Speech by Jerzy Buzek President of the European Parliament 'The European Parliament - in the service of people'
Dear Sir Julian,
Dear Professor Unger,
This former Benedictine monastery, which was once also a prison, a military barracks, and today a centre for conferences and meetings, is an appropriate place for us to discuss the "rediscovery of man in our society".
Europe is, and always must be about the individual.
I have always regretted that we have changed the name from "European Community" to "European Union" after Maastricht, because we are first and foremost a community of shared values and not just a single market, with a common system of laws, and common decision making.
This Union we are creating is based on the idea that we can be united even if we are different. It is based on respect, tolerance, but most of all, it is based on a shared solidarity which we have to each other.
These past eighteen months, our solidarity has been tested with the economic and financial crisis but by helping member states which have experienced difficulties, we are not just helping ourselves, we are helping fellow European citizens.
There is still no true European demos, but I believe the way we have reacted to the crisis has shown there is a European spirit.
We are in a particular time in Europe's construction. We still do not know the real relationship between the European Council, the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament. The decisions we will take over the coming months on how we work together will determine what kind of Europe we will have in the future.
My concern is that if we do not strengthen the so-called "community method", where the Commission, the Parliament and the Council have to work together to come to an agreement, then we will be taking a step back in Europe's construction and not a step forward.
The community method follows established rules approved by all member states, and it is a method to establish common rules which apply to all member states equally.
The community method exists to protect the smaller, poorer member states. It guarantees solidarity and creates a decision making method which is based on negotiations and consensus. I fear we may go to a model where bigger and richer countries determine the direction of the Union.
This is not a model that will work in a Europe of twenty-seven and soon to be twenty-eight or even thirty member states. Such a model will lead to internal divisions, conflict and will threaten the long term stability of the Union.
Last week while addressing students at the College of Europe in Bruges, Chancellor Merkel argued that it does not matter whether we use the intergovernmental method or the community method, what is important is that we have a common position.
In principle I agree because a European position is always better than no position at all. But I believe that a system where the Commission is guardian of the treaties and is the only institution which has the right of initiative, guarantees a European perspective on legislation which the intergovernmental method does not always.
The community method is transparent. It involves all member states on an equal basis; nobody is sidelined. It results in common legislation which is equally binding for everybody.
And it prevents a two-speed, multi-layer Europe with alternating, alliances a model of diplomacy that we put away in Europe following the outbreak of the First World War.
We in the Parliament represent the European citizen's interest, while the Council represents the interests of member states. These two interests are not always compatible.
Let me give you just two examples to illustrate this point.
The first is the legislation on SWIFT which dealt with access by the US administration to banking information. The Parliament voted against the proposal agreed by Member States because we did not believe that it protected individual rights sufficiently.
The changes we introduced created more legal certainty. Even the US administration accepted the compromise position.
The second example is the current debate on the budget.
The Lisbon Treaty has not only changed the way we do business in Europe, it has also enlarged the competences of the European level - energy, space, trade, the external action service, are just a few areas where we have to develop new European policies.
For this we need to have a budget that can meet the demands put upon the EU institutions.
At the same time, the Council has been cutting the budget of the European Union. In GNI terms our budget is lower than it was in 1986 but today we have far more member states and we have far more responsibility.
Personally speaking, this is simply not credible. I have said this countless times before, we can not pretend to be able to do more and more Europe with less and less Euros.
I understand it is in Member States interests to cut the budget since in this economic climate we have to find savings, but it is in Europe's interest to make sure we have a budget which will allow us to implement the policies that were conferred upon Europe.
We must remember that a lot of these new competences transferred to the European level were once national competence, which were transfered because they could no longer be implemented on the national level alone,
A cut in European spending means a cut in national interests and in the interests of the citizens as well.
This is why the European Parliament restored almost all of the proposals of the European Commission's draft budget.
I agree that there is a need for the utmost transparency when implementing the EU budget and a need in savings at the European level. But European policies are a value added and benefit society, very often by an economy of scale - as demonstrated in the area of common defence policy and in the European space policy.
Without the EU we will not succeed in growing out of the crisis. National strategies need to be coordinated, and we need to work together in order to maximise our impact.
We need investments in new technologies, in infrastructure, in the green economy, in energy, in research. These are the areas which will help create jobs.
We have our new 2020 strategy which brings together many of these areas, but if it is not supported by European legislation and more importantly, European funding, it will not be a success.
The European Parliament is the servant of the people of Europe. We fundamentally believe that society is based on the individual, and the policies we enact have to benefit that individual.
Our legislative fights with Council over passenger name recognition, SWIFT, the roaming directive or the current debate over the budget are all based on this principle - not what Europe can do for its twenty-seven member states, but what it can do for you, the individuals as the building blocks of our society.
We may not have a European demos, but we do have a European spirit. It is based on solidarity, on consensus, and respect of our diversity, and respect of the individual. The community method is the expression of this spirit.
We need to think European, and believe that what Europe offers guarantees the best solution for our societies. But by thinking about the individual, Europe has helped us rediscover man, and woman, in our society.