The President of the European Parliament, former Polish prime minister Jerzy Buzek, welcoming former Czech president Václav Havel to the EP, described him as "a friend to all those fighting for freedom and human rights wherever they do not exist". Mr Buzek was keen to stress that "communism was overthrown by ordinary people: writers, workers, academics; millions of people behind the Iron Curtain who never gave in to oppression" and said "Vaclav Havel was, and remains, a hero to them all".
Václav Havel: "Europe is the homeland of our homelands"
The House subsequently heard an address by Mr Havel on the theme of European unification. "No one was completely prepared for such a rapid collapse of the Iron Curtain", he pointed out, acknowledging that the new democracies of central and eastern Europe had caused the EU some "headaches". This, though, was understandable because "A democratic political culture cannot be created or renewed overnight". But the alternative to embracing these countries would have been worse, in terms of potential instability for the whole continent, he argued.
Mr Havel then spoke about the sensitive issue of identity, saying "Our identity is created not only by what is unique to us as individuals, but also by certain so-called shared layers of identity" such as membership of family, community, church and nation. He stressed that "the fact that I feel myself to be a European doesn’t mean that I stop being a Czech. On the contrary: as a Czech I am also a European. I tend to say somewhat poetically that Europe is the 'homeland of our homelands' ".
Turning to broader themes, the Czech statesman called for a "shift away from the cult of profit at all costs" and from "the mindless plunder of the planet without regard for the environment or the interests of future generations".
Lastly, Mr Havel said "Seen from a distance, the European Union looks like a very technocratic body dealing solely with economics and money". He believed "the EU should place greater and more evident stress on the things that are truly of foremost importance, namely its spiritual foundations and values". Indeed, "Schiller’s Ode to Joy should cease to be for us and our descendants simply a poem celebrating friendship among people and be transformed instead into a powerful symbol of our common striving for a more humane world".
Today's Europe: "could do better"
Earlier today a debate was held at the Parliament on the subject "What Europe means to me" between EP president Jerzy Buzek and 89 young people, all aged 20, who came from every one of the EU's Member States.
For most young people participating in the debate, the EU meant, first and foremost, the freedom to travel, study and work in other countries and to discover other cultures. "Our parents didn't have this possibility" - said a visibly moved German student. But her Dutch colleague felt that Europe was too often perceived as a threat to national culture. A young Swede complained about the democratic deficit in Europe and her Italian neighbour noted that the media devoted little space to Europe: "we don't know Europe and we can't trust what we don't know". "Yes, but to identify with Europe, you also have to take the initiative and get interested in it yourself", replied a German speaker.
Europe 20 years hence - dream and duty
"If Europe is a family, then we must not forget that in a family, we are responsible for each other", noted a Latvian. Being responsible means "preserving for our children the freedoms and progress that we enjoy", said a young Hungarian. For several 20 year old guests, this responsibility also means ironing out differences between Member States' living standards, "to make it truly possible to take advantage of our freedom", as a Czech speaker put it. Europe must continue to seek a balance between the market, social rights and individual freedoms, said several speakers. "It was a dream, one day let us again dare to dream of Europe", urged a Belgian, backed by a Frenchwoman: "I would like Europe to rediscover the enthusiasm and passion it knew in 1989".
Changes to the plenary agenda
The oral question on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications was removed from the agenda.
A debate on the report by Tanja FAJON (S&D, SI) on the exemption from visa requirements of certain non-EU nationals was added to the agenda, on Wednesday evening after the one-minute speeches (vote on Thursday).
The debate on Honduras will be called "The political situation in Honduras with a view to the elections", following a vote on a request by the EPP group to restore a reference to the elections.