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European Day of remembrance of victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes

Brussels -
Monday 22/08/2011

Honourable Minister Kwiatkowski,

Honourable Marshal Borusewicz,

Honourable Madame President Gronkiewicz-Waltz,

Dear Ministers, Dear Friends,

It is a great honour for me to be able to address you this evening. I propose that I make a few opening remarks to our discussion. I will try and put a European Parliament perspective on why tomorrow's day of remembrance is so important.

The European Parliament passed a resolution proposing 23 August as a day of remembrance for the victims of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. We chose this day because of its symbolic significance - the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact - which led directly to the Second World War, and the division of our continent.

My first point is that by choosing to remember these victims, we are not creating politics out of history. We are remembering the past so that we do not repeat our errors in the future. You may think that today totalitarianism is the past. Perhaps in the Europe Union it is. But such regimes still function in our neighbourhood - Belarus, Syria, Libya. Three examples we see every day in the media.

We are also witnessing steps back in our neighbourhood. Countries like Ukraine and Russia are moving away from democracy. We also do not know what will be the outcome of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia. This is why we need to use all the tools at our disposal to promote our values.

The EU is a community of values and we export our values just as much as we export our goods and services. And these values are democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. But also a condemnation of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. By remembering we are also sending a signal of what we accept, and what we do not.

As President of the European Parliament I speak the same language as my colleagues President Barroso and President Van Rompuy. We have all made similar statements about democracy and human rights - not only in the EU - but also in China, in Russia, and in all countries we visit. The EU is united on this.

My second point is that there may be no danger of such regimes in the EU today - but there is a trend which should make us think. Because of the financial and economic crisis European public opinion is becoming more radical. Extremists and populists are becoming more vocal - the True Finns' results in Finland's elections. The high opinion polls of Marine Le Pen in France. The strength of the Danish People's Party - are examples of this trend.

I am also concerned that one of the pillars of EU integration - free movement of people - is being questioned. Taking steps back from our Schengen Agreement is a bad message. It means we no longer trust each other.

Both messages are similar - they are messages of intolerance. They are not the messages on which the EU was built for the last 60 years.

My third and last point is that if we wish to achieve reconciliation between countries, we need remembrance - and a common view of history. France and Germany, which allowed for the European project to begin. Poland and Germany which helped enlargement. More recently Poland and Ukraine and Poland and Russia. But also Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Russia. We all have to find reconciliation if we want normal relations. But reconciliation has to proceed via remembrance.

This is why I believe tomorrow is such an important day. It is important externally because it shows our values. But also internally, because it reminds us of the dangers of intolerance. Thank you.

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