Speech by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani Award Ceremony Princess of Asturias Award for Concord
It is an honour for me to receive the Princess of Asturias Award for Concord, alongside the Presidents of the European Council and the Commission. My thoughts also go to the other institutions, bodies and agencies of the Union. This is an honour for all of the protagonists of European integration.
I would particularly like thank all Members of the European Parliament for their work; it is thanks to them, and on their behalf, that I am accepting this award today. This prestigious accolade coincides with the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. I would therefore also like to thank my predecessors for their work.
As President of the European Parliament, I appear before you with humility, emotion and admiration.
With humility because I am aware that, in a way, this award also honours Europe’s 500 million citizens. It is they who, in their everyday lives, make possible the peace, stability and prosperity that is the European Union.
With emotion because I know that very prestigious people and institutions have received this honour before me. My mentor in the world of journalism, Indro Montanelli, received the Communications and Humanities Award in 1996. It moves me to know that he once stood here.
Lastly, I receive this award with admiration for the Spanish people:
- Their ability to overcome setbacks and their generosity of spirit;
- Their love for freedom and democracy;
- Their steadfast pro-Europeanism and solidarity.
All of these attributes, I believe, embody the Princess of Asturias Awards.
Your Royal Highnesses,
At a solemn moment such as this, I think we need to reflect upon what the European Union stands for.
The 60 years that have elapsed since the signing of the Treaty of Rome have been the longest period of peace, democracy and prosperity in our continent’s history.
This has been a titanic effort, which the founding fathers of the European Union, like those of the Spanish constitution, built upon a foundation of concord.
I am the son of a soldier. In the middle of the last century, armies were fighting one another in Europe. Today, our soldiers participate in peace-keeping and humanitarian missions across the globe.
When the Treaty of Rome was signed there were customs barriers, each Member State had its own currency and studying abroad or travelling by aeroplane was an unattainable luxury for many. Today we can see that the internal market has enabled extraordinary economic growth. The euro is the currency of most of the Union’s Member States. And the Erasmus generation and low-cost flights are now the rule rather than the exception.
But I would like to stress that the European Union means more than just banking or the euro. Above all it means the defence of our values: freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and safeguarding human rights, among others.
While some are sowing discord by deliberately ignoring laws, I think we need to remind ourselves of the importance of respecting the rule of law.
The European Union has been a success because it is the fruit of a community of law.
Europeans no longer discuss matters at gunpoint: we do so around a table and negotiate according to rules agreed between all parties. We conduct dialogue within the bounds of the law.
The European Union does not have a police force to enforce judicial decisions; there is no need. When the Court of Justice delivers a judgment, it is applied and that’s that.
Nobody in the EU would ever dream of flouting the rules that have been agreed by all. While, of course, the Treaties can be changed. The Treaty of Rome has been amended on several occasions. It was converted into the Lisbon Treaty. But, as long as the law remains the same, obeying it is not an option; it is an obligation.
The European Union’s Treaties and the Constitution form a single body of law and democracy that we are all duty-bound to observe.
The Union also stands for solidarity. There are net contributors in Europe as well. But prosperity for all also benefits those who provide the most.
This is worth remembering in these times in which narrow nationalist self-interests are bubbling to the surface. The value of consensus, both constitutional and European, is a public good in and of itself, and should not be jeopardised.
Your Royal Highnesses,
Concord entails always reaching out towards understanding, putting oneself in a position to reach agreement, searching for the common good, and realising that upholding our unity in diversity makes us stronger.
This is the European path. This is the path on which Spain embarked with the decisive step of the Constitution of 1978 and application for membership of the European Community.
This is modern Spain’s great adventure; its rendez-vous with history; its definitive conquest of freedom, democracy and a better life for all.
Your Royal Highnesses,
I would like to talk about the future.
The choice before us is not whether we want Europe or not, but rather the scale of the contribution we make to the future of the European Union.
I believe that everything should be based on three pillars:
- First: let us not build borders between Europeans. All too often in the past the prospect of redrawing borders has been presented as a heavenly panacea that has resulted in a hellish mess.
- Second: let us always defend European values. And let us do so without fear, both within and outside our borders. And let us not be afraid to denounce unacceptable situations such as what is currently happening in Venezuela.
- Lastly: let us do much more to place citizens at the heart of all political action. The European Union is not a project for elites; quite the contrary. It was born and grew to ensure the well-being of all citizens.
We are emerging from one of the worst crises we have ever faced. We will perhaps see others.
There are some in Europe, populists and nationalists, who are spending time and effort on dividing us. They would be better advised to work to achieve concord.
Your Royal Highnesses,
There are many Asturians here in the Campoamor theatre today. It is well known that I hold particular affection for this region, which is also my beloved fatherland. There is a street that bears my name in Gijón. An American multinational had decided to close a factory, dismissing all of its workers. We managed to persuade it to reopen. We saved several hundred jobs. This was a team effort between local, regional, national and European authorities. We should thus never underestimate the power of working in concord.
To conclude: my mother was a Latin and Greek teacher. She imparted upon me a love for the classics. A Roman dramatic poet, Publilius Syrus, said long ago that:
‘where there is concord there is always victory’.
Thank you very much.