Speech by the President of the European Parliament Antonio TAJANI to Plenary
(check against delivery)
Members and colleagues,
It is customary that, upon taking office, the newly elected President should address the House.
When I was elected, in January, I felt it appropriate to wait a little before sharing my vision with you.
That gave me the opportunity to gain a fuller appreciation of the responsibilities incumbent upon me as President, but also of the responsibilities that rest with us as an institution and as Members.
We have a year and a half left before the elections and we are facing major challenges: terrorism, illegal immigration, employment, climate change and Brexit.
Our fellow citizens look to us to provide a response to their expectations. They look to us because, at European level, we are their only direct interlocutors.
In March, I had the honour the sign the Rome Declaration on behalf of Parliament. Our task is to check continuously that the objectives that governments and the European Institutions have adopted do not remain mere statements of principle, but translate into concrete responses to our citizens’ concerns.
We have adopted in record time large and complex packages such as the EFSI, the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD), the Data Protection Package and the European Border and Coast Guard proposal (EBCG).
Since the beginning of the year we have already done a lot.
We have stabilised the financial markets, reinforced the European venture capital funds, European social entrepreneurship funds and the CETA Agreement, and eliminated roaming charges.
In a few minutes’ time we shall be voting on measures to guarantee the security of the gas supply.
But much still remains to be done.
We want to achieve results with regard to the digital single market. We must modernise our trade policy in order to protect our strategic industries. We must enhance the Union’s social dimension.
It is necessary to reach agreement on reforming the emissions trading system and to turn the clean energy transition into a reality.
The new Committee on Terrorism will shortly be considering how to improve measures against that evil. We must work on the defence package and further strengthen industrial policy.
The most complex task awaiting us remains the ‘Asylum Package’. We know that the delay is attributable to the Council. However, that does not absolve us of our duty to do the best we can to conclude the package before the end of this parliamentary term.
Tomorrow we shall have the opportunity to discuss all this with the President of the Commission during the debate on the State of the Union.
We are an extremely complex legislative machine. And yet I have to say that on the whole it works well. I am very pleased that, to assist us in our endeavours, we can count on a competent, professional and committed administration.
I shall seek to preserve the harmony and good collaboration between the various bodies of the House, as, ultimately, our efficiency and capacity for action depend on that.
The work we produce also depends on our working conditions. That is why I devote particular attention to them.
But, colleagues, we do not adopt legislation just so that we can announce that ‘we have done this and that’ in one field or another.
We have an obligation to take the right decisions and make the right choices, as the legislation we adopt will affect the lives of 500 million citizens in the decades ahead.
The legislature must be able to discuss in depth all aspects of the legislation under consideration and must take the time to listen to our citizens above all, but also our consciences.
To be sure, we must also take care not to allow this to result in matters being drawn out for a needlessly long time, or in unjustified delays.
I shall ensure that the ‘empty time’ during legislative procedures is reduced to the absolute minimum.
Parliament must contribute to the adoption of high quality legislation, which aims to solve the problems of our citizens and not to create new ones.
But the people also expect us to defend our values and principles in Europe and the world: freedom, solidarity, subsidiarity, human rights and the rule of law, gender equality and the social market economy.
I am convinced that all the political forces represented here are motivated by the sincere desire to help improve the lives of our citizens.
We are also one of the two arms of the budgetary authority. We must carry out our duties in that capacity responsibly, as we always have done, but also with vision.
We are about to engage in debates on the Multiannual Financial Framework. I believe that the new budget must be a political budget, based on the concept of redistribution and on clear objectives.
It is necessary first to make political choices and only after that to decide on the budgetary resources to carry out policies, rather than vice versa.
This Parliament has several times pointed out the need to institute new own resources. Personally, I am convinced of that need, and I would urge that consideration of the subject, and debates on it, should continue in our House and with the other institutions.
Look at this Assembly. In this Chamber we have colleagues from all regions of Europe, from the farthest corners of our continent. Here all the peoples of the Union are represented.
This Parliament is the only place in Europe where directly elected representatives can openly debate issues affecting the whole continent.
The only place where they can come face to face, get to know one another and work together to resolve common problems.
Heads of State from the Member States and all the countries of the world, eminent persons, major personalities of our times, have addressed this House. That gives our Institution a dimension which goes far beyond the role that the Treaties confer on it.
That dimension must be reinforced. On this occasion I should like to remind all the Heads of State of the Union that they have a permanent invitation to address Parliament in plenary.
In this House we have an invaluable wealth of political sensitivities, views and ideas.
We all want a Parliament where Members talk to one another, but always on the basis of ideas and mutual respect.
We are a living Parliament, and I shall ensure that all the energy and the ideas present or represented in this Chamber can be expressed and contribute to debate and reflection. As I always say, I want to be the President of Parliament, not a Prime Minister.
Parliament must take the lead role in thinking about the future of Europe, and impart the political impetus that the Union constantly needs. Europe must be changed where necessary.
The President of the Commission, whom I should like to thank, has forwarded to us a discussion paper on the future of our common project.
I know that representatives of all shades of political opinion have thought about this.
The time has come to exchange our respective conclusions, for example during a great open debate in plenary.
It will also be necessary to exchange views with the main European actors, who must be invited here. That will provide an opportunity for Parliament to adopt a position at the centre of the debate and to play the role of a forum for political debate which is incumbent upon it.
During her inaugural speech, my distinguished predecessor Simone Veil pointed out that democratic oversight was the primary function of any elected assembly.
We are therefore duty-bound to be demanding when exercising oversight over the Executive.
The ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ system, used for the first time during the last European elections, further bolsters the political trust that links Parliament and the Commission. That development must be consolidated.
To ensure that the Union functions, the Commission must be able to count on Parliament’s trust and backing. That trust is not automatic, however, and must be earned every day.
I commend, lastly, interinstitutional harmony, mutual respect and sincere cooperation. The fact that we are united is what makes us strong. We must never forget that.
Our history shows that the process of strengthening the Union has at all times gone hand in hand with a process of strengthening Parliament. It remains my firmly held belief that the battle for a right of initiative is of crucial importance, accordingly, and must go on.
If the parliamentary dimension of the Union is to be enhanced, the way to do that is also by means of increasingly close cooperation with national parliaments.
Either Europe will be democratic or else it will not exist. Parliament is the living heart of democracy and confers democratic legitimacy on the Union. Without this Parliament, the Union would merely be a system of congresses, based on a cold and remote bureaucracy.
Parliament ensures and incarnates the primacy of politics over bureaucracy.
Parliament is the true ‘echo chamber’ in which to voice the expectations of European citizens.
We must listen to them, and engage in a permanent, open and transparent dialogue. We are the world’s most open parliament. Throughout my term of office, I shall endeavour to ensure that our door is always open to citizens.
All Members have a fundamental role to play as a link between citizens and the Union’s institutions: they are not only citizens’ representatives vis-à-vis the Union; rather, they are also the Union’s representatives vis-à-vis citizens.
We have a great deal of work to do - work that takes up every moment of the day, including at weekends.
That is why it is necessary to say loud and clear that Members are rather more than fingers on the voting button or hands raised in plenary.
They are the representatives of Europe’s peoples and deserve to be respected and listened to. They are the voice of those peoples, and they must be able to speak on their behalf.
That is my vision; and I shall do everything within my power to ensure that the dignity of Members is safeguarded and their role esteemed.
We should be proud of what we are.
I, as the President and as a colleague, am proud of your work, both here and away from this Chamber.
I should like to thank you for what you do behind the scenes, in the committees, in the political groups, in the various bodies within the House and above all in your constituencies.
I should like to thank you for the energy that you devote day after day to meetings, discussions, negotiations, conferences, contacts, encounters with citizens and civil society.
Your work is not always visible; but, in the final analysis, it ensures that democracy is exercised within the Union.
Thank you also for the trust that you have placed in me. I shall do my utmost to be worthy of it.