Message by Professor Jerzy Buzek President of the European Parliament "Mid-Term Review"
I would like to give you a short briefing on what has happened in the past year, from my perspective as President of the European Parliament. I owe you this information on what has happened in the past fifteen months. It is mainly about the state of the Union today, about the role of the Parliament and about your work as Members of the European Parliament, but it is also about certain initiatives I committed myself to you over a year ago.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This year is the year of the fight against poverty and social exclusion. This problem touches tens of millions of our citizens. We must show solidarity the same way as the European Communities showed solidarity to my part of the continent, to Central and Eastern Europe. We felt this solidarity for many years. For us the European Union was always much more than a single market or a joint system of laws. We saw it as a community of shared values.
As your President, I have represented you on many occasions this year where it was important to underline those shared values.
This year was a time of great anniversaries: the 60th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, but also the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the 30th anniversary of my trade union, Solidarity, and the 20th anniversary of the reunification of Germany. From the nightmare of war to the victory of the spirit of solidarity, and the unification of our continent.
I also represented you with another kind of solidarity in Latvia, Lithuania, Greece, and Romania. I wanted to demonstrate that we stand by countries hit so hard by the economic crisis.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The business of this Parliament is to ensure that our first and only concern is our citizens and their well being.
The Lisbon Treaty has now been in force for almost a year. Many of us present here actively worked for it to become a reality. Like many of you, I was in Ireland convincing people to vote yes. I also went to the Czech Republic to talk to President Vaclav Klaus. We succeeded.
The Treaty of Lisbon has given us new powers but also new responsibilities. We must use them wisely and defend our Community method. It guarantees proper democratic control for the citizen and offers the best possible balance between the European institutions in the creation of our laws, decisions and long-term strategic planning.
An important part of the new Treaty is the introduction of the Citizen's Initiative, which could well prove a significant innovation for the future.
I am delighted to say that, from the beginning of my Presidency, we have taken decisive steps towards greater accountability of the European Commission to the Parliament. From its election, to its legislative initiatives and day-to-day decision-making. We have also strengthened the dialogue between the two institutions. We are at the dawn of a new era of a special partnership between the European Parliament and the European Commission. The European Union functions well when the Parliament and the Commission work hand in hand for Europe's citizens.
Since I became President last July, we have also introduced a number of improvements in the way we do business. For the first time we have formally elected a President of the Commission. For the first time we have introduced a monthly Question Hour with the Commission President. In the future we may extend it to Members of the Commission, as well as to the HR/VP for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
In September the first ever State of the Union debate took place, at which the Commission President gave us his overall political assessment and priorities for the coming year. This will now become a permanent event in our work calendar.
Regular meetings of the Conference of Committee Chairs, as well as my own meetings, with the College of Commissioners will also help both institutions better realize the Annual Work Programme. Every month I also meet directly with the President of the Commission. He also regularly attends meetings of our Conference of Presidents of Political Groups.
In relation to the Council we have also seen important progress. Last month, we initiated a dialogue on legislative planning with the presidency of the Council. I meet with the Prime Minister of the country holding the presidency.
The President of the new European institution, the European Council, not only reports to the full plenary, but gives an immediate report-back to the Parliament's Conference of Presidents. I also meet him directly on a monthly basis.
I am convinced that all these forms of dialogue can and will improve the accountability of the institutions to Europe's citizens.
Changes in Parliament
We are also putting a lot of effort into building a closer partnership with national parliaments, holding regular meetings at all levels. This is an expression of the spirit of the Lisbon Treaty which has a key role for the European Parliament as being jointly responsible for the Union, and for a Europe closer to its citizens.
We have adopted rules to enhance the role of national parliaments not only concerning the new 'subsidiarity check', but also ensuring full cooperation in both the pre-and post legislative dialogue.
We have made access to our work more transparent. Today, our committees and our public hearings can be watched live on the internet so that citizens are better informed about the issues we are debating and the decisions we are taking.
Greater use of procedures for taking part in plenary debates without prior inscription ("catch the eye" and "blue card") has made our discussions livelier. We are responsible for issues which concern our citizens directly; let our debates, differences of opinions, and the process of building compromises for the European Union and for its citizens, be more visible.
General Colin Powell said to me something very memorable: "Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most". However, when we have had to use our new powers, we have done so. We voted against the original SWIFT Agreement because we wanted to make sure that the correct balance would be struck between the needs of security and the protection of civil liberties. The revised agreement represents a much better balance overall, as the US Administration itself admits.
When I took phone calls from Washington in February, I felt we were moving towards answering Henry Kissinger's famous question of who to call if one wishes to speak to Europe. In most cases, of course, it will be the Vice President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. I am glad that today the post is held by a woman, as I strongly suggested before the European Council. However, when dealing with international treaties negotiated on behalf of the EU that requires our agreement, third parties should also call us - the European Parliament.
We negotiated hard on the new European External Action Service so that it is a modern service which truly represents the European interest. The Council agreed to a number of important concessions which improve the political accountability of this new service. We have to create it on the basis of the Community method so that it can work for the Union as a whole.
We were right to insist that this service, which will project the image of the EU abroad, truly reflects the European Union of today, one that is united in diversity. We can only answer the global threats and challenges in the name of our citizens together. This is what we asked for and this is what we have secured.
Overcoming the crisis
The first days of May 2010 could be summarized with the motto 'per aspera ad astra' - through difficulties to the stars. Europe managed to transform a moment of deepest economic crisis into structural reform, and the European Parliament was a strong voice in the debate.
But the restoration of our economies will depend on our ability to close the existing gaps in the Single Market, which is the cornerstone of European integration. In writing his recent report, Professor Mario Monti maintained close contacts with our parliamentary committees, as well as with myself, and held a number of exchanges of views.
The Parliament also played a central role in the adoption of the legislative package that will create an effective system of supervision for the financial markets in the European Union. We have found a European solution so that national measures are better coordinated among our member states. The crisis is global and our contribution to overcoming it must be European, if we wish to be effective on the world stage, especially in the work of the G20.
Energy and Climate
Energy today is the lifeblood of our European economy. The cost and security of energy, as well as environmental protection are becoming the major European challenges of the 21st century. This will be a crucial part of any relaunch of the internal market, as well as our attempts at combating climate change, in which the European Union is, and wishes to continue to be, a world leader. The European Parliament itself has signed the EMAS agreement to continue building a 'Green Parliament'.
The Commission, the Council and the Parliament have done enormous work to create a European energy policy over the years; the recent regulation on the security of gas supply is but one example.
However, if we want to achieve a real single market for energy, with secure supplies which are environmentally friendly, and that provide reasonably cheap energy for all customers, we need political momentum. Many of our future solutions will need strong political support from all the institutions of the EU, but especially from Member States.
A year ago, in my opening address, I proposed the creation of a European Energy Community. This is why on 5th May I proposed with Jacques Delors, an initiative for such a Community. It will be a type of "brand name" which can support common actions. Something similar was done with the 1992 Single Market programme which integrated many concepts in order to push them forward.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you may know, I believe strongly in gender balance and equal opportunities for women. Since my appointment I pleaded on many occasions for a significant representation of women to the highest posts in the EU institutions. A political system which does not allow a significant representation in the decision making bodies to 52 per cent of the population is losing contact with our society.
I am convinced that we should give an example to our societies. Europe should be strongly committed to ensuring conciliation of work and family life. It would be important that especially in times of economic crises, maternity would not be prevented by precarious work conditions. We are currently debating this issue, which is also linked to how we face up to the dramatic challenge of Europe's demographic crisis.
But when we talk about women's rights, we can not forget also the issue of violence against women. As a Parliament we can assure our full commitment on this topic and we discussed it with national parliament's representatives in a special day dedicated to the Fight of violence against women.
The cause of human rights is not just a European idee fixe, it is a universal cause. The decision to give this year's Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiabo echoes your own decision two years ago. Then we awarded the Sakharov Prize to Hu Jia, who is still in a Chinese prison. We will always demand the release of political prisoners. All of them, everywhere.
Let us remember that some of these political prisoners are our Sakharov Prize laureates. This is why I take our Sakharov Prize Network seriously. It brings together former prize winners for common actions on human rights,
Wherever we go as members of this house we are responsible for the promotion of democracy and human rights. It is the duty of all of us. In each of my visits, also in China and Russia, I have raised the issue at the highest level. We need to work closely with the democratic community on this issue.
I am determined to make this new network, as well as the Forum of former Presidents of the Parliament, effective tools of our fight for human dignity, human rights, democracy and fundamental universal freedoms.
The Treaty of Lisbon has also strengthened our role in external relations. My role as President is to voice and amplify your messages on behalf of European citizens, to governments and countries outside the European Union.
There is no Parliament which is as outward looking as ours. There is no week where some of us are not somewhere in the world interacting with our partners and promoting our core values, and let us be honest, our interests.
We are the world's largest economy and the world's largest aid donor, but we do not use our potential fully. We need to reassess the way we achieve our objectives. We need to add the support of democracy and human rights to our trade negotiations, regardless of whether we negotiate with partners which are big and strong or small and weak.
I am convinced that we must strengthen our parliamentary diplomacy, in today's world, and in the expectations of our citizens, this is an important complement to diplomacy.
These past 15 months, our interparliamentary assemblies and European Parliament delegations have been crucial in helping to promote democracy, exchange best practices, and initiate cooperation around the world, as well as helping those parliaments to provide proper democratic oversight over their national governments.
We are continuing to develop with great success our cooperation in Latin America through our Eurolat Assembly.
A lot of work awaits us to initiate our parliamentary cooperation in the Euronest Assembly in the framework of our Eastern Partnership.
We have also established a permanent secretariat for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean. We wish to be a serious player and not just a payer in this region.
I am also pleased that we have upgraded our relationship with the United States Congress. Some twenty visits by our committees have happened in the past year and they were helped by our recently opened office in Washington.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As your President I have represented the Parliament in seven countries outside the European Union. We are taken seriously because our voice helps shape the new global governance. Our political model, which is the right mix of economic efficiency, social and environmental sensitivity, but also of solidarity and consensus, is one that should be respected and promoted.
However, I do believe that in order for the EU to be able to reassert its leadership on global issues, it needs first and foremost to show the capacity to tackle the challenges on its own borders. With your help, I have tried to invest as much time and energy as I can in working very intensively with our Eastern and Southern neighbours, meeting their leaders and communicating Europe to their citizens.
The European Parliament has always advocated for continuing enlargement. A good example of the positive effect of the European Union can be seen in the Western Balkans, where war and mutual aggression has ended.
During my second half of mandate I endeavour to continue strengthening our parliamentary diplomacy. I am convinced that today there can no longer be a separation between our internal and external policies. The internal market, the Euro touches on the rest of the world just as much as our trade and development policies do.
We need to create a common foreign policy so that in the framework of the global governance we can better work with the United States and the emerging powers.
We should be aware of the great power of persuasion that we possess and our ability to help transform societies and to bring them closer to the European ideals of democracy, peace and prosperity.
Alvin Toffler once said that: 'Our moral responsibility is not to stop the future, but to shape it...to channel our destiny in humane directions and to ease the trauma of transition.'
The recent economic and financial crisis hit us hard. We are leaving a difficult period behind but we need to see that this is also an opportunity for reforms.
It is becoming clear that this challenge will not be solved by national strategies alone. We have to coordinate our efforts to build up more strength. This is what the EU 2020 strategy stands for. Today we also need more than ever genuine European economic governance. We need a true economic union, and not just a monetary one.
There are a number of extremely important legislative proposals which are in the pipeline such as the Economic Governance Package, Hedge Fund Directive and the Regulation of Credit Rating Agencies and of Derivatives. We need to ensure that we get these legislations right if we want to create a stronger, more competitive and financially stable European Union.
The financial crisis has taught us all that there can not be solidarity without responsibility but it has also taught us all that the European Union can deliver solutions which are a value added for its citizens.
As Parliamentarians who are co-responsible for the Union's budget we understand that in today's economic climate, we have to be ambitious with our funding and we need to explore the possibilities of better pooling resources, better savings, and better financial management.
But I am convinced that the next annual budget and Multiannual Financial Framework have to support modernisation and unblock the full potential of the Union, and as a result be about competition and creating employment.
This is what our citizens expect the most from us. Financing has to maintain the balance between the needs of the single market, innovation, infrastructure and agriculture as well as cover the new tasks given to us due to the Lisbon Treaty.
If we Europeans believe in Europe we have to believe in ourselves. In order to dissuade any doubts on the European Union we have to go back to its roots, and then will we realize that peace, stability, prosperity and an open society are not to be taken for granted. The dangerous and the unthinkable could happen again if we do not contain populism and do not cherish our basic values of freedom and solidarity for all.
In my discussions, it has become clear to me that although in the EU there may be a crisis in confidence, it is not one we should have. Europe is a model which is admired and respected outside our borders. Let us not be afraid to be Europeans and let us be proud of this community method which has guaranteed sixty years of peace and has reunited our continent.
Our generation was brought up in a divided continent. The generation of our children treats open borders, common security and the common market as something which is obvious. But history could have taken a different course. Our political forefathers chose the right path. Now it is up to us how the 21st century will be in Europe and around the world.