The Munich Security Conference has hardly ever been more necessary than in these turbulent times. Key actors of secu ...
30. May 2018
Future of Europe 6 - Fair Taxation & Rule of Law - Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel
SPEECH OF MANFRED WEBER,
CHAIRMAN OF THE EPP GROUP IN THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
Sixth Debate on the Future of Europe
30 May 2018
with Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg
- English translation of the German original -
Dear Prime Minister,
It is good to hear the voice of Luxemburg here in the European Parliament. Luxembourg is a strong advocate for European Integration. Luxembourg might be a small country. Butas a founding member of the European Union, Luxembourg has always been a big European player. And until today, Luxemburg has preserved its influence on the development of the European Union: You [Prime Minister Bettel] thanked the six Members of the European Parliament from Luxembourg for their work. I also want to include Jean-Claude Junker into these thanks, for being a strong Commission President, standing at the top of Europe. Like the strong Luxembourgers before him – Joseph Bech and Jacques Santer – he has brought Europe forward. And this is not a coincidence: Luxembourg is probably the most European of all European countries today: more than 40% of people in Luxembourg come from another Member State. That means: Luxembourg is practicing Europe in its day-to-day life. So welcome to the European Parliament!
There is one point from your [Prime Minister Bettel’s] speech that I want to pick up right away, and Jean-Claude Juncker mentioned it as well: as soon as we start talking about tax cuts, the liberals start to applaud. But this debate must not only be about tax cuts for companies. Companies can benefit from tax competition. Companies can pick a location where taxes are the lowest in Europe. But for ordinary citizens, for workers in Europe, this is not possible. They cannot use the mobility of the single market as easily as a company can. They pay the value added tax every time they go shopping in the supermarket. And with all this, they do not profit from tax cuts. This cannot be. That is the reason why the argument of Jean-Claude Juncker is absolutely correct: in Europe, the issue is not primarily about general tax cuts, but about tax fairness. Companies must pay the same contribution to our communities as everybody else.
Luxemburg is home to the European Court of Justice. So let me focus on the rule of law in today’s speech on the future of Europe. Walter Hallstein once said: “The European Integration was not achieved through military strength or political pressure, but through a binding idea of law. Europe is a community of law.” And we should realise what a revolutionary idea it is, that Walter Hallstein has brought forward: The idea that not the right of the strongest prevails – like it has been the case during centuries on this continent – but instead the promise that the European citizens can live on the basis of the rule of law. The rule of law constitutes the foundation of our prosperity and it is an integral part of our “European way of life”.
Nowadays this rule of law is challenged in Europe: by too lengthy procedures in justice and administration; by companies that think they can set their own rules – as we saw it last week with Facebook –; by illegal “tax evasion” and the denial of responsibility of many of the richest of our societies, by the sometimes weak political backing for our legal institutions, and by the problem of corruption. This is why we have to lay a stronger focus on our rule of law in Europe. Law must never follow the power, but it must always limit power. Therefore, we need a common understanding of how we train our lawyers. And we have to think about a conditionality of funds from the European budget and compliance with the rule of law as it was rightfully proposed by the European Commission. In the future, there needs to be a price to pay if the rule of law is undermined in Europe. In all this, however, the rule of law must not become a political issue between political parties, but it needs neutral surveillance by the European Court of Justice.
You also mentioned the second topic that I wanted to highlight today. This is a topic we should all be worried about: our media freedom. The freedom of the press is just as crucial for the future of Europe as the independence of the judiciary is. And we have to bear in mind how dramatic the present situation is: It is unbearable, that in the 21st century Caruana Galizia and Ján Kuciakwere murdered. It is unbearable, that in Europe journalists are being murdered for doing their job as representatives of the free media.
We also face enormous new challenges in the media, and I want to pick up two of them: one is the digital challenge. We must strengthen the resilience of our countries and take up the fight against fake news, disinformation, and hatred in the social media. We are still under-equipped in this field. And we must create more transparency: I want to know the algorithms Facebook, Twitter, and others use to prioritize or downgrade messages.
And we must also discuss how we can continue to ensure diversity of opinion. For television, for newspapers, and for the radio, there are laws making sure that all parties have an adequate representation in an election campaign. Why don’t we have these laws for digital media? We also need to regulate digital media, so that everyone gets a fair chance to get contact with citizens in an election campaign. And perhaps we also need regulations to ensure that citizens can be informed by the authorities in case of crisis.
Finally, we have the problem that traditional media, such as publishers are disappearing. They lose their financial strength and they are taken over by Russian investors or other actors motivated by political self-interests. This is why we must discuss the transparency of ownership of the media. We need an annual report on media independence – also in Hungary, let there be no doubt about it. We need to strengthen the media in all the member states of the European Union. We need common standards and reflections on how we can further strengthen the public service media. Only with independent media and strong public service media, Europe can have a good future.
Here is the link to the video in German original language: