I would first like to wish the Luxembourg presidency all the best. There is a very challenging six months ahead and I look forward to the closest co-operation possible. Knowing Prime Minister Bettel I am sure that he will do an excellent job.
We meet at a unique and difficult time for Europe, and for our economic and monetary union. Before I discuss the Special Euro Summits of last night and in June, I will report briefly on the key outcomes of the June European Council.
Leaders discussed how to support front-line EU countries under the greatest migratory pressure. We agreed on the relocation and resettlement of 60,000 refugees over the next two years. For clarity, the scheme will complement existing national efforts, with European Union countries now receiving 600,000 asylum applications per year. Yes, the discussion was difficult and at times divisive. To my mind, it was the first time European leaders have had such an honest exchange on the refugee question. The European Council chose to keep to the voluntary approach agreed at the Special European Council in April. There is a balance to be struck between national sovereignty and action at European level in this matter.
Now we have an agreement with which we can work, and on which we can build. The Luxembourg Presidency is receiving voluntary pledges from member states on both relocation and resettlement. Based on progress so far, we hope that the numbers agreed at the European Council will be reached.
In light of the ongoing emergency, leaders also agreed that the European Union will assist in setting up ‘first reception’ facilities in front-line states to ensure swift registration of irregular arrivals. Meanwhile, the Commission will accelerate talks with countries of origin and transit on readmission to strengthen our returns policy. These will be on the basis of the ‘more for more principle’ in related areas such as development aid.
The British Prime Minister confirmed his government’s intention to hold a referendum on membership by 2017. Talks on UK renegotiation will now get underway. It was the first step in a longer process that will also end at the European Council. We will come back to this in December.
NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg discussed with us the new security threats facing Europe, just as we learned of the latest terror attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France. In the context of international terrorism and other security challenges, leaders tasked the High Representative to prepare a new European Union strategy on foreign and security policy for June next year. We also agreed to use EU funding to support collective efforts to invest in the future of European defence.
Finally, we discussed economic matters, most notably the report on completing economic and monetary union, published on June 22nd. The report makes clear that the priority to build a deeper monetary union is reform at the national level. We best address the structural weaknesses of the eurozone by confronting the weaknesses of its national economies.
Leaders also highlighted the importance of building a digital single market and noted the Commission’s new work plan in this respect. Given the central role of the digital economy in job creation and growth, the European Council was absolutely clear that this area is now a top priority. The future co-operation of the European Parliament is vital to achieve this goal.
Two weeks ago, I called a Euro Summit on June 22nd to help break the impasse in negotiations on financial assistance to Greece and to ensure that all leaders were on the same political page. Over the next days, leaders asked the Eurogroup to accelerate discussions on a last minute proposal by Greece. We believed a deal was achievable then.
Two weeks later, there is now a race against time to re-build trust. I will not discuss the rights and the wrongs of the Greek referendum. Everyone has their own perceptions. It is necessary at this stage to move on. Let bygones be bygones.
At the Euro Summit last night, leaders had a frank and honest exchange about the difficult situation now before us. We asked Prime Minister Tsipras to present his government’s ideas for sustainable growth and prosperity in Greece. The Eurogroup will now consider the detail of Greece’s request for a programme under the ESM Treaty. Clarifications will be needed in the coming days and these should be provided as quickly as possible.
All sides of the negotiations share the responsibility for the current status quo. I call on all leaders to try to find consensus that can be our common success with no losers or winners. If this does not happen, it will mean the end of the negotiations with all the possible consequences, including the worst-case scenario, where everyone will lose. Our inability to find agreement may lead to the bankruptcy of Greece and the insolvency of its banking system. And for sure, it will be most painful for the Greek people. I have no doubt that this will affect Europe, also in the geopolitical sense. If someone has any illusion that it will not be so, they are naïve.
The stark reality is that we have only four days left to find ultimate agreement. Until now, I have avoided talking about deadlines. But I have to say loud and clear that the final deadline ends this week. All of us are responsible for the crisis and all of us have a responsibility to resolve it.
As Plutarch once said: “To find fault is easy, to do better may be difficult.” I hope doing better is not so difficult as Plutarch once thought. Let us prove him wrong. Thank you.