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Verbatim report of proceedings
Thursday, 15 December 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

8. Address by the President, Jerzy Buzek, on his term of office
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  President. - Dear Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, Commissioners, honourable guests, ‘If Sparta and Rome perished,’ wrote Jean Jacques Rousseau, ‘what state can hope to last for ever?’ No human institutions are immortal. We Europeans must not be deluded into thinking that our Union is somehow an exception. To remain strong it requires an investment every day in our common future.

To understand where we are today, we need a historic context. In this recent period of prosperity, we fell into the illusion that the EU could simply sail on forever. We have not prepared our Community for difficult and more challenging times. We did not have enough political will and we did not convince our citizens of such a project. We even broke our own rules. Discipline was lost. Three years ago the financial crisis sailed across the Atlantic. We were not prepared for such a situation. Arguments about self-interest began to erode our belief in the common good. And now, our Union has moved into a deep crisis whose causes are as much political and psychological, as economic.

As President of the European Parliament I served you, and Europe’s citizens. I have been incredibly honoured by your choice of two-and-a-half years ago, given with such a great majority. I succeeded my dear friend Hans-Gert Pöttering in office, whom I thank once again for his excellent leadership. I was competing for this post with Ms Eva-Britt Svensson who is not present with us today, but to whom I send my warmest regards. I also pay tribute to our colleagues Mario Mauro and Graham Watson, who supported my candidature to ensure the unity of this Chamber.

I did everything in order not to disappoint your trust. I knew that I could count on you, no matter what our views were. Today I would like to give my report on the work of our Parliament: your work, as well as mine. This is not a detailed report. You will find such a document in your mailboxes in the new year. However, I would like to present what we have achieved together, and what still remains ahead of us.

You know as well as I do that my term as President coincided with an exceptionally difficult time for Europe. First, we introduced the Treaty of Lisbon. Second, we faced the crisis. Third, we observed globalisation at an incredible speed. Fourth, we faced the most important decisions for our future. I wish to outline these four points with you today.

First, let us remind ourselves that in the summer of 2009 we faced the threat that the Treaty of Lisbon might not be ratified by all Member States. I started from convincing the still unconvinced that we needed more Europe. My first official visit was to Ireland, just before the second referendum. Then I went to meet the Czech President. I will never forget that discussion. It started bluntly and ended very positively.

The entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon changed the way our European Union functions. For me, the most important was Parliament’s place in EU decision-making. We are now the Parliament we always wanted to be.


We are now the Parliament we always wanted to be: a full co-legislator in a two-chamber structure. We achieved a lot, but this is a fight we all need to continue.

To be strong is simply not enough; we need to use our power in everyday practice and to decide. I am proud that the European Parliament, in cooperation with the other EU institutions, is ready to prepare in a few weeks’ time a deep and comprehensive programme to help solve our current economic problems.

Jean Monnet once said ‘everybody is ambitious. The question is whether he or she is ambitious to be or ambitious to do’. We should be ambitious ‘to do’, of course.

You, the Members of the European Parliament, co-decide on nearly all the essential policies and give your consent on almost all international agreements. Who will ever forget our decision to block the SWIFT Agreement with the United States in order to protect the rights of our citizens? I remember the night before the vote, I received a phone call from the US Secretary of State. I told her that as a former Senator, she knows and understands about democratic oversight. She did, and she agreed later during her visit to the European Parliament, that today we have a better agreement than the first one.

Our citizens expect that we exercise power, proper parliamentary scrutiny. In the spirit of Lisbon we have pushed for greater accountability of the European Commission. We negotiated a better Framework Agreement between Parliament and the Commission. The candidate for the President of the Commission came for the first time to our political groups to discuss his five-year manifesto. We established the monthly Question Hour with the President of the European Commission and Commissioners. We used our powers to shape the new European External Action Service so that it was more accountable and representative for the Community as a whole. We insisted on hearings of EU Ambassadors to key posts and that the Vice-President/High Representative should report back to plenary on a regular basis. Equally, we shaped a new relationship with the European Council and its President.

But with new powers comes increased responsibility and increased demands for credibility and transparency. So as a Parliament we also had to respond to that. I am very proud today to say we introduced our own Code of Conduct for Members. It was adopted with a huge majority and was applauded for its clarity and strength.

I believe we should remain committed to the letter and the spirit of what the Treaty of Lisbon represents – using the European institutions and creating a common good and common solutions for the whole community.

Challenge number two was the need for action and overcoming the crisis. Over the last two and a half years we had to deal with a series of very difficult economic and international challenges. We had a crisis within the EU but we also had a critical situation at our borders.

When you elected me as President of the European Parliament, we all thought that the international banking crisis was coming to an end. Instead it came to our shores and took away wealth and jobs from millions of our citizens. Responding to that challenge became our highest priority as the crisis brought an enormous threat to our citizens. A broad package of laws – the ‘six-pack’ – entered into force just two days ago and our European Parliament can be proud of the role it played in shaping this legislation. It is a new economic anti-crisis shield making closer economic cooperation a reality. Thanks to our firmness, attempts to weaken this shield were not successful. Now it may even become a part of the new Treaty under discussion.

We passed legislation increasing the supervision of banks, insurers and the financial sector. For all three institutions responsible – Commission, Council and Parliament – and with their support I proposed a first fast-track procedure for a legislation aiming to combat the crisis; similar to what we used when we established a permanent stability mechanism.

On your behalf I have often stressed the need to complete the internal market and to boost growth and competitiveness. As part of the crisis reaction I was engaged in contacts with the rotating presidencies, the President of the Commission, President Rompuy of the European Council and with the Head of the Euro Group and the President of the ECB.

Our Parliament called for more investment and for bigger support of research, development and green technologies. In today’s Europe, just as it was in the 1950s, energy is at the heart of our economy. This is why I made a special appeal with Jacques Delors to create a genuine European Energy Community. I was proud that this plenary supported this idea.

Let us turn to the challenges we faced in our neighbourhood, both to the south and to the east. If you will permit me I would like to admit a difficult truth. For many years we looked for stability, while not being seriously engaged in defending human rights and building democracy in our neighbourhood. But long-term stability can only come from democracy. We learned this from our history but did not apply it to our closest neighbours. Our Arab neighbours have reminded us that freedom and democracy are for everybody.

On the other hand we, European parliamentarians, were always strong defenders and supporters of all people fighting for freedom, democracy and human dignity. Our annual Sakharov Prize is the most visible example of this. In Parliament we were the first politicians to call for Gaddafi to step down. When I spoke to protestors in Tahrir Square in Cairo and freedom fighters in Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli, they told me: ‘Thank you, Europe. Thank you for believing and being with us.’ I heard from the Prime Minister of Tunisia that ‘the only way for us is Europe’.

However we cannot support democracy only by words. Our external policies and our internal policies must be linked as we, together with the European Commission, proposed in our new neighbourhood policy. If we want to export our democratic model, we need to invest there and to open step-by-step our market for their goods and services. Long-term democracy and stability can only come from growing prosperity – step-by-step.

If I may add one additional remark: I visited the Choucha refugee camp in Tunisia. If we want to present ourselves as credible to our neighbours, we must respond to their expectations and help with their refugee crisis. Three thousand people not having the possibility to go back to their countries is something that the EU should be able to deal with.

The European Union is a lighthouse, a beacon for people across the Mediterranean, but also for those to the east of us: in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and many others. This is why I urged, together with many of you, for the creation of the EuroNest Parliamentary Assembly. It is one of our successes. When I travelled from Baku to Yerevan, from Tbilisi to Chisinau, I tried to explain that sitting and negotiating at the same table gives hope for lasting peace. Unfortunately, I regret the situation in Belarus today seems to be worse than it was some thirty months ago.

Talking about the EU’s activities in our neighbourhood, I would like to make a general remark. I am a strong believer in the power of our parliamentary diplomacy. We are trusted both by society and local leaders. This was a success for example in Moldova. One year ago I was actively involved in bringing the various parties to the negotiating table in the efforts to form a pro-European alliance and to move forward with their reforms. Our European ‘soft power’ seems to be as strong as ‘hard power’ when we promote our values and create democratic institutions and procedures. We can see this in the Western Balkans for example.

As I said, as a Parliament we have pushed the human rights agenda very strongly; we have created the Sakharov Prize network as a permanent dialogue on human rights. You and I have spoken hundreds of times on various official visits – to China, to Russia, to the South Caucasus, in defence of individual cases. For someone who was born in an occupied country and brought up in an oppressed country, it is natural to argue for human rights and human dignity. I was proud to see the support I received from you when I came to standing up for this issue.

We did not forget that in many countries in the world women are still oppressed and humiliated. I was a strong partisan of equal treatment of men and women –in politics, in business and in social and family life – in the world and in Europe. Women’s rights are simply human rights.

Point number three: today citizens’ ‘virtual participation’ is changing the world we live in.

Today, citizens are much better connected. They are as well-informed as politicians are. This brings quite a new challenge. How to ensure credibility in the decision-making process? How to ensure trust for the activities of our politicians? What can be the role of the European Parliament in this context?

Today, a particular responsibility lies with Parliament – it is not only a guarantor of the stability of the political scene, but also has the task of creating a courageous vision for Europe. The citizens expect that it will present such a vision and a new kind of European dream.

Reconnecting the citizens will help to give another non-economic meaning to the definition of deepening and widening of Europe. Governance, free markets, the single currency – these are absolutely insufficient as a basis for community. We need one more crucial factor. The most important one: European civic activity. As Jean Monnet said, ‘we are not uniting states, we are uniting human beings.’

Let me address the citizens of Europe directly. I understand that you may be disappointed, but Europe in many respects is the best place in the world. It is our European diversity, creativity and openness that can best satisfy your aspirations and passions. Log in to our common European space; it is your space.

And please do not let yourself be persuaded that there is a contradiction between being a good Pole and a good European, a good British citizen and a European citizen, a good Spaniard and at the same time a good European. This alternative is an absolutely false one. Europe allows you to discover the magic of the word ‘and’: being a good citizen of your town, region, country and your continent.

Paradoxically, through this crisis we are starting to see the emergence of a true demos. Europeans can see how interdependent we are. One country can undermine the whole economy, but many countries working together can solve the problem. This is why I have pushed for greater dialogue with people and promoted the idea of a European civic space and in all my visits within the EU. Democracy built in such a way could be stronger than financial markets which are so influential in our political decisions and everyday lives.

And the last point is about planning for our European Union, our common future. I believe that we need something like a New Deal for Europe. Our real problem is the lack of mutual trust and the loss of a sense of meaning. The historian Norman Davis wrote in Vanished Kingdoms, ‘it is precisely through such a loss of purpose that powers fall’.

We need a common project and not a mortgage on the next generation’s future. In the 1930s, while our continent was sliding towards tragedy, President Roosevelt saved democracy and the free market economy in the United States of America with his New Deal. Today our crisis demands a New Deal for Europe.

Let me repeat shortly what I already said, and share my own vision of the future in three points.

First, we need a new wave of political integration. For the long term, the Community interest benefits our individual interest. The idea of a common civilisation and cultural space has been strong in Europe for centuries. What we need today is to find the optimal political solution that will be fitting for our times. Let me be very clear, we do not want a superstate. So let us decide how in practice we can realise the idea of ‘unity in diversity’, while redesigning the necessary solutions.

While discussing possible treaty changes or new treaties, I want to recall that without a return to a genuine spirit of cooperation or – a ‘destiny shared in common’ as Robert Schuman put it – we will not succeed. Change is not about new rules. It is about a commitment to live by those rules. This is about a state of mind.

Second, we need a new wave of economic integration. We need to create a real fiscal and economic union. John Donne once said, ‘no man is an island’. I would say, no country is an island and I do not speak about geography. Member States that want to go forward need to respect the Treaty of Lisbon. No country has the right to stop others working closer together. Those who stay outside cannot expect to be main players.


My hope remains that the frictions that have appeared using this intergovernmental method will lead to more, not less, use of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Community method. For this reason I call for a greater involvement of the European Parliament in this discussion and the decision-making process.

Third and last point, we need to create a true European Civic Space. As I mentioned earlier, while creating a new vision for Europe we need to discuss issues which are close to each of us: security, the possibility to realise your own destiny, an active life in local communities, and the feeling of belonging.

Europe needs more solidarity, more responsibility, more respect for values, as well as enthusiasm. It was built on dreams and we have no right to throw those dreams away.

In order to better reconnect with Europeans, those who think of profit must also think of values. Those who gain wealth must be responsible. Those who are concerned about their prosperity – about which there is nothing wrong – must be concerned about equality, and those who believe in competition must come to believe in justice.

My last sentences: I would like to thank each and every Member of the European Parliament for your contribution and cooperation. Throughout my term in office I have played a part in resolving the tensions between the various EU institutions, leaders of Member States, and the states themselves. On many occasions I have been close to losing hope that a settlement would be found. But in general, we reached a compromise.

This is why I am optimistic today. I have never had doubts about a common Europe. Representing you in Europe, and around the world, I was able to perceive the full, distinctive borders of the European project, as well as its exceptional, human, moral, economic and cultural potential. The European Union is an incredible value, one worth working for and living in. But it is a value that can be created and used only if we are united.

It is this very Europe that I will always serve with energy and determination. It is not only as Hungarian, Czech, Swedish, French or German men and women that we sit in this House. We also sit here as Europeans, to solve European problems and come up with joint solutions. I dream of this European Parliament, uniting so many nations, being a body making real changes on behalf of our citizens.


I can say with great pride: I am a Pole and a European, and this is why I believe so strongly in our common European future. Let us never take our European integration for granted as something we have achieved once and for all; we must strive towards it every day. Thank you very much.

(The House rose and accorded the speaker a standing ovation)



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