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In his opening remarks to MEPs in Strasbourg, French President Nicolas SARKOZY told the House "we all have a heavy responsibility", namely "to get Europe out of its crisis". To do this, "we must reassure Europeans" and show that Europe is working for everyone.
Lisbon or Nice? No enlargement without new treaty, says Sarkozy
First, "we have an institutional problem", he said. He himself had announced before the French presidential elections that he favoured "parliamentary ratification of the treaty" not referendums, and he had been elected on that understanding. Now an early solution must be found to the Irish "no" vote, to decide whether next year's European elections were to be held on the basis of the Lisbon Treaty or the Nice Treaty. That was the only choice.
He also strongly emphasised that without Lisbon there could be no further enlargement: enlargement required new institutions. And while he himself favoured the accession of the Balkan countries - since they were "unquestionably European" - people could not say "no" to Lisbon and also demand enlargement to include these countries.
The president also rejected the view that "it doesn't matter if we have a multi-speed Europe", saying this would be "a last resort". In his view "everyone must be on board in the European family".
Protection, energy and climate change
Turning to the French presidency's other priorities, Mr Sarkozy first argued that Europeans had a right to expect "protection" from Europe but that this need not mean "protectionism".
He then spoke of the energy and climate package, saying "we are the last generation that can prevent disaster". This could only be done if nations agreed to join forces, and "Europe must set the example". He believed a solution could be found for the (mainly new) Member States who relied largely on fossil fuels.
Immigration, development, defence
France had now taken the difficult decision to open its labour market to all European workers but in those circumstances, asked Mr Sarkozy, "is it reasonable for each country to have its own immigration rules without taking into account the impact on others"? He believed immigration and asylum must be debated at European level, citing the problem of asylum seekers who can lodge 27 separate applications EU-wide.
Development was another priority of his country's presidency, as was security and defence. He rejected the idea that one must choose between NATO and an EU defence.
On agriculture, Mr Sarkozy believed that common sense must prevail: in 2050 there would be 9 billion people in the world. "This is not the time to scale down Europe's food production", he argued. He also mentioned social issues, notably health, saying that diseases such as Alzheimer's and cancer would be best tackled through greater European cooperation.
Special rules for culture….and sport?
Turning to culture and sport, Mr Sarkozy said he believed not only in an "exception" to free market rules for culture, he also hoped to see one introduced for sport. For example, he could not accept that football clubs which trained up young players should see their efforts destroyed.
Responsibility on the treaty, debate on monetary policy
The French president then complained that some political leaders were "unwilling to defend in public the choices they made in Brussels". He had told the president of Poland that since he had negotiated the Lisbon Treaty, he had not just a political but a moral duty to sign it.
Turning to monetary policy, he maintained that it was fair to ask "what is the right monetary strategy?" and "what is the right exchange rate policy?". He was not challenging the independence of the Central Bank but he wanted a more open debate on certain issues.
Lastly, he stressed that Europe was a place for teamwork and he hoped that in six months' time people would say "Europe has progressed thanks to your participation and support".
José Manuel BARROSO, President of the European Commission, noted that President Sarkozy had said he wanted "France to come back to Europe." "That is good news for us," he said, promising the Commission would stand with France throughout its presidency to achieve a common success for the EU.
New challenges - like the scarcity of fossil fuels and climate change - required common solutions, said Mr Barroso. "We also need to reform our economies, step up competitiveness and invest in research and education," he said. "We are first trading power in world, but need courage to change if we want to protect ourselves."
This was a challenging time: with the Irish 'no' vote, a difficult world economic situation, prices of oil and food going up in an inflationary push going which was a big enemy of social justice: "Those on low wages suffer most."
Having just returned from the G8 summit in Japan, Mr Barroso noted the contrast between the gloom often expressed within EU and the external view of Europe: "Outside, the EU is seen as positive, an important and decisive player with importance on the world stage."
The Commission President highlighted climate change and development as areas where Europe has taken initiatives. "The US has pretty much signed up to our goals on climate change," he said, something that was not easy to achieve. "I am proud of leadership role of EU. It is a success achieve through European unity."
Rising food prices, he said, were undermining the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, so he was pleased the European Council has supported the Commission's plans for an agricultural support fund for developing countries. The formal proposals would be adopted by the Commission next week.
It was clear that the poorest countries needed European aid: "This is why we can create an example of solidarity between European and African farmers, the Common Agricultural Policy and development policy working in tandem."
Rather than indulging in what he called "crisisophilia," Mr Barroso said the EU should be the solution to major problems.
On the Lisbon Treaty, he said it could make Europe more effective, efficient and democratic, but not having the treaty in force was not an excuse to not answer the problems of ordinary citizens. "We need to talk to them frankly and tell people how it is - and to provide evidence that Europe works, focussing on policies that bring people closer to Europe and change people's daily lives."
Mr Barroso said the integrated energy policy fighting against climate change was the right top priority for the presidency. It would put EU in good position to start the Copenhagen negotiations in a year's time. The French Presidency would have the Commission's full support on this.
Europe, continued the Commission President, needed a managed immigration policy. "We should look at what immigration we need, what an aging Europe needs and where there are skills shortages, but we also need to make sure that dignified integration can take place." The adoption of Blue Card would be a good step forward. It was also important to deal with illegal immigration and the exploitation that arises from it. "We should penalise employers who employ illegal workers, not threatening those who are already poor enough, but penalising those who exploit their labour."
Europe, he said, could not solve the immigration issue by being permissive on all fronts. "We need to be firm on illegal immigration, but also show solidarity with migrant communities who are integrating and wanting to work hard." "When you have a Europe of Schengen, having 27 immigration policies is absurd, we need one single policy."
Turning to social measures, he said we could not have dynamic economic models without social policies providing a safety net. He congratulated France on its new social agenda, saying that no-one should be left at the side of the road.
Mr Barroso also welcomed plans for European defence - and the Union for the Mediterranean to be launched on Sunday (13 July).. These were two opportunities to have Europe play its part in the world.
"The first duty of politicians is to face up to challenges and redouble efforts to meet them successfully. We can do a great deal together, with the institutions of Europe working hand in hand - this is the key to joint success we owe to citizens of Europe. We can Identify together concrete solutions to concrete problems," concluded the Commission President.
Political group speakers
Joseph DAUL (FR), leader the EPP-ED group, said France had decided that political commitment would mark its presidency. "This is what we need to face developments before Europe. The worst of these is from the 'no' in Ireland. We need to ensure citizens support building Europe," This means addressing their fears on prices and misgivings on social and family issues. "If we can't persuade people that major issues like climate, energy and immigration can only be solved at European level, then we have a major problem."
"We would like to see all remaining Member States ratify the Treaty. We hope after a period of reflection Ireland will put forward suggestions out of impasse. I hope we will be able to end this institutional debate." But, he said, the world was not waiting while we try to equip ourselves with better decision making tools: "We need political commitment to deal with priorities of climate change, energy, migration, food security and defence."
On climate change, we should, he said, provide an example before Copenhagen. On migration, it was time to debate the subject and decide on positive, humane and responsible results. The Pact proposed by France was, he said, a step in the right direction. On food security, it was important to help the most vulnerable in world and poorest in the Member States, and how, he asked "can Europe be credible without defence policy worthy of the name?"
"If we have the courage to make clear political choices our citizens will discover again that they do like Europe," concluded the EPP-ED group leader.
Martin SCHULZ (PES, DE) singled out two priorities for the next six months: the Climate Change package and the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. He stressed the need for increased transparency, democracy and a greater role for national Parliaments. He deplored the stalling of the Lisbon Treaty "at the moment when we need a new instrument".On Social Europe, he described as a "mistake" the idea that social questions could be dealt with on a national basis. According to Mr Schulz "European economic progress generates more growth and employment but must also generate more social protection".
The leader of the PES recalled the fear of European citizens over social hardship and the need to give confidence to the uninformed citizen for whom "progress is only good for business and banks" by showing him that the EU can be good for the individual too. "France gave us the first Charter of Fundamental Rights and the tradition of the protection of human rights - he underlined asking the President of the Council to curb the actions of the government of Silvio Berlusconi in relation to the Roma "You are brave and bold, help us and your Presidency will be a great success" he concluded.
Graham WATSON (ALDE, UK) said: "The decision by Irish voters to reject the Lisbon Treaty has made your impressively-prepared presidency more problematic. It has also made the case for a practical, problem-solving Europe stronger than ever." The energy and climate change packages become more urgent every day. Capping VAT on fuel is a short-term sop." Europe should be tackling the long-term rise in fuel prices, and tackling global warming. We need substantial investment in renewable energy, as Commissioner Piebalgs has urged. Small-scale and localised to keep individual household bills down in the long-term; and large scale, such as using our new Union for the Mediterranean to invest in high voltage solar thermal power production in North Africa.
To stabilise food prices we need good ideas, such as the recent CAP reforms of Commissioner Fischer Boel. The truth is that people care more about the petrol price and the bread bill than about the grand aims of our Union. Today no-one should say, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche."
The presidency is also right to focus on migration. Migration will become manageable only when we address the despair that leads so many to risk so much to come here.
It may be optimistic to ask a French presidency to liberalise markets. But to bring security within our borders we must bring hope beyond them. There is another way in which this presidency can break new ground. Human rights are core to the European ideal. France gave Europe the Rights of Man. Now France must lead us in their defence. By using the Union for the Mediterranean to press North African countries on their human rights record. And by ensuring that China meets its commitments.
To bring citizens closer to the institutions, Europe needs to "refresh its soul" with common roots, values, and ambitions said Cristiana MUSCARDINI (UEN, IT) adding that the forest of flags outside the Parliament building were symbolic of what citizens share.
"Europe needs aims that inspire young people", she continued, suggesting the Presidency press for a "charter of rights and duties", inter alia to protect the environment.
"Where rules are weakened, democracy and freedom are weakened", she stressed, citing the need for a new relationship with Africa, based on more than just trade, to combat evils such as terrorism in Mogadishu and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
the Euro-Mediterranean project.
Ms Muscardini also stressed that the small and medium-sized enterprises are a "cultural asset", and that the Council must ensure that trade rules are obeyed.
Daniel COHN-BENDIT (Greens/EFA, DE) praised Mr Sarkozy's commitment to, and ambition for, the EU - "It's a drug we're all hooked on", he said, paraphrasing a popular song.
However, "if we are ambitious enough to accept the climate package, then we should not kneel to the German car industry", he continued, adding that "consumers are paying for our laxism" in high fuel prices.
On immigration, Mr Cohn-Bendit stressed that Parliament must be a genuine partner in shaping a policy on legal immigration, rather than just complaining about the illegal sort. Immigration made Europe what it is, and "rather than have people trying to get in through the windows, we should throw open the doors", he said.
Social policy does fall within Europe's remit, and Parliament and the Council must work together to combat social and fiscal dumping, he said.
Finally, Mr Cohn-Bendit strongly advised Mr Sarkozy not to attend the opening of the Olympic Games in China, given its record of human rights abuses at home and in Tibet. Missing this golden opportunity to "say no" would be a "total disgrace", which Mr Sarkozy would regret when the time came to write his memoirs, he predicted.
Francis WURTZ (GUE/NGL, FR) admired Mr Sarkozy's lucidity in describing Europe's crisis of legitimacy, and readiness to listen to disquiet - the referendum "noes" reflected the views of millions of other Europeans, he said.
Mr Wurtz ,nonetheless, felt that Mr Sarkozy had "ignored the social dimension", and pointed out that ,like it or not, national social policies would be affected by European Court of Justice rulings.
"We should welcome workers from everywhere with equal rights", said Mr Wurtz, asking why, in Lower Saxony, immigrant building workers earn only half as much as their German workmates.
For many, France's about-face on the Working Time Directive means a 65-hour week: "Dickens is still with us" said Mr Wurtz, adding that Mr Sarkozy's promise to important guests that "in future, when there's a strike, no-one will notice", had been an "insult to trade unions".
Philippe DE VILLIERS (IND/DEM, FR) said: "The peoples of Europe have had to accept in their daily lives the devastating policies of Brussels and Frankfurt and see all their power trickling through their fingers, whether on GMOs, on fishing or even on football"
"The powers of the state are being stripped away from democracy to go instead to officials, bankers and judges"
He told President Sarkozy that the French Presidency was an opportunity to get Europe moving in the right direction again and he asked for the vote of the people of Ireland to be honoured and the Lisbon Treaty to be proclaimed dead..
Jean-Marie LE PEN (NI, FR), also declared that the Lisbon Treaty is dead "in spite of all the manoeuvring going on"
He spoke of 'demoralising waves of foreign immigrants' invading across open borders and of further opening of borders and freeing of competition allowing the rest of the world to take advantage. "Meanwhile, Europeans have not gained the economic growth and the jobs they were promised"
On the release of Ingrid Betancourt, Mr Le Pen accused President Sarkozy of negotiating with the Farc terrorists in Colombia and asserted that France was helping Farc terrorists by offering them asylum
Finally, he said: "Europe is going down the wrong path. It is economically-ruined by social liberalism; it has no proper defence forces and is just an American protectorate; and it is being held hostage by federalism…The NO votes to the Constitution and treaties should be a warning."
British and Irish speakers
Philip BUSHILL-MATTHEWS (EPP-ED) speaking for the UK Conservative MEPs, quoted from President Sarkozy's own book "Témoignage", which had said that rather than a uniform and rigid policy of a 35 hour week and compulsory retirement at 60, citizens should have free choice to work more if they choose. "That is the true social Europe," agreed Mr Bushill-Matthews.
"If freedom of choice are your guiding principles, the Conservative Party will stand by your side in this presidency," he said. And this should be the case for the Working Time Directive and for the Temporary Agency Workers Directive.
Finally, Mr Bushill-Matthews urged the President to respect the choice of the people of Ireland, 'not as a problem to be addressed, but as an opportunity for Europe to reconnect with the people".
Brian CROWLEY (UEN, IE) said the new presidency needs to "meet the challenges head on" but stressed that "the complexity of the world today is far more varied than what one single ideology or plan can give us". Concerning President Sarkozy's plans for the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Crowley said the Irish No vote is "not just a problem with Ireland's relationship with Europe, but is reflective of a deeper problem between Europe and its citizens".
Nigel FARAGE (IND/DEM, UK) said the priorities of the French presidency "says that you want an EU that controls every single aspect of our lives and that you want us to be isolated from the world", and demonstrates an "arrogance of saying that you would know best when it comes to the EU". Addressing the Irish No vote, Mr Farage said it shows that "the people of Europe do not want a more integrated EU" and "to try to ratify the treaty through the backdoor... would be showing an utter contempt for democracy".
Marian HARKIN (ALDE, IE) said that she appreciates President Sarkozy's comments on "protection without protectionism" and his commitment for Europe, and, as someone who canvassed for a Yes vote in Ireland, she said "the Irish No is just as legitimate as the French or Dutch No" and as such, "must be given the same respect, it will take time to resolve the and no deadlines can be given."
Gay MITCHELL (ALDE, IE) said the Lisbon Treaty received a No vote for a variety or reasons, including a lack of understanding and the "theories led by the extremists on the right and the left", He urged President Sarkozy to "come prepared and come prepared to listen" when he visits Ireland, and also said that President Sarkozy's visit to Ireland will be welcomed but the Lisbon issue in Ireland "is complex and will take some time".
Commission President's response
In his response to the debate, Commission President BARROSO congratulated President Sarkozy on his resolve and enthusiasm, which he said he was sure would be shown throughout the French Presidency. It was at difficult times that political capabilities and strong political will were most important.
Europe, he said, was different from national political systems where there was not question about the legitimacy of political leaders. Here there were all sorts of populists opposing the mission of peace and solidarity which the EU embodies. It was essential for the institutions to work together ahead of the European elections to avoid handing arguments to the extremists of the political system.
"Good luck to France and good luck to my friend Nicolas Sarkozy!" concluded Mr Barroso.
President Sarkozy's responses: Olympic Games ceremony, immigration policy
Among his responses to the debate, Mr Sarkozy commented on his own decision to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. He said he would raise human rights issues while in China but "we can't boycott a country with a quarter of the world's population". The world needed China's help with problems such as Darfur and Iran. (By contrast, Parliament's president Hans-Gert Pöttering announced yesterday that he would not be attending the opening ceremony because negotiations between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama's envoys had not produced results.)
To Philip Bushill-Matthews, he said "Europe needs the United Kingdom" and if Britain has "one foot in and one foot out, Europe is weakened". To Nigel Farage, he said "You don't want a common ID card or a common immigration policy" and yet "you were happy for France to close Sangatte". But, he argued, "France can't solve all Britain's immigration problems", and in his view there was a clear case for a common immigration and asylum policy.
Further information :
Audio, 34:03 - French president Nicolas Sarkozy - EN
Audio, 16:07 plenary 10/07/2008 - Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso - EN
Audio, 37:47 - plenary 10/07/2008 - Political groups - EN
Audio, 32:31- Press conference 10/07/2008 - Hans-Gert Pöttering, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jose Manuel Barroso - EN