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News from Parliaments

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Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission, in Romanian Parliament

First Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, who was on an official visit to Bucharest on Thursday, 20 April 2017, has had meetings with the Senate's Chairman, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu and with the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Liviu Dragnea.

The agenda of the visit also included meetings with members of the juridical committees and the committees for EU affairs of the Romanian Parliament.

The meetings focused on the topics of interest on the future of Europe and the role that Romania plays in the stability of the European project, the recent issues covered by the EC in the latest report of CVM, the taking over presidency of the EU Council by Romania in 2019.

During the meetings, Mr. Timmermans appreciated the results of the democratic process in Romania and highlighted Romania's positive approach to resolving the migration crisis.

Mr. Timmermans also encouraged the Romanian Parliament to support the Government’s efforts to reach the objectives of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).

“To be successful in the CVM process, I encourage the Romanian Parliament to support the government in the final stretch of the marathon,” Timmermans said.

At the end of the visit, in the context of dialogue with citizens, Mr. Timmermans have had a dialogue with the public at the National Museum of Arts, to discuss topics relating to the White Paper on the future of Europe, the 60th anniversary of the Rome treaties and Romania's, 10th EU membership anniversary.

Source: Senate of Romania

Commissioner Thyssen in the Belgian Federal Parliament

On April 20th 2017, the Belgian Federal Advisory Committee on European Affairs, the Finance Committee and the Social Affairs Committee of the Belgian House of Representatives heard Commissioner Marianne Thyssen on the European Semester and its social aspects.

The Commissioner announced the publication, next week, of the package on a European Pillar of Social Rights.

During this hearing, Mrs Thyssen replied to the questions from members of the Belgian House of Representatives and the Belgian Senate.

Source: The Belgian House of Representatives and the Belgian Senate

Seimas Committee on European Affairs: Brexit was a wake-up call that summoned the EU’s unity

On 7 April 2017, the Seimas Committee on European Affairs, the Seimas Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the European Information Office of the Information and Communication Department of the Office of the Seimas held a conference–discussion titled BREXIT: what it means for Lithuania and the European Union. The focus of the discussion was the impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (Brexit) on the European Union itself, the Republic of Lithuania, and the United Kingdom. The conference–discussion was attended by foreign ambassadors residing in Lithuania, Members of the Seimas, officials of the Office of the President and the Government, civil servants of ministries and public institutions, and civil society representatives.

Gediminas Kirkilas, Deputy Speaker of the Seimas and Chair of the Committee on European Affairs, welcomed the participants of the event and referred to the challenge of Brexit, which the EU was facing. He stressed that as a person who was involved in our country’s European integration processes, he found it obvious that while preserving the project of the European Union was of vital importance for Lithuania, good relations with the UK would not only be preserved but may be even strengthened. Juozas Bernatonis, Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, pointed out that the European Union needed the United Kingdom and vice versa; thus a close and solid partnership was necessary for the sake of building a strong Europe. He expressed his hope that the formula of a close and solid partnership would become the model for further development of the EU–UK and bilateral Lithuania–UK relations.

Albinas Zananavičius, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, emphasised that Brexit was as if a wake-up call for the whole EU, which awakened the Union and forced it to rethink the common European values, Europe’s unity and peace as well as where to invest and what to promote for the sake of common good.

As he summed up the discussion, Mindaugas Puidokas, Deputy Chair of the Committee on European Affairs, said that the main goal was to ensure protection of the rights of Lithuanian nationals in the UK, which is agreed upon by both sides, and expressed his hope that this would ultimately develop into a debate on and understanding of the need for Lithuania to provide for dual citizenship.

Source: Lithuanian Seimas

Bundestag debate on UK application to exit from the EU

On 30 March 2017, following the announcement by the British prime minister of
the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU, the German Bundestag held a debate
on the negotiations which are now on the agenda. Speakers from all parties
stressed the shared interest in continued close relations based on trust between
the EU and the United Kingdom. It was felt that, while the negotiations ought to
be conducted fairly and in a climate of mutual respect, no ‘rebate’ should be
granted to the UK. There was emphasis of the fact that a third state should never
be given conditions for cooperation with the EU that were equal or better than
those enjoyed by the member states. Numerous Members of the Bundestag
underlined the need for solidarity amongst the 27 member states, the importance
of standing together and not allowing divisions to be created. It was pointed out
that Brexit was also generally seen as a wake-up call to the European Union,
which was facing major challenges in terms of reform. In summing up, Federal
Foreign Minister Gabriel said that “We have to ensure that the friendship which
has grown between the people of our countries is not jeopardised by the
upcoming negotiations in spite of all the Brexit-related disagreements. We have to
stay friends.”

Source: German Bundestag

Finnish Parliament’s Grand Committee issued a Statement on the Government’s EU Strategy

The Finnish Parliament’s Grand Committee issued a Statement to the Government on the Government’s EU Strategy for 2017 on 31 March 2017.

The Government paper covers proposals in the Commission’s annual work programme that the Government considers of particular importance, as well as the Government’s views on Brexit and the future of the EU. The government paper was published in December 2016.

The Grand Committee’s statement deals in greater depth than the government paper with Finland’s approach to the debate on the future of the EU. The Grand Committee considers that the future direction and effectiveness of the EU are paramount among Finland’s strategic issues for the year.

The Committee approved its Statement following a vote. The Social Democrat, the Green, the Left, the Swedish and the Christian Democrat Parliamentary groups, appended dissenting opinions.

The Statement (in Finnish) can be read on the Eduskunta’s website:

The assumptions of Finnish EU policy are changing

The Committee Statement deals in general terms with different policy sectors, but the Committee chose to deal with specific EU proposals separately in the normal EU scrutiny procedure. Policy sectors mentioned include better regulation, migration, the link between the internal market and Europe’s political cohesion, climate policy, the recycling and bio economy and trade policy.

The Committee also makes observations on the United Kingdom’s future relation to the EU and on the protection of shared values in the EU.

The Grand Committee observes that the UK’s Brexit referendum, the euro crises, migration, terrorism and security issues all imply a fundamental change in the EU’s field of activity. At the same time, respect for international law has weakened and multilateral international cooperation has decayed globally. Within the EU’s member states, there is distrust towards both supranational and intergovernmental decision-making.

The committee notes that the changed playing field demands that Finland improves its ability pro-actively to identify strategic issues and formulate policies.

Finnish EU policy is due for an update

A debate on the future Europe will ensue this year based on, int. al., the Commission’s White Paper, the Rome Declaration, and the reflection papers that the Commission will publish in the near future.

The Committee considers that the situation prevailing in 2017 will put greater demands than before on the Government’s ability to identify and assess alternative paths for the EU’s development, and to formulate, for submission to the Eduskunta, proposals for Finland’s objectives.

The Grand Committee agrees with the Government that the EU should be developed in ways that ensure the union’s cohesion. To regain citizens’ trust, the Union must reform and focus on essentials. The Committee also emphasises respect for commonly agreed rules and the principle of subsidiarity.

The Grand Committee notes that EU membership is the best way for Finland to ensure our relations to the world, while defending the security and well-being of our citizens. Of available alternatives, EU membership offers the best tools to address Finnish interests in trade, climate policy and national security.

The Committee does consider, however, that after more than 20 years of membership, post-enlargement, and in a radically different economic and security environment, it is high time for Finland to review and update its EU strategy.
Attitudes to the EU and its ideological foundations have become polarised and divisive in many member states. Citizens’ support for EU integration has rested on its successes, e.g. economic growth. Reduced growth and recurring economic crises have made visible the democratic deficit of European structures.

The apparently permanent disagreement among the member states on major issues, such as the economic crisis and responses to migratory fluxes, also test the effectiveness of the Union. The crises have further exposed the varying commitment of member states to implement policies to which they nominally have committed themselves.

The Grand Committee considers it important to form a realistic assessment of levels of commitment to the values assumed common to all member states. Practical experience seems to suggest that values within the Union may be quite diverse.
The Grand Committee observes that the EU’s cohesion and its effectiveness are each preconditions for one another – the Union’s future depends on reinforcing both. Finland needs to participate actively in promoting an integration in line with our national interest.

Parliament’s involvement in the debate on the future of Europe is essential
The Constitution requires that Finnish policy actions in the EU be submitted to Parliament in advance, if they fall within the powers of Parliament. The Grand Committee points out that decisions on institutional and programmatic reform of the EU fall within the the powers of Parliament to the highest degree.
The Grand Committee requires that the Government submits to Parliament a statement on Finnish objectives for the future of Europe and provides updates as the issue progresses.

The Grand Committee agrees with the Foreign Affairs Committee that the government statements dealing with different aspects of Finland’s external relations need to be developed. Parliament should be able to debate at the start of each Parliament the various components of external policy based on coordinated, cohesive and thoroughly prepared Government Statements.

Source: The Finnish Parliament

European debates in the Sejm of the Republic of Poland

On 23 March 2017, the Sejm of the Republic of Poland held 2 European debates:

• In the framework of current information: on the state of play of Polish foreign policy towards EU, a strategy concerning integration of the Republic of Poland with the euro area and fulfillment of the obligations resulting from the accession treaty, with participation of the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Konrad Szymański and Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Finance, Leszek Skiba (verbatim record/PL point 15).

• On the resolution on the occasion of 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome (report of the European Affairs Committee). During the debate, a short exchange of views on EU track record was accompanied by diagnoses for the future: the European project – in response to the current crises – needs deep renewal and reform, first of all, strengthening of the national sovereign states cooperation and democratic control, with the crucial role of national parliaments; moreover, the benefits of Poland’s EU membership were underlined together with the significance of fundamental values of the Union and its member states: freedom, solidarity, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. A strong opposition to the concept of various paces of further integration was indicated as well as the vital interest to be in the centre of decision-making process (verbatim record/PL point 19).

Full text of the Resolution of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland of 23 March 2017 marking the 60th anniversary of the initiation of the European integration process

Source: The Sejm of the Republic of Poland

Commissioner Thyssen’s exchange of views in the Hungarian National Assembly

Issues related to the posting and employment of workers in the framework of the provision of services as well as the European pillar of social rights were discussed by Commissioner Marianne Thyssen responsible for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility and Members of the Hungarian National Assembly on 16 March 2017. In his welcoming address Mr Richárd Hörcsik, Chairman of the Committee on European Affairs highlighted the importance of the enhanced political dialogue between the European Commission and the national Parliaments.

Regarding the proposed amendment of the Posted Workers Directive [COM (2016) 128] the Chairman underlined the view that the proposal would jeopardise the integrity of the Single Market. In addition, it was mentioned that the proposed changes are unacceptable for Hungary since they would artificially restrict the freedom of services as a result of which Hungarian enterprises providing cross-border services would be forced out of the EU’s Single Market. The issue of the impact assessment accompanying the above mentioned proposal was also touched upon. Madame Commissioner emphasized the need of the targeted revision of the directive 96/71/EC. She stressed that according to the proposed amendment all the obligatory elements of the remuneration of local workers will have to be paid to the posted workers as well. She added that different calculations were prepared by the Commission regarding the general impact of the targeted revision, these statistics do not reflect the opinion of the Member States opposing the amendment. In her view the skills, talents and specialized knowledge of the Central and Eastern European enterprises will be rewarded in the future as well. She mentioned that the proposal aiming at the revision of the specific rules regarding the posted workers in the international transport sector will be issued in May 2017.

During the exchange of views the issue of the indexation of child benefits on the agenda of the Austrian Parliament was also touched upon. Concerning the proposal amending Regulation (EC) No 883/2004 on the coordination of social security systems [COM (2016) 815] issued last December the representative of the Commission highlighted that the change of the rules of child benefits is not planned. She stressed the principle according to which the Member State where the contributions are paid by an EU citizen has to ensure the benefits as well.

Furthermore, the state of play of the pillar of social rights has been discussed. Reflecting to the question raised by Ms Bernadett Szél, leader of the Politics Can be Different parliamentary group, the Commissioner informed the Members of the Hungarian National Assembly that the final proposal in this regard is planned to be issued end of April 2017. Since the changing realities of the world of work have to be taken into account, the Commission is wishing to provide guidelines which can serve as a compass for the renewed convergence within the euro area. She added that the competences of the Member States will be respected.

Mr Sebestyén Vágó, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Social Welfare informed the delegation of the European Commission that the Jobbik parliamentary group will launch a campaign to promote the European Wage Union concept. A Citizens’ Committee will be established and a petition to the European Commission will be submitted. Finally he requested the Commission to make a decision on their petition as soon as possible so that they could begin collecting the one million statements of support for integrating the “equal wages for equal work” principle into the fundamental Treaties of the European Union.

Source: The Hungarian National Assembly

60 years of the Treaties of Rome

A debate was held in the German Bundestag on 23 March 2017 on 60 years of the
Treaties of Rome. Representatives from all parliamentary groups hailed the
European Union as a peace project and a community of shared values. Today,
however, the EU faces huge challenges, in the form of terrorism, international
crises and the rise of nationalist movements, among other things.

Many speakers spoke positively of the European Commission’s white paper on
the future of Europe. It is now, they said, the job of the Members to discuss the
scenarios presented in the paper and to use it to promote Europe to society.
Individual members were critical, saying that the EU, seen as an elitist project,
was at risk of increasingly losing support among the population. It was stressed
that the subsidiarity principle needed to be observed more closely by the
European institutions, and the rule of law principle implemented in all member

The question of whether the aim should be for a multi-speed Europe, a further
increase in the competences of the EU institutions or a reduction of their
responsibilities was a subject of controversial discussion.

Source: The German Bundestag

EU’s future and security discussed in the Seimas while marking the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome

Gediminas Kirkilas, Deputy Speaker of the Seimas and Chair of the Committee on European Affairs, underlined that instead of rushing into drastic reforms, we should jointly search for new ways to enhance Europe’s resilience. “A transformation and evolution of the European Union need not be feared. After all, it was due to the EU’s evolution that we became members of the EU,” said Mr Kirkilas and noted that the evolutionary change can only be efficient in the framework of the EU treaties. He indicated Lithuania’s support for Ukraine, Georgia and other countries determined to pursue a pro-European path, thus pointing out that despite coming under criticism, the EU remained a vital project for many countries. While recalling the pledge to promote peace and well-being, established in the Treaty of Rome and honoured by the EU to this day, Mr Kirkilas expressed his conviction in that Europe as we know it would be gone if the EU disappeared, since the wheel of history could not be turned back. Hence, we needed to move forward together.

Linas Linkevičius, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, stressed that we must take responsibility for the future of the EU. He said that the EU was our security guarantee; it also granted us the benefits of EU membership. He added that our main focus today should be the search for common interests and consolidation of Member States. “There is no other alternative but assuming responsibility for the future of the EU. Let us draw our inspiration from the EU’s success stories while turning crises into unexplored opportunities. There is a need for clear leadership and a strong connection with society,” Mr Linkevičius said. As he highlighted the contribution towards peace and well-being by a united Europe, the Minister of Foreign Affairs noted the need to effectively address current challenges, particularly in ensuring everyone’s security in the EU, its neighbourhood and beyond.

The conference certainly put strong emphasis on Europe’s future scenarios, which were communicated by the European Commission in its White Paper on 1 March 2017. Participants of the debate agreed that the scenarios should be considered as an input into further discussions for the sake of finding the best common denominator for future action. As he summed up the discussion, Juozas Bernatonis, Chair of the Seimas Committee on Foreign Affairs, noted that the common denominator would probably form the basis of Europe’s future scenario. The latter would become a vision for a strong, viable and prosperous European Union which would be a living organism, reacting flexibly to any geopolitical, political, economic, social, and cultural changes in the EU, its neighbourhood and the rest of the world. Mr Bernatonis stressed that hearing what the 500-million-strong Europe had to say was of vital importance, which required preserving the ability to listen to others.

The debate of the conference also addressed security and defence matters by highlighting that both the EU and NATO were vitally important for Lithuania.

“It is a matter of debate as to where we draw the line in delegating our sovereign rights. However, it is in our best interest to keep both of these organisations strong. And if there are countries forming a nucleus, we have to consider our possibilities of being part of the nucleus, for only our presence in it gives us a chance to be engaged, lay out our interests in a more persuasive manner, and ensure that our concerns are taken account of,” Raimundas Karoblis, Minister of National Defence of Lithuania, pointed out during the conference. When referring to the changed security situation in the region and the world as well as NATO’s and the US’s expectations about the EU’s contribution to collective defence, the Minister of National Defence called for support for all initiatives contributing to the strengthening of defence, boosting of national defence budgets, and reinforcement of defence capabilities of EU Member States.

Participants of the conference unanimously agreed on a long-term strategic goal of the EU, which was to continue joint efforts for the sake of the viability of the European project that was underpinned by solidarity, inner strength, and speaking with one voice.

The English versions of the video recordings of the conference can be accessed here: Panel 1, Panel 2.

Photos of the Office of the Seimas (authors Džoja Gunda Barysaitė and Olga Posaškova). For more photos from the conference, please visit the Seimas Flickr account.

Source: The Lithuanian Seimas

Lithuanian Seimas Speaker: the issue of the Astravyets nuclear power plant should concern the whole EU

On 3 March 2017, Viktoras Pranckietis, Speaker of the Seimas, met with Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President of the European Commission for the Euro and Social Dialogue, also in charge of Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union. It was stressed during the meeting that security of the Astravyets nuclear power plant was an issue of concern to the whole European Union rather than the matter of bilateral relations between Lithuania and Belarus.

“It is important that the EU Member States view the importance of this matter in the same way since the threats linked to the insecurity of this plant endanger not only Lithuania, at whose border the power plant is being constructed, but other EU Member States as well,” said the Speaker of the Seimas.

The Speaker noted that the approaches of the EU and Belarus towards international environmental and nuclear safety standards, safety culture and management of incidents in the Astravyets nuclear power facilities proved to be fundamentally different. “The recurrent incidents in the construction site of the Astravyets NPP, notably with regard to reactor shells, raise even greater concern,” said Mr Pranckietis.
He also raised another issue of great relevance to Lithuania – financing of the decommissioning of the Ignalina nuclear power plant. “Lithuania cannot unilaterally ensure proper closure of the Ignalina nuclear power plant. Therefore, providing adequate EU financial assistance in the next multiannual financial framework is very significant in this regard. It would help to ensure that the Ignalina NPP becomes a success story and a model of the EU’s nuclear safety”, said the Speaker of the Seimas.

The meeting also focussed on the geopolitical and security situation, the economic situation in the EU and Lithuania. Mr Dombrovkis said that, in the EU context, Lithuania’s economy, which was markedly reviving, was positively assessed. It was stated during the meeting that structural reforms were an essential element of the long-term and sustainable economic growth. The Government of the Republic of Lithuania is committed to fiscal discipline and structural reforms necessary for Lithuania. One of such reforms was the implementation of the social model. The expectation was voiced that in spring, when assessing the Stability Programme, the European Commission would recognise this reform as being structural and would flexibly apply the Stability and Growth Pact with regard to it.

Source: The Lithuanian Seimas
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