Hübner: If we don’t have UK we don’t have English
On 27 June 2016 Danuta Hübner, President of the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO), warned that English will not be one of the official languages of the European Union after Britain leaves the EU
On 27 June 2016 Danuta Hübner, President of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO), warned that English will not be one of the official languages of the European Union after Britain leaves the EU.
In the Press Conference, Ms Hübner referred to Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and Jonathan Hill:
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (New York, June 19, 1964) held the position of Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of Ms May’s Government since July 13th. He is a British politician and journalist with US citizenship, an exponent of the Conservative Party and was the Mayor of London for two consecutive terms from 2008 to 2016.
Jonathan Hill, a British Conservative politician, was a member and group leader of his party in the House of Lords. On 10 September 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, appointed Lord Hill as the European Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and the Single Capital Market. Since 1 November 2014, Hill has taken up his post in the Juncker Commission. On 25 June 2016 he announced his resignation following the results of the referendum on the UK’s permanence in the European Union and concluded his mandate on the following 15 July. From the following day his post was taken on ad interim by the vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis.
Danuta Hübner, 27.06.2016: If we don’t have UK, we don’t have English. It will no longer possible for English to be the official language of the EU after Brexit.
Good afternoon and welcome to this press conference about the outcome of the UK referendum on the EU membership. I have at my side the chair of Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, miss Danuta Hübner.
Danuta Hübner: I understand you already asked me… in the past who’s head of Secretariat of AFCO… and I’m here because it is… within the European Parliament it is the Committee on Constitutional Affairs that has under its competence and also the institutional consequences of what we call withdrawal of a member state from the European Union. Now I would like to maybe start by… Actually I don’t want to talk about the results of the referendum but everything around the referendum because results… there’s nothing to talk about the results. We all… we all know, but what I would like to share with you is that we are living a very difficult period of uncertainty and uncertainty is never good, I think, for the economy legal uncertainty is not good. We are also impatient, here on the continent, we see a lot of attitudes which is wait-and-see.
So, after all those months, not to say years, of preparing for the results of the British referendum, we are seeing here…, five days later, we are sitting here and waiting to see what will happen next. Of course it’s not an apocalypse, we should not dramatize the situation but it is not a painless situation when it comes to the UK but also when it comes to the European Union and the citizens of the European Union others than the British citizens and that’s why we are… we are worrying in the Parliament. We are worrying also because we are now in the period where we are making long-term planning for many European actions, we are about to decide on the midterm review of multi-annual financial framework, we are talking about the EU budget after 2020, we are also supposed to produce by the end of this year the new legal framework for the distribution of seats in the European Parliament in the context of next elections of the European Parliament.
So these are the minor issues that we are discussing here which… which require from us long-term planning and long-term thinking. This uncertainty is also having impact on those decisions directly related to the… to the fact how many states we have in the European Union. So we are in favour, in the parliament, we are in favour of swift implementation of the withdrawal process, which probably does not come as a surprise, and we see also the lack of consequence in what we have heard from Prime Minister Cameron some time ago, when he made a very clear commitment to come with the notification of the decision on the basis of the referendum, straight away after the referendum, and for us straight away means straight away. Now we hear something different, now we hear that might be a new leader, the new government…
So, basically we don’t… it’s all sent ad kalendas Graecas and this is something which is not good, I think, for the… for European Union, for the situation of all of us, but I also can say that for me this sort of lack of implementation of commitment made is also going against the… what we have as a major principle for our functioning in the European Union which is the principle of sincere cooperation.
Member states are obliged by the Treaty to provide this willingness to cooperate sincerely and also they are asked, by the article 4.3 of the European Union Treaty, to assist other member states in case there is the implementation of a commitment flowing from a treaty and commitment to invoke article 50 comes from the Treaty. So we also see that there is not only a moral obligation but also a legal obligation for the UK to clarify the situation rather promptly. The role of the European Parliament, in whatever negotiations will take place, is also quite clear: we are not the major player, that’s absolutely clear, but we are at the end of the process obliged to provide what we call consent. So we have to approve what is going to be negotiated and, as you probably know, if finally we had the negotiation of withdrawal agreement there will be two types of agreements that will have to be negotiated. First, with UK as member state of the European Union, the withdrawal, article 50 and the withdrawal agreement, and here the parliament will have, by a majority of vote, will have to provide the consent and you cannot do it unless you are well informed and you cannot be informed unless you are linked to the process. So we will be exercising, I think, this right of information from the Council and from the Commission with regard to the whole process of negotiating in… with EU to be able to make a consent decision at the end of the process. But then the situation with the second agreement, once the UK leaves the European Union, becomes a third country, only then you can negotiate what is called Agreement on relationship, on future relationship with European Union, like we are negotiating TTIP with US, like we negotiated CETA with… with Canada, so we’ll also have to negotiate the framework for the future relationship, and in this negotiation and agreement with third country, if at once UK becomes a third country, then the Parliament is strongly involved. There is article 218 of the Treaty which makes this involvement Treaty-based.
So EP role… in both cases is through consent but with the second agreement this is deeper in terms of the participation of the Parliament. When… it is of course difficult to say today what finally will happen, that’s our problem or one of the problems, but of course we… I feel obliged to say that if finally we have the exit from the Union, for the first time in our history, it comes as natural for the European Parliament to take care or be particularly sensitive to the question of protecting citizens. The protection of the more or less two million citizens of the European Union in UK but also to protect the UK citizens in Brussel, especially when it comes to the officials. As you know, we have many British citizens working in European institutions and this will be one of those issues where we will have to… to be especially sensitive.
But we also think already today what will happen with our official languages. You probably know that English is one of the official languages because it has been notified by UK as an official language. I’s also working language, it’s actually dominating language. We have a regulation but now it’s of course article in the Treaty, 342, but it’s based on the regulation number 1 from 1958, which would have to be changed by unanimity, where every country has the right to notify one official language [Art.8 If a Member State has more than one official language, the language to be used shall, at the request of such State, be governed by the general rules of its law. Transcriber’s Note] . And the Irish have notified Gaelic, which is Irish, and the Maltese have notified Maltese, so you have only UK notifying the English. If we don’t have UK, we don’t have English.
So that’s just not showing that… there are also funny issues that’s on the agenda, but there are those problems. So the withdrawal agreement will be an agreement on identifying the…. would be an agreement on identifying… on establishing what it really means that somebody ceases to be the member. So we will have to identify those…, during those negotiations, all the provisions that cease to be valid, will cease to exist in the European legal framework. So there would be also a long-lasting negotiation, and difficult probably also, agreement.
Then what I would like also to tell you that the February deal, which was a very emotional one and we had a lot of discussions, this deal is already dead, so this deal will not come back as this… as it was negotiated and agreed… as a deal between the EU 27 and UK, because this deal was clearly linked to the positive results of the referendum. So, once the situation did not appear, did not emerge, this deal is gone. So it is something to remember so… today and tomorrow, by the end of negotiation on withdrawal agreement, UK will be a member of European Union on the basis of the current treaties not on the basis of the February deal, this is also important to remember.
And then, of course, if the UK stays, it is difficult to judge today how open EU will be to further suit hard deals or how open EU… how open… how committed EU will be to have UK as a fully-fledged member without having more opt-out or more opt-ins or more whatever EU might need.
I think we have accommodated over… during our history we had accommodated requests coming from the UK governments with huge openness and it will be up to all of us to see the openness of politicians of member states to continue this kind of approach if UK stays with us.
Then there are very often questions… what will happen… this we’ve heard that Jonathan Hill has… I don’t know even how to call it, just… he is not the commissioner anymore and there are questions about the parliamentarians coming from UK in the European Parliament. I would just like to tell you that, even though there are many colleagues who would probably like to see everybody goes from European Parliament, as of now this is absolutely impossible. We have very clearly… the rules, the Treaty, the article 50 doesn’t say anything about the European Parliament in this context. It’s only for the European… for the council and for the European Council that representatives of government of UK cannot participate in discussions of their issue and in the vote, but in the European Parliament we don’t have any such rules. So there’s no legal basis to do anything to exclude anybody. And additionally you might remember that the Treaty says that members of European Parliament are not representing citizens from their small constituency, we are representing the European Union citizens. So, also the British Parliamentarians are representing European citizens, not only the British citizens. So we have no legal possibility to… have it differently, no matter what will be the results of… whether we have notification or whether we have Treaty or not, the situation continues, as long as UK is member of the European Union.
Of course, political… like in case of Jonathan Hill, political decisions or political sensitivity can be also… can happen and… colleagues can resign but we have not we have not heard yet… anything in this context.
Now, I also personally hope that this is a wake-up call for Americans, for Mr. Trump, that Americans can see that you can have situations that then are… cannot be, sort of, absorbed by the society and so I hope that this will also be the case. But what I would like to underline is that this referendum is also, clearly now we see the reactions, is also a perfect example of how people can be misled and what are the consequences of referenda on issues where you cannot… on issues too difficult, where you cannot really get through to everybody with full… full information on the consequences. And we clearly see that referenda can generate also dramatic outcomes, dramatic results.
And the last issue I would like to raise it for us in… on the continent to use this opportunity also to make it very clear what… with regard… to clarify the situation with regard to the reforms the European Union needs. I think we… not all of us have been reading the recent crisis as a legitimacy for deep reforms and far-reaching reforms. Most of the politicians were actually… considering… looking at this situation as exactly the opposite. So people are not loving Europe because of the crisis, so we should stop breathing and Europe should not do anything. I think it’s the opposite, so I hope that we will take this opportunity and the depths of the crisis, including the one generated by… by the UK, that we will see it as a strong legitimacy to start deep reforms. Which way they will go I think it’s already clear. Today, we have to strengthen the Eurozone and we cannot pretend that we are all willing to move with same speed, to share the policies with the same speed. So we will most likely see, in the time to come, we will see the reforms which will be deepening the integration within the Eurozone while, of course at the same time, trying not to be disruptive for the single market, but I am sure that we need legal framework for those who want to share the same policies at higher speed than others and I think, if we don’t have a legal framework for those countries, then you will have Europe à la carte, which is a simple way to further disintegration and if we disintegrate, 16.02 we will disintegrate into 28, as year ‘11 states of the world.
So I think we need the… most likely the change of the Treaty, we need a new approach to our thinking about how to strengthen Europe. And… we might still live for some time with this formula for Europe “27 plus 1”, we will see how this will evolve, but it’s difficult… I come… I don’t know more than you, probably, on this… which way it will go. So, thank you.
Thank you, we have time for… some questions. First you, can you please tell us your name and who you’re working for before you ask your question?
JS: Good afternoon, my name is Justin Staires and I’m a freelance journalist based here in Brussels. From my accent, you can probably hear the country that I’m from. I have to start with two questions if I may: one regarding the British MEP rapporteurs. What do you think will that… Can they carry on as rapporteurs, given that they will be overseeing legislation which will come into effect after the UK leaves? And, secondly, on your comments on language: are you seriously suggesting that this place, the EU institutions will no longer speak English after the UK leaves? I mean, even you yourself have come in today and you speak English this afternoon. Surely, in addition to being an official language, it is a lingua franca. Do you think that will change? Thank you.
DH: You know, we have official and then we have working languages, so these are two categories. I personally believe that we will have… We will find unanimity to change the rule on this, that a member state can have only one official language notified and then we will have from the Irish not only Gaelic but also English or from the Maltese not only Maltese but also English, but maybe we will find another way but I personally don’t believe in it.
So I’m just saying that there are all those small things which will start popping up once we put ourselves into the situation. On the members of European Parliament who are rapporteurs, I think there is no legal basis to ask them to give up on this, it would be absolutely up to them how they will feel. Many of them, as you know, were also in favour of leaving the EU, so I don’t know how they feel today, after this this victory of theirs and it would be up to them to decide. So I think that Jonathan Hill has, sort of, showed certain paths to address this issue but not everybody I think will… but we will not be… I don’t believe that anybody in the parliament can find a legal basis to do it.
Journalist of the Observer
I have two questions as well. Will departing British MEPs retain things like pension rights and stuff like that? And also, I mean, there are seventy-three British MEPs. Once the seventy three… and now obviously change the political make-up of the parties, so would it be feasible to assume that groups like the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy and ECR will dissolve?
DH: Well, you know, we are not yet there, we are not assuming that we will… that the situation will truly emerge after the negotiation of the agreement, so I cannot speak on behalf of already existing legal analysis. What I can certainly say, on the basis of my experience, I cannot imagine that anything can work retroactively, so all the pension rights which have been acquired so far will keep to… will stay… However, of course, if the person leaves, then it’s a different story, like we have also with officials that are… When they… when you apply for a job as official in EU, the first precondition that appears there is that you have to be a citizen of a member state of the European Union. But of course you also know that there are possibilities of derogations, there are possibilities of including a lot of conditions that would allow them… the authorities to decide that people stay or they don’t do the jobs. We are in the mood of protecting the citizens, not in the mood of getting rid of UK citizens. So I think that this we will… I think the Parliament will be seriously in this mood. Now on… you know there are the rules for the… for the group to exist as a group, so you need seven nationalities and twenty… something, I forgot, I forgot, twenty-something members, right, to have a group. So that will depend on this, definitely, but we have a big representation of the British in two political groups, actually, ECR but also in the… in the left, in the Socialists and Democrats group, with also more than twenty, I think. So we will see but the groups have to be… you might have reshuffles, it’s impossible to say but the rules are very clear: number of member states and number of deputies.
B M: Hello, my name is Brett Mason, I’m from SBS Australia and the fact that I’m here will probably give you an indication of how closely the world is watching what’s taking place here. … If you’ll excuse the observation, outside-looking in, it does look like a bit of a train wreck. How surprised have you been that the UK didn’t have any advanced plan for the event of a Brexit? And how concerned are you that the longer this process goes on and on without a plan, the European project as a whole is becoming more and more damaged?
DH: Well, I think… well, thank you for being here with us. We are of course fully aware… maybe some people are surprised that actually the consequence… the immediate consequences, in terms of financial markets and exchange rate analysis, were global, actually. So that shows that, for the first time, we see how important Europe is, actually, if I can… may say a little bit cynically, but we know about the consequences. I think in UK… I was listening carefully throughout the campaign also today and had a lot of also exchanges with the Brexiteers, with those who wanted UK to leave. They never cared about the day after in the sense of concrete results of leaving or staying. They were just always with a strong political message: “It’ll be simply better, we will be better, nobody will be deciding for us” and they never offered any alternative and all the efforts to… to prove that something can be better than a single market, I think, didn’t lead to any such new model for UK. But I think the fact that they didn’t care about presenting anything concrete as an alternative clearly proves… because all the alternatives like Norway, Switzerland, they are not better… not if you think of Norwegian… because one can say Norwegian solution works… so many years and they work. But the Norwegian solution in case of UK would mean the contribution to the EU budget probably very close to what UK is paying to EU budget, having called rebates today. So to participate, to benefit from single market on the basis of Norwegian agreement would not mean… really more benefits, it would mean more cost for the same, without having any impact on the decisions.
So it was just… a marginal comment but I think nobody from… maybe nobody’s too much to say, but I think in general the campaigners for Brexit did not expect that they will win. Their hope was to lose marginally, so like to have 50.1 or .2 in favour of staying and this would give them the same platform that they had so far but now strengthened by the decision of divided British citizens, that would allow them to continue the fight against the European Union, to continue the fight for repatriation, to continue what they had been doing for years. Now… so I think they didn’t have any plan B and that’s why they are shocked, surprised and they are now trying to delay the whole thing and in the meantime maybe Mr. Boris Johnson would come to Brussel to try to strike something that… You might remember Bill Cast saying: “They are so desperate in Europe to keep us, that they will give us a much better deal than we had so far”. So it is very frustrating but that’s what I think is the situation and that’s why they were not prepared and they… because they did not expect this type of solution, so… But I think it’s bad, I said, it’s bad for all of us, that’s why we think… because uncertainty, when it comes to economy, when it comes to politics, uncertainty is always bad. When I listened this morning to a Chinese leader saying that China will keep now the investment in UK on a hold, hum… that means… that sounds innocently… but that means a lot probably to… also to City and not only to City because they are probably more real investors than financial investors but… that has… investment… no investment no growth, no no, so… no employment, no other things. So it’s just… is very bad, I think, … the consequence. So I guess the sooner we… That’s why we want to finalize the whole process as quickly as possible, whichever way to go, but we cannot live in this uncertainty because it will… Uncertainty maybe will just calm down a little bit but already at a worse level so, yes, we… That’s one of the major reasons for us to rush for the deal. It’s nothing more but just to end up with uncertainty because we have also other things to do. It’s not only the bad consequences on markets, on the economy but also we cannot spend more time on dealing with those issues which… to which we devoted a lot of energy in this House, in the Council, in the Commission over the last months or years, since the famous speech in 2013, it was in January, by Mr. Cameron, that we would like to focus on the reforms and not on this deal. Thank you.
C F: Catherine Feore, EU reporter.
The Commissioner… The current British Commissioner has resigned. UK could, of course, appoint another commissioner… I’m just wondering, as the parliament… as a parliament I don’t know what is just… is going on but …as this… as the Parliament will have to approve that appointment through a hearing, what sort of portfolio would be acceptable for a British Commissioner? Would he become a commissioner without portfolio? What is …what’s the Parliament’s position, beyond this, do you think if another person is opposed? And, secondly, the Polish Embassy in the UK has issued a statement to respond to the upsurge in xenophobic abuse and attacks against the Polish community in London and beyond. Do you have anything to say to the British authorities or to the Polish community living in the UK about these particular attacks?
DH: Yeah, my colleague is saying that Portuguese were also attacked, not only Poles, but… but on commissioner Jonathan Hill, I think we valued very highly his work on… over the last two years because he also brought a certain freshness in approach on how to cope with the legal issues of capital and market so I think I can speak on behalf of many colleagues that we will miss him, but I also understand that the government has made it clear that they are not going to appoint a new British Commissioner. I don’t know for how long this statement will… will… stay as valuable… but we will see… But I think… immediately the Commission… You know, the Commission has the structure that Commissioners are under vice-president and there is a vice-president, Mr Dombrovskis, who is actually covering the area for which Jonathan Hill, Lord Jonathan Hill, is responsible as Commissioner. So I think that in the Commission the vacuum was immediately filled and we understand from the government that there is no willingness, no will to appoint a new commissioner. I understand that the current government has left it also to the future government that might emerge towards the end of the year and just… it will be up to them to do. I think any portfolio is, I think, good for any Commissioner who’s knowledgeable, who’s willing to work, who also loves Europe and, sorry, we don’t have anything specific. But Mr. Hill was in his place and I think we also… I think… You might remember that, for long, at least two or three British Commissioners were in charge, three… of international trade because that… when UK joined the European community at that time, they have been champion of… not only of developing trade and openness of the European Union, but also of global liberalization. So that was, like… their specificity and that’s something that we really owe to UK, as European integration mostly, I think, not only single market but also this. So you can expect from the Brits to be maybe better in some areas than others but I trust that… there’s no need now… I think there’s no need now to decide on those issues.
And on those xenophobic events, well, that’s worrying, that’s unfortunate that’s not only in UK that we have this xenophobia and radicalization and lack of an appetite for living in communities which are characterized by strong diversity but it is difficult to understand because I think, especially in local communities, but not only, in global statistics you can see it also that all those migrants, as the UK… people in UK say, or all those free-moving labour force coming from other member states to UK has largely contributed to growth, for years now, in UK. You can have studies from London College… University College London on the contribution of the people from other member states to UK, in terms of growth and they all show that those people from Poland, Portugal, Romania, they have paid in… through taxes to Europe… to British Treasury, much more than they got, through social benefits, from the Treasury. So that also shows that it’s probably highly unjustified and very… it requires condemnation, I think, but unfortunately it’s not only the British problem. That was an opportunity that gave those people who… think like that… just to use it and to express their views but it is very unfortunate and I hope that this type of behaviour will not be in EU something that we will see more often. That’s one of the problems we have. We have to talk to people, to understand that we are condemned to live in a differentiated world, when it comes to population.
FQ: Hi, I’m from a French “quotidien….”
The Parliament will vote through a resolution on the outcome of the vote. Do you know at which point are the negotiations on the resolution now? …. On tomorrow’s resolution, do you know at which point are the negotiations on the text?
DH: What I know is that today, this afternoon there are meetings of political groups, that we have a deadline for amendments till 6:00 and then in the morning we have to attend a plenary where we will have the leaders of our political groups speaking and, I think, by that time the resolution will have to be on the table. So I think, I hope that tonight the resolution… the final version of the resolution will be finalized. And the resolution, as you can imagine, will be on how much we need to finalize this process and how much we need reforms. That’s my hope and then this will remain in the resolution to the last moment.
A follow up please.
FQ: If I can just follow up? Do you think the resolution will clearly ask the UK to trigger the article 50 mechanism as fast as possible? Because I think all the groups in the parliament said that they want it fast.
DH: You know we all, both in the European Council, not to mention the Commission but also we in European Parliament, we know very well that to notify the European Council on the request to leave the… to invoke the article 50 on the basis of the results of the negotiation, that this is up to the UK, to the government or whatever is the constitutional procedure because there are different speculations coming from the island on this, but this is completely out of our capacity to… and political will to influence. I think we… all we can do is to express clearly that we expect this but we cannot force, we cannot do anything to get this notification done and without this notification we cannot trigger the article 50. That’s also quite… rather clear on the basis of the existing law and, as I was saying before, we believe that the sooner it happens the better for… from all possible points of… point of views… but we cannot do it for UK.
Okay, with that I would like to thank Miss Hübner for being here today and all of you for coming and special thanks for the interpreters. Have a nice afternoon