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Lectio Inauguralis by Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament

Antonio Tajani  
Antonio Tajani

Opening of the 2017-2018 academic year for the Diploma and Master in Advanced European Studies at the European College of Parma Foundation

25 September at 11.00 in the ‘Teatro Regio’ opera house


Time for change

Sixty years after the signature of the Rome Treaties, the Union appears to be as remote as ever from its citizens.

There is a widespread feeling that the European institutions, ensconced behind their Brussels battlements, are excessively bureaucratic and self-absorbed, being run less by policy makers than by arrogant officials concerned with their own career advancement rather than the interests of the people.

The euro has failed to deliver the promised dividends. Regional disparities have widened. The crisis has placed a severe strain on the manifestly incomplete process of achieving Economic and Monetary Union, which has been salvaged thanks, in no small part, to the untiring efforts of Mario Draghi.

Far from everyone is a winner as a result of globalisation. Many have been left behind, having fallen victim to low-cost competition, social and environmental dumping, the technological revolution and the growing concentration of wealth.

Those who are most bereft, having lost their jobs or their businesses and with them their dignity and freedom, are now frightened and extremely angry. They fear for the future of their children. They are the ones who must now compete with the new poor, the immigrants, who are prepared to perform any tasks under any conditions. They are the ones who feel threatened by lawlessness, suburban violence and Islamic fundamentalism.


Many of these men and women probably voted for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union or for the US presidential candidate who appeared most attuned to their frustrations. 

The story of the European Union is a story of courage, of tolerance, of walls torn down. However, the legitimate fears of many Europeans are now giving rise to a bunker mentality, which may lead to new barriers being put up and threatens to throw into reverse the process of consolidating peace, freedom and prosperity that we embarked on following two wars caused specifically by nationalism.

It would be a grave error to underestimate the fear and distress of those who now feel that things are going wrong. The right policy is to do exactly the opposite, not by trotting out pat answers, but by showing humility and listening. The right policy is to take the fear and distress seriously, not by seeking a comfortable consensus but instead by offering real responses to these cries for help.

That is the only way to overcome fear and confound those silver-tongued populists with their short-lived miracle cures.

There is no point in deluding ourselves. In recent years, the European Union and its Member States have only partly succeeded in addressing the concerns of our peoples. The baton handed on by many great Europeans, not least Helmut Kohl and Simon Veil, to whom Parliament recently paid its last respects, has not been grasped. Rejection by France and the Netherlands of the 2005 EU Constitution seems to have deflated any ambition to breathe new life into the Union.

Disappointment in the European dream is the fruit of accumulated errors: excessive caution, lack of vision or political commitment and, above all, the petty egoism of national politicians concerned with little else but keeping up appearances, pandering to the ephemeral whims of their electorates and ever-ready to abdicate their responsibilities and make Europe shoulder the blame.

In other words, with a few exceptions, leaders of truly European stature have been lacking. Any real attempt to tackle problems going beyond our borders naturally requires a European approach.

All this, together with the lack of true grit shown in response to ten years of economic crisis, has alienated Europe from its citizens, sometimes engendering a wilfully destructive desire to abandon the Union or the euro as a cure for all ills. 

Closing borders and dusting down outdated notions of national sovereignty might help create an illusion of security or give vent to frustrations at the ineffectiveness of the European Tower of Babel but will inevitably fail the test of reality. Not one of our countries alone is capable of coping with the tens of millions of desperate migrants flooding in from Africa, of combating international terrorism, of formulating an effective economic and monetary policy or of standing up to the USA, China, Russia or India. Europe, which accounted for almost 20% of the world’s population around 1900, will be down to less than 5% by 2050. If Italy were a province of China, it would be only the eighth largest in terms of population.

Our citizens are aware of this. They realise that closer cooperation and a stronger Europe are the only way of promoting our values and protecting our interests in the world at large.

For this, they need a different Europe, one that is truly effective and attuned to their needs, in short, a political Europe. 

They are therefore looking to us to build a different Europe, one that is truly effective and attuned to their needs, in short, a political Europe.

The winds of economic recovery are beginning to disperse the darkest clouds, the latest Eurobarometer indicating a revival of confidence and general acceptance of the fact that immigration, terrorism or climate change must be faced together.

We must not squander the trust now being offered. We cannot afford to halt in mid-stream, out of fear of the next flood, since the last almost swept away 60 years of European endeavour. If we waste this opportunity, we can hardly expect your forgiveness.


Reasserting the primacy of politics

The pro-Europe election resultss in the Netherlands, France and Germany are not enough to extinguish the fire of populism that continues to smoulder beneath the ashes. They should spur us on to seek a real change of direction and reassert the primacy of politics.

We need a new Europe that brings its peoples together, that displays passion and a sense of identity, a sense of being part of a major drive towards freedom, peace, justice and prosperity, going far beyond a single market or a single currency.

Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Benelux countries must make the running out ahead and carry along with them all those willing to follow as they seek to breast the tape.

The European Parliament, the only institution directly elected by 500 million citizens, has a special responsibility in this respect. Therefore, since the day I was elected, my priority has been to reconnect Europe with its people. 

If there is one thing that the peoples of Europe do not want, it is to be governed by unelected and hence unaccountable bureaucrats. They quite rightly expect to be able to punish or reward their political representatives in the light of results obtained. That is the basis of democracy.  

Under the social contract, taxpayers accordingly agree to pay taxes provided that expenditure is closely scrutinised by those they elect to represent them. In words that were coined in the same language in which ‘Leviathan’ was written: ‘No taxation without representation’.

Similarly, people consider that it should be their elected representatives who propose and approve laws, conclude international agreements, amend constitutional provisions and exercise control over the actions of the executive. 

National parliaments and governments undeniably have an essential part to play in Union policy-making in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. But only the European Parliament has the democratic legitimacy to promote the general interest of the peoples of Europe, a whole that is very different from the sum of its individual national parts.

The success of European integration has always been measured against the role played by Parliament. For this reason, if the Union is to be strengthened, Parliament’s role must also be increased.

If Parliament is the beating heart of a new and more democratic Europe, it is obvious that the necessary changes cannot be debated between those who frequent the ministerial corridors or their sherpas, but must be discussed in Plenary.

Having adopted the reports on the future of the Union, we accordingly invited Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, Joseph Muscat, the Maltese Prime Minister, and Paulo Gentiloni, the Italian Prime Minister, to attend the debate in Strasbourg on adoption of the Rome Declaration.

Still in Strasbourg, Mr Juncker’s address on the State of the Union a fortnight ago contained a number of important proposals, largely mirroring those already put forward by Parliament itself.

The debate must go on. I have invited President Macron, with whom I discussed the future of Europe last Friday in Paris, to set out his ideas in Plenary. We share the same vision, although we may not agree on everything. For example, I do not believe that the euro area needs a separate parliament or a separate budget, whilst at the same time acknowledging that it is important to strengthen democratic control over the Economic Union and set up a European Monetary Fund.

I hope that Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Rajoy and all other European leaders will soon be able to addres Parliament as well.


A budget attuned to citizens’ priorities

Many of the necessary changes can be made without altering the Treaties, starting with the upcoming EU budget, which should reflect our real political priorities.  

We need to move beyond the horse trading of national interests and obsession with fair returns. We need adequate funding to leverage an added value that is greater than the sum of individual national returns. One euro spent at EU level on research, innovation, security, defence, border control or development in Africa has a multiplier effect greater than one euro spent at national level. A smart EU budget embracing the principle of subsidiarity would lead to savings for all by substantially increasing spending efficiency. 

If each Member State had to develop its own GPS or earth observation satellite system, it would cost at least 20 times more than the Galileo and Copernicus systems. The same applies to certain major research projects, such as clean energy.  

By the same token, if we had a European fleet of Canadair aircraft or helicopters available for civil protection or EU coastguard vessels, we would be able to deploy greater resources in response to crises and emergencies at a lower cost, as it already partly happening. The same holds true for developing innovative security and cyber security systems, not to mention defence, where standardisation, cooperation, economies of scale and research at European level would result in tens of billions of savings. 

If we wish to enhance the budget and make it more autonomous, we need to envisage a new system of own resources, as proposed by the European Parliament, in line with the report by Mario Monti.  

Among the ideas on the table, there is also a tax on digital platforms that would solve the problem of dumping and the territoriality of tax revenues. 

It is time for a Copernican revolution, firstly setting out policy objectives and, on that basis, determining and allocating resources.


Managing migration

We must also be more courageous on migration. We cannot leave it up to human traffickers to manage migration.

One of the key demands being made by the public is for migratory flows to be properly managed at European level. They are calling on us not only for greater justice, but also for greater resolve. Like solidarity, the right to asylum is one of our founding values. But this does not mean we should not be resolute in combating illegal immigration.

The European Parliament has been to the fore in providing effective responses. On 21 June we invited all the key players involved – including Mr Juncker, Ms Mogherini and the Libyan Prime Minister – to debate the issue in plenary.

Just as the Balkan route has been shut down by means of funding and agreements with third countries, so all the Mediterranean routes should also be shut down. Europe must invest at least the same level of resources in Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Chad, Niger and Mali as it has in Turkey and Jordan, as a facet of robust economic and security diplomacy.

We need reception centres in Africa immediately, under UN auspices, including to the south of the Sahara, to provide protection and undertake screening, enforcement of the rules on asylum and repatriation, medical care, food and schooling. This is the only way we can save thousands of lives and prise migrants from the grasp of unscrupulous people traffickers.

The current system of burden‑sharing among EU countries is clearly not working. Parliament is committed to reforming the Dublin Regulation and making the system more efficient and solidarity-based, with standard criteria that do not cause asylum seekers to gravitate towards the countries with more favourable conditions. On 12 October, Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties will vote on an ambitious proposal which I hope can be adopted in plenary before the end of the year.

But that is not enough.

We are liable to experience vast waves of migration in the coming years, especially from sub-Saharan Africa. The reasons for this are legion: desertification connected with climate change; famine; poverty; disease; terrorism; instability; corruption. In 2050, Africa will have a population of 2.5 billion, most of whom will be young people without prospects.

Any serious response has to include an EU strategy which gets to the heart of the issue.

We must be active on several fronts.

On the one hand, we must tighten up control of the external borders, by increasing resources and funding for the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, while on the other hand we must build a new partnership with Africa which addresses not only the challenges, but also the enormous potential, of that continent.

In May and June this year, Moussa Faki, Chair of the African Union Commission, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary‑General and Alassane Ouattara, President of Côte d’Ivoire, were in Strasbourg and spoke about that partnership.

Africa needs more investment in infrastructure, technology transfers, resource efficiency and training so as to develop a genuine manufacturing base and an up‑to‑date agricultural industry.

It is only within that framework, and by establishing set quotas for African students and workers to enter Europe legally, that we will be able to conclude more effective readmission agreements.

The current fund, recently approved by Parliament, is for barely EUR 4 billion, which is totally inadequate for meeting these challenges. In the next budget, we must allocate at least EUR 40 billion to it, with a leveraging effect of up to EUR 500 billion.

On 22 November, Parliament will hold a high‑level event on Africa to debate these matters, one week before the EU‑African Union Summit in Abidjan.


Security and defence

In order to promote peace, stability, security and values, the EU must gird itself with genuine capacity for action.

In this area also, the public is calling on us for greater protection in an increasingly unstable world; we are hence being asked to adopt a greater sense of responsibility.

Parliament supports the creation of a European defence industry and market that can exploit economies of scale.

It must be possible for our resources to interact on external missions as well as on border control. Interoperability and common standards are essential if we are to increase the level of coordination and synergies – just as it is also essential to develop defence and security technologies, including through the EU budget.

Parliament is considering a proposal for a defence research fund, which we hope to put to the vote before the year is out. But far more funding is needed, both for defence technologies and for security and cyber security.


Combating terrorism and border control

Following the spate of terrorist incidents in EU countries, combating terrorism is the European public’s most pressing concern.

If we wish to preserve our great area of freedom, we must equip ourselves with more effective means of ensuring security both inside and outside that area.

The solution concocted by the so-called ‘sovereignists’ –that of closing oneself inside one’s own borders – is damaging and counter‑productive.

Having hundreds of border-crossing points between Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy would mean queues, red tape and expense – but not necessarily more security. It is not by restricting freedom of movement that one stops terrorists, who are often nationals of our own Member States.

Genuine security hinges on the ability to cooperate and to trust one another, to share databases and information, technologies and good practices, and on coordination between European intelligence services and those in third countries, on bolstering the resources and funding of the Border and Coast Guard Agency. On my visits to the reception centres at Catania and Pozzallo, I could see that this new European project was working. The desire and capacity to work together does exist. Closing the borders would be a step backwards from all the good work done to date and would erode that cooperation.

We must continue to strengthen Europol and joint action by our police forces, and also enhance cooperation between financial police forces on combating money laundering, tax evasion and counterfeiting.

To achieve this, I have proposed we establish a genuine European FBI which allies the qualities, investigative capabilities and intelligence of our various security bodies and which can act in respect of all those crimes – such as terrorism – for which cross‑border action is vital.

Similarly, we need a European agency to track down illicit financial transactions, starting from those which serve to fund terrorism and radicalisation.

Parliament has already lent its support to the creation of a European Public Prosecutor’s Officer to facilitate coordination of the national public prosecutor’s offices.

We need a genuine EU Minister for Home Affairs who, as in the case of external and security policy, is also a Commission Vice‑President and who can energise the work of the Home Affairs Council.

We need an EU strategy to prevent radicalisation in schools, in the suburbs, in prisons, and on the web – which is often the terrorists’ propaganda vehicle of choice.

We cannot allow the tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims to rebound on our security. Anyone financing the propagation of ultra‑conservative Islam must be monitored in the interests of public security.

Mosques must remain places of worship. We must foster the development of a European Islam, preached in our languages.

Anyone who comes to live with us must share the values which underpin our liberal and peaceful cohabitation: tolerance, respect for the beliefs and opinions of others and for the dignity of men and women. No creed can be used to justify violating human rights in Europe.

The oath of allegiance to the US Constitution, which is a prerequisite for US citizenship, is a good example of a type of integration which centres on awareness not only of one’s rights, but also of the duties and values intrinsic to society.

This idea and others will be considered by the new special committee that Parliament recently created to step up the fight against terrorism and radicalisation.


Government of the economy to tackle youth unemployment

We need to strengthen and simplify the EU executive, making it more democratic while maintaining a relationship of firm trust with the European Parliament.

I am thinking of a President of the Commission who also chairs the European Council, and also of Vice-Presidents who, as is the case for Foreign Affairs, Security and Defence, are also genuine EU Ministers.

In addition to the idea of a Minister of the Interior, I support the idea of a European Vice-President and Minister of Finance and a European Minister for Competitiveness, Industry and Trade.

Candidates for appointment to those ministerial and Vice-Presidential offices should attend a hearing by the appropriate committees of the European Parliament and require a vote of confidence in plenary, as members of the College of Commissioners. They must not be ministers on paper alone but must have genuine tools at their disposal with which to solve problems.

In an increasingly integrated economy, many businesses are links in European value chains. The economic or industrial policy of any one State has an impact on that of its neighbours.

If we add to this the shared single market and the shared single currency, we cannot fail to observe that true EU economic governance is needed, with powers of coordination, to ensure that we do not damage one another. The first thing for which our citizens look to us is tax justice – whereas today they look on impotently at what must unequivocally be described as tax dumping, which impoverishes everybody and compels any country which forgoes revenue to impose oppressive taxes on businesses and labour.

When certain Member States offer ludicrously generous terms to multinationals or internet giants in order to attract them to their territory, terms that are manifestly iniquitous, they effectively harm the entire economy of the Union. Firstly, the businesses syphon off the profits that they generate throughout European territory, causing a net loss of revenue for everyone. Secondly, they compel other States to offset the lost revenue by increasing taxes or cutting social services. Why is, which makes vast profits on tourist transactions throughout the EU, taxed at minimal levels and only in Holland, while transferring enormous sums of money to Silicon Valley? At the same time our hoteliers, who are seriously overtaxed, do not even have the necessary margins to refurbish their premises or invest in training.

A single fact may suffice to indicate the scale of the problem. In Italy, the main internet giants, while receiving revenues of tens of billions, pay barely 114 million euros in tax.

In order to restore fairness, it is necessary to tax economic operations where they generate revenue – as proposed for digital platforms at the Ecofin meeting in Tallinn last week. Last Thursday’s Commission Communication is a step in the right direction. But it is necessary to act rapidly to submit legislative proposals which take into account not only physical residence but above all the number of users and of transactions, advertising revenue or the commercial exploitation of data.

The web tax is a good initiative, but it is not enough. We must ask ourselves whether the time has not now come for a minimum EU tax base, including for indirect taxes, while imposing a ceiling on taxes on labour.

Unfair taxation is just one of the causes of the poor functioning of the internal market, which is reducing cohesion between regions rather than increasing it.

In February, we proposed transforming the State rescue fund, with its capital of 376 billion still available, into a proper European Monetary Fund.

Such a fund would be subject to scrutiny by Parliament and would play a decisive role in correcting competitive and social imbalances, facilitating structural reforms and interventions at times of crisis.

But this is also not enough. We must complete the Banking Union and the Capital Markets Union.

At present, banks are regarded as being more robust in part for the sole reason that they are based in a State with sound finances. This creates asymmetries in access to credit, placing businesses in those States at an advantage.

A European capital market would ensure equal access to credit without penalising businesses for their geographical location.

In the same way, until there is a European energy market or digital market, with infrastructure, standards and interoperability, some businesses will be disadvantaged because of the cost of energy or the level of connectivity of the place where they operate.

I appreciated Mr Juncker’s idea of setting up a European employment agency. That is a good initiative. But we must go further. The EU budget should assign training pride of place as the key pathway to the labour market.

In order to remain competitive, we must seize the great opportunities of the digital era. New technologies will make it possible to increase productivity in industrialised countries by between 0.8% and 1.4% every 12 months.

But there will not only be winners. We must not leave behind those who are less well equipped to keep up with a revolution which is transforming methods of production and radically altering work and skills.

The development of robotics and artificial intelligence is having disruptive effects. Recent research indicates that around half of all human activities could be replaced by automation. In France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, 54 million jobs are at risk. That is without taking into account technologies that are still at the experimental stage, such as driverless cars or passenger transport drones.

The Union must govern this change, helping not only those entering the market but also the many who find themselves in the same position as the wheelwrights who used to make wheels for horse-drawn carriages before the motorcar came onto the scene.

We must therefore also target sectors which will continue to employ large numbers of people. I am thinking of tourism, where a doubling of global demand is anticipated in the next 15 years, making it possible to create up to new five million new jobs in the EU. Or some of the cultural and creative industries, such as those for high-end products and craft industries with a record of excellence based on manual skills.

The day after tomorrow, I have organised a high-level conference on tourism in Europe, to be held in Parliament’s Chamber and attended by senior representatives of the European Commission.

The aim is to bring together representatives of the industry, training institutions and research centres to ensure that young people have the skills for which genuine demand exists on the market.

But there is also a need for policies to provide incentives for their employment. The next EU budget should invest at least twenty billion per annum in co-financing of measures to reduce taxation of youth employment for the under-25s. The national funds used for this purpose should enjoy the flexibility provided for by the Stability and Growth Pact. Tax incentives, together with other similar measures, should also be introduced for the over-50s who need to find work.


Reinforcing the industrial base

If employment is the prime objective, we must support businesses and the real economy, from which the vast majority of new jobs come. We must eliminate the numerous obstacles that hamper business.

Thanks to the European Parliament’s resolution of last July, industrial competitiveness is being restored to pride of place among the EU’s policies: from the internal market to the digital market, from energy policy to environmental sustainability, as well as innovation and training.

Competition policy itself must be modernised and geared to the global market, to avoid standing in the way of the establishment of European champions, which are vital in order to compete with the global behemoths.

Similarly, trade policy must help to reinforce the industrial base and create jobs in Europe. We are leaders in quality and in technology. We have a strong interest in an open market.

The agreement with Canada is a good example of the defence of SMEs and jobs in Europe. As we are in Parma, it gives me the opportunity to mention that we finally have the right protection for one of your famous DOPs: Parma ham. In this way, while promoting our standards and our traditional products, we must work on the free trade agreements with Japan, Mexico, the Mercosur, Australia and New Zealand.

The European Parliament will ensure that reciprocity is always maintained, the same rules for all. Precisely the opposite of protectionism. We cannot play 11 a side in Europe but 9 against 13 in China.

In the past 30 years, European industry has undergone difficult restructuring processes in order to remain competitive and sustainable, sacrificing jobs in the process.

For that reason too, we have a duty to protect those who continue to produce in Europe against subsidies or predatory pricing as practised by those who wish to transfer their own overcapacity problems to someone else, and who as a result continue to destroy jobs in our region.

In a resolution adopted in 2016, Parliament stated that China’s economy was not a market economy.

Parliament’s position on the new anti-dumping methodology is clear, as regards both market distortions and the burden of proof. I hope that Parliament and the Council will soon reach agreement without weakening our defensive instruments. It would be difficult to explain to businesses and workers that, on the basis of questionable legal opinions, we were abandoning guarantees of fair trade.

I believe that if the World Trade Organisation (WTO) were genuinely to consider that economies which are essentially governed by the State, without trade union rights and with little in the way of safeguards, were market economies, then a serious problem of inadequacy of the WTO’s own rules would arise. That is not only true for Europe, in view of the positions adopted by other advanced economies such as the USA or Japan.



The departure of a major country like the United Kingdom is a further sign that this Union has not always been equal to its tasks. It should also serve as a salutary warning to anyone who continues to blame the EU for actions for which they are themselves responsible, imparting disinformation to their people.

A more democratic Europe must therefore begin with well-informed citizens, who are aware and genuinely capable of participation. That is the lifeblood of any democracy.

Similarly, in order for public opinion and debate on European issues to exist, it is necessary to have media that pay attention to those issues and are capable of regarding Brussels as a second capital. There is also a need for parties that are close to the people and form part of big transnational families; parties where, in addition to the concerns specific to individual countries, there is room for ideas and proposals for European solutions.

In May we inaugurated the House of European History in Brussels. Knowing Europe’s history means becoming aware of the European identity, the source of our true strength, the prime reason why we stand united.

I believe that it is important for our young people to know that some of the great people of recent times, even if they have not won military campaigns, have made it possible for our continent to arise from the ashes of war.

They have created the most advanced area of peace, freedom and solidarity in the world. It leaped into action immediately to assist the victims of the earthquake in central Italy, and, in record time, made EUR 1.2 billion available from the European Union Solidarity Fund.

Erasmus is not enough to promote true European citizenship. All the governments must commit themselves to include this extraordinary history in their countries’ curricula, and to provide the civic education which is essential for the exercise of the right to vote in European elections.

Around seventy years ago, some brave individuals set out on a road which led to you, to later generations. The best way of doing homage to their courage is to display similar courage, continuing to move forward on the same road.

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