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Speech by Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, to the Sejm of the Polish Republic

Warsaw -
Friday, January 22, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I stood on this podium for the first time 13 years ago, if I remember rightly, Poland was a very different country. It was barely eight years since the country had regained its independence. Everything was very new. We were members neither of NATO nor of the European Union. I am very pleased to see here in this chamber many of those who were here in the Sejm at that time. This speaks of a long continuity in our actions and shows that our opinions and our activities have remained steadfast over 20 years. On questions crucial for Poland, we have always been able to reach agreement. That is our great strength. Then, we were searching for our place in the community of nations, now we must take our place as one of its leaders. These are our ambitions and we can achieve them. What seemed impossible 25 or 30 years ago is now a reality. In the same way, what today often seems so difficult, to find a place befitting our status on the map of Europe and of the world, can also be achieved.

I have come here to speak of these matters. Let me say that this is the first time in my life I have mounted the podium from this side. Previously I came from the right. For the last 20 years, Right and Left in the Sejm have been pulling in the same direction on those matters most important for Poland. I want to underline that fact.

There have been many tensions between us. Our opinions have frequently been divided on many issues of importance for Poland. Yet on the most important question, Poland's place in the world, we were as one.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is also a novelty for me not to see anyone putting on headphones when I begin to speak. It is important for me to be able to communicate directly with you. And, should anyone applaud, it will be immediately after I speak, and not 12 or 20 seconds later, depending on how quickly the interpretation reaches one colleague or another.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I met with the Council of Seniors just now and they have been very kind in not imposing a two-minute limit on my speaking time. It is very good of them. I have been allowed ten times that or more. This is exceptional for me and I mention it to highlight how much we differ in some of our practices and in the way we conduct ourselves and our business. Essentially, however, the Sejm and the European Parliament are very much alike.

Before moving on to some of the points I wish to raise with you, I wanted to say that, if I am President of the European Parliament, it is thanks to the many changes which have taken place in Poland over the last 20 years. Those changes are due to the efforts of many millions of Poles and it is thanks to those efforts that a Pole can today become President of the European Parliament. I am fully aware of this.

I begin by saying that because I consider myself - and indeed I am here as - the representative of many millions of Poles, and not only those who voted for me recently in last year's European Parliament elections. I am the representative of all those who have made Poland what it is over the last 20 years. I also consider myself to be your representative and so feel I must take stock of European affairs and examine how Poland's affairs compare.

During the last five months, since September of last year, I have visited ten parliaments of European Member States. On each occasion, I met with them directly and spoke of what Europe would look like after the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, what the prospects were, and where we were headed. These are matters of little interest to our citizens. What does interest them is how we will meet their expectations and the challenges facing the European Union and every family in every home in Europe.

I want to tell you how I view my duties and my responsibilities today. The fact that I am here as President of the European Parliament means that I bear a great responsibility to all Europeans, but in particular to those from Central and Eastern Europe, and even more so to all those living in Poland.

The way I see it, working for Europe means working for Poland. And working for Poland also means working for Europe. And that is what you are doing!

I mentioned already that I visited ten of Europe's parliaments last year prior to mid-December. In mid-December a very important meeting was held in Stockholm of all the presidents of the national parliaments of the European Union Member States. We met to examine what had happened recently and what new developments lay in store as regards the management of the Union and the prospects before us following the introduction of the Lisbon Treaty. On that occasion, I also had the pleasure of meeting Mr Komorowski and Mr Borusewicz, the Marshals of the Sejm and Senate, who play a very active part in these efforts and in European agreements.

The Sejm is the first parliament I have visited since the Stockholm meeting. After all the experience gained and decisions taken in Stockholm, it seemed only natural that I should first come here and give you an account of that meeting. I shall be doing the same, of course, in many other parliaments in Europe.

With the entry into force of the Treaty, the distribution of powers in the European Union has changed. The European Parliament has increased in importance. It has become an equal partner with the Council of the European Union, in which the governments of the EU Member States are represented. The Union now has a de facto bicameral parliamentary system. From now on the Members of the European Parliament have an equal say with ministers who sit in the Council of Ministers as representatives of individual European countries. Members of governments and Members of the European Parliament have thus become equal in terms of the rights they enjoy in the European Union. This is a significant change.

The Lisbon Treaty might be described as a treaty of parliaments, not only for the European Parliament, but also the national parliaments. It is a treaty that gives you, Ladies and Gentlemen, greater powers. It firmly enshrines the subsidiarity principle. This is the simple principle that many matters can - and therefore should - be better and more effectively dealt with at national, regional or local level. Thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, national parliaments can block proposals which violate this principle. This is a new power accorded to national parliaments, but it is also a major new responsibility. As a result, you will be co-authors of Union law. You will also share responsibility for Union regulation. We are talking here of Community activities, activities essential to the development of the European Union and the observance of all the principles which guide it, above all the principle of solidarity. This power must be used with care, if the European Union is to keep moving ahead, if it is to keep improving the lives of its citizens, and if it is to act effectively.

The Treaty is not as significant a turning point as the 2004 enlargement, which brought so many rights to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in particular. I was recently in Ukraine and I can tell you that this visit was highly educational, especially for us Poles. Only by comparing almost 20 years of Ukrainian independence and 20 years of Polish independence can we see all that we have achieved, through the great efforts we have made, through the determination we have shown and by working together.

The Treaty of Lisbon is like a toolkit, and if its laws are used properly they will help to ensure the solidarity, cohesion, prosperity and security of the people of Europe.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If I choose to dwell on matters from the past, it is because history sometimes repeats itself. Some of you will undoubtedly remember that, exactly nine years ago, when I addressed the Sejm on the subject of Poland's road to the European Union, I urged that accession not be viewed as an end in itself but as a trigger for Poland's development. On that occasion, in December 2000, I also called for the role of the European Parliament to be strengthened. While I did not have the foresight to predict with any certainty that I would one day become its President, these were things that I actually said at that time.

Today we, the European Parliament and the national parliaments, are responsible for the new shape the Union will take, not in an abstract sense, but for the destiny of its citizens. At the European Parliament we are working on new types of contacts with national parliaments. However, we do not want to create new structures. Nor do we wish to set up a new service. I was discussing this earlier with the Council of Seniors, whose members for the most part agreed. We want to see direct cooperation at parliamentary committee level, in other words between experts from the European Parliament and the national parliaments. For this purpose, we want to take advantage of the benefits offered by the internet and video-conferencing. Nowadays, unlike 20 years ago, these tools allow experts, members who are rapporteurs on particular pieces of legislation, to communicate directly. All this was agreed in Stockholm and I have come here today to the Polish Parliament to inform you of these preliminary decisions as the first in a long list of visits I shall be making.

What matters is that the rules we make really help citizens, really support businesses and protect consumers, without creating unexpected difficulties for them. Your role in this process is a key one. Strong parliaments make for a more democratic Europe.  

I want to turn now to another important question. Nine years ago, I also called for a Community decision-making procedure with a key role for the Commission and the European Parliament. The European Union will be strong and effective only if it enjoys internal cohesion, integration and solidarity. Only a community of European nations can resolve citizens' problems, take its place in the world, and perhaps even change that world.

How can we change the world so that our citizens will benefit? It is with this in mind that I want to see closer daily cooperation between Members of the European Parliament and of national parliaments. My role in this process is quite a specific one. As the European Parliament's President, it is my job to ensure that our contacts are as efficient as possible.

A moment ago I used the term 'solidarity'. When I speak publicly within and outside the Union, I always return to this word with pride. For it was we Poles who gave this word such resonance in both Europe and the world. We can be proud of that. Solidarity and the principle it embodies have been our contribution to the task of European integration, as all now recognise. No Union initiative can be effectively undertaken without reference to the concept of solidarity.

Let me now turn to matters of which I am obliged to keep you informed. In addition to the responsibilities I obviously have for the leadership of the European Parliament, its general structure and its everyday business, I also have frequent meetings with the Commission, with the European Council during its summits, and, as I have already mentioned, with national parliaments. At the European Parliament, we are currently working on the composition of the European Commission, and the hearings of all Commissioners-designate are being held at the moment. This is our responsibility and we are fulfilling it in a transparent manner so that Europeans are kept informed of the progress of the hearings of individual candidates and know who is to run and be responsible for the European government that is the Commission.

There are some matters which are close to my heart and I mentioned them in my inaugural address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 15 September. I should like to briefly mention four points:

First, the Union's energy policy.

I placed great emphasis on this in my speech of 15 September, saying that efforts would be made to create a European Energy Community. This idea is as old as the idea of the European Union itself. The Schuman Declaration was made almost 50 years ago, on 9 May 1958, and is considered to mark the beginning of the Community, initially as a coal and steel community. At the time, coal was the most important energy source, on which everything depended. Now coal has been joined by oil, gas and electricity supplies as crucial commodities without which there can be no development. Europeans have had bad experiences in this area. In Slovakia and Bulgaria last winter, electricity supplies had to be cut off. Spain and Greece have experienced major difficulties with gas supplies. I do not need to remind you that here in my homeland we face the same problems. That is why I want to promote the idea of a European Energy Community. In the European Union, no country can stand alone when it faces shortages of gas, oil or electricity. The Lisbon Treaty favours solutions of this kind. We included 'energy solidarity' in that Treaty. A debate is being held in the European Parliament on a new regulation in this field. Yet I am convinced we must go further. The Union as a whole must be a partner in purchasing gas and oil from foreign suppliers.

We must have adequate cross-border links that will enable us to come to the assistance of any country suffering from a shortfall of electricity or gas. Euratom can serve as a good example here, a community which for more than half a century has been engaged in nuclear energy cooperation in Europe. We need cooperation of this kind throughout the energy sector. This also applies to emissions reduction and safe coal mining. Today this is one of the European Union's top priorities, thanks in part to our efforts. As soon as the new Commission is in place, I shall begin an intensive dialogue on this matter. I have already had an initial discussion on this subject with Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

I also welcome the fact that the development of an energy policy is one of the priorities of the current Spanish Presidency of the EU. I am very pleased that it is one of the Presidency's main objectives. I discussed this matter at great length yesterday with the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr Zapatero, who spent the whole day at the European Parliament

The second matter I wished to raise is the important task of drawing up a fitting budget for the enlarged European Union, for the seven-year period beginning in 2014. This budget raises a fundamental question: how to create a level playing field for Europe's weaker regions and countries without at the same time squandering the opportunities offered by Europe's strong competitiveness at global level? This is the crucial question facing the Union budget. I firmly believe that countries such as Poland deserve assistance for those of their regions which still fall well below the European average, but we must also ensure that they can make use of the opportunities and funds provided by the Union in those areas where a truly competitive economy is being built. I wanted to place particular emphasis on this. We are currently following a twin track. We are supporting the weakest by using Union funds but at the same time we want to participate on the world stage. This is the challenge facing us. It is to be welcomed that the new Polish Commissioner has a key role to play in drawing up the European Union's budget.

Needless to say, there can be no Union budget without the cooperation and agreement of the European Parliament. That is why the second objective I have set myself is to ensure that the European Parliament increases the added value of the new budget plans, both figuratively and literally.

My third point concerns foreign policy. None of the questions important to the people of this country or to the people of Europe can be resolved either within Poland or within the European Union. The crisis has been imported from outside. Climate change is an international, global issue. The question of energy supplies is discussed exclusively in terms of supplies from outside the European Union. Migration or demographic problems affect the world as a whole. Terrorism is a global problem. Piracy, the nuclear threat - none of these questions can be resolved solely within the European Union. That is why foreign policy is essential in resolving the problems faced by our people and not just a game aimed at achieving some abstract position on the world stage. The European Union must also be strong and work efficiently beyond its frontiers. The United States must continue to be a key partner.

In April I shall be visiting the United States and then continuing to Russia and China. In a multipolar world, the Union must look to its own position. Each of the problems I have mentioned needs to be dealt with in a slightly different context. The Union's relations with the United States are not enough in themselves to keep disasters at bay. There are some matters that we shall resolve by involving China and India, the world's biggest countries. Other questions, such as climate change, will require cooperation from Brazil, which is home to the world's largest forests. There are some problems we cannot resolve without the participation of still other countries. The problem of piracy, for example, can only be resolved with the help of Saudi Arabia. The world faces threats from nuclear weapons. Without Russia, Japan or South Korea these questions cannot be tackled. That is why from now on we need to develop a multipolar system. I do not need to remind you that the United States are our natural ally. In Poland this partnership is a tried and tested one. We need to revive it and restore it to the level which seemed so natural a few years ago.

My fourth and final point concerns freedom, democracy and human rights.

The history of our country over recent centuries has been indelibly marked by an absence of these values. For Poles today these are seen as something natural, though I am convinced this was always the case. It is precisely because of this that we succeeded in regaining our independence. That is why we have made such great strides during the last twenty years and did not need to wait for these rights to be rebuilt from scratch. Yet we are also aware that this is not the case everywhere. We particularly cherish freedom of speech and I should like to see the winners of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought help to promote this freedom. Last year the prize was awarded to the Russian organisation 'Memorial' for its courageous efforts over many years. When Ludmila Alexeyeva, a member of 'Memorial', was arrested at New Year as one of the organisers of a pro-democracy demonstration in Moscow, I immediately lodged a protest.

I also initiated the setting up of the Sakharov network, bringing together some 30 former winners of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize from countries all over the world (Cuba, Russia, Belarus, China, Sudan, etc.).
The idea is that these persons, who have been honoured by the European Parliament as defenders of human rights and freedom of expression and who in many cases are still in prison, should be able to share their opinions on the question of human rights protection worldwide. Values which for us have been important for centuries are not always as firmly rooted elsewhere and we must seek to give others this opportunity.

In a few days' time we will be marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This tragedy, which occurred under Nazi occupation during a great and terrible war, took place on our soil. We are not responsible for that tragedy, but we bear a responsibility to the rest of the world to raise our voices in defence of human rights at the place where they were flouted more brutally than at any other time in history. During the commemorative events in Auschwitz, I shall inaugurate the 'Pro Bono Publico European Forum - Citizens for European Solidarity'. In doing so, I wish to draw on the experience of the 12 former Presidents of the European Parliament. The first was Simone Weil, who will also be visiting Auschwitz. There we will together set up the Forum of Former Presidents of the European Parliament.

Allow me to say a few more words in conclusion.

Europe and the world are changing before our eyes. It is now up to us how Poland will take part in these changes. The last five-and-a-half years have shown that we can find our place in the European Union. The time has now come not merely to take our place in Europe but to begin shaping its development. Next year's Polish Presidency will be a major challenge; it will be a test for us as politicians and for the Polish Government. It will also be an opportunity for Poland to prove that it counts for something in Europe, not just as a big country, but above all as an effective partner.

What matters for Poland matters for Europe and vice versa. Europe must know that Poland is a constructive and active partner. We benefit from Europe as a country, as a nation, as citizens. We share our political thinking, put forward our proposed solutions for Europe - for the benefit of both Europe and Poland. We are one of the largest countries in Europe.

Our recent success as an island of 'green' amid a sea of 'red' indicators has given us a key role in Europe. This is brought home to me in many of the places I visit. Today everyone is talking about us as leaders in this part of the world, the only ones to have surmounted the crisis effectively.

Let us take advantage of this success and build on it. In the words of Oscar Wilde, 'Success is a science. If you have the conditions you get the result'. It is clear that we have the conditions, the rest is up to us.

Thank you.