Acceptance speech - Charles V European Award
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I am proud and humbled to accept this prestigious Charles V European Award.
On this important occasion, let me address my first words to my family. It is thanks to them that I am here today, and that my name will stand alongside those of the many distinguished supporters of the European ideal to receive this award before me.
I am a journalist who has been fortunate enough to be able to dedicate part of his life to European politics. In doing so, I have always sought to improve the lives of the people of Europe. It is they who have made possible the peace, stability and prosperity which the European Union embodies, and it is therefore only right that this award be dedicated to them.
I would also like to say a special thank you to the people of Spain for the warmth they have always shown towards me. The feeling is mutual. As an Italian and as a pro-European, Spain is in my heart.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today, 9 May, is Europe Day, when we celebrate the noblest and bravest efforts we as Europeans have made in our recent history.
Thanks to those efforts, 28 democratic countries now seek to reconcile their differences through the work of institutions and on the basis of common rules.
We are the largest market in the world. Our social model is the most advanced in the world.
From Bucharest to Lisbon, from Cadiz to Helsinki, we are living through an era of unprecedented peace and stability – after centuries of discord and conflict.
But what makes our project truly great is our commitment to the values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, equality and respect for human rights.
It is these values which have made Europe the region of the world that enjoys the greatest degree of freedom and prosperity. This is why we must continue to assert these values, at all times and without exception,
in response to nationalist self-interest, to those who want to build borders and to those who are out to destroy our sense of unity and our democracy.
(The EU as the answer)
Two world wars ravaged our continent in the 20th century.
Most of us here belong to the first generation of Europeans to be spared the horrors of war.
I was born in a free Italy where people were starting from zero. It was the period in which, guided by De Gasperi, my country took its future into its own hands.
Italy knew that that future lay in a union of Europeans, which would underwrite the democratic, economic, industrial, artistic and intellectual rebirth of our continent.
On their own, our nations are small and powerless. United, we can overcome any challenge.
(Renewal for the future)
Ladies and gentlemen,
I firmly believe the 21st century will be the European Union’s century. First, though, we must renew our Union to make it more political, more prosperous and more secure, and more prominent on the international scene.
Renewing our project means FIRSTLY addressing the threats that haunt democracy in Europe:
- from those who use fraudulent means to influence our electoral processes. The EU must protect ordinary people against the unlawful use of their personal data, in this internet world;
- from the tidal wave of fake news that is inundating social networks and blackening Europe’s image. The EU must reaffirm its commitment to quality journalism, which is part of democracy’s immune system;
- from populist and nationalists who respect neither the law nor the individual. The EU must defend the rule of law and the free and open civil society it guarantees.
We must actively seek to eliminate these threats.
European elections will be held in May 2019. We pro-Europeans must foster debate and encourage people – in particular young people – to vote. Democracy and good governance in the European Union depend on it.
I take this occasion to thank the three former Spanish Presidents of the European Parliament, José María Gil-Robles, Enrique Barón Crespo and Josep Borrell for their commitment to European democracy.
As you know, the European Parliament, the only institution directly elected by EU citizens, is playing a leading role in the revitalisation of the European Union. It is doing so not only by acting as the focal point of the debate on our future, but also by exercising its power to propose legislation, like all parliaments the world over.
SECONDLY, we must be quite clear that defending democracy also means safeguarding the prosperity and security of our citizens.
When politics brings poverty, democracy dies. When ordinary people feel insecure, the only winners are the enemies of the idea of Europe. After the great recession of the past decade, growth has returned. Fiscal consolidation and reforms are bearing fruit. Emergency measures have prevented a catastrophe.
Even so, the crisis has left deep scars. We can see this in the unemployment rate, especially among the young.
The benefits of recovery must be felt by the whole of society, and the EU needs the right tools to ensure that it does:
a modern single market which harnesses the technological, energy and digital revolution that is changing the world, and which ensures that those who profit most from it cannot hide their profits from the tax authorities;
a European budget commensurate with the new challenges we face. Those who benefit most from the Single Market should contribute more to the EU budget, whether through a tax on digital platforms, a tax on speculative financial transactions, or even a tax on plastics, to promote recycling;
European economic governance that is more democratic and more transparent, which makes for productive investment and job creation, and which helps the economically and socially most disadvantaged regions catch up. It is time for European economic governance to come of age.
Prosperity and security are two sides of the same coin. We must develop the area of freedom, security and justice further.
To respond to the threat of terrorism we must ensure that law enforcement and intelligence services coordinate their work more effectively. We must see to it that the Schengen Area does not become a haven for fugitives from justice.
Border control must be managed jointly, with consistent support for those in the front line who police our borders.
Immigration policy must be organised in such a way as to ensure that people coming to Europe are able to contribute to the well-being of society as a whole.
THIRDLY, it is imperative that the EU take on greater responsibility on the world stage.
The world is becoming ever more complex. We need a geopolitical strategy that projects our values and reflects our interests.
The Paris Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal are examples of how the European Union can be a force for good on the international scene.
We must become a driver of global stability and prosperity. Our foreign policy does not focus sufficiently on economic diplomacy and European companies. The wealth they can generate in third countries is of key importance.
All too often, European companies lose out on contracts because we have no common strategy in this area. Take Africa, for example, which is a continent we must help develop to its full potential.
I have proposed a European Investment Plan for Africa. Our companies must be able to invest safely in Africa – in its economic, technological and social development. This investment is crucial if we are to tackle the problems besetting both Europe and Africa in the fields of immigration, security and terrorism.
We must also forge closer ties with those countries that opt for democracy and trade liberalisation. We must keep a close eye on events in the Balkans. We must support multilateralism.
Latin America is a good example of this. Our history, our languages, our culture and our common interests make us natural allies.
We must confront together the humanitarian crisis being created by the Maduro dictatorship. The people of Venezuela deserve to be free, and we must help them win that freedom.
It is time to focus on the external dimension of the European Union, by renewing our commitment to international trade and as a key driver of prosperity for all nations.
If we live only for ourselves, the European Union as a project will collapse.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is the third time I have been to Extremadura. It is a region which combines outstanding natural beauty with a wealth of history stretching back to Roman times.
Major chapters in Spanish history have been written here. Spain is a great European nation whose contribution to the intellectual, cultural and human development of Europe is beyond question.
It is said that Spain’s past has been punctuated by three major arrivals: the arrival of the Arabs; Columbus’ arrival in America; and the arrival of Charles V in Asturias.
To my mind, however, there is one other particularly crucial arrival: the arrival of democracy for the Spanish nation as a whole, in the form of the 1978 Constitution.
It was the work of King Juan Carlos and all the democratic political parties.
Above all, though, it was an achievement of Spanish society in its entirety. We should pay tribute to the generation of Spanish men and women who made this possible. Please rest assured that the EU institutions and I personally will always defend the democracy and freedom that you enjoy thanks to that constitution.
These successful efforts to bring society together paved the way for Spanish membership of the European Union, which has been modern Spain’s greatest adventure. Without Spain, the European Union would be incomplete.
Finally I want to thank the Academic Foundation of Yuste for this prize and for the great work they pursue in favour of the European Union.
The day I was elected President of the European Parliament, a little over a year ago, my first words were for the victims of the earthquakes in central Italy. I have not forgotten them.
I intend to donate the monetary prize which comes with this award to the people of Norcia, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto. What is more, I have asked that the academic research grants which accompany the award, and which will bear my name, should go to fund work focusing on the prevention of natural disasters and the development of flexible solidarity mechanisms in the European Union.
It will not go very far, I know, but this symbolic gesture will serve as a reminder that above all the EU stands for solidarity with those who need it most.