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EP President Speech on the State of the Union

Speeches
Internal Policies and EU Institutions
European University Institute, Florence
05-05-2017

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Introduction

I am very pleased to share my reflections on the state of the European Union at the European University Institute. This institute has been contributing for over 40 years to the European intellectual debate, promoting integration, scientific and cultural dialogue between professors and researchers from Member States and from many other countries.

The creation of a "Transnational School of Governance" will be the next step towards the development of the European University Institute. I believe that it will make the difference in the preparation of future European and international ruling class in view of a better cooperation on the crucial challenges of our future.

 

Eurobarometer findings

Last Friday the European Parliament published the results of its latest Eurobarometer survey. For the first time since the crisis of 2008, the trend has started to move back up, and our citizens are taking a more favourable view of the European Union.

This change, to my mind, stems from two contributory factors. On the one hand, there are incipient signs of a more robust economic recovery. Secondly, in the face of the crises within and beyond our borders, the tendency to seek protection is growing.

The fear of being stranded in the turbulent tide of unregulated globalisation is making people hope for rescue by a bigger ship, European unity.

According to the survey, most citizens believe that the only way to safeguard our interests in relation to China, Russia, the United States, or India is by standing together. And that only a strong Europe can fight terrorism and fundamentalism, manage migration, and counteract climate change, as well as promoting greater regulation and transparency in trade, the financial sector, or digital platforms.

 

Responding to populism with a Europe of achievements

We cannot ignore this manifest desire for protection. If we fail to respond to this need with hard facts, we cannot be surprised at those who succumb to the lure of populism.

The vote in the Netherlands and in the first round of the French presidential election, and the debate between pro-European forces in Germany, give cause for hope. But the game is far from over.

It would be wrong to underestimate the powers of those who, like Marine Le Pen, are able to tap into the widespread sense of genuine unease. It is clear that many of the remedies are counter-productive or pipedreams. But it is no use attacking the parties concerned: the real point is to understand why citizens are turning to them.

Europe therefore has to come down from its ivory tower and again start listening and talking to citizens; it has to put their concerns in the forefront.

What we need is a Europe of achievements to bridge the divide between the European institutions and European peoples; a Europe that is less bureaucratic and more effective in things that matter; a peoples’ Europe.

On 25 March, in Rome, the leaders of the EU institutions and the Heads of State or Government of 27 countries signed a Solemn Declaration to revitalise political Europe.

As President of Parliament, the only elected EU institution, I have undertaken to help bring Europe closer to citizens. Together we, the 750 Members of the European Parliament, mean to ensure that the resolve expressed in the declaration goes beyond mere words on paper.

 

A budget matching citizens’ priorities

What our citizens want, first and foremost, is for us to manage migration, guarantee greater security, and offer prospects and employment to the younger generations.

In order to take more effective action to that end, there have to be far-reaching changes. Starting with the EU budget, which has to reflect these priorities.

Not looking beyond national interests is a way of thinking which has to be overcome, as does the narrow obsession with returns. To be credible, we have to equip ourselves with sufficient resources to generate added value exceeding the sum of the individual national returns.

It is necessary to have a system of own resources, as proposed by the European Parliament in line with the Monti report.

It is time to embark on a Copernican Revolution, first by defining political resources in terms of responding to citizens’ problems and then distributing resources accordingly.

 

Managing migration

Far more courage is likewise needed when it comes to migration. We cannot leave people traffickers or terrorists to manage migration.

The right of asylum, like solidarity, forms part of our founding values. But that does not mean that we should not take firm steps to combat illegal immigration.

The current system of burden sharing plainly does not work. The Dublin rules need a thorough overhaul. The European Parliament is working on a more efficient system, also making for greater solidarity, that will be put to the vote by June.

But that is not enough.

In the years ahead, we could face migration on a massive scale, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa. There are many causes: desertification linked to climate change, the re-emergence of famine, population growth, poverty, disease, terrorism, instability and corruption.

A serious response requires a comprehensive European strategy which goes to the root of the problems. It cannot, therefore, be confined to managing emergencies.

We must act on a wide range of fronts.

On the one hand, we must step up external border controls, which will require us to increase the resources of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. In addition to more vessels and helicopters, this means greater investment in security technologies, including those connected with the Galileo and Copernicus satellite systems. Training and exchanges of good practices are also fundamental.

On the other hand, we must build a new partnership with Africa which focuses not only on the challenges but also on the major opportunities for growth on that continent. We cannot leave Africa to China.

On 16 May, the President of the Commission of the African Union, Moussa Faki, will be coming to Strasbourg to discuss that partnership. The next day we will be discussing the same subject when we receive a visit from the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres.

We need to see Africa through African eyes. During my term of office, I intend to issue invitations to heads of State from that continent. In June, we will receive a visit from the President of Côte d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara.

We must base our action on robust economic diplomacy, increased investment in infrastructure, technology transfers, efficient use of resources and industrial know-how. We should arrange for training and lawful mobility, with quotas for African students, researchers and workers.

Against this background, it would be possible to frame more effective repatriation agreements. And – together with the United Nations agencies – to establish reception centres in advance of the desert. Safety could be ensured, medical care and food support provided, and the rules on the right of asylum or repatriation applied.

That is the way to avoid thousands of people dying or being enslaved, to prevent trafficking in children and women.

This is one more reason why Europe needs to make sufficient funds available for both border control efforts and the development fund for Africa.

That fund, which will be able to make tens of billions of euros available in investment funding, will shortly receive the green light from the European Parliament and the Council.

In the run-up to the European Council meeting on 22 June focusing on migration, I have arranged for a day’s discussions on the subjects of immigration, security and stability: this event will take place at the European Parliament, and the leaders of the EU institutions will speak at it.

In October, we will be holding an Africa Day, which will focus on economic diplomacy in various strategic sectors.

 

Security and defence

To promote peace, stability, security and values, the Union must build a genuinely effective response capability. Within Parliament, we are discussing ways of upgrading European security and defence missions in third countries, such as Niger, Mali or Somalia.

Here too, our citizens are looking to us to provide greater protection in an increasingly unstable world. We therefore need to display a greater sense of responsibility for ensuring the safety of people in Europe.

Parliament supports the development of a European defence industry and market to exploit economies of scale.

At external missions, as in border control, our systems must be able to interact. In order to increase the level of coordination and synergies, it is vital to bring about interoperability and to adopt common standards. It is also essential to develop defence and security technologies partly funded from the European Union’s budget.

That is the basis for a European defence which operates more effectively and uses the resources invested in it more efficiently.

After the harrowing series of attacks that have taken place in many Member States, the subject of fighting terrorism is high on the agenda for everybody in Europe.

If we wish to preserve the precious asset of an area of freedom without borders, we cannot afford not to adopt more effective instruments to maintain security, both inside and outside that area.

The solutions being put forward by the so-called sovereignists – who see withdrawing behind national borders as the answer to our problems – are not only damaging but also counterproductive.

Erecting thousands of border points between Belgium, France, Holland, Germany or Italy would result in enormous queues, more bureaucracy and greater expense. But they would certainly not increase security. Restricting freedom of movement is not the way to stop terrorists, who in many cases are citizens of our own countries.

True security depends on our capacity to work together, to trust one another. To share databases, information and technologies, to exchange good practices. To organise coordination among European intelligence agencies and those of third countries.

Closing borders would be a retrograde step, a renunciation of the work done to date, which would damage efforts to promote such cooperation.

We must continue to strengthen Europol and step up joint action by police forces. The same is true of cooperation between anti-fraud agencies to combat tax evasion, money laundering and counterfeiting.

Parliament has supported the creation of an EU Public Prosecutor’s Office to facilitate coordination among public prosecution services.

As is already the case in the area of common foreign and security policy, we need a Vice-President of the Commission who also serves as a ‘Minister of Home Affairs’, to drive the work of the Home Affairs Council.

 

A more competitive Europe

The public are calling on us for a Europe that can generate well-being and work, especially for young people.

The lack of employment growth has led to disillusion with the single currency. I firmly believe that the vast majority of Europeans are not opposed to the euro.

The blame must be placed not so much on the euro, but on the lack of national and EU initiatives designed to make monetary union a success.

The euro already shields us against currency turbulence, eliminates costs, facilitates trade and tourism and is a positive force for the EU in the world. However, it must be possible for all members of the public to take advantage of the benefits which the single market can offer in terms of growth and employment.

It is vital to supplement monetary union with a banking, fiscal, economic and political union and to launch a genuine process of convergence between the economies within the EU.

A three-pronged approach is required:

(i) complete the major project which is the single market by means of the capital markets union, the energy union and the digital single market, placing the emphasis on the real economy; (ii) instigate genuine EU economic governance; (iii) have a solidarity-based EU budget which focuses on growth, employment and competitiveness.

Europeans do not wish to see industry continue to drift away, and then invest in places where perhaps there are fewer employment rules and environmental standards lower. The public and businesses are asking us to protect them against unsafe or polluting products and against unfair competition.

80% of all innovation and exports comes from industry, as do many jobs in the service sector. This is why we must give priority to strengthening Europe’s industrial base.

The European Parliament must promote a strategy that seeks to stop relocations and restore industrial investment.

Europe is synonymous throughout the world with high-quality products, and the corollary of this is employment. It is in our best interest to continue to promote the opening-up of the markets.

The agreement with Canada is a good example of an economic and trade partnership that helps European SMEs to export. In the coming months, we must continue to work in this direction with Japan, Mexico, Chile and Mercosur.

Trade policy should be conducted with intelligence, industry and services should be bolstered and decisive action taken against any kind of unfair competition.

Parliament has undertaken to complete its work on trade protection instruments before the summit with China.

The key to becoming more competitive and offering young people prospects lies with training. I have in mind, to this end, a strong EU initiative on granting tax relief for all training and labour market integration periods for anyone aged between 16 and 24. The EU budget is also there for purposes such as this.

In parallel, universities, training centres and vocational colleges must work with enterprises to facilitate the matching of labour demand and supply.

Training has to keep pace with a rapidly-changing world, with the digital revolution, robotics and Industry 4.0, and must focus on those sectors that remain highly labour-intensive.

I am thinking, for example, of the tourism industry, where global demand is predicted to double over the next 15 years. And of certain creative industries, the development of cultural assets, high-end products and craft industries.

We have to convince young people not to spurn vocational courses that offer genuine career prospects and help develop types of manual intelligence.

European economic governance should be based on two pillars: budgetary consolidation by means of better quality expenditure; and investment and reforms aimed at greater competitiveness and higher growth.

Member States must be more serious about carrying through reforms in the interest of the public good. The time is past for self-delusion or for shirking responsibilities.

One cannot continue blaming Brussels or the single currency unless the many barriers to growth are lifted at a national level. I am thinking, for example, of the excessive taxation of jobs and businesses, of inefficient public administrations, of snail-paced justice systems and of limited investment in infrastructure and research. And one thing is indisputable: growth in those euro area countries which have implemented these reforms is much higher than in those which have not.

It is quite right to help countries make reforms by granting them greater budget flexibility and through structural funding, but they must also stick to the promises they have made.

 

Brexit

EU membership is based on popular consent, so there must be no attempt to punish any country that takes a democratic decision to leave.

The negotiations with the United Kingdom must result in an amicable separation laying the basis for a new partnership. The UK is leaving the EU; it is not leaving Europe.

It is in all our interests for this complex process to be conducted in an orderly fashion, without any unnecessary trauma.

The European Parliament will be the foremost guarantor of the rights of the three million EU citizens living in the United Kingdom and the one million UK citizens living on the continent.

Following the elections, the United Kingdom will decide what form of partnership it would like to have with the EU.

We, on our side, are asking simply for existing agreements and rules to be observed. The internal market freedoms are inseparable and budgetary commitments must be met. We are not asking for one euro more or one euro less than is owed. Pacta sunt servanda.

The EU will be united in defending the interests of its citizens.

 

Conclusions

It must be admitted that the departure of one of the largest Member States reinforces the impression that the Union has not always lived up to expectations.

At the same time, however, Brexit must be seen as a warning to those national leaders who continue to shift all responsibility for failings onto the EU. And it must be seen as a lesson to those media organisations which, to boost their viewing figures or sell a few more newspapers, are always ready to make up stories about supposed wrongdoing by the EU.

If Brexit is to have at least one positive effect, I hope it will be to make everyone aware of how much damage irresponsible behaviour of this kind has done to ordinary Europeans.

We are here today to celebrate Europe Day. Yesterday, in Brussels, we opened the House of European History. In my view, this was the best possible way to commemorate the start of what has been a wonderful period of freedom and peace.

I believe that it is important for Parliament to invest in this museum, which we have decided will be free of charge, not just for students, but for everyone. Finding out about our history allows us to become aware of our European identity, which is what makes us strong and is the main reason for us coming together within the EU.

A desire for freedom, for rights, for human dignity is what led us out of the dark tunnel of war. The freedom to find work, to build a prosperous future for ourselves, to rebuild our houses and our infrastructure, something that we managed to do thanks, in part, to the Marshall Plan.

The freedom that forms the basis of the far-reaching economic area we have built, in which goods, capital, services, and, most important of all, people, including workers, enjoy barrier-free movement.

Sixty-seven years ago, the Schuman Declaration of 9 May marked the start of this great adventure. Together, seated at this very table, we worked hard to escape the snares of nationalism.

The road was not easy. All too often the process ground to a halt in the face of disappointment and crisis. But we never lost heart.

By working together, we did away with obstacles, barriers, borders, national red tape.

We worked together for a more open world in which people had more rights, and in the process helped to bring so many countries on our continent out from under the dark cloud of dictatorship.

This vast area of cultural and economic interaction and exchange has deep roots. From Crete to Ancient Greece, Etruria and Rome, our civilisation grew and developed by looking outwards, across the seas and along rivers, in a constant interchange and blending of ideas, cultures, artistic traditions, scientific knowledge and trade.

We passed on the knowledge we acquired through the abbeys. Then the great universities, the lifeblood of a new humanism, began to be set up. The Renaissance built on that knowledge as Europe once again opened up to the outside world, sending explorers and traders across the seas.

There is an unbreakable thread linking Caravaggio and Rembrandt, Vivaldi and Bach, Shakespeare and Molière.

In rebuilding this area of cultural and economic interaction and exchange, we have entered a new Renaissance centred around freedom and human dignity.

Our identity is based on these shared values. We are much more than just a market or a currency.

The European Union has been a success when it has managed to realise this dream of freedom, prosperity, peace and human rights within and outside its borders.

Nearly 70 years ago, our founding fathers set out together to offer greater protection to the peoples of Europe and brighter prospects to future generations. The best way of paying homage to their courage is to show the same courage ourselves by making the changes required to bring Europe out of the current impasse and continue the journey.

For further information:

europarl.president.press@europarl.europa.eu