In his welcome to French President Sarkozy, EP President Hans-Gert Pöttering stressed the commitment which France had continuously given to the idea of a united Europe. "In 1849 Victor Hugo spoke out in favour of a union of European states. In the 100 years since, many efforts were made and notably on the initiative of the French. The present day EU is no exception, it is the result of 1950 Schuman plan."
He also thanked President Sarkozy for his efforts in supporting the constitution and the Reform Treaty: Sarkozy had "decisively demonstrated commitment to the constitution", and contributed to a solution in Reform Treaty.
"After your election, you invited me to the Élysée Palace as first non-French guest. I want to thank you, you demonstrated not only your commitment to Europe but also the appreciation to the EP as a body representing Europeans", said Pöttering.
Speech of French President Nicolas Sarkozy
French President Nicolas Sarkozy addressing MEPs in Strasbourg said: "Thank you for allowing me to reaffirm before you France's commitment to Europe and to tell you that in voting "no" to the European Constitution, the French people were not expressing a rejection of Europe but rather their heightened expectations of Europe.
European integration is the embodiment of a common will among the peoples of Europe, who acknowledge common values and a common civilisation and who wish to keep them alive. It is the embodiment of a common will of the peoples of Europe who acknowledge common interests and wish to affirm them. It is the embodiment of a common will of the peoples of Europe who have chosen to put what brings them together ahead of what keeps them apart.
Europe cannot just be a machine, an administrative machine, a legal machine, a machine for issuing rules, regulations, directives, and a machine for manufacturing constraints, rules and procedures.
"Noes" were a disaster
When the people say "no", we cannot say the people are wrong. We must ask why they said "no".
We all know that the French "no" and the Dutch "no" to the European Constitution expressed far more than the rejection of a text, however important that was.
In that "no", there was a cry of anguish, a disappointment that was shared by millions of men and women in Europe who had begun to despair of Europe because they felt it no longer protected them, that it had become indifferent to the problems of their lives, that it was no longer speaking to them.
These "noes" were a disaster. They plunged Europe into the gravest crisis of its history. But this crisis, which could undo Europe, could also be salutary if it led all those who are unfailingly committed to its cause to reflect on the reasons for this disaffection and on the goals of this extraordinary human experiment that no-one had attempted before.
If Europe has managed to find a way out of the impasse into which the failure of the draft European Constitution plunged it, it is because the heads of state and government at the Brussels summit, realising that the fate of Europe lay in their hands, took a political decision. That day in Brussels, their political determination swept away all the obstacles which until then had seemed insurmountable.
Their political decision was to take note of the failure of the draft Constitution.
The simplified treaty is a political victory of Europe over herself. It is a victory of European consciousness expressed in politics.
The institutional question has been settled. What remains are the political questions. They must be asked without fear, debated without taboos.
Europe has chosen democracy, and in a democracy one must be able to debate everything: budgetary policy, trade policy, monetary policy, industrial policy, fiscal policy, all policies whatever they may be.
New committee of wise-men on the future of Europe
In European democracy, it is necessary to debate the final goals and the objectives of Europe. This is why I have proposed to create a committee of wise-men to reflect on the future and in order that we can debate together the different possible futures of Europe. So that we can design the face and contours of the Europe of tomorrow. If not, how can we ask the people of Europe to have confidence if the future of Europe?"
Democracy - deep identity crisis
The peoples of Europe are undergoing a deep identity crisis. This is a crisis which lies both in the nations and in that idea of civilisation which all Europeans have in common and which makes up the real unity of Europe. It is a crisis linked to globalisation and the mercantilisation of the world.
To begin Europe with the economy, with coal and steel, with trade, was a stroke of genius by the founding fathers. But politics has lagged behind economics, and culture even more so.
Europe must ensure it is not perceived as a threat to identities but as a form of protection, as a way of keeping them alive, as a multiplier of power and influence, as much at the level of thought and culture as at the material level and the political level.
Europe wishes to set an example in the fight against climate change but Europe cannot accept unfair competition from countries that impose no environmental constraints on their companies.
We all have different ideas and views on every subject. This is no reason not to talk about them. On the contrary, we must debate them until we manage to bring our views close enough to construct a common policy. For if we agree to discuss only the subjects on which everyone agrees, the crisis of Europe lies not behind us but before us.
All these questions will be at the centre of the French presidency's priorities.
Creation of a European defence identity
What does our European commitment mean for each of us if we are incapable of debating the creation of a European defence and the renewal of the Atlantic alliance? What does our European commitment mean if each of us not able to contribute to his or her own defence and to the defence of all?
Europe needs Britain
This is what I have done by making every effort to convince Britain to sign the simplified treaty. Because Europe needs Britain.
But I have done more: I wanted France to propel Europe's growth forward once more, to contribute to Europe's dynamism and prosperity once again. Because when France is doing well, the whole of Europe benefits. When France is doing well, Europe also does better.
Simone Veil said: "All the states of the Community today face three major challenges: peace, freedom and well-being, and it seems that only the European dimension can enable them to deal with these challenges."
I wish to make these words my own, because we still face those challenges. These are the challenges that the public expects Europe to deal with.
We have no more time to lose if we are to deal with them.
We have no more time to lose to ensure that the people can regain confidence in Europe.
We have already lost enough time."
In response to the speech, President Pöttering said: "We place our trust in the French Presidency of the European Union which will take over at a key moment of the Union's history including the ratification of the Reform Treaty. The European Parliament stands shoulder to shoulder with you in this effort to guarantee the success of your Presidency in the interest of all Europeans."