EP President Speech at the Carlos V Award Ceremony
The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, delivered the laudatio for the 2017 Carlos V Award winner, the Spanish former Foreign Affairs Minister and European Commissioner, Marcelino Oreja y Aguirre.
President Tajani’s speech (check against delivery):
Madam Speaker of the Congress of Deputies,
Mr President of the Junta of Extremadura,
Ministers (Alfonso, Iñigo),
Your Excellency Don Marcelino Oreja Aguirre,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to thank Your Majesty, the government of Extremadura and the European Academy of Yuste Foundation for kindly inviting me to participate in the award of this prestigious prize.
The Charles V European Award is awarded for exceptional achievements in the service of the idea of Europe.
This year we honour a great Spanish pro-European and a paragon of commitment to freedom and democracy, Don Marcelino Oreja Aguirre. This award is first and foremost a tribute to his political career. But it is also, and I hope that Don Marcelino will agree with me, a homage to a whole generation of Spaniards. A generation that, in overcoming all obstacles and against all odds, achieved the miraculous transition to democracy in record time. That generation provided the world with an example of reconciliation, solidarity and generosity, making Spain into the open, diverse, modern and dynamic country that it is today.
A wholeheartedly pro-European Spain that has, despite its difficulties, succeeded and continues to succeed in bettering itself each day. And this Spain cannot be understood without the essential contribution of Marcelino Oreja, who has played practically every role in European politics:
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, MEP and Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Chair of the Congress-Senate Joint Committee and European Commissioner. Over his long and storied career, he has taken a full and active role in process of European integration. This began with Spain’s accession to the Council of Europe and the European Communities, without doubt the wisest decision taken by Spain’s fledgling democracy. For Spain, democracy and opening up to the wider world have been indivisible processes, both of which took place on the road to its rejoining Europe.
Marcelino Oreja contributed to this by building the first bridges between Spain and the international community. He did so with the open mind that marks him out as a Spaniard and the tenacity with which any self-respecting Basque pursues a worthwhile endeavour. Its membership of the European Union is the most important adventure that Spain embarked upon in the past century. It is certainly the most fruitful and positive experience in its recent history, just as it has been for all Member States, after centuries of being divided by war, totalitarianism and walls. Marcelino Oreja has rightly described joining the European Union as ‘Spain’s great leap towards freedom.’ And, in the lucid words of Don Quixote to his squire, ‘Freedom ... is one of the most precious gifts that heaven has bestowed on mankind’.
It was precisely this longing for freedom that kept Europe from falling into the pitfall of nationalism, after two world wars that left our continent completely socially, economically and morally bereft. As such, the European Union is Europe’s great adventure in recovering the universal values of freedom, human dignity, democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
These are the values that have made the European Union the most prosperous and stable region in the world. And because those values have been recovered, the last sixty years in Europe, and the last forty years in Spain, have been a time of peace, stability and prosperity.
It has been a journey fraught with uncertainty, difficulties and setbacks. And despite them all, it has been a great collective triumph that proves that isolationism and building walls – in short nationalism and populism – are not and will never be the correct response to the domestic and global challenges we face. The European integration process is the history of the reconstruction of a continent. It is an unprecedented success story and a genuine citizens’ revolution which we have every right to be proud of. Its success shows that it is not crises that really define us but our willingness to overcome them. Ladies and gentlemen, we have just celebrated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome. That was an occasion to commemorate our past, but first and foremost to recall that the European Union is a project for the future.
A future that entails working to make Europe safer, more prosperous, more inclusive and stronger in the world. This future Europe is a continent that fights terrorism in a coordinated manner. It is a Europe in which our external borders are relevant to us all and internal borders are a thing of the past. A Europe that is welcoming yet firm in upholding the law. It is a Europe that creates growth and jobs, making innovation and technology a central pillar of its economy; making energy and combating climate change the cornerstone of a more sustainable form of development; and making its industrial base a guarantor of prosperity. It is a Europe that promotes equality and cohesion, with abundant opportunities for our young people. And it is a Europe which is strong on the world stage. A beacon of freedom, democracy and solidarity.
A Europe capable of assuming its global responsibilities, and of helping to ensure balance in the world. This Europe will not be built on nostalgia for a better past, something that only leads to frustration, division and failure.
Quite the contrary. The Europe that our citizens want is an open-minded continent. A Europe which, as an intellectual and political concept, prevails over a Europe that only knew how to speak the language of war. A Europe in which thousands upon thousands of Europeans – such as Marcelino Oreja – have striven to ensure the prosperity of their children. In short, a Europe that once more places citizens at the heart of the European project. It is citizens who give meaning to the European Union and to the ideal it represents.
Almost two thousand years ago, a young Spaniard called Trajan, born not far from here, asked his father: ‘Can a Spaniard be emperor of Rome? ‘Why would a Spaniard even dare go to Rome? His father answered: ‘Son, Rome is not a city. Rome is not the Empire. Rome is an identity, it is our laws, our infrastructure, our history, our diverse peoples and religions that coexist within the borders of this state.’ When we are asked what Europe is, what the point of being European is, or whether we should believe in Europe, we should respond as Trajan’s father did: Europe is a high ideal, it is our civilisation, our history, our differences and our freedom. It is worth believing in and dedicating our future to realising this dream that we must pass on to our children.
Before concluding, I would like to make one last reference to this award, which also carries the name of a Spanish emperor, and to this town, in one of Europe’s most beautiful regions, that has given birth to so many illustrious figures in world history. The Charles V European Award represents the profoundly pro-European and open-minded nature of Spain’s people. These qualities shine through in the reign of his Majesty King Felipe who, like all of today’s Spaniards, works with his eyes set firmly on Europe and our shared future. It is thus a genuine pleasure for me to be here, precisely because today is Europe Day. Today is an opportunity to recall the values that unite us and renew our commitment to the Europe of unity and solidarity that Europeans dreamt of after the Second World War and which, thanks to the work of people such as Don Marcelino Oreja, is now a reality. Since joining the European Union, the Spanish people’s attachment to Europe remains undimmed. This is the spirit we feel today in Yuste. It is a place that invites solace and reflection, and was chosen by Charles V as his country retreat.
Today it symbolises the ideal of a united Europe. A Europe that transcends borders and personifies our freedom. Don Marcelino, today you receive this award in Yuste, 500 years after the child born in Ghent who gave his name to it arrived at the port of Tazones in Asturias.
There then ensued a reign of four decades that would mark the course of Spanish, European and world history. This year also marks the forty years since you came to Brussels to deliver a letter which launched modern Spain’s great adventure: its accession to the European Communities. Its rendez-vous with history. The definitive conquest of freedom, democracy and a better future for all Spaniards. Don Marcelino, you have written a page in the history of this great country and the European Union in gold lettering. Please receive, on behalf of the European Union, this expression of my admiration and recognition. Thank you very much.”