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Ursula von der Leyen assures national parliaments of participation in the Conference on the Future of Europe

Dr Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, promised national parliaments that they would be duly involved in the planned Conference on the Future of Europe. During the virtual COSAC on Tuesday 1 December 2020, Dr von der Leyen said in her opening statements that the national parliaments would play the decisive role in the project. She emphasised that she cared very much about that conference. As soon as the pandemic permitted, she said, the Commission intended, together with the Council and the European Parliament, to pave the way for the conference to be launched before the end of the year. The structure to be created for the project provided for a very clear role for national parliaments, the President said. By means of a multilingual online platform, citizens were to be given a stronger voice on matters relating to the future of Europe. “To achieve this, we need you”, said the President of the European Commission, addressing the delegates. Members of Parliament, she said, would know their home countries better than anyone and would be able to bring people together with passion and vigour.

Guido Wolf: “Music to the ears of national parliaments”

Besides Gunther Krichbaum, chair of the EU Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, numerous delegates advocated a stronger role for national parliaments. In her closing statement, Dr von der Leyen underpinned her assurance of participation by national parliaments by according them a role in the conference steering bodies. That, she said, was the position of the European Commission, emphasising that the Commission was on the side of the national parliaments. Guido Wolf, chair of the Bundesrat Committee on European Union Questions, responded afterwards by saying that it was “music to the ears of national parliaments” to hear the President of the Commission explicitly emphasising the role of parliaments as a link with the European population.

Pandemic: Commission President sees “light at the end of the tunnel”

Speaking of the coronavirus pandemic, President von der Leyen was hopeful that the first European citizens might already be vaccinated before the end of 2020. This, she said, would be “a huge step forward towards our normal life”. Even though there was now “a light at the end of the tunnel”, there was a need to remain disciplined “till we have reached finally a vaccination that is appropriate to eradicate this virus”. In the EU, she said, the solidarity element in the distribution of vaccines was very important.

The President of the Commission spoke of a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” in connection with the Next Generation EU recovery fund. Its budget of EUR 750 billion was intended not only to tackle the economic impact of the crisis, she said; the aim must be simultaneous modernisation into a more sustainable, more digital and more robust Europe.

Criticism of the intransigence of Hungary and Poland

Ursula van der Leyen criticised the position of Hungary and Poland, which had registered doubts and had thus blocked the release of the funds. Of the conditionality mechanism, which also contains stipulations regarding the rule of law, she said, “It is appropriate, it is proportionate, and it is necessary”. If there were still legal reservations, she said, recourse to the European Court of Justice was available. These reservations, however, must not impact adversely on the millions of Europeans who, in the midst of the pandemic, were waiting desperately for help, said the President of the Commission. Daniel Freund, a Member of the European Parliament, endorsed Ursula von der Leyen’s criticism of Hungary and Poland. It was sad, he said, that these two EU member states were refusing their solidarity. In the light of the statement made the previous day by Federal Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel that compromise was needed here, Mr Freund said that, as a member of the negotiating team of the European Parliament, he knew that great concessions had previously been made to both of those states.

Generating local growth with European investments

President von der Leyen also referred to the efforts that were needed to achieve full climate neutrality by 2050. One problem in this context, she said, was the sluggish energy renovation of buildings, and there was a need to move twice as fast and invest accordingly. The President of the Commission asked delegates to communicate that this was a great opportunity to generate local growth with European investments.

COSAC members on the Green Deal, climate action, free-trade agreements, the war on terror and EU enlargement

Numerous issues were raised in COSAC members’ contributions to the discussion. Jean‑François Rapin, chair of the French Senate Committee for European Affairs, called for greater efforts to ensure that European businesses were not exposed to unfair competition from abroad. In connection with the European Green Deal, he stressed the need to guarantee a fair income for farmers.

Dr Reinhold Lopatka, chair of the EU Affairs Subcommittee of the Austrian National Council, referred to the importance of a free-trade agreement with the United States in view of the change of government in the White House. In addition, he said, there was a need to cooperate with the United States on climate change, the rule of law and the fight against terrorism.

Marko Pogačnik, chair of the EU Affairs Committee in the National Council of the Slovak Republic, expressed the view that a resilient EU must be synonymous with a coordinated fight against terrorism. Words were not enough. Europe, he urged, must not lose its identity, which was based on Christian values.

Thomas Hacker, a member of the EU Affairs Committee in the German Bundestag, urged everyone not to forget the Western Balkans. They must be given a clear signal, he said, that the progress they were making was actually being seen. A similar point was made by Elvira Kovács, chair of the European Affairs Committee of the Serbian National Assembly. Serbia, she said, had done tremendous work in enacting reforms on the path to EU membership. Her country was ready for cooperation with its partners from the EU in pursuit of common goals.

Numerous delegates called for some of the money from the Recovery Fund to be used to promote more vigorous climate action. (hau/1 December 2020)

The report on sessions I and II can be read here.

The report on session III can be read here.

The report on session V can be read here.

Recording of the virtual Confer­ence of Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees for Un­ion Af­fairs of Par­lia­ments of the Eu­ro­pean Un­ion on 30 November 2020 and 1 December 2020

00:05:31

Film of the Conference of the Virtual COSAC

Here you can get a brief insight into the topics discussed at the Virtual Confer­ence of Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees for Un­ion Af­fairs of Par­lia­ments of the Eu­ro­pean Un­ion (COSAC), or­ganised by the German Bundestag in cooper­ation with the Bundesrat on 30 November and 1st December 2020 in Berlin

More information can be found here.

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  • Type of media Video
  • Format MP4

Recording of the virtual Confer­ence of Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees for Un­ion Af­fairs of Par­lia­ments of the Eu­ro­pean Un­ion

00:05:31

Film of the Conference of the Virtual COSAC

00:00:57

Gunther Krichbaum at the virtual COSAC

00:01:38

Thomas Hacker at the virtual COSAC

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