Addressing Chancellor Angela Merkel, President-in-Office of the EU Council and Commission President José Manuel Barroso, MEPs and all former Presidents of the European Parliament, Mr Poettering said: "Electing a new President every two and a half years has been the tradition of the European Parliament since its first direct elections in June 1979. By historical standards two and a half years is a short time. Let us not forget, however, that one President of the European Parliament lives through five European Council Presidencies – in this case Germany, followed by Portugal, Slovenia, France and the Czech Republic. This makes clear the responsibility borne by our Parliament, particularly at this time when the task of uniting Europe has come a long way, but is not yet complete and indeed, given the current failure of the constitutional process in France and the Netherlands, is still in danger. The European Parliament is aware of this responsibility, so cannot allow itself to be outdone by anybody when it comes to completing this task of unifying our continent!"
The greatest success, Mr Poettering stated, has been overcoming the division of Europe. But shared values have prevailed. The accession to the European Union of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia – and of Cyprus and Malta – on 1 May 2004, and of Bulgaria and Romania on 1 January this year, together with the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990, remain for him the miracle of this generation. We all have, he said, reason to be extremely happy about this, now as always.
"It is our job to serve the citizens of the European Union. Europeans should be proud of what they have achieved by their labours over the centuries in terms of values, freedom, law and democracy. It has been a long haul. We know that our European roots lie in Greek philosophy, Roman law, the Judeo-Christian heritage, the Enlightenment – in other words, our shared European culture. But there have also been tragic European civil wars, and in the 20th century the totalitarian ideologies, with their disdain for humanity, and then, in 1945, the courage of the founding fathers in following the path of forgiveness and reconciliation, in building a new, better, more peaceful, shared Europe. We should still remember this today, and rediscover the things that are common to us all. The great French European Jacques Delors spoke, in the tradition of Robert Schuman, of the ‘European soul’. The great Polish European Władysław Bartoszewski once said: ‘Europe means above all else freedom of the individual and human rights – both political and economic’. They were both right. "
European values, Mr Poettering said, have their fundamental roots in the dignity of the individual. In such, there is respect for the other as well as making a commitment and thus building a system based on responsibility and solidarity. In practical political activities, he continued, we should always serve the dignity of the individual, and he encouraged all of us to defend human dignity and human rights throughout the world.
Continuing, he stated:
"• We want partnership with a Russia that is democratic and capable of action. That is why we expect the Russian authorities to make discernible efforts to ensure that the murderers of Ana Politkovskaya, who did so much for press freedom in her country, receive fitting punishment.
• We shall never forget that without the United States of America neither National Socialism nor Soviet communism could have been vanquished. But we also say to our American friends that ‘Guantanamo’ is not reconcilable with our European principles of the rule of law.
• We protect human life. If anyone, for example the President of a nation with a great history of civilisation, denies the Holocaust, we will counter that claim with determination, in order to ensure that the horror of a new holocaust is not visited upon us.
• We are convinced that the people of Israel and Palestine are linked by their common human dignity. We therefore support equally the right of Israel to exist and the right of the Palestinian people to live in a State of their own.
• We are on the side of those who are fighting peacefully for freedom and democracy. Hence our solidarity with the Sakharov Prize winner Alexander Milinkevich and his fellow fighters for a free and democratic Belarus without fear and oppression. The same solidarity goes to our other Sakharov Prize winners, ‘Las Damas de Blanco’ (The Ladies in White) in Cuba and Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma/Myanmar.
• We defend human dignity and human rights. We, the European Parliament, are utterly convinced that the death penalty is irreconcilable with these. I urge us all, the institutions of the European Union and the Member States, to stand up for the abolition of the death penalty in the forum of the United Nations. "
• The need for security also includes the task of providing employment and social protection in a rapidly changing world. We cannot make ourselves safe from globalisation. We must construct a cushion by strengthening our competitiveness while retaining the European social model.
• It includes not just talking about the dramatic change in climate, but taking the necessary measures – together with our partners in the world – and enforcing them with determination, before it is too late.
• A common energy supply is one aspect of security.
• Another aspect of security is a common immigration policy that takes as much account of human rights as of the need for integration in our society. We must not allow people to go on dying in the waters of the Mediterranean.
• We cannot find the security we seek in a world that is going up in flames, lives in poverty, is under social pressure, is disordered and in which the natural environment continues to be destroyed.
Importance of the media
On the importance of the media, Mr Poettering said that without the media Europe cannot be conveyed to the public. He specifically thanked the correspondents and journalists in Strasbourg for their fair and objective reporting. But he appealed to the national media, particularly the television channels, whether private or public, to play their part in relations with the European public. It is no longer appropriate to the times, he said, to portray the European Union only from a national perspective. Mr Poettering asked the national broadcasting corporations to open their studios to European themes and to invite Members of the European Parliament there as guests in that context.
Mr Poettering stressed the need for a new pact between the citizens of Europe and their political institutions in the European Union. ‘Citizens’ Europe’ and the credibility of the European institutions are conditional upon each other. The ‘Better Lawmaking’ programme can make a contribution to this if it achieves more democratic oversight, transparency in the Council, reliable transposition into national law, social, environmental, economic and administrative impact assessment, and simplification of the legal texts. When planning a piece of European legislation, he stated, we should always ask ourselves: Does it serve people and the environment? Is it necessary in the light of the subsidiarity principle? Does it help to make us more competitive? Does it reduce red tape and costs? Only if these questions can be answered in the affirmative should we go into action as legislators in the European Parliament.
We, the European Parliament, he stated, should not only be at pains to represent citizens’ interests. We should also show our respect for the dedication of European citizens who by their work are raising Europe’s profile – in Europe and in the world. We should introduce a European Parliament award for that. And why should we not also pay particular honour to commitment on the part of young people to the European idea? High-ranking European awards have had such a good effect on public awareness, why do we not create awards for the younger generation, for young Europeans who are showing particular dedication to the European ideal?
On the Constitutional Treaty, Mr Poettering stated that without doubt, the European Parliament stands by this Treaty.. We want to help, he continued, to ensure that the substance of the Constitutional Treaty, including the chapter on values, becomes a legal and political reality. The consensus arrived at here in the European Parliament on the services directive and on the limits of the European Union’s ability to enlarge is a constructive response to people’s concerns. The ‘Declaration on the Future of Europe’ scheduled for 25 March 2007 in Berlin could be another important milestone on this road. Its core should be: commitment to our values and to the necessary reforms; an undertaking to rise jointly to the challenges of the future, a commitment to solidarity among the nations of Europe and to the supremacy of law as the basis for our actions. No country, no nation of the European Union is to be left alone with its problems. But this also rules out national selfishness. Anyone who only serves the interests of his own country will ultimately squander these as well, because he will destroy the solidarity necessary for the defence of those interests.
President Poettering stated his intention to help to ensure that under the German Council Presidency a road map and a mandate are agreed at the summit in Brussels on 21 and 22 June, as the outcome of which full implementation of the substantive core of the European Constitution will be in place by the next European Parliament elections in 2009. He reminded the House that the Constitutional Treaty was signed by all 27 governments, but of course the results pf the referenda have to be respected.
But regardless of that: If a change of government in a country of the European Union calls into question what has been agreed, not only is society split in that nation, but our continent, which is already quite complicated enough, is increasingly incapacitated. We must, he said, commit to our European legal principles: pacta sunt servanda – treaties are to be honoured.
The will to implement these necessary reforms, he stressed, must be strong and determined. And these reforms must be carried through in such a way that the nations of the European Union are not driven apart, but brought together. We must insist, he said, that the European Parliament must be appropriately involved in the work.
The European Parliament, Mr Poettering stated, must also be prepared to reform their own house. In the first instance that will make great demands on every one of us, for example in terms of being present for votes and important debates. A lot remains to be done here. That is why on Thursday, the day after tomorrow, Mr Poettering will be submitting a proposal to the group chairmen for a comprehensive reform of the working of the European Parliament. Against this background, the Conference of Presidents has set up a working party on improving our work. He asked all colleagues to start work and to present the results as soon as they possibly can.
Dialogue between religions and cultures
Europe’s future is dependent to a great extent on successful coexistence among cultures and religions within the European Union and between the European Union and our neighbours, first and foremost in the Arab and Islamic world.
Mr Poettering stated that we must do our part to ensure that dialogue among cultures and religions is the hallmark of Europe. "We live in the continent of the three great cultures and religions – the Christian, the Jewish and the Islamic. And we have fellow citizens who come from one of the world’s other great cultures and who are at home in the world’s other religions. We as the European Parliament must encourage and support examples of European civil society that are dedicated to dialogue between cultures.
This dialogue must be grounded in tolerance and truth. Tolerance does not mean accepting anything and everything. Tolerance means respecting the convictions of the other while maintaining one’s one, and thus coexisting peacefully. On one of my many visits to Arab countries, I was asked by a senior Islamic dignitary how Muslims live in Europe. My answer was that they are often not sufficiently integrated, but that they can live out their own beliefs and have their own mosques and places of prayer. The question I asked in reply was whether it was true that in his country a Muslim man or woman could be punished with death if he or she converted to the Christian faith. The fact that I received no answer was answer enough."
Mr Poettering stated that it is his intention to visit the European Union’s neighbouring Arab states and, when visiting European Union countries, to try to have talks with ethnic minorities, particularly their younger members. In the Euro-Mediterranean Assembly we have, he said, an important parliamentary institution for dialogue with the Middle East, including Israel and the Arab world. We must, he said, use this institution effectively for peace, partnership and, if possible, friendship. As soon as circumstances permit, he stated that he shall visit Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. Mr Poettering expressed his gratitude for the invitation he received to address the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. In inviting speakers to address the European Parliament, we should, he said, place the emphasis on the Dialogue of Cultures.
Helmut Kohl, honorary citizen of the European Union, once said to me, ‘We haven’t got much time. The world we live in is not prepared to wait for us to solve our internal problems’. He is right. I would like to add: failure to act, indifference, would be the greatest wrong we could commit.
Noting that at the end of his term of office, a new European Parliament will be elected, Mr Poettering stated that convincing work and positive aspects about Europe being highlighted in the national capitals as well, then the turnout for the European Parliament elections will go up again. It should be our ambition to achieve this, he stated.
In conclusion, Mr Poettering stated that our goals are great and so are the expectations vested in us. We set out to fulfil them. In this task I would like to represent you all in such a way that the dignity of the European Parliament, the unity of our continent of Europe and the effectiveness of the European Union are strengthened. I ask you for your help, thank you for your confidence and hope that together we can achieve our goals.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, President-in-Office of the EU Council
Council President-in-Office Angela Merkel began by highlighting Mr Poettering's long service as an MEP. "You have lived through the rise of the European Parliament", she said, and "the history of the Parliament is a success story". She congratulated the EP on its role in the REACH chemicals regulation, the services directive and the financial perspective.
"You represent nearly half a billion citizens" she pointed out, in a Europe which faces issues such as peace and security, social protection and competition in a globalised world. It was thus important "not to lose sight of the big picture", namely the role of the EU in the world.
This led her to speak of the European constitution, which she said was "crucial for the effectiveness of an EU of 27 Member States". She mentioned her presidency's already announced "roadmap" for the constitution, saying it was important at the next European elections in 2009 "for the public to know what they are voting for".
Turning to the upcoming EU summit of 8-9 March, the Chancellor described climate change and energy as top priorities. The aim must be "by 2020 to cut CO2 emissions by 30%". Progress to create "a highly performing internal market" was also essential, although discussions would be "difficult". The German presidency would insist on agreement on "specific quantified targets" in this area.
Relations with Russia
On relations with Russia, she hoped negotiations on a cooperation agreement would lead to progress by May.
Mrs Merkel said the EU's "Better regulation" programme needed Parliament's support and here too she wanted to see "quantified goals". She played down the fears of some that "less regulation means less social protection". "That is not what we want", she stressed. Improvements in regulation were needed "in the interests of the citizens".
The conference on the future of Europe, on 23-25 March, would deal with external policy, security and defence. In this connection, she welcomed the Mr Poettering's reference to intercultural dialogue as a policy priority of the EP.
Indeed, on the world stage - and Mrs Merkel referred specifically to the problems of Iraq and Israel-Palestine - Europe could exert influence partly because of its success in overcoming its own historical problems, which she described as "one of the miracles of our time".
"With our experience, with our prosperity, we can make our contribution to turning the world into a more peaceful place", were her concluding words.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso
Mr Barroso opened by saying "This year we celebrate what the EU has achieved over the last 50 years". During this time, the Parliament had "come more and more to embody European democracy." In choosing Mr Poettering as president, he told MEPs, "you have elected a President whose experience and commitment to our common European project is second to none".
The Commission president went on to say "Our European values underline the essence of the Europe we want". In particular, "Cultural and religious pluralism is a strong European value" and he welcomed Mr Poettering's emphasis on inter-cultural and religious dialogue.
He added "We intend to make next year's Year of Inter-Cultural Dialogue the platform for this dialogue", continuing "the Commission has long pursued a dialogue with religions, churches and communities of conviction."
Religious communities would have the ear of the EU institutions, he stressed, reminding his audience that "I invited last year the President of the European Council to participate in a meeting with religious and church leaders. I welcome the agreement to hold a summit in May this year, with the three Presidents of the European political institutions and leaders of the main religions and churches".
Mr Barroso said the planned Declaration on the future of Europe, to be signed in Berlin on 25 March, represents "a confirmation of what the EU is for, and its mission statement "for the twenty first century. He wanted it to focus on "the goals of our common project" and help find a consensus for an institutional settlement.
He stressed that Europeans want to "see the European Union addressing globalisation, promoting economic growth and jobs, showing solidarity, tackling climate change, bringing security to its citizens, defending our values and interests worldwide".
To do this, "we need to preserve and develop institutional partnership", said the president. He believed that "cooperation between Parliament, Council and Commission was working well". Examples were the successes on services, REACH and the financial perspective.
Turning to the constitution, Mr Barroso said "The resolution of the debate on the future of Europe is not a sideshow - a more efficient and democratic European Union goes to the heart of our ability to deliver policies." And "As I often say, we cannot build tomorrow's Europe with yesterday's tools".
He repeated his call to the Member States to find a solution to the constitutional treaty, pointing out that "all governments signed the treaty". This meant two things: "First, Member States recognised that the Union needed to solve common problems". Secondly, it implied "a responsibility towards the other Member States, towards European Institutions and European citizens….. to be constructive and active in the search to find a common solution". "We do not need declarations of intentions but what we need is commitment."
He looked forward to working closely with President Poettering and with the Council "to deliver real reform in Europe".
Political group speakers
"We must stop all the disheartening declarations about Europe", said Joseph DAUL (EPP-ED, FR) "My group fully agrees to the vision of a Europe which is both strong and open to the world and at the same time close to the citizens and at their service", said Mr Daul. Recalling past successes of European integration, he noted that "Europe has changed the course of history", by bringing "increased prosperity for our countries and our people, and guaranteeing peace on our continent". The benefits are omnipresent, and it would take "bad faith" to deny them, he added.
Mr Daul noted that citizens expect Europe to provide more freedom and security, better job prospects, protection of the right to enjoy the fruits of their labour, and the will to stand up for Europe's common values. He also stressed that a common European approach is needed to meet challenges such as ensuring the security of energy supply, combating climate change, building a world-leading R&D capability, and achieving sustainable agriculture and food production.
Mr Daul stressed the need for dialogue among cultures and among religions, both for mutual enrichment and to combat racism, intolerance, exclusion and xenophobia.
Europe also needs a common strategy on globalisation, which strives to combine free competition, high employment rates and full social protection, he added.
Summing up, Mr Daul noted that the 25 March Declaration on the future of Europe would be an opportunity to renew the Union's commitment to its ideas. "Courage and shared conviction will get us out of the morass", he said, noting that "ours is a Europe of shared spiritual values" and that "what unites us higher humanity".
"Europe is a positive idea, which my group supports" echoed Martin SCHULZ (PES, DE), contrasting its inter-cultural and economic co-operation, and territorial integration, with the "dark hatred and repression around our borders". Yet the EU's institutional reform needs to succeed, he said, because "if we are thrown back onto Nice, we shall see more than a treaty foundering". At the same time, we face daily challenges, he added because Europe's citizens expect us to "take a decision and act".
Addressing himself to Chancellor Merkel, Mr Schulz described the Council as a "prime example of the lack of continuity", that makes it difficult to act. By way of example, he cited the difficulty of getting agreement on binding environment protection targets.
Mr Schulz looked forward to "progress on social Europe" - which he described as his group's "core business" - during the second half of Parliament's mandate. Communism in eastern Europe had been defeated not by the USA, but by the peoples of Europe's own new democracies, he concluded.
Graham WATSON (ALDE, UK) said Hans-Gert Poettering brings a rare sense of perspective to the President's post, thanks to the extensive experience he has acquired since 1979, noted ALDE Chairman Graham Watson. In this time, the common market has been enhanced with a single market, a single currency and policies in justice and home affairs, foreign and security arrangements and now energy.
Yet since 1979 there has been a profound change in what the EU is all about, he continued. The Union is no longer about peace and security of food supply, but about the three big challenges of "rapid world population growth and migration, energy resources and climate change, and internationally organised crime linked to terrorism". So far, the drive to build the EU had come from within, but increasingly, it comes from beyond our borders and the response of our institutions has been uncertain, he continued, adding that "There is a malaise affecting our Union which has led to squabbling between the Member States, who, in the name of preserving national sovereignty, are too often giving free rein to global anarchy", said Mr Watson, adding that "squabbling among our institutions turns our citizens cold, like different denominations of the church arguing about substantiation rather than asking why nobody comes to church any more". Given this malaise, it is the European Parliament that must become the dynamo of European integration, affirmed Mr Watson. Citizens must be able to look to "a House resurgent and outspoken, holding the Council and the Member States to account when their action against terrorism rides roughshod over the rights we cherish, forging consensus on the single market in services or on consumer protection measures, and working with national parliaments to scrutinise the executive". Noting "ideology has surpassed nationality as the main determinant of voting behaviour", Mr Watson looked forward to the possibility that Parliament might one day gain a right of initiative or the right to propose the President of the Commission.
Addressing himself to Chancellor Merkel, Mr Watson said that "qualified majority voting in Council and co-decision with the European Parliament as a co-decision is now needed in all areas of policy-making, if the checks and balances of democracy are to work at European level." Summing up, Mr Watson urged Chancellor Merkel and President Barroso "to muster the collective courage to take our Union forward as a true democracy, to create what Winston Churchill called in 1945 "a wider patriotism and a common citizenship for the distraught people of this turbulent and powerful continent".
Brian CROWLEY (UEN, IE), speaking for the UEN group, began his speech in Irish and said that he welcomed President Poettering's experience and that the President had large support within the House. Mr Crowley welcomed the presence of Chancellor Merkel and President Barroso and said that this respect should be reciprocated. Sometimes, he said, the European Parliament would have to disagree with Member State governments.
The European Parliament, he said, should be the voice of reason, peace and vision and above all a "voice for the voiceless". Mr Crowley welcomed President Poettering's initiative to introduce an award for young people's contributions to Europe. He also stressed the importance of the USA in supporting Europe in its time of difficulties. Finally, Mr Crowley stressed the importance of the EU engaging fully in the Middle East.
Monica FRASSONI (IT), speaking for the Greens/EFA group, said Europe had to make specific choices. "Europe must agree a way out for the Constitutional Treaty", she said. The European Parliament must be able "to co-decide" in all areas. Ms Frassoni stressed the importance of the defence of human rights at the individual level. She underlined the need to reduce energy dependence which meant tough negotiations with the Russian President. The EU needed to examine CIA activities, data transfer requirements and codes of conduct for arms exports. Finally, Ms Frassoni stressed the need to examine the issue of the seat of the European Parliament as well as making the Parliament ecologically sustainable.
For the GUE/NGL group, Francis WURTZ ( FR) spoke of the need to defend the European social model. He called for the Parliament to reject the proposed liberalisation of the postal services sector. "An in-depth debate is needed to engage with citizens so that Europe can progress", he said. He welcomed President Poettering's commitment to visit the Middle East and the President's engagement on the dialogue of cultures. Mr Wurtz called for an ending to the embargo on the Hamas Palestinian government.
Jens-Peter BONDE (IND/DEM, DK) highlighted the huge amount of legislation in national law now emanating from Brussels and the number of rules and regulations produced and called for greater openness and transparency. He had no confidence in the "summit knows best" approach rather than listening to the direct voices of the people. He wanted "no more treaties which are not subject to referenda throughout the Member States."
Bruno GOLLNISCH (ITS, FR) spoke of four crucial points from European history: Greek philosophy, Roman Law, Judeo Christian religion and the Enlightenment. He asked, "which European values are we being loyal and faithful to today? Christianity of hedonism? Does the European Union work on the clear lines of Greek philosophy and the direct participation of its citizens or are we constructing an onerous centralised structure? Do we have the precision of Roman Law or produce a "squillion" verbose texts? Is public debate respected?" He urged a return to the true roots of Europe.
Irena BELOHORSKÁ (NI, SK) asked for greater consideration to be given in the future to the needs of the smaller political groups and to the smaller countries. She also highlighted the need for a closer look at the Parliament's staffing requirements in terms of appropriate qualifications.