Speech by Vice- President Maroš Šefčovič at the Joint debate on European Council meetings of 1-2 October and of 15-16 October 2020, European Parliament Plenary, 6 October

Source: European Commission (EC) i, published on Tuesday, October 6 2020.

Thank you, President Sassoli, Honourable Members,

Let me address this House today on behalf of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

As you are well aware, she is still in self-isolation today, after participating in a meeting attended by a person who tested positive for coronavirus.

As President has said, we have to be careful and do our utmost to reduce the spread of the virus.

Now turning to the topic at hand - the European Council - President Michel has debriefed you on our very substantial discussions of foreign affairs.

I would sum it up very simply: I am glad that the European Council has finally found unity after a very long debate. When we're united, we have the power to address the many challenges that surround our European Union.

Today I would like to focus on two issues from the European Council where our unity will be needed and will be tested again: our climate and digital goals and Brexit.

First, on our climate goals

  • which will be at the core of the next European Council.

This Parliament and Europe's Heads of State and Government have agreed on making Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050.

For that, we need to speed up. If we continued with business-as-usual, we would only cut our emissions by 60% by 2050. That's too little to contain global warming and its devastating impact.

That's why the European Commission proposes to increase our climate ambition for 2030. We propose a reduction of at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990. It is an ambitious goal but it is in our reach.

There is an economic rationale for 55%. Our cost-benefit analysis tells us that the benefits are bigger than the costs. Science tells us we have no choice. The Paris Agreement requires it. And the public consultation we have conducted shows that a very large majority of Europeans expect this from us, including in the business sector. They all observe the increase of extreme weather conditions.

Business want to invest in green innovation. But they also want certainty and predictability.

Do we have a plan to realise the increased ambition? Yes, we do.

We have policies and rules in place that have delivered CO2 reductions in the past, while growing our economy. The Emissions Trading System, coupled with other rules and mechanisms, is proving its effectiveness.

We can and will propose by June 2021 an upgrade of our policy toolbox to become “fit for 55” in the most cost-efficient and innovation-enhancing manner. This will be underpinned again by impact assessments for Member States and economic sectors.

Do we have the resources to finance the higher climate ambition? Yes, we do.

The next EU budget and NextGenerationEU will make available more than 600 billion euros for climate and green investment. This investment from the EU level should leverage a multiple of this in further private and public investment that will support the transition. And this includes investments for a fair transition.

Do we have allies in this task? Yes, we do.

At the UN General Assembly two weeks ago, President Xi announced that China aims to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. And that it will peak its CO2 emissions before 2030.

The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, declared that his country will aim at carbon neutrality by 2050. These are messages we want to hear. And we need more of them!

Europe will not solve climate change alone.

We represent less than 10% of global CO2 emissions. But we are not alone. This is good news for the world.

But it also means that we must preserve our first mover advantage. We must step up our climate ambition if we want the best green technologies to be European technologies.

So the question that remains is: do we have the resolve?

If we look around us, we are heading from the wildfire season straight into the flood season. Is this the world we want to live in? A world of never-ending natural disasters? A constant increase of desertification?

Now it is the question for you, the European Parliament, to unite around an ambitious climate objective of at least 55% by 2030.

And we will push for Europe's heads of state and government to unite behind the same ambition before the end of the year. The Commission wants it to be our common goal to deliver the European Union's Nationally Determined Contribution by the end of 2020, a date that marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement.

Honourable members,

The green transition goes hand in hand with the digital one. Like for the green transition, we need clear objectives for the next decade. Just like with our 2030 climate goals, Europe needs to “up its game”. This is how the 2020s can become Europe's Digital Decade.

Last week's European Council has recognised that need, calling for a Digital Compass to navigate this transformational period and has concluded to invest 20% of the Recovery and Resilience Facility in digital projects.

That investment will support, and profit from our actions in three fields:

First, we must establish a true digital single market - through firm enforcement of the rules we already have. And we must deepen it in fields such as digital services.

Second, fair competition. We need new tools to address the power of global tech platforms over small European companies, and to respond to global subsidy races. That's why we will propose a Digital Services Act in December of this year, and a foreign subsidies instrument in early 2021.

Third, we must build up the digital capacity of our industries. And for this we need European flagships and alliances, for instance on secure 5G networks, low-energy data processing and quantum computing.

In parallel to this, we must also better serve citizens and business through digital public services and a common European digital identity.

All this requires major investment, which Next Generation EU can drive. NextGenerationEU is our opportunity to deliver. Let's use it!

Honourable Members,

Finally, we will need all our energy in this final stage of negotiations with the United Kingdom.

We are less than 100 days away from the end of the transition period. There are two tracks to which we should devote our full attention and energy. The ongoing negotiations on our future partnership which are tough; and the full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, which I have the honour to oversee.

This Agreement guarantees:

  • our citizens' rights,
  • our financial interests,
  • the integrity of the Single Market
  • and crucially,
  • the Good Friday Agreement.

The fact that our British friends now - all of a sudden - proposed a draft Bill that by its very nature is a breach of this Withdrawal Agreement, is a heavy blow to the British signature and reliability. Respecting agreements is first a matter of law, but also of trust and good faith.

And this is why last week, the Commission started an infringement procedure by sending a letter of formal notice to the UK government. We invited them to submit their observations by the beginning of November.

The full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement is simply not debatable.

Concerning the negotiations on our future partnership, Prime Minister Johnson and President von der Leyen took stock of the negotiations last Saturday. They both agreed that some progress had been made but that a lot remained to be done.

We all know where the difficulties are. We all know our mandate, our red lines, our objectives. Our negotiators were instructed to work as hard as they can to try to finalize an agreement. Michel Barnier and his team have, as always, our full trust. But time is short.

In case we reach an agreement - which is our objective - both parties will have to ensure ratification in time for an entry into force by 1st January 2021. And this will need some time. Including time for this House.

If this is not the case, we will be in the “no-deal” territory. Given that we are less than 100 days away from this date, we cannot exclude this scenario.

This is why we will continue to work with you and the Member States to ensure that we are ready for every scenario.

This is a delicate moment for Europe. The Brexit deadline looms. The pandemic is still with us. It is a moment of uncertainty. So it must be the moment of unity. The moment of courage.

Long live Europe.