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Inaugural address by Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament

Strasbourg: Plenary sitting of the European Parliament -
15/09/2009
President Jerzy Buzek
President Jerzy Buzek

Presidents of the European Parliament,
Ministers, Presidents and representatives of the European institutions,
Ladies and gentlemen, and above all - dear friends,

I stand before you today as the 13th President of the directly elected European Parliament.  I am pleased to see a number of former presidents here among us today:

  • Mr Emilio Colombo,
  • Mr Enrique Barón Crespo,
  • Mr Egon Klepsch,
  • Mr Klaus Hänsch,
  • Mr José Maria Gil-Robles,
  • Mrs Nicole Fontaine,
  • Mr Pat Cox,
  • Mr Hans-Gert Pöttering.

As many of you have said, my election is also symbolic - symbolic of the dream of a united continent held by the citizens in our part of Europe, a dream that has now been fulfilled.

My dear colleagues from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta,

I know and understand the concerns, needs and expectations of those who recently joined the Union.  I know, because in my country they are the same.  But now we bear a shared responsibility for the future of our continent.  Old and new Europe are no more.  This is our Europe! We want it to be modern and strong.  And we want our citizens to see it as such.

This calls for energy and hard work.  It is a goal that generations of Europeans have dreamed of and one worthy of the great effort needed to achieve it.  I am ready to do that work and make that effort, because those dreams were also my dreams.


Ladies and gentlemen,

As we begin this new parliamentary term, Europe and we - its representatives - face many challenges.  We must meet those challenges.  We must remember that, in striving for a better Europe, the European Parliament plays a special role, a role that is not only institutional, but also social. A deeply symbolic role.  The European Parliament is the essence of the European democratic system.

It is the basis for the permanence and stability of that system, a guardian of the ideals and values embodied not only in our decisions and their effects, but also in our debates.

The Ancient Greeks, who gave the world democracy, were accustomed to saying, in the words of Aristotle, that the measure of human maturity, and hence of citizenship, is the ability to resolve conflicts and opposing interests not by force but through debate and argument. As the guarantor of stability in a political arena where various scenarios are played out and where power is held by MEPs, the European Parliament follows firmly in that tradition.  But the European Parliament has another task to fulfil - the task of creating a vision of a new Europe, a vision which extends beyond the present, beyond what Europe is towards what it should be. In order to create this vision together, we need imagination, knowledge, wisdom, and above all courage.

Hannah Arendt, a German philosopher of Jewish origin, said that politics is the only area of life, except for religion, where miracles can occur.  Exactly 20 years ago, we in Europe witnessed such a miracle and that is why we believe in the power of courage, imagination and wisdom. I think that all of us here today share that belief.

I view the challenges that face us with optimism.  For me, they are:
1. The economic crisis and European solidarity,
2. Energy and the environment,
3. Foreign policy,
4. Human rights and our system of values,
5. Our Parliament and how to reform it.


Honourable Members,

The most painful and most difficult question facing us is the economic crisis.  We must overcome it and we will overcome it.  Europe took the lead in proposing solutions to the G8 and G20 summits, solutions which, while preserving our social model, can help the world put its economy to rights.

In the face of globalisation, Europe must speak with one voice.  

Now more than ever, in this time of crisis, we must focus on economic growth and unemployment.  We must breathe fresh life into the ideas of the Lisbon strategy and find ways of investing in new technologies, innovation, education and human resources. The Community budget has an important role to play in ensuring that European research programmes have clear priorities and procedures.

As we tackle this crisis, let us listen to the economists who say we should use this period to undertake a profound reform of the European and world economy. Once we emerge from the present crisis, the enthusiasm for reform will be lost and we will not have safeguarded ourselves against the next one.

Under the new Treaty, Parliament and the Council will enjoy equal budgetary powers.  The codecision procedure will include agriculture, fisheries, external trade, and justice and home affairs, while also giving us equal responsibilities in the area of agricultural spending.

We have this power and we should use it, and not solely with a view to tackling the economic crisis.

We must guard against the temptation of protectionism and the renationalisation of common policies.  The cohesion policy must remain a priority in the next Community budget, if we want to achieve full integration of our reunited continent.  The single market is our great achievement.  We must protect it and consolidate it to ensure that Europe remains competitive.

This means that European integration must be strengthened not weakened.  Let us have the courage of our convictions.

Let us explain to our citizens why Europe is good, and why the Community method benefits all Europeans.

We cannot tackle the crisis if we underestimate society's importance and needs.  

If we are to revitalise, understand and live in the Community we are building, two things are essential: solidarity and social cohesion.  

There can be no true community without concern for everyone, especially the most vulnerable - the unemployed, the least educated, those living in remote regions.

Fighting unemployment is the main aim of the Swedish Presidency.  We shall assist them vigorously in that task.

Behind the Iron Curtain, the cry in the streets was once: 'There can be no freedom without solidarity'.  Now we can say: 'Without solidarity there can be no community'.  Nor can there be a modern, strong Europe.


My dear friends,

We cannot overcome the economic crisis without making use of the vast intellectual, economic and creative potential of women.

Half the members of our Community do not enjoy equal opportunities.

The demographic crisis calls for a strengthening of family and fertility.  We must also ensure that women do not sacrifice their careers for their family and to bring up children.

In order to overcome the demographic crisis, while standing by our democratic principles, we must also be an open community.  Immigration has always brought Europe benefits.  We must propose solutions that will enable us to invite immigrants and create the conditions for their integration, while also expecting them to be open to such integration.

The intercultural dialogue which my predecessor, Hans-Gert Pöttering, promoted is an effective and proven tool for achieving such integration.


Ladies and gentlemen,

We are facing an energy crisis.  Europeans may not understand geopolitics, but they understand if their heating is turned off.  We must continue to diversify our energy resources and step up investment in renewable energy sources and fossil fuels. Nuclear power is available to us and this is a matter for Member States to decide.  We must extend the external pipeline network so as not to be dependent on any particular country.  We need to increase the interconnections between our gas and electricity networks.  We must also consider the possibility of purchasing gas jointly, so as to establish a genuine European energy market based on solidarity.  I believe that the time has come for the Union to have a real common energy policy and I will strive to achieve that.  

The founding of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 was the seed from which our Community sprang.

At that time, Robert Schuman said: 'The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war (...) becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible'.


My dear friends,

Our energy policy must take into account the environmental threats linked to climate change. We need a green revolution and we must curb our own excesses.

The European Parliament is spearheading the debate on this subject. Together with many of you, I worked on the Temporary Committee on Climate Change. You know where I stand and you know that I will work with you to reach a compromise in Copenhagen which will benefit both our environment and our economies.


Honourable Members,

Parliament is an important actor on the international stage. This is what our citizens expect of us. Europe must be more present not only within the borders of the European Union, but also worldwide. Developing a coherent and effective foreign policy which includes a vision of the global order must be one of the great challenges during this Parliament.

Jean Monnet once said that everyone has ambition. The question is whether you use that ambition to become someone, or rather to achieve something. During this Parliament, let us have the ambition to achieve something.

What are the most important goals?

First:
An active policy towards Europe's neighbours in the south and east. With this in view, we should continue our work in the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly and take action within the framework of the Euronest Assembly.

Second:
We should promote democracy and models of good governance. We should use the interparliamentary assemblies and our delegations to hold parliamentary summits in advance of the Union's bilateral summits. This is important, because the European Parliament will be involved in decisions on a greater number of policies. EUROLAT is a good example of this kind of cooperation.

Third:
It is time we had a genuine transatlantic parliamentary partnership, together building a new framework for the world order. I shall strive to forge closer ties with the United States Congress at all levels.

Fourth:
We must work on our strategic partnership with Russia, while not forgetting that, as in our relations with China, economic and political considerations cannot take precedence over human rights, the rule of law and democracy. As President, I shall engage fully in dialogue with our Russian partners, notably in the context of the new Baltic strategy.

Fifth:
We must strengthen our relations with India and other emerging powers such as Brazil and the Republic of South Africa. India must be both an economic and a political partner.

Sixth:
The Middle East remains the key to global stability. Europe must play an active role in this region.

Seventh:
Enlargement has been one of our most successful political strategies. Did any of our European forebears ever enjoy such a long period of peace and prosperity as we now have? Croatia, and perhaps Iceland, appear to be the countries closest to accession.

Eighth:
The European Union is the world's biggest aid donor. We must examine where we stand with current and potential beneficiaries and not forget our obligations towards them under the Millennium Development Goals. We may close our doors to some who would come here, but let us not close our hearts and let us do what we can to bring life in their home countries closer to the standards we enjoy in Europe.

Ninth:
We must strengthen the Union's missions under the European security and defence policy. There have been 22 such missions over the past six years and they should enjoy a clear mandate and the resources needed to do their job. The European Parliament wants to ensure closer control and monitoring of these missions. The wider budgetary powers Parliament will enjoy under the Lisbon Treaty may improve our flexibility when it comes to allocating resources to the essential missions we support.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The implementation of the new Treaty must be our priority for the immediate future. I am committed to preparing Parliament to function in accordance with the new provisions as soon as the Treaty comes into force.

Yet, regardless of the Treaty, we feel the need for change. We feel the need for a more dynamic parliamentary dimension within our institution.

As President of Parliament, I want to draw on the vital work on parliamentary reform begun in recent years by others. We have already brought in many useful changes. But we must go further down that road...

I shall do all I can to make more room for creative political debate within our Parliament.

We must emphasise in the strongest possible terms that democracy prevails over technocracy.

I firmly support making greater use of the 'catch-the-eye' system for speakers, as a way of enlivening our plenary debates. This is particularly important in guaranteeing the minority rights of colleagues not holding office in Parliament and of their groups.

As parliamentarians it is our duty to listen to what our citizens are saying. But at the same time we must convince them of the benefits of a continent that is more united and functions more effectively.

The most important missing link in the reform process is the improvement of relations with the other European Union institutions - the Commission and Council. A significant part of my term of office will be devoted to this.

As President, I shall seek to develop a new model of partnership with the Commission so as to strengthen parliamentary scrutiny of the executive and make the executive branch more accountable to this House.

In July I invited the Commission President to take part in a question time to be held each month in Parliament, during which Members would be able to ask questions from the floor. I propose that we introduce such a practice as soon as possible.

Two weeks ago President Barroso forwarded to us his 'political guidelines' for a second term. This is a significant innovation, since it marks an acceptance of the fact that it is the European Parliament which elects the Commission President. I take great satisfaction in this.

I have also encouraged the parliamentary committees to examine legislation still in the pipeline and to determine whether the new Commission intends to abandon, amend or maintain its legislative proposals. I am also encouraging the committees to hold serious discussions of future political strategy so as to ensure that the hearings of Commissioners-designate are based on a detailed legislative programme and not just on an assessment of their CVs and professional experience.

We must forge closer relations with the Council of Ministers. If these relations are to be credible, they must reflect the fact that in today's European Union Parliament is a true co-legislator.

We must also work together on the institutional questions arising from the Treaty of Lisbon. These concern the extension of the codecision procedure, the new comitology system, the appointment of the new High Representative and Commission Vice-President, democratic control over the new external action service and the question of how to deal with the 'dual Council Presidency' during plenary sittings.

Our relations with the 27 national parliaments of the European Union must be developed in the same spirit. In recent years cooperation has been on the increase and the Treaty of Lisbon will further strengthen these contacts and enhance their role in making citizen-friendly laws. A fine example of this cooperation is the Stockholm Programme, with its focus on justice and public security. The fight against organised crime within and outside the Union is a key part of this programme which we must pursue in cooperation with our major global partners.

As President I intend to strengthen these relations in all areas.

I want to push ahead with reforms in the use of Parliament's human resources and expenditure, so that they are focused directly on our programmes.

Within the committees responsible for the various strategic policies we must have high-quality specialist knowledge.

The richness and strength of our institution also derive from our differences - different nationalities, different ways of thinking and different languages. That is what makes Europe fascinating. But we must have effective tools for communicating with one another.  Members must be able to speak in their mother tongue, if they so wish, so that they can properly represent their voters. I am aware of this problem and will endeavour to resolve it.


Honourable Members,

We must always remember that the Union is not only about the challenges of the future and a vision of ever-increasing prosperity and stability. It is above all about human rights. Special protection must always be given to minority rights - be they national, ethnic or religious minorities or belief groups - and to the rights of the physically and mentally disabled.

I have noted with concern the tensions in relations between Slovakia and Hungary over national minorities. I should like to offer my assistance in resolving this dispute in accordance with the values of our Parliament.

A good example of how we uphold these values is the Sakharov Prize awarded to human rights defenders, who now form the basis of a 'Sakharov network', something which I intend to develop further. I should also like to press ahead with the project for a House of European History begun by my predecessor, Hans-Gert Pöttering.

I should also like us to remember once again here in this House that the Union is a community of ideals and values.

We all know and cherish them. They are freedom, equality, solidarity, the rule of law, tolerance, good-neighbourliness, they are security and protection of privacy, they are faith and reason, they are human rights and personal happiness, and they are property, family and mutual trust. They are also memory, history and a common future.

The European Community is not an end in itself. It is an instrument for protecting these values, and one which offers the hope of that protection being lasting and effective.


Ladies and gentlemen,

As President I am committed to working with you to find ways of promoting a genuinely European demos. I am determined to take measures to ensure that all committees and delegations have access to satellite television and the Internet. Citizens should know how their laws are being discussed, amended and put to the vote.

We need to look at the way in which European elections are organised. For example, we should insist on the use of new technologies during elections in order to boost turnout. It is also time to open a debate on European political parties. Citizens must know whom they are voting for - not only in their own countries, but also in Europe.

I attach great importance to cooperation with the Conference of Presidents. Together, we will take responsibility for the work of this House, along with the 14 vice-presidents, whom I thank for their expressions of support. I also appreciate the spirit of partnership shown by the committee chairmen. I should like the chairmen of the standing interparliamentary delegations to be able to exert a significant influence over the Union's foreign policy. Matters relating to Parliament's budget will be addressed with the help of the Quaestors.

But most of all, my dear colleagues, I am counting on your cooperation.

As President of the European Parliament, I know that I am responsible for providing you with good working conditions, but I would strongly urge you all to share this burden.


Ladies and gentlemen,

For most of us the Treaty of Lisbon represents a long-awaited institutional solution. It will improve the Union's ability to resolve existing problems and bring the European institutions closer to our citizens.

Bronisław Geremek, in whose honour we have named the main courtyard of the Strasbourg Parliament, was fond of saying that European integration was like riding a bicycle: you have to keep pedalling to maintain your balance and to keep going in the right direction. This illustrates precisely why ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is so necessary for us.


My dear friends,

Less than a week ago I was present in the Polish Parliament to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Mazowiecki Government, the first non-communist government in that part of Europe. Solidarność triumphed at that time, because we stood together, united and in solidarity. This is a particularly moving anniversary because it marked the beginning of the rapid collapse of the totalitarian system in other Central European countries. It was this first breach which made it possible to bring down the wall dividing Europe.

I am speaking to you here today in Strasbourg, the capital of a region whose fate is reminiscent of that of my own region, Silesia, a border region whose inhabitants have frequently had to change their nationality without changing where they lived.

I solemnly pledge that, as President of Parliament over these coming years, I will serve as your ambassador, bringing the message of a reunited continent to the citizens of Europe and the world.

Let us work together to find real and practical solutions to the great challenges now facing Europe and the world.

Let us work to make our dreams come true. Let us set about this task with enthusiasm, wisdom and courage.

Because this is our Europe. A modern Europe. A strong Europe.

Thank you very much.