Speech to the European Economic and Social Committee
(Check against delivery)
Members of the European Economic and Social Committee,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here with you today to talk about the shared challenges facing us and the cooperation between our two institutions.
I regard the dialogue between us as fundamental to the task of bringing Europe closer to its peoples and citizens once again, the main objective I have set for my term of office as President of the European Parliament.
As representatives of the business world, workers and society, you have a key role to play in those efforts.
We are at a turning point in the history of our Union. The crisis has shown clearly that half measures are not enough.
We need to overcome the many difficulties still besetting the EU and offer coming generations a prosperous future.
The findings of the recent Eurobarometer survey showed that, for the first time since 2008, the trend has started to reverse and that our citizens are beginning to take a more favourable view of the European Union once again.
To my mind, there are two reasons for this change.
On the one hand, the first signs of a more robust economic recovery are visible. On the other, in the face of the crises within and beyond our borders the desire for protection is growing.
The fear of being left stranded by the turbulent tide of unregulated globalisation is prompting people to seek refuge on a bigger ship, a united Europe.
According to the findings of the survey, most people believe that the only way to safeguard our interests vis-à-vis China, Russia, the United States or India is by standing together; and that only a strong Europe can fight terrorism and fundamentalism, manage migration and tackle climate change, whilst promoting stricter regulation and transparency in the areas of trade, the financial sector or digital platforms.
The results of the recent elections in France, Austria and the Netherlands offer cause for hope.
Our citizens do not want to see the Union collapse.
They want a Europe which listens and talks to them once again; which puts their concerns at the heart of its policies.
A Europe of action, less bureaucratic and more effective.
On 25 March, in Rome, the leaders of the EU institutions and the Heads of State or Government of 27 countries signed a Solemn Declaration to revitalise political Europe.
As President of the European Parliament, I have undertaken to ensure that the pledges made in that declaration are honoured.
What our citizens want, first and foremost, is for us to manage migration, guarantee greater security and offer the younger generations prospects and employment.
If we are to take more effective action to that end, far-reaching changes are needed, starting with the EU budget, which must reflect these priorities.
We need a system of own resources, and we need a procedure for adopting the budget in which the political objectives are set first of all and resources are then allocated on that basis.
We also need a much bolder approach to migration.
We cannot leave people traffickers or terrorists to manage migration.
Two weeks ago, the European Parliament adopted an important resolution calling on the Member States to show greater solidarity towards the countries bearing the brunt of migration, such as Italy and Greece.
The right of asylum, like solidarity, forms part of our founding values. But that does not mean that we should not take firm steps to combat illegal immigration.
The Dublin rules need a thorough overhaul. The European Parliament is working on a more efficient system to be voted soon, which is more conducive to solidarity. But that is not enough.
In the years ahead, we could face migration on a massive scale, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa. There are many causes: desertification linked to climate change, the re-emergence of famine, population growth, poverty, disease, terrorism, instability and corruption.
A serious response calls for a comprehensive European strategy which goes to the root of the problems.
We need to act on a range of fronts: we must step up checks at our external borders and build a new partnership with Africa, which takes account not only of the challenges facing that continent, but also of the major opportunities for growth which exist there.
In the run-up to the European Council meeting on 22 June, which will focus on migration, I have arranged a one-day conference on migration, security and stability, which will take place at the European Parliament and at which the leaders of the EU institutions will speak.
If we want to promote peace and stability, our security and our values, the European Union must give itself the means to take effective action in the security and defence sphere.
Our citizens are calling for greater protection in an unstable world. The European Parliament supports the establishment of a European defence industry and market, in order to generate economies of scale and encourage interoperability, whilst ensuring that there is no duplication of spending.
The recent tragic events in Manchester, like the series of terrifying attacks which have hit many Member States, are a reminder that the fight against terrorism is the main concern of European citizens.
Rather than returning to the era of tiresome and time-consuming border checks, we need to improve cooperation among our authorities.
True security depends on our capacity to work together, to trust one another. To share databases, information and technologies, to exchange good practices. To coordinate work between European intelligence agencies and those of other countries.
The most recent economic data show that the recovery is gaining strength in all the EU Member States. For the first time since 2007, the economies of all the Member States are growing.
The crisis took an enormous toll, however. We lost EUR 300 billion in foreign investment and up to 4 million jobs.
In some parts of Europe youth unemployment is still at unacceptable levels, firms are struggling to obtain credit and social and economic inequalities are widening.
The public want a Europe that can generate well-being and work, in particular for young people. For that reason, it is essential to bring about genuine convergence among our economies and complete the banking union, the capital union, the energy union, the single market and the digital single market.
We need genuine European economic governance, founded on a larger, solidarity-based budget which focuses on growth, employment and competitiveness.
We need to step up investment in innovation and create an environment in which businesses can operate and new businesses can flourish.
The Member States must complete the reforms needed to do away with the many obstacles stifling growth. I am thinking, for example, of the excessive taxation of labour and businesses, of inefficient public administrations and of limited investment in infrastructure and research.
It is right to help countries carry out reforms by granting them greater budget flexibility and by providing structural funding. But they must also keep the promises they have made.
The document on economic governance presented by the Commission yesterday, which takes up many of the proposals made by the European Parliament, points in the right direction.
The challenges facing us are many, but I am optimistic. Many times in the past we have faced crises and problems, but we have always overcome them. If we are to overcome them now, we must all pull together.
That is why I regard your role as important and cooperation between our institutions as essential.
On the basis of our Cooperation Agreement, I will work to establish closer relations between the Members of the European Parliament and the Members of the European Economic and Social Committee.
I will do so because I believe that together we can find better responses to the concerns of European citizens.