Speech to the Romanian Parliament by Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for your invitation. I am both delighted and honoured to be able to speak to you today in this House as part of my first official visit to Romania as President of the European Parliament.
Almost five years ago, your country became a Member State of the European Union. This was an historic step, both for Romania and for Europe: the accession of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe ended once and for all the artificial division of Europe by the Iron Curtain and brought the Romanian people, after decades of brutal dictatorship and disastrous economic mismanagement, back to where it had always belonged, both culturally and geographically, back into the European family. EU accession was a significant milestone on the arduous path of reform from dictatorship to democracy, from Communist economic mismanagement to a social market economy.
You know me as a friend of Romania and as a man who speaks plainly. Sometime in the next few days, three letters from the Commission are due to be arriving in Bucharest. Those letters will inform the Romanian Government that your country's participation in three of the operational programmes co‑financed from the EU Structural Funds, namely those dealing with transport, regional policy and measures to increase economic competitiveness, has been suspended until further notice. This decision is a response to serious shortcomings in the areas of public procurement, expenditure management and the prevention and detection of fraud and conflicts of interest.
This is a tough blow. The reform process has not yet been brought to fruition, the work of developing an effective public administration has not yet been completed, and the fight against corruption has not yet been won.
But you are not alone in this fight. The institutions of the European Union are with you every step of the way. After all, the EU is more than just an economic area: it is a community based on shared values. The European Union is synonymous with democracy, constitutionality and the protection of human rights, fundamental social rights and minority rights. We are a community based on the rule of law, and we have reached agreement on a set of shared values which must be respected by all the Member States. We have laid down standards against which all the countries in the EU are judged. That applies to Romania just as much as to any other Member State. I am sure the controversy involving the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the start of my term of office is still fresh in your minds.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Recent months have brought sharp criticism of political developments in this country. I am grateful that Prime Minister Victor Ponta accepted this criticism as constructive and immediately stated his willingness to implement the Commission's detailed recommendations. We will be watching very closely to see whether Romania can live up to this self-imposed obligation.
I take no pleasure in what I am about to say, but friends must be able to speak freely to one another. To my mind neither the repeated use of votes of confidence in parliament nor the enactment of emergency laws are consistent with the spirit of democracy. Political practices of this kind undermine the principle of mutual democratic scrutiny.
I am confident, however, that we will be able to resolve these problems on the basis of mutual trust and mutual understanding. In the current crisis, we can afford neither tensions between Member States at EU level nor political guerrilla warfare at national level.
The time has now come to set national interests aside and to join forces in taking determined action to address the problems facing the Member States and the EU, for the good of ordinary Europeans. In order not to jeopardise the progress which has already been made in the fight against corruption and in the work of developing a modern justice system, the reform process must be made sustainable and irreversible. As that great European Jean Monnet put it so aptly, 'nothing can be changed without people, but nothing endures without institutions'. I therefore call on all the political parties in Romania, in the interests of the Romanian people, to work together and with the support of the EU institutions to implement the agreed reforms, with the aim of building stable institutions committed to serving the common good.
Dear colleagues, you have a duty towards the citizens of Romania to continue this reform process. The European Parliament has a duty to stand by you, as a friend and partner.
As you know, the European Parliament was an advocate of Romania's accession to the EU. As you know, in its resolution of 13 October 2011 the European Parliament called for your country to be admitted to membership of the Schengen area.
Romania has implemented the Schengen acquis in full, and I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on the significant progress you have made in the area of border protection. Romania monitors a significant proportion of the EU's external frontier – your country borders Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova and the Black Sea. It is reassuring for people in Europe to see that you take this task very seriously.
The European Parliament will lend its voice to the calls for your country to be integrated more closely into the European Union and to be allowed to take part in a broader range of Community policies. As I speak, the issue of a banking union is being discussed at EU level. This is a vital project, because recent disastrous events have taught us that we need strong banking supervision Europe-wide, in order to ensure that never again will there be a repeat of the current crisis, that never again will banks have to be rescued with the aid of taxpayers' money, that never again will ordinary people be forced to bear the brunt of a financial crisis.
Two years ago, the European Parliament put forward proposals for a European banking supervisory authority. At that time, those proposals were rejected by the Member States in the Council. Now they have been revived – albeit two years too late. We, the Members of the European Parliament, will do everything in our power to ensure that a robust and transparent pan-European banking supervisory system is established. We want a banking supervisory system which works and which in due course can be extended to cover insurance companies, pension funds and financial markets.
Above all, we want a banking supervisory system which can be extended from the eurozone countries to cover all the EU Member States.
We regard it as an overreaction to seek to split the EU simply because two countries have opted out of the currency union. Given that all the other EU Member States are bound by the Treaty to introduce the euro, we would be well advised to implement reforms which enable those Member States which are keen to take part in all EU policies to do just that. Let me be clear about this: the European Parliament wants to see Romania in the banking union!
Ladies and gentlemen,
For decades Romania suffered under a particularly brutal form of Communist dictatorship. For that very reason, following the overthrow of the dictator Ceaușescu and the democratic revolution which then ensued your country had much more ground to make up than the other former Warsaw Pact states. After a decade of economic instability and decline, the new millennium ushered in a decade of macro-economic stability. Your country completed an impressive process of modernisation, with economic growth rates of 7% and low unemployment. This performance earned you Europe's respect. The European internal market has since improved living conditions even further for many people.
Despite the severe downturn brought about by the economic and financial crisis, in 2013 the Romanian economy is forecast to grow by 2.5% of GDP, and the level of government debt currently stands at 34.6% of GDP – figures which are the envy of many another EU Member State.
Admittedly, it will take many more years of hard work before Romania achieves the level of prosperity enjoyed by some other EU countries. We should therefore continue to work together to free your country of the heavy burden of its past, to continue the audacious process of reform you have initiated and to tackle the challenges facing Europe.
The European Union is founded on the principle of solidarity. The reason is very simple: we in Europe have understood that alone we are weak, but that together we are strong. We have understood that strengthening the weak serves to make us all strong, and cohesion policy is the way we give practical expression to this fundamental principle underpinning the European integration process.
If we are to continue to implement this successful policy, we, as national and European parliamentarians, must meet our responsibilities towards ordinary people. You, dear colleagues, can do this by continuing your work to improve Romania's ability to take up EU aid.
We as MEPs can do it by campaigning for a realistic EU budget, for a budget which continues to make investment in growth and jobs possible.
The negotiations on the next EU budget are now reaching a crucial stage. As you know, there have been moves to freeze the EU budget at its current level, or even to reduce its size, on the grounds that at a time of economic crisis savings and cuts must be made everywhere, that everyone must tighten their belts.
This may sound sensible, and it may be popular, but it is highly irresponsible. At a time of crisis in particular, people in Europe need the EU budget as a source of investment in jobs and growth.
The EU budget is the most powerful instrument which Europe can use to stimulate growth. Every euro invested through the cohesion policy attracts two, three or even four euros in additional investment from other sources. Money from the EU budget generates real added value for EU citizens, because it is invested in precisely those areas where the Member States are making cuts.
In other words, the EU budget eases the pain of austerity for ordinary people. For that reason, at a time of crisis in particular we need this investment in people and in regions in order to get the economy moving again.
The EU budget is not money for Brussels. The EU budget is money for ordinary people in Europe. In their interests, therefore, we, as their representatives, are united in our opposition to cuts which will squeeze the life out of the European economy.
In keeping with the spirit of European solidarity, we are adamant that investment should continue to focus on growth and employment, on innovation and research, and that the European budget should continue to be used as a means of creating a secure future for EU citizens. And we are counting on your support in our campaign!
Ladies and gentlemen,
The economic crisis in Europe is entering its fifth year. Unemployment has reached a disastrous record figure of 25 million and some countries have been plunged into a deep recession.
Every day this social crisis is developing more and more into a crisis of confidence in political institutions. High youth unemployment in particular is destroying the fabric of European society and may create a 'lost generation' on our continent.
People in Athens, Madrid, Bucharest and elsewhere are taking to the streets to protest against austerity policies which are forcing them to accept extreme levels of social hardship – wages and pensions are being cut, hospitals and schools are being shut down, the gulf between the poor and the rich is widening.
These people are demonstrating against democratic institutions and politicians who they feel do not understand them, who they feel do not defend their interests. It is our duty as representatives of the people to listen to them and to take their fears for their livelihoods seriously.
It is undeniable that budgetary consolidation is essential. Apart from anything else it is a matter of inter-generational justice – we cannot bequeath a mountain of debt to our children.
It is equally undeniable that in many parts of Europe there is no alternative to structural reform.
Yes, the reforms are harsh, because the impact of austerity is felt immediately, whilst the benefits can be reaped only later. But structural reforms are vital to increase competitiveness.
The European Parliament is convinced, however, that the austerity policies currently being implemented in Europe are lopsided. It is taking too long for the structural measures and the budgetary consolidation which we all agree are necessary to take effect and, at long last, increase competitiveness.
In the meantime, some EU Member States are sliding ever deeper into a recession which may yet spread throughout Europe. The economic and social consequences of austerity are threatening to tear the EU apart.
In Europe today, our countries, our economies, are so closely interlinked that problems in one country can drag an entire continent down. Together, however, we can solve those problems.
Your country as well is largely dependent on economic developments in the eurozone, because more than half your exports go to eurozone countries and 80% of direct foreign investment in Romania comes from those countries.
For that reason, I urge you, on behalf of ordinary Romanians, to add your voices to the call which MEPs are making for practical growth initiatives.
People in Europe need new hope! Essential though it is, budgetary consolidation must finally be matched by measures to boost growth.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In December the European Union will receive the Nobel Peace Prize. We should see this award as an acknowledgement of our past achievements and as an incentive to take on future challenges. The European integration process has no precedent in history. We have put our bloody past behind us in order to build a shared future based on peace, freedom and prosperity. For the sake of that shared future, we must show solidarity with one another, and the first step towards doing that is for each of us to put our own house in order.
Thank you for your attention.