EP President Speech at the Quirinale
Thank you for agreeing to meet the representatives of the peoples of Europe on the eve of the celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome.
The citizens are the true protagonists of the story of European democracy. Our actions derive their force and legitimacy from their involvement.
This is why I am so deeply concerned at the growing feelings of disaffection which many Europeans are voicing. If we want to lend our Union fresh impetus, the very first thing we must do is bring our institutions closer to our citizens.
This is the main task I have set myself for my term of office. The European Parliament and the national parliaments must be in the vanguard of this process.
It is in this spirit that we wish to celebrate tomorrow’s anniversary in Norcia, with the chairs of the political groups in the European Parliament and with Parliament’s Vice-Presidents. We wish to show that Europe has not forgotten, that it can be attentive to people’s needs, that it can give solidarity practical form.
Three days ago, each of the 751 Members of the European Parliament symbolically handed over his or her seat to an ordinary member of the public for one day. Students, workers, artisans, researchers, members of the liberal professions, entrepreneurs and artists came together to discuss the future of our Union.
The European institutions cannot remain aloof in their ivory towers. We parliamentarians, first of all, and everyone who holds a position of responsibility has a duty to open the door, go out into the world and listen and discuss. To understand. To make the problems of ordinary people, the dignity of the individual, the focus of policy-making.
Mr President, I very much appreciated the clear-sightedness of your calls to get the European project back on track. You are right when you say that because we feel European we now need to build Europe.
Our citizens feel European, but they want a different Europe, one which is less remote and bound up with itself. One which is capable of addressing their concerns: youth unemployment, terrorism, immigration, safeguarding rights and peace in the world.
If we fail to fill the void left by this half-finished Europe, others will do it for us.
They will do so by proposing solutions which involve retreating behind national borders, showing less concern for others, and going back to putting our own needs first.
This would be a serious mistake, as our not-so-distant past has taught us. These misguided political responses - isolationism and protectionism - are akin to those essayed at the end of the first era of globalisation, in the early years of the 20th century, and during the period between the two world wars.
Those periods saw the return of customs barriers, of barriers to free movement. Then, like now, they were a response to feelings of unease, to the fear people had that the new arrivals would take their jobs.
Sadly, we know how it all ended.
But it would be just as serious a mistake to fail to acknowledge those fears, the feelings of confusion caused by globalisation, which has left too many people behind.
In a rapidly changing world in which technologies and trade are doing away with borders and barriers, it is foolish to think that turning in on ourselves is the answer. We cannot say that the rest of the world is not our problem.
Only together can we address the global challenges facing us, comfort the fearful, reassure those who have lost hope of a better future for themselves and their children.
In February, the European Parliament opened this great debate on our future. The three reports which we adopted emphasise the need for far-reaching change, not just window-dressing.
Tomorrow, 27 Heads of State and Government and the leaders of the European institutions will sign a solemn declaration which echoes that call for change.
That declaration must amount to more than just fine words. It must be seen as a political undertaking to our citizens to build a stronger, more effective and fairer Europe - a Europe of greater solidarity.
Europe is a success story when it embodies a dream of progress, prosperity, freedom and peace.
Mr President, like you I am convinced that Europeans have not lost the desire to dream. It is up to us, today, to change Europe, to make sure that it can guarantee our young people a better future.