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Press Conference (Transcript): Summit of the Presidents of the Parliaments of the V4 countries

Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic,Wallenstein Palace,February 3–4, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the press conference following the Summit of Presidents of Parliaments of V4 countries that has just concluded. The summit was attended by representatives of the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, who have signed a joint Declaration. Let me tell you what the schedule of this press conference is going to be.
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We will begin with a brief address by all representatives of national parliaments. Then, the joint Declaration is going to be signed, and as it is being signed, you'll receive its text. After that, we'll have Q/A.
Let me now introduce the participants of this press conference. I'd like to welcome Mr. Premysl Sobotka, the President of the Senate of the Czech Parliament, Mr. Gabor Vilagosi, the Vice-President of the Hungarian National Assembly, Mr. Marek Jurek, the Speaker of the Polish Sejm, Mr. Ryszard Legutko, the Vice-President of the Polish Senate, Viliam Veteska, the Vice-president of the Slovak National Council. The press conference is also attended by the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Vladimir Spidla.
The first to speak will be the President of the Czech Senate, Mr. Premysl Sobotka.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. When I was elected President of the Czech Senate two years ago, I set out to develop the Senate's foreign policy. To this end, I've organized, together with my team, the Prague Summit of the Presidents of Parliaments of V4 countries that took place yesterday and today. I believe that in the EU, we can and must create blocks; not against anyone but in order to promote a particular common position. Today we discussed a topic of common interest, namely the liberalization of labor markets for our citizens. We've adopted a Declaration on the issue, will sign it shortly, and send it today to the European Parliament and to all governments and parliaments of the Member states. Among others, this Declaration emphasizes that predicted labor market failures have not been confirmed in any country that chose not to apply the transitional period; quite to the contrary, improvements have been noted in some areas. Thus, full liberalization of the movement of labor in the EU will be advantageous for all member states. Thank you for your attention.
Thank you. The floor now goes too Mr. Gabor Vilagosi, the Vice-President of the Hungarian National Council.
Thank you, and greetings to the representatives of the press. Hungary welcomed the initiative on which we convened here today. We had the opportunity to discuss our views on the restrictions of the free movement of labor. In my capacity as head of the Hungarian delegation, I said today that without one of the four fundamental freedoms, the free movement of labor, the European Union couldn't be complete.
Over the past few hours we saw no need to convince one another that this position is correct. We exchanged our experiences. As President Sobotka rightly mentioned, the experience of our countries seems to be the same. The fears and concerns of the old member states have proven to be false as concerns a substantial influx of labor force from the new member states. The experience of those member states that chose not to apply the transitional periods proved that there were no problems over the past two years. The V4 would like to achieve the softening or cancellation of these restrictions. Thank you.
Thank you. Now Mr. Marek Jurek, the Speaker of the Polish Sejm.
Thank you. We have all expressed our conviction that if we speak with a single voice, our voice will be stronger, more effective, and better heard. During the debates on the new Financial Perspective, we often spoke with a single voice, and our partners in old member states paid more attention. We are convinced that the question of eliminating restrictions of the free movement of labor is a question of building a more cohesive and solidary Europe. The countries that opened their labor markets for our workers have found out that our workers are complementing the supply on their labor markets. They didn't take their jobs; they filled up gaps on their labor markets.
Workers from Central and Eastern Europe further increased employment in those countries, which shows that application of these restrictions is based on fears and concerns rather than real reasons. I believe that if we speak with a single voice on the eve of the review of the first two years of these transitional periods, we will hopefully exert a significant influence on the status quo in the EU. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Now the floor will go to Mr. Ryszard Legutko, the Vice-President of the Polish Senate.
Thank you very much for giving me the floor. I'd like to make one general comment and two specific ones. The general comment is that free movement of labor, and freedom to seek employment in the EU, are questions of principle and benefits. We're talking about a very fortunate confluence of the fundamental principles underpinning the EU, the principles of freedom and solidarity on the one hand, and the fact that the application of these principles seems to benefit the economy as well as integration. That brings advantages to everyone involved in the process, both those countries whose citizens are moving for jobs elsewhere and those absorbing the migrant workers. This moral and economic aspect features in our Declaration. The first specific comment relates to the promise to meet regularly in this forum; the second relates to the involvement of the Polish and Czech Senates' European affairs committees in the proceedings of the Parliamentary group of the Visegrad Countries. Thank you very much.
Thank you. The floor will now go to Mr. Viliam Veteska, the Vice-President of the Slovak National Council.
Thank you. First of all, I'd like to thank Mr. Sobotka, the President of the Senate of the Parliament of the CR, for having invited me to this important gathering of representatives of V4 Parliaments. I'd also like to use this opportunity to congratulate the Czech Senate on the 10th anniversary of its re-establishment.
Now I'd like to make a few comments about today's proceedings. Following up on my colleagues, I'd like to highlight a few aspects concerning the movement of labor from the EU 10, and the communication with the EU 15. We feel the EU 15 as well as the EU 10 will have to do better PR among its citizens and countries concerning the impact of free movement of labor. As we have heard during our debates, it is not true that certain labor markets would be threatened by "Eastern" labor.
Secondly, given that 2006 is a year of mobility, we have discussed the need to develop a communication strategy in the EU that would clearly work toward free movement of labor.
I'd also like to underscore a point made by Commissioner Spidla, who said that all statistics indicated that people move to other member states in search of work based on a free decision, based on their own free will. I'd like it to be that way. I'd like to see people move for work with good will and no intentions of being a burden. However, regional disparities are still so strong in some places that people have to move to find work. It is a task of member states to increase employment.
Another point I'd like to make relates to the position of national parliaments in various countries vis-a-vis EU legislation and the implementation of European standards in member states. We have jointly underscored the need of enhancing the role of national parliaments, particularly as regards the oversight of the executive branch and its commitments to citizens.
The last point I'd like to make: We think it is important for V4 to continue meeting at the level of Parliament presidents. We welcome this initiative and hope it will continue. We have, in essence, agreed on the Declaration whose first draft was fine-tuned through our debate. Slovakia is in favor of V4 having a strong presence in the EU. Thank you.
Thank you very much. The floor will now go to Mr. Vladimir Spidla, the Member of the European Commission responsible for Employment, Social Affairs, and Equal opportunities who attended today's Summit of the Presidents of Parliaments of V4 Countries. You have the floor.
Vladimir SPIDLA
Ladies and Gentlemen, first of all, I'd like to thank the President of the Czech Senate for inviting me to this Summit. I was very happy to accept his invitation for two reasons. Firstly, I'm deeply convinced that a lasting parliamentary dialog is one of the tasks of the European Commission, and an intrinsic part of European politics. Secondly, I was happy to accept this invitation, because the meeting dealt with an issue that is particularly close to my heart, and features prominently in European politics, namely free movement of labor.
I've acquainted the meeting with the general experience on the European labor market. I've noted that since Enlargement, there's been a gradual rise in employment and a gradual decrease of unemployment. The figures are not dramatic; I'd like them to have been stronger, but the trend is clearly there.
I have also commented on the legal framework within which we operate, and the procedure by which the Report is drafted and the decisions will be made on transitional periods. The Report will be debated by the Commission on 8 February. The Report will then serve as background for decision-making in member states. I'd like to highlight that it's fully in the competence of member states to make this decision as per the Accession Treaties signed by all member states.
What are the possibilities? The first possibility is to decide to eliminate the transitional periods, the second is to maintain them, and the third option is to modify them. Accession treaties impose only one obligation on member states, namely to inform and notify the Commission by 30 April of their decision. By notification I mean a description of the decision. In some cases, that'll require a complex document.
There's another comment I'd like to make. In all meetings I attend, I tend to underline that we live in the enlarged EU. There are no old or new member states. We are all member states of the enlarged European Union. In all reports, I try to make sure not to break data into Europe of 10, 15, 9 or 12 or whatever. Whenever feasible, and it isn't always, we should speak of Europe of 25.
I have also informed this conference about the EU initiative called the Year of mobility. It will be launched by the end of this month with the purpose of setting up a platform for a broader and deeper debate about labor mobility; not only in terms of geographic mobility, but also in the broader sense of professional mobility. Only those that are mobile can be successful. We've learned this lesson in modern economics and through various historical conflicts. It simply goes without saying. Once again, the objective is to set up a platform to discuss this important value. That'll be the purpose of announcing the Year of Mobility by the end of this month. Thank you.
Thank you, Commissioner. Now we're going to sign the Final Declaration of the Summit of Parliament Presidents of V4 Countries, after which you'll be able to ask questions. As we are signing the Declaration, the text will be circulated in Czech and English.
It seems that the signing of the Declaration has been completed, so we will give you a chance to ask questions. Before you ask your question, please introduce yourself and tell us which medium you're from. Please wait for the microphone to make sure your question is interpreted.I believe we can start. Let's have the first question.
Malgorzata Malkowicz from the Polish radio. I've got a question for the Polish Speaker and Mr. Spidla. How does the declaration you've just signed fit into the Report on the free movement of labor you've mentioned, Commissioner.
Which one of you will be the first to answer?
The Commissioner mentioned the report is going to be presented on 8 February. I believe the Declaration we've just signed is going to speak with a very strong voice about the position and expectations of our countries. I believe the premises of the report that the Commissioner will mention in a moment dispel certain myths about social threats posed by the integration of labor markets in the two parts of Europe. These facts represent the experience of Great Britain, Ireland and Sweden, as countries that chose to open up their labor market to our citizens. At the same time, we're declaring our intentions, reminding others of the fundamentals of the EU. Hopefully, it will be a strong voice that may contribute to changes. I realize that prejudice is powerful and has to be countered with the power of arguments and facts. Thank you.
Thank you. Commissioner?
Vladimir SPIDLA
Thank you. This Declaration is certainly an important document. It will be taken into account in the final stages of the debate on my report. Of course, the Commission's Report has already been finalized, so this Declaration is going to play a role in the debate of this report. That is one important point.
Secondly, this Declaration is also going to be important in the decision-making in various member states. Upon receiving the Commission's report, which, by the way, doesn't make any decisions about transitional periods, member states are going to have until 30 April 2006 to decide how to proceed. The period between 8 February and 30 April is going to be critical. It is in this period that the Declaration will exert its influence.
We also need to highlight that the European Trade Unions Organization, European employers as well as V4 Ministers of Labor and Social affairs at their last meeting in Hungary, have all spoken in favor of eliminating these restrictions. The Declaration is going to add weight to those voices that believe we have to make a significant step forward.
Thank you. Any other questions?
Marta Lozowska, Polish Press Agency. Commissioner, should we understand that the final Report will include a recommendation to the 15 old member states to open up their labor markets?
Vladimir SPIDLA
The report has to follow the Treaty. Based on the provisions of the Treaty, the Commission may not make any recommendations to member states.
Thank you. Do we have any other questions? If there are no other questions, thank you very much for coming, and have a nice afternoon. Good-bye.

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