GUE/NGL MEPs have urged the EU to prioritise the rights of citizens during the upcoming Brexit negotiations in a debate at the European Parliament this morning.

At the plenary session, the European Council presented to MEPs its guidelines to define the framework for Brexit negotiations and the overall positions as well as the principles that the EU will pursue throughout the process. The debate also focused on proposals for the future of Europe.

GUE/NGL President Gabi Zimmer reiterated that there cannot be a business as usual approach or else the EU will continue in a downward spiral:

“The EU needs renewal. We need to show that the EU is relevant to citizens. We need to meet citizens’ expectations, aspirations and their demands. Otherwise, we will fail.”

“We cannot simply assume that authoritarian populism has been defeated because of the results of the French and Dutch elections. There are still too many people who would support authoritarian populism. We must show to them that there is an alternative and this alternative is a social Europe.”

Zimmer also called for EU policies that are workable for citizens:

“We can’t have a system that only works for a few people, leading to a situation where many people can’t even relate to the EU anymore. We need an EU that works for the people rather than against them.”

“Brexit clearly shows that we must renew, that we need to take into account the expectations and wishes of the citizens of Europe who have spoken up in favour of social policies – a social pillar for Europe.”

“To get to a social Europe, we must stop isolating national social security systems. Freedom of movement looks well on paper but it has to work in practice. The coordination of social security has to work not only for workers but for all EU citizens, including the poor. That would be a first step to have a proper European social policy. We’ve only seen a few steps towards this but it is not enough.”

“Likewise, we need to consider whether we are delivering on the aspirations of young people. Or solve problems of welfare provision for EU citizens residing in other member states. We need a social pillar that is meaningful to our citizens in their everyday lives.”

Also commenting on the upcoming Brexit negotiations, Irish MEP Martina Anderson called on the EU to stand firmly behind the Good Friday Agreement:

“The Council’s guidelines on Brexit give support to the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts and that is crucially important.”

“This is a commitment by the EU to not allow for any hardening of the border between the north and the south of Ireland. It is a commitment not to allow Irish and EU citizens like myself to be dragged out of the EU against our will.”

“It is a recognition that the north of Ireland is not an internal matter for the UK and a commitment that people of the north will never again be left at the mercy of a ruthless and reactionary British government in London. “
“Now that we have the guidelines we should be putting some flesh on them regarding no hardening of the border in Ireland and fully upholding The Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts. There should be no weakening of this commitment in the negotiation directive that’s to be adopted next Monday,” Anderson warned. 

Meanwhile, independent Irish MEP Luke Flanagan called on the EU’s bluff over its intention to consult citizens on its reform process:

“I heard MEPs saying that the winds of change are blowing through Europe. I don’t disagree with them. However, to know what the winds of change are and what direction they are going you must consult with the people.”

“We were told last March that there would be a series of debates to harvest and harness the opinions of the desired way forward for Europe. Last week, I met Commissioner Phil Hogan and he knew nothing about this process. Yesterday, I asked Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker where this process is heading and he could not tell me.”

“If the winds of change are coming, surely we should talk to the people. When will this consultation take place?” Flanagan asked.  

Finally, Spanish MEP Marina Albiol blamed politicians for Europe’s current state of affairs:

“It is not possible to talk about Brexit as if those in government were not responsible. It is actually a direct result of the policies pursued by Cameron, Merkel and Juncker – the grand coalition governing Europe.”
“Their austerity policies led  the UK towards a misguided labour reform, increase in university fees and more privatisation for the National Health Service.”

“They promoted institutional racism by depicting immigrants as responsible for all the problems we are living. Their main concern in the Brexit negotiations is now how it will impact on business,” Albiol added.

“But real people are concerned about guaranteeing the rights of Spaniards and other EU nationals working in the UK and people from the UK living and working in EU countries. We want to guarantee the rights of workers and in particular those working cross-border  as in the case with Gibraltar,” Albiol concluded.

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