Ladies and Gentlemen, Presidents, thank you for allowing me to speak before the European Parliament today.
Complementing President Juncker’s speech, and thanking him for his confidence, let me start by congratulating the excellent work done – under the auspices of President Tajani and all the political groups – by Guy Verhofstadt and his team, with whom I have cooperated closely since I started in this role.
Your Resolution will be the first political stand taken by a European Institution following the notification letter sent last week by the government of the United Kingdom to the President of the European Council.
With this Resolution you will set the tone by speaking to the British government, the governments of the 27 but also – and especially – to European citizens.
And it goes without saying that I also understand the message you wish to pass to me, as negotiator.
Our common objective is to succeed in this negotiation – that means reaching an agreement.
There are three pre-conditions for that to happen:
The first condition, rightly underlined by President Juncker, is unity.
Unity is in our interest: it is only by staying united that we can defend the interests of the 27 and the fundamental principles on which the European project is built.
Unity is essential, for our Union but also for our British partners: at the end of the day if the Union is disunited, there simply will not be an agreement.
And if there is no agreement, the consequences will be heavy, for the United Kingdom especially, but also for the Union. That is why the no deal scenario is not our scenario. Our ambition must be to succeed.
For this to happen, we must explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. That is our duty towards citizens. We must say what Brexit means, something that has not always been done.
Dare I also say that this negotiation should have an informative dimension for us all?
This will be the time to recall – even to rediscover – all the progress we have made together to improve the daily life and work of citizens, consumers and businesses.
My firm conviction is that our unity will be all the stronger for being built on transparency and public debate.
We will negotiate in a transparent manner. This extraordinary negotiation must not be a secret.
The second condition is about removing uncertainty.
Our role is to re-establish certainty and security where the UK’s decision to leave the Union has created uncertainty and insecurity.
For the beneficiaries of the European budget.
For the Union’s borders.
In order to remove this uncertainty, the principles – which I will defend in your name – must be perfectly clear.
For European citizens in the United Kingdom and vice versa: the continuity and reciprocity of the rights they currently enjoy must be effectively guaranteed, without discrimination.
I listened carefully to what the Presidents of the political groups have said on this subject.
Theresa May’s letter also called for a quick agreement on this question.
But the devil is in the detail. We must ensure that this agreement effectively guarantees the rights of citizens. And that is indeed the Parliament’s role.
On the budget: there must be a single financial settlement, covering all commitments made by the United Kingdom as a Member State.
Here again, the Resolution is unambiguous. It is very important. We need to clearly say that we will never punish the United Kingdom or make it pay a single euro more than what it owes. But it must honour the commitments we have taken together.
For the borders, particularly in Ireland: we will work towards arrangements that do not call into question the existing peace process – the Good Friday Agreement – whilst being compatible with Union law.
The third condition is doing things in the right order and putting them into perspective.
The UK letter makes clear that the UK Government will push for parallel negotiations on the withdrawal and on the future relationship.
This is a very risky approach. To succeed, we need on the contrary to devote the first phase of negotiations exclusively to reaching an agreement on the principles of the exit
We are not proposing this to be tactical or to create difficulties for the UK. On the contrary, it is an essential condition to maximise our chances to reach an agreement within two years.
This is also our best chance to build trust before proceeding to the second phase of negotiations. This second phase will be devoted to scoping our future relations and discussing necessary transitory arrangements.
To put it differently: the sooner we agree on the principles of an orderly withdrawal, the sooner we can prepare our future relationship in trade, but also in security and defence.
It is on the basis of these three conditions – unity, lifting uncertainty and phasing of negotiations – that we can succeed.
My hope is the European Parliament makes these three conditions its own.
Your Resolution will set the tone.
To conclude, a word on our common work.
President Juncker said that in this negotiation, your role will be essential from the beginning to the end.
The beginning is today’s Resolution.
The end will be your vote on the draft withdrawal agreement, which we will negotiate over the coming two years. You will have the final word.
It is first here in the European Parliament that we have had a democratic debate on this negotiation, which is not – and should not – be like any other.
Public debate, in each of our countries, is essential to order to reach an agreement not only on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, but also on the agreement on our future relationship. I would remind you that the latter must be ratified by your Parliament and all national parliaments.
We will work together on the road ahead.
That is why I am happy to be here before you today, alongside President Juncker and the Council.
And also to work in confidence with President Tusk and his team in the run-up to the extraordinary European Council which will take place at the end of this month.
This is why I am willing to come before your Conference of Presidents, the Conference of Committee Chairs and, as often as possible, before your groups.
My team and I will be always at your disposition.
This negotiation has no precedent. We will only reach an agreement by acting together.