suits your purpose will boomerang. Vetoes are paralyzing Europe, in ‘t Veld added.
ALDE Vice-President Telicka (Czech Republic) said that Russian President Vladimir Putin would have “laughed” if he had read the summit conclusions.
No decision on sanctions against the atrocities Russia is committing in Syria and nothing was decided to make Europe stronger in international trade.”
“Even worse, nothing measurable was reached at all. If the Council continues like this, Europe is rapidly making itself irrelevant as a global actor.”
ALDE issued a press release, titled “Europe will become irrelevant if Tusk does not end paralysis in the Council.”
It is widely assumed that the Council President, a post introduced by the Lisbon Treaty and previously held by Herman Van Rompuy, calls EU summits when he is assured that there is sufficient support for the Council decisions.
For the leftist European United Left/Nordic Green left (GUE/NGL) group, Neoklis Sylikiotis (Cyprus) said on the war in Syria that there were “no good or bad bombs”, and argued that just as it is right to condemn Russia, “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, Belgium) said “The Walloon NO is a YES to a citizens’ Europe,” adding that Wallonia was 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.
Marine Le Pen (Europe of Nations and Freedoms) said that the Walloon Parliament was doing what it should do: protect its citizens by rejecting CETA. She also called for Brexit-style referenda in France and other EU countries.