Speech by Vice-President Šefčovič on behalf of President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the preparation of the European Council and the relaunch of the Malta Declaration

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Honourable Chair, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

The last European Council before the summer break comes at a positive moment in time: the first national Recovery and Resilience Plans under NextGenerationEU have been approved enabling record levels of funding for long-lasting transformation and jobs; the EU Digital COVID Certificate is well on track to be up and running across our Member States as of 1 July  –in fact, some have already put them into use – giving hope to Europeans for a summer with less restrictions; our societies and economies are gradually reopening, thanks to great progress in our vaccination effort.

But now is not the time to take our collective foot off the pedal.

With regards to the vaccination effort, 53% of the adult EU population have received at least one vaccine dose, and we are set to reach the EU’s target of having 70% of adults fully vaccinated by July – that is, if we keep up the pace.

It is not enough that Europe vaccinates itself, however. Out of solidarity, and to speed up our economic recovery, we need to strengthen our efforts elsewhere. This includes: generous financial and in-kind contributions to COVAX; investment in EU vaccine production and export; and support to develop local and regional manufacturing capacities with a 1 billion Euro initiative in Africa.

At the same time, we are also preparing for the future, based on what this crisis has taught us. To this end, on 15 June, the European Commission presented a Communication on the initial “lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic” focusing on the health crisis, but also on the EU’s economic response.

We looked at what went well, and what did not go so well in the last 15 months. After a difficult start, things improved rapidly. We designed and delivered a range of unprecedented initiatives in record time, for example on vaccines, the procurement of essential supplies, the support for global efforts, and maintaining the functioning of the Single Market.

To this list we should also add the EU Digital COVID Certificate, which will enable citizens to travel throughout the Union using a secure, mutually-recognised document. I would like to thank the European Parliament for ensuring that its approval process was concluded so rapidly.

The European Council will also review the state of play of the implementation of NextGenerationEU. 24 Member States have now submitted their Recovery and Resilience Plans, with excellent cooperation between the Commission services and the national authorities. The plans received by the Commission so far provide coherent packages of ambitious green and digital investments as well as reforms addressing the key challenges.

This will help strengthen the resilience and growth potential of Member States’ economies, while paying all due attention to the social dimension. We are also pleased to see that most of the plans include measures to boost the resilience of national health systems. 

President von der Leyen has started her tour across our Member States, as these plans receive the Commission’s green light. Thanks to the ratification of the Own Resources Decision in record time, the Commission has been able to start raising resources for Next Generation EU.  And we plan to pay out the pre-financing in quick time, once the Council approves the plans. This is truly historic – and a major milestone towards turning the page and emerging stronger.

Our debate here today is also dedicated to the Malta Declaration, which is focused on stemming the migratory flows from Libya at the source.

A comprehensive and whole-of-route approach to migration is embedded within our broader engagement with Libya. This includes cooperation with Libya’s neighbours in the South, and addressing the situation on the Mediterranean coast.

Our concrete actions will continue to focus on border management, a joint fight against migrant smuggling, and developing safe and legal pathways, through assisted voluntary returns and resettlement.

The protection of migrants and saving lives remains paramount. We will continue these actions together with Member States, our African Union partners, and UN organisations such as UNHCR and IOM. The Commission has sought to deepen partnerships on migration with all key third countries, and we have provided support on all elements of migration.

While we are a long way from the migratory situation in 2015 and 2016, however, there is still a need for further action. We urgently need a durable new European framework that will pave the way to common solutions. This can be ensured by an agreement on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, which we proposed 9 months ago.

The Pact brings together essential internal reform and a comprehensive and balanced engagement with our partners to address all strands of migration policy. By making use of strategic foresight, this will help us be better prepared for any future eventuality with regards to migratory pressure.

With regards to Turkey, there is some positive momentum: We welcome the relative de-escalation of tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the continuation of direct talks with Greece. But we need to see clear and sustainable progress on a number of issues, including Cyprus and trade issues. The resumption of returns from Greece to Turkey is equally important.

Finally, the Commission and the High Representative have prepared a report on the state of our relations with Russia, as requested by the European Council in May. This is a very realistic assessment which makes it clear that these relations are on a downward trend, due to Russia’s own strategic choices and its many malign, aggressive actions. We are now proposing a tryptic of concrete action points – to push back, constrain and engage with Russia simultaneously. This represents a smart reinforcement of our current policies, and is both ambitious and doable.

Tomorrow, we will have the last European Council under the Portuguese Presidency. Allow me to conclude with an expression of gratitude to Ana Paula Zacarias for not only the excellent Presidency but for her personal engagement and the excellent relations she had with the European Parliament and the Commission, which not only allowed us to launch the Conference on the Future of Europe but also to progress so quickly on the Digital COVID Certificate. I can say the same about many other files, which will make Europe emerge from this crisis stronger.

Thank you.

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