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09-05-2012

Speech by EP President Martin Schulz on the occasion of Europe Day

"No one stands in greater need of a growth pact today than the young: the present young generation in Europe is in danger of being sacrificed to the financial crisis - of becoming our continent's 'lost generation'. It was not young people who caused the crisis, yet they are paying a disproportionately high price to rescue States and banks. Already, one in four Europeans under the age of 25 is unemployed, and in many countries the figure is one in two."

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Just over sixty years ago, with little fanfare, a revolution began which was destined to alter our world. Among the ruins left by the Second World War, the foundation stone was laid for a project which has brought about achievements unique in human history:

- enemies held out the hand of reconciliation to each other and became friends;

- a region plagued by hunger developed the most affluent internal market in the world;

- nations threw off the yoke of dictatorship and transformed their States into democracies;

- we established the most progressive social model and the best healthcare systems in the world;

- together we created a European model of society which makes it possible for us to live better every day;

- it is a model which combines democracy and peace, freedom and solidarity in a way which has no parallel anywhere else in the world.

We have every reason to be proud of what we have achieved. It is something we should defend in an awareness of the starting point from which we came.

'We shall never again fight a war.' That was what men and women resolved, more than 60 years ago, after experiencing two devastating world wars.

Images of the bloody battlegrounds had not yet faded, the wounds were not yet fully healed, the houses that had been destroyed had yet to be rebuilt. At that point these men and women came up with an astonishing idea, almost a surreal one: in order to prevent any recurrence of a disaster on the scale of the Second World War, they proposed a quiet revolution:

- they would not erect walls but demolish any obstacle that divided them;

- they would not crush their arch-enemy once and for all but help him to his feet;

- they would not condemn the guilty for all time but integrate them into the community and forgive them;

- they would not close their borders but lift barriers;

- they would not protect their national economies but link them closely together;

- they would face the future not alone but together, for the benefit of all.

The European Coal and Steel Community created a de facto solidarity, as its deviser, Robert Schuman, put it exactly 62 years ago today.

It was based on an understanding that, if we in Europe wished to survive in the truest sense of the word, we would have to learn to live together and act in common accord,

- an understanding that our interests could no longer be viewed independently of those of our neighbours;

- an understanding that on our own we were weak but together we would be strong;

- this understanding has created a model of society unique in human history, a model which for six decades has brought us peace and freedom, democracy and equality, prosperity and solidarity.

Displaying a wisdom drawn from their experience of the all-time nadir of civilisation, the founding fathers and mothers possessed the courage to give the answer, 'We can only succeed through our united efforts, so we must join together to make those efforts'. As we struggle with the current crisis, we, who have the institutional framework of the European Union to sustain us, ought surely to find it far easier to summon up the same courage...

Yet why, to many people, does it seem far more tempting to withdraw within national horizons?

Why is the current crisis, like a centrifugal force, driving us apart rather than binding us more closely together?

Today, two of the greatest achievements of European integration are again being called into question: the euro and freedom of movement.

What could symbolise Europe more than the freedom to work, live and travel without being confined by borders? For the Erasmus generation, this is a right which they will have taken for granted, a right which is part of the reality of everyday experience - the right to move within an area without barriers or passport controls. Do we really want to surrender this?

Any attack on the principles of the Schengen area undermines the foundations of the European Union.

What is needed in order to solve the existing problems is not withdrawal behind national borders: rather we need to act together in a spirit of solidarity to control the external borders of the EU and to maintain common governance of the Schengen area at EU level.

The euro should bring the peoples of Europe together; at present, it is in danger of becoming a symbol of national egotisms or even of division.

A return to separate national currencies would cause serious political and economic damage. Instead of being a global player with a global reserve currency, we would then relapse into particularism, which would be accompanied by a loss of political significance on the world stage.

It is only together that we can progress. To this end, after the austerity packages, we now also need growth initiatives.

We in this House have long been calling for a growth pact. Because we know that if nation states try to go it alone, they will go under in the vortex of the global financial markets.

Only together can we act to prevent the economic decline of Europe and halt the rise of unemployment.

We as representatives of the people have long been calling for a change of direction in Europe. Balanced budgets are necessary, partly to ensure that different generations are treated justly. We say no to one-sided austerity diktats, yes to spending cuts combined with growth initiatives!

We have also long been calling for new sources of revenue such as a financial transaction tax, measures against tax evasion and project bonds for investment in infrastructure projects.

If we are to take the idea of a European growth initiative seriously, we must make it clear how it will work and also make the requisite funds available for it. Rather than arbitrarily cutting the EU budget for populist reasons. The EU budget is a budget for investment, for boosting economic growth and creating jobs. To cut it back is to plunder our collective future.

No one stands in greater need of a growth pact today than the young: the present young generation in Europe is in danger of being sacrificed to the financial crisis - of becoming our continent's 'lost generation'. It was not young people who caused the crisis, yet they are paying a disproportionately high price to rescue States and banks. Already, one in four Europeans under the age of 25 is unemployed, and in many countries the figure is one in two.

Investment in further education and in better training opportunities is sound investment: it is de facto solidarity.

Action by the EU to stem the slide into recession and, in so doing, to preserve and create jobs: that too is de facto solidarity.

Solidarity and unity are what make Europe strong. That is the lesson we need to learn if we are to save Europe from irrelevance.

We need to strengthen European democracy. People expect transparent decision-making processes and a choice between clear political alternatives.

We need to make solidarity our watchword and to stand up to national egotism. Efforts to redress the balance between rich and poor, large and small Member States, have always been for the benefit of all.

We need to keep sight of the fact that we are a community of values. That is the core of our identity.

We need to shoulder our responsibility for the wider world. A year has passed since the beginning of the Arab Spring, and we must be a partner to our neighbouring countries in transition.

It has been said that people reject the idea of 'more Europe' but I do not believe that. The keen interest generated by the French and Greek elections last weekend shows that people see these events in terms of European home affairs. It shows the extent to which people recognise how interdependent we are - recognise that failings in one country pose problems for the European economy as a whole. It shows a popular awareness that the only solutions will be shared solutions.

The European Union - even in the current circumstances - is the most successful political and social experiment in history. From the very beginnings of the unification process, from the Schuman Plan in 1950 and the founding of the common market with the 1958 Rome treaties, through to today's community of 27 States and 500 million citizens, the evolution of the European project has been breathtaking.

Portugal, Spain and Greece all shook off dictatorships. Two decades ago the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union dissolved and the way was cleared for European unification. EU enlargement to the east put a final end to the artificial division of Europe by the Iron Curtain. The prospect of EU membership underpinned the peaceful transformation of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, thus contributing to security, stability and prosperity in Europe generally. Many observers expected that EU membership would change the new Member States, but few foresaw how profoundly the new Member States would change the EU, and for the better. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe brought with them their own political and historical experience, and that has served to enrich Europe's outlook. I am proud to follow my Polish predecessor Jerzy Buzek as President of the European Parliament.

Here in Europe we share certain common values: democracy, freedom, solidarity and human rights. We must never forget those people who have dedicated their lives to the struggle against oppression, the struggle for freedom and democracy. The Iron Curtain and the dictatorships in Southern Europe did not simply crumble: they were brought down by people protesting peacefully against oppressive systems. Some of our colleagues here played a part in those protests, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. They have been and remain role models for those who struggle for freedom throughout the world, most recently those involved in the Arab Spring.

Just over sixty years ago, a quiet revolution began that was to change the world forever: Europe has demonstrated that, yes, it works: yes, the successful combination of democracy, justice, freedom and solidarity is possible in our European model of society.

It is a model that embraces a free press and an independent judiciary, healthcare, pension provision, free access to education and opportunities for all, parliamentary democracy and participatory politics, equality before the law and securely anchored civil rights, and the highest social and environmental standards in the world, but a model in which there is no place for child labour, no place for the death penalty. We have created a society with humanity at its core.

That is the society in which I want to live, and I want my children and my children's children to be able to live in that kind of Europe. But our way of life today carries no open-ended guarantee. We need Europe, in this era of globalisation more than ever, to defend our democratic and social model. We cannot take what has been achieved for granted; we need to continue fighting for it on a daily basis.

Today, on Europe Day, we should remind ourselves where we have come from and what we have achieved - not for purposes of self-congratulation, but because our history both cautions us to defend our achievements and points our way forward.

Thank you for your attention.

European Parliament/The President