Opening address at the European Youth Event (EYE) 2018
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Welcome to the European Parliament, the heart of European Union democracy.
Today is a very special day for me and for Parliament.
More than 8 000 of you have come here for this European Youth Event. I would like first of all to congratulate the organisers – and especially the European Youth Forum, FEDEC, the European Youth Press and the Charlemagne Youth Prize – for the work they have done.
We are greatly honoured to have you here today.
Your voices will be a key factor in shaping Europe’s future, and you have a vital role to play in building the Europe of tomorrow.
Look around you
Those of you sitting in the Chamber itself are in the seats used by the 751 Members of the European Parliament.
Never before in Europe’s history have democratically elected politicians come together to improve the lives of ordinary citizens and create a more prosperous world for future generations.
It is here that the peace, democracy and prosperity which the European Union has assured for 70 years become a tangible reality – day in, day out.
That is what the European Parliament is all about and the very essence of the democratic mandate bestowed on each and every MEP.
Like you, the Members of the European Parliament reflect the wealth of different backgrounds, languages, cultures and ideas which go to make up the European Union.
Look around and you will see that same diversity here today, in the form of your peers seated on all sides of you.
When looking at them, take a moment to think what Europe was like before the European Union. Think of the thousands of young Europeans who lived then. They did not have the same opportunities as you do today.
Their fate was not in their own hands, but in those of the despotic elites that plunged our continent into two world wars.
Separated from one another by trenches and no-man’s land or oppressive walls, they were never masters of their own destiny.
You represent a very different Europe. You are the children of a modern, democratic and open Europe. You are the Europe of trust and freedom.
You have a world full of opportunities at your feet.
Help us build the Europe you want
You have come to the European Parliament to change Europe. To make your voice heard. To help, through your ideas, to revitalise this as yet incomplete project. To talk about our common future.
You are better prepared than any other generation of Europeans to make that happen. That is why seeing this Chamber full of young people gives me faith in the future.
But we must be clear on one thing: there will be no future for the European Union if we Europeans do not help one another.
To do this, the EU needs you, in order to help it:
- Tackle the threat to our democracies posed by ‘fake news’ and misinformation; shield itself against the nationalistic self-centredness and populism whose lies have done so much harm on other continents;
- Guarantee the security and prosperity of the Union; meet the challenges of the future, such as the technological, digital and energy revolution that is already upon us; free our societies from the threat of terrorism;
- Remain a model of freedom, democracy and progress.
These are the major challenges that lie ahead. The European Union is not just about grand schemes, but also about the tangible steps that this Parliament takes every day.
Let me give you some examples that concern you directly:
- The recent Interrail initiative, promoted by Parliament, will enable 15 000 young Europeans to travel around Europe free of charge. This is not just about train travel – it is also about discovering that the whole of the EU is your home;
- The European Solidarity Corps will give 100 000 young Europeans the opportunity to show the full measure of their solidarity with those in need;
- Erasmus Plus will also facilitate mobility – this time in the field of education – and help you to develop your skills and enrich the entire European Union.
- The new EU data protection law, which came into force on 25 May and guarantees protection for all internet users, has set an example that will be followed worldwide and perfectly illustrates the role that your generation has to play at a global level.
The European Union needs you. And you need to tell the European Union what you expect from it.
2019 European elections
The European elections will be held from 23 to 26 May 2019. Don't stay at home, go and vote. By voting you make the future yours.
The European elections are your chance to set the EU agenda. As Europeans, you will be asked to choose your representatives here. And by voting you will also decide who the President of the European Commission will be.
These elections are vital if we are to build on the achievements of previous generations and rejuvenate Europe by:
- consolidating a system of values that have made Europe the region of the world where people enjoy the greatest freedom;
- safeguarding the euro, which guarantees our prosperity and is an integral part of the European project;
- completing the single market, which ensures that our firms are competitive and create jobs;
- developing the area of freedom, security and justice for all EU citizens.
All these achievements are your parents’ and grandparents’ legacy to you. They were made possible by their unwavering commitment and their desire to establish peace and prosperity for their children, for you. By backing the European Union, they were also backing a better future for you. Guard that legacy constantly and let no one squander it.
It is easy to be destructive, as we Europeans have been so many times in our history.
Building something bigger than ourselves requires great effort and demands rigour and intelligence.
In 1895, Lord Kelvin, one of the most brilliant physicists of his time, declared: "The heavier than air flying machines are impossible".
He was wrong. We must never give up in the face of difficulties. I am sure that your talent, your training and your values will make our European dream soar towards a better future.
Here in Strasbourg today you are voicing your concerns, taking part in public debate and participating in the European democratic process. This is the best way to come up with responses to the challenges we face. Those responses cannot be found by using an online search engine or by experiencing the fleeting satisfaction of social networks.
They come from exchanging views, from achieving consensus and from working to implement the decisions taken. Ultimately, they are the fruit of the European civic consensus to which you are contributing today, the fruit of European solidarity and of the will to remain united.
There are no ‘silver bullets’ for this, so it is important to go about things diligently – drawing inspiration from an ideal of mutual understanding and respect. That is the spirit in which we must work. I am certain that through this event you will enrich the European Union with your energy and your ideas.