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European Parliament president calls for “solid and swift” action if Ukraine crisis escalates

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By Sandor Zsiros
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European Parliament president calls for “solid and swift” action if Ukraine crisis escalates
Copyright  euronews

The president of the European Parliament has called for “immediate, quick, solid and swift action” in support of Ukraine, should Russia escalate the conflict.

Roberta Metsola told Euronews that “dictators” would not divide the continent, calling for unity in face of attempts to destabilise the European Union.

She was talking Euronews’s Sándor Zsiros in the Global Conversation.

Sándor Zsiros: This interview takes place on the same day as when the European Court of Justice approved the so-called rule of law mechanism, meaning that the EU can suspend payments if it sees wrongdoings in a member state. Is this a real milestone in the fight against corruption?

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament: Absolutely. Today's decision was, well, very much expected, waited for. We have spent months asking for a clear explanation and the dismissal of a case brought by two member state governments against a fundamental principle that the European Parliament was very much keen on negotiating and successful in negotiating during the discussions on the Multiannual Financial Framework. In other words, once you have a backsliding on the rule of law, then decisions on granting payments in this country should be made conditional to that. But it’s not only just a decision. We now expect concrete deliverables from the European Commission and that will be the sense of the vast majority of this parliament today.

Sándor Zsiros, Euronews: Hungary and Poland say that this is a political tool against them because of their conservative, non-liberal views. How do you see these arguments?

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament: For me, I'm a lawyer and I've always looked at the judicial institution as one that should be respected, both from an idea of independence and also from an interpretation of EU law. What we have today is an interpretation of a decision taken by the institutions. You have the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union on a proposal also of the European Commission. For me, this is where it stops and I think all member states should respect that.

Sándor Zsiros, Euronews: The European Parliament has been heavily criticising Hungary for democratic backsliding. How do you see the situation now, just weeks before the elections? Do you think that the Hungarian elections can be free and fair under these circumstances?

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament: I would not dare to predict the outcome of the election. However, what I would say is the European Parliament looks very closely about making sure that democracy is preserved, that the institutions are allowed to do their work and that there is no political interference.

The day that Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated was the day that this Parliament knew that it had to do something on the rule of law, on the protection of journalists, on media freedom.
Roberta Metsola
President of the European Parliament

Sándor Zsiros, Euronews: And of course, the rule of law debate is not only about Hungary and Poland. For example, in your home country, Malta, an investigative journalist was killed. How do you see that investigation that the local authorities did and how do you see the responsibility of the state?

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament: The day that Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated was the day that this Parliament knew that it had to do something on the rule of law, on the protection of journalists, on media freedom. Four years ago, Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, were assassinated in Slovakia. What that triggered is a long process of resolutions, visits to the country, pressure on the European Commission, an objective rule of law report that looks everywhere where there are gaps that could be filled, but also intense work on a report that I worked for in the Civil Liberties Committee on the strategic lawsuit against public participation, for which we are expecting the Commission to present a proposal. Is that enough? It is never enough. Can we ever bring Daphne and Ján back? Of course, we cannot, but the least we can do is make sure that this Parliament will always stand up for media freedom. This Parliament will always stand up for the protection of journalists and will do everything in its power to make sure that justice is made and not only seen to be made but actually made and the truth that Daphne and Ján in their investigations were looking for, we're investigating, is finally out.

Our message was very clear. First of all, dictators will not divide us.
Roberta Metsola
President of the European Parliament

Sándor Zsiros, Euronews: There is another crisis in Europe's neighbourhood. Russian troops are still lined up at the Ukrainian border. What's your message to Vladimir Putin?

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament: Our message was very clear. First of all, dictators will not divide us. Anybody trying to destabilise the European Union is only doing it in order for us not to be united. The message from this parliament, but also from a debate this morning with the president of the European Council and the Commission and the High Representative, was we will be united. We will always push for de-escalation. We recall our resolutions that have been looking at Russia and also from a point of view of sanctions. We express our solidarity with Ukraine and we make it very clear that in case of an escalation, then the Parliament, in alignment with the other institutions, will push for immediate, quick, solid and swift action. We also voted today on a 1.2 billion euro macro-financial assistance to Ukraine. Parliament was very quick in doing that. It was important for us in sending that message of concrete and swift solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Sándor Zsiros, Euronews: When we see the different interests of the member states and the different interests of the members of this House, do you think that this European unity on foreign policy will last?

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament: I am convinced that with the right leadership, with language but also negotiations, we can really find broad majorities in this house. Of course, this House brings together people of different political backgrounds, different political groups. But what we have seen in the past few days and weeks is the ability to move forwards in a united and concrete response, similar to what we have seen, for example, in the context of Belarus, in the context of also sending very strong messages in support of the Belarusian opposition and also making sure that we send the strongest of messages to the illegitimate regime in Belarus. For us, this parliament is very vocal and I intend to lead with that same sentiment in the next two and a half years.

You have more than half of our members who are new and you can almost say you have never seen a Parliament that works like this.
Roberta Metsola
President of the European Parliament

Sándor Zsiros, Euronews: How do you see the future of the European Parliament as president? How do you see its place in the structure of the European Union?

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament: Well, first of all, the past two years have been very challenging for the European Parliament from a point of view of visibility. But also you have more than half of our members who are new and you can almost say you have never seen a Parliament that works like this. I remember it when I came nine years ago compared to this Parliament: corridors full of people, a plenary that is very active, discussions that are very heated, in person, that drives legislative results and also very strong political statements. At the moment, we are in the phase of looking at the slow coming to an end of these extraordinary measures that we are living with. At the same time, making sure that we can use and take advantage of the technological advances that we have achieved during the pandemic. The European Parliament was very quick, for example, to switch to a hybrid and online mode. How now do we continue to allow for that flexibility while also preserving the solemnity of Parliament, its plenary and its decision-making? That will matter also in the inter-institutional infrastructure. But as you can see, we are very present, we are very visible, we are very vocal and I have no doubt that this will only increase as we get together closer to the 2024 elections.