President Schulz, dear members,
It is a pleasure to be with you again after this month's meeting of the European Council. The main purpose of informal summits is to discuss and consult, not to negotiate. Our meeting was short and the outcome quite concise. It took place against the background of rapidly changing events. Of the four great challenges on the table, the first was Ukraine.
We had an exchange with Ukraine's President, Petro Poroshenko. He joined us to present the Minsk ceasefire and to share his assessment of the situation on the ground. We thanked Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande for their indispensable efforts for peace as the initiators of the Normandy Four talks. We gave the fragile agreement our cautious support. The European Union still hopes for peace so that the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine can be restored as soon as possible.
However, we remain very sceptical. The 2014 Minsk agreement was not honoured. Debate among the leaders focused on how to support the implementation of the new peace deal. If this does not happen, we will not hesitate to take the necessary steps. The ceasefire, which was supposed to take effect at midnight on February 15th, has been violated more than 800 times according to the OSCE. I am in contact with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande, and in consultations with all leaders.
The European Union stands united on this question and will stay the course. Additional sanctions remain on the table. We should be ready for any development, good or bad.
On February 12th, leaders recalled the terrible attacks in Paris which killed 17 people. We committed ourselves to a new counter-terrorism work-plan. This is set out in the joint statement adopted at the summit. The new work-plan mainly requires the European Union to do what it is already doing in the field of internal security. But we need to do specific things better and faster, such as making far better use of the security arrangements of Schengen or reviewing regulations for firearms. The recent fatal attack in Copenhagen underlines the necessity. These attacks only strengthen our determination to fight all kinds of extremism and terrorism. I take this opportunity to express our deepest sympathy and support to Denmark, the Danish people and the families of the victims. Although Libya was not on the agenda of the February informal European Council, the terrible and dangerous events in this country are the latest convincing reason to address this pressing issue.
National security is a matter for national governments. Nevertheless, there are important areas where we can support each other, and where common action is even vital. In that respect, I warmly welcome the recent progress towards re-starting the negotiations on an EU agreement on passenger name records. I have no doubt that we can effectively protect the security of citizens without diminishing their right to privacy. Your help on this issue is absolutely crucial and invaluable. The European Council will come back to this matter in June, amongst other things. Meanwhile, our countries will face this threat together with calm and determination.
As for Greece, our February meeting was clearly not the right moment for uncoordinated negotiations on the Greek assistance programme. We heard from the President of the Eurogroup who outlined what the state of play was in discussions with Greece. We welcomed Prime Minister Tsipras as a new member of the European Council who gave us his view of the situation. We agreed that the talks would go on, as they did, at the ministerial level so that common ground could be found. I did not doubt that this would happen. Close contacts were maintained with all the relevant parties so that agreement could be reached in principle at the Eurogroup last Friday. I was glad to see Eurozone ministers give the green light to Greece's reform plans yesterday.
Finally, we considered briefly the future of Economic and Monetary Union itself. We need to improve economic policy-making in the eurozone. All the principal authors of the so-called Four Presidents' report were in the room. So the setting was right to open this discussion. President Juncker presented background analysis, and posed questions that need to be answered if we are to achieve better economic governance. One point is already perfectly clear, however. After the recent decision of the ECB, the priority is to make national economies more compatible with monetary union. This cannot be done from Brussels but through strong political ownership of economic reforms at the national level.
We now look ahead to the March European Council. In the next three weeks, we will follow the situation in Ukraine and in Libya day-by-day with great precision. The March summit will also be a time to consider the strategic outlook for the Eastern and Southern neighbourhoods. We will continue our discussion on the European economy. And of course, we will also focus on an issue that is as close to my own heart as it is to many in this Parliament. That is the urgent need for a European energy union, as Vice President Šefčovič has just outlined. The European Union can and must make progress in this area soon.