Address by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, at the funeral of Nicole Fontaine
‘In varietate concordia. United in diversity.’
This motto, our motto, which seems so self-evident, as if it had always been set in the stone of European history, was adopted 18 years ago almost to the day, during Nicole Fontaine’s Presidency of the European Parliament.
I have picked out this episode in our history deliberately, because, in addition to its symbolic significance, it represents a commitment.
A commitment given by a woman of conviction, a tireless worker for Europe, an eminent member of our assembly, whose destiny she presided over 20 years after another woman, Simone Veil, became its first elected President.
I should like to express our admiration and our deep gratitude for the vital role which Nicole Fontaine played in the life of our institution.
After being elected an MEP 1994, I had the honour of working alongside Nicole Fontaine, and the opportunity to admire her integrity and her immense capacity for work.
From the moment she was elected President in Strasbourg on 20 July 1999, Nicole Fontaine set about reforming our institution’s working methods, with a view to bringing the European Parliament closer to European citizens.
When opening the new parliamentary term in July 1999, Nicole Fontaine said the following: ‘If Europe is to be viewed as anything but a constraint, it must give birth to an enterprise which involves much more than setting up an economic and monetary area, even if the necessary social and environmental dimensions are added.
There is an urgent need today to give new meaning to the Union.’
These words are striking in their perceptiveness.
The best tribute we can pay to Nicole Fontaine is to honour her commitment by making it our own, because her work was indissociable from the general interest of all Europeans.
Her work made our institution, which draws its legitimacy from the universal suffrage of Europeans, more democratic. Her work made it possible for the European Parliament to exercise to the full all the responsibilities conferred on it.
I should also like to pay tribute to Nicole Fontaine’s work as an educator, as exemplified by the many books she published and by her regular, close involvement with ordinary people in their daily lives.
In her two and a half years as President, she was everywhere – attending more than a hundred conferences and giving speeches.
That high profile, that ability to listen and persuade, was of pivotal importance in many ways - especially so when history was made and the euro was adopted, at a time when it was making people in Europe very anxious.
In my mind’s eye I see her on 31 December 1999, in Nice, going to a cash machine to take out the first euros that she would spend in a local shop.
That local touch - that was all-important to Nicole Fontaine.
Today, when our Union is being lambasted by forces hostile to its underlying values, that local touch is all the more imperative.
It was Nicole Fontaine’s firmly held belief that the European Parliament had to advocate our values around the globe, and especially in those parts of the world where democracy is held in contempt or is struggling to assert itself.
I recall three events that are particularly telling in illustrating how bold, how brave and how far-sighted Nicole Fontaine was.
At a time when Taliban madness was wreaking havoc in Afghanistan, and despite western governments’ misgivings, she invited Commander Massoud to the European Parliament.
A year earlier, she received the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Speaker of the Knesset, at the same time, in Parliament’s Chamber.
At the Nice summit, on 7 December 2000, she convinced Tony Blair of the need to sign the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Nicole Fontaine was right.
Ours is the only part of the world where the death penalty is no longer in use. The world looks to us when journalists are imprisoned, when women suffer violence and are denied their rights, and when opposition politicians are threatened or detained.
We must remain a beacon of commitment to fundamental rights.
We have a responsibility to show even greater strength and courage in exercising our role as champions of the universal values that are our chief raison d’être as a Union.
We must reignite people’s passion for Europe by making them once again feel that they are part of an historic project.
That is the greatest legacy that we can bequeath to future generations.
I should simply like to say thank you - thank you for all that you have done, for us and for those who will come after us. We shall not forget you.