Reflecting on Europe - Speech at the Committee of the Regions
(check against delivery)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank you for this invitation to discuss our common challenges and our cooperation.
Our dialogue is of fundamental importance to bring Europe closer to its citizens, a first objective of my mandate as President of the European Parliament.
As elected representatives in our regions you have a front role in making that objective a reality.
- Citizens are giving us an opportunity to change.
Citizens all over Europe ask for solutions, on security, on immigration on employment and look to Europe for such solutions. This is evident in the last eurobarometer.
At the same time, citizens are asking us to change. They see Europe as stuck in its bureaucracy and slow to react.
The overwhelming support for a pro-European agenda in France last week can be seen as Europe’s great comeback after the brexit vote.
It is not an isolated phenomenon. We have seen earlier votes in Austria and the Netherlands with convincing pro-European verdicts.
The positive vote in these countries, is not a blank cheque. It is rather a message of trust from citizens for Europe to change.
We need to respond to this with action on their concerns, without delay.
If we want to promote peace and stability, our security and our values, our Union needs to equip itself with appropriate tools in security and defence. Our citizens ask us for more protection from the instability around us.
The European Parliament supports measures towards a European defence industry and a single defence market, exploiting economies of scale, promoting inter-operability and avoiding the overlapping of resources.
Following the series of barbaric attacks in different Member States, the fight against terrorism is at the top of citizen’s concerns.
Instead of reverting to burdensome border controls, we should improve cooperation between authorities. We do not stop terrorists by limiting free movement, given that these are frequently Member States citizens.
Our security really depends on our ability to trust each other and share information across borders.
We need to invest in more efficient cooperation instruments, reinforce Europol and joint police operations.
Migration challenges call for more courage at European level. The management of migration flows cannot be left to unscrupulous human traffickers and terrorists.
The right to asylum and solidarity are part of our values, but this does not mean that we do not hold strong on fighting illegal migration.
The European Parliament is preparing the reform of the Dublin regulation to replace the current inefficient regime.
We need to act fast. Desertification, demographic developments and terrorism may all trigger significant numbers to leave Africa for Europe.
We need a clear European strategy addressing the problem at its roots while reinforcing our external borders, increasing our coast and border guard resources; and investing in security technology, training and exchange of best practices;
We should also build a new partnership with Africa and invest in a solid economic diplomacy.
We must see Africa with African eyes.
I intend to see a follow up on these points by organising an Africa Day on economic diplomacy in October, and an Immigration, security and stability day in June.
A more competitive Europe
European recovery and employment figures are getting better but remain unevenly spread. This recovery must reach all our regions, especially when it comes to youth employment. We have a duty to keep working to get our youths back to the work place, all across Europe.
Let us remember, a person’s work is a person’s dignity.
The euro is suffering from distrust as it is associated with unemployment and sluggish growth. I am however convinced that the majority of our citizens support the euro. Last week’s vote in France indicates that when properly explained, citizens can endorse the added-value of the single currency. We need to complement our monetary union with reforms at EU and Member State level.
EU budget and cohesion policy
I know that today you are also discussing the future of cohesion policy beyond 2020.
We believe that our money should follow our political objectives, not the other way round. We must also go beyond the obsession on individual national returns.
The departure of the United Kingdom may put additional pressure on our budget.
We need to consider all the options on the table for a system of own-resources as proposed by the European Parliament in line with the proposals in the Monti Report.
We must also make a leap forward on the governance of EU funds while focusing on priorities to address citizens’ concerns.
Cohesion funds are the most visible part of the EU budget for the citizens in the regions. We support a reinforced cohesion policy with subsequent budgetary allocations.
- Let me finally share some ideas on how we can work together for a Europe of results.
Starting from cohesion policy, as elected representatives on the ground, you can have a role in increasing the efficiency of EU funds invested in your regions.
We also need to see that the citizens understand the European Union’s investments in their localities.
As local representatives, you can have a leading role in communicating Europe to our citizens at the local level.
One MEP may have a constituency of 300,000 citizens involving ten or more local and regional councils. In our system of subsidiarity, you are the closest to the citizen.
We need your help in getting Europe closer to its citizens. Above all, we must ensure that our communication is a two-way exercise. We must listen more than we speak, and we must make sure that the ideas and the concerns of the citizens pass through to our decision-making process.
Your ongoing project “Reflecting on Europe” and your initiative to open the town halls for citizen debates on Europe is a good step in this direction. The European Parliament and its members are interested in these initiatives.
I would be personally interested in attending one of your events in the context of this initiative over the next months.
I want a closer relationship between MEPs and the Members of the Committee of the Regions. The accomplishment of the European objectives and regional and local ones are intimately inter-related.
We want an active cooperation with you to inform citizens of the choices to be made, in the run up to the 2019 elections.
I will also explore meeting possibilities for political leaders in the Committee and the European Parliament.
I also want to insist on my personal availability to engage with you.
Many thanks for your attention.