Brussels, 26/05/2020 (Agence Europe)
Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, Spain), the Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE), is busy on all fronts, dealing with a report on the rule of law in Poland and a resolution on the Schengen area for the free movement of people. He revisited the situation in Poland and the Asylum and Migration Pact for EUROPE.
(Interview by Solenn Paulic)
Agence Europe: You’re writing a report criticising the deteriorating situation regarding the rule of law in Poland. Should the Council of the EU vote to establish that there is a clear risk that the rule of law will be violated?
Juan Fernando López Aguilar: That's the issue in a nutshell. The ‘Article 7’ procedures have been in operation for several years now. I’m aware of the technical difficulties associated with them, but calls for responsibility have to be made. It’s up to the Council of the EU to act, because the European Parliament has already done everything in its power.
The idea of a general Rule of Law Mechanism that would investigate the rule of law in all Member States on a regular basis in a structured and objective manner was also floated because there was a clear understanding of the complexity of the Article 7 procedure in the Treaty. It is now up to the Council of the EU to do its job. The Parliament dared to start the debate and accept the consequences, including divisions between Member States, Poland in this case, and the Council of the EU now has to do the same. It has to react to the deteriorating situation.
Isn't the best option to set conditions when granting European funds?
The Parliament has already taken the initiative in linking access to European funds to the requirements of the values in Article 2 of the Treaty. It did its best. In addition to the LIBE Committee, I also belong to the S&D group, and this clause advancing the rule of law and fundamental rights was a condition of our support for Ursula von der Leyen as President of the European Commission.
I understand that the process has stalled because of the crisis. But when the situation returns to normal, the principles will still be there.
Each institution has to play its part. It’s no accident that the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the Venice Commission and a lot of other organisations have issued alerts. It’s connected to the cumulative disruption to the fundamental principles of the EU and a strategy that has been executed without complying with messages coming from the European institutions.
Is the situation in Poland, which you described as unprecedented and unparalleled, more serious than in Hungary?
This is not the time for comparisons. As with Poland, it was no accident that the Article 7 procedure was triggered with respect to Hungary, and in both cases the Parliament is very much involved.
The governments of both countries have had numerous opportunities to respond to the concerns expressed, and all we have seen is aggressive rhetoric, and, on occasion, victimisation by blaming others. This has never been done in a framework of respect for the institutions, including the Court of Justice.
What do you expect from the Asylum and Migration Pact that is expected in June?
It is essential that Mrs von der Leyen resolves this matter. The Parliament has already done its job. It has even already adopted a first reading on the subject of the Dublin Regulation (which regulates asylum responsibilities: editor's note), which the Council of the EU has blocked. But we have seen how inadequate and unfair this regulation is.
The crisis has moved the schedule around, but the LIBE Committee will reaffirm its positions with shared and binding solidarity. Action will have to be taken at the external borders to guarantee free movement in Schengen, and establish a European framework for search and rescue at sea, a safe disembarkation system, and relocation of asylum seekers and resettlement, both governed by solidarity.
The Pact will also have to make a strong commitment to dismantling smuggling networks and in favour of legal migration into Europe, via workers’ corridors, even temporary ones, in agriculture for example.
Do you think that Member States’ mindsets have changed since 2016 to make the reform a success?
It is well known that the Council of the EU prefers the concept of ‘flexible solidarity’.
We will continue to insist on the binding relocation of asylum seekers, but we know that an agreement with the Council of the EU will be needed. It is a very complicated path, but the Commission is being asked to be proactive, to be more demanding with Member States and play its role as an honest broker so as to bring viewpoints closer together. I trust Mrs Johansson, and I hope that the Commission won’t give up.
But many of us are also concerned that the coronavirus will undermine ambition. During the crisis, we’ve seen a number of attacks on the Schengen area, on fundamental rights, anti-migrant rhetoric, etc. We are worried that the crisis is being used as a pretext for institutional actors to lower expectations.
With regard to Schengen, what will be the message of the resolution you’re preparing?
One of the main messages of this crisis is that there can be no economic recovery without free movement!
In the Canary Islands, where I am in lockdown, the health impact of the crisis has been limited, for example, but the economic impact has been catastrophic, because we depend on tourism. And if there is no free movement, there will be no economic and social recovery and no more Europe. Free movement is its most precious asset. Without free movement, it will be impossible to convince the younger generations that Europe is worthwhile.
Responses to the crisis can’t take place at the individual level; we’re not competing with each other.
With regard to the LIBE Committee, can the most sensitive trilogues, like the one dealing with online terrorism, re-start soon?
This is a very delicate situation. A revised meetings schedule will need to be drawn up first. But for that to happen requires things to get back to normal. Discussions of that nature can’t be carried out without personal, physical interaction. It’s impossible to conduct effective negotiations in a videoconference setting like this.