Speech to the Plenary of the States-General of the Netherlands
Dear Presidents van der Linden
Dear President Verbeet,
It is a great honour for me to be able to address you today. The Netherlands has always been a pillar of European integration. You have given us great Members of the European Parliament, including two Presidents - Cornelis Berkhouwer and Piet Dankert. You have given us great Commissioners and heads of other EU institutions.
Each one brought a tradition of hard work but more importantly you brought us the "Polder model" which is your true contribution to European political culture. This constant search - on the basis of facts which parties can agree - for consensus is what my institution is based on. It is also what the EU in general is based upon.
We are a community of shared values, but we are also a community which uses your model of decision making. This is the key to Europe's success.
I would like to make a few remarks today on why I believe the EU level is as relevant as ever. My first comment relates to our interparliamentary relations.
I am convinced that for the EU to be successful in the 21st century, we need not only instruments, but the political will to use them.
The instruments we now have. The Treaty of Lisbon is a big step in European integration. By making the European Parliament a full co-legislator - but also by involving you the national parliaments in the legislative process - we have made European law making much more transparent for our 500 million citizens.
I particularly welcome the active level of exchanges between the European Parliament and both of your chambers. By mid-April, six committees of the House of Representatives as well as the European Affairs Committee of the Senate, will have paid working visits to the European Parliament.
You have also opted to examine the Commission's annual Work Programme to identify particular proposals as regards their compliance with the principle of subsidiarity. This, combined with the so-called "yellow card", only strengthen democracy.
Europe's laws should not only be passed, but they should also be implemented. We will only have full implementation if we can all agree to the laws we pass, and we can only agree if we are all part of the decision making process. This is a good example of the "Polder model".
Budget & Economic Integration
But instruments are not enough - we also need the money to finance them. This is why the European Parliament has supported the Commission in the budget negotiations. This is why we have called for a realistic budget in the Multiannual Financial Framework.
We understand that in an era of economic crisis money needs to be spent better. This is why we just lowered the draft budget of the European Parliament, even below the expected inflation rate. But we want to make sure that the instruments we have are properly financed so that we can use them properly.
We believe that it is important to defend Europe's added value. A Euro spent at the EU level is often worth far more than a Euro spent at home. Let me give you one concrete example: the 4 billion Euros we committed to energy projects last year triggered 22 billion Euros in overall investment.
The measures taken to support the Euro last week do not mean a transfer of sovereignty to the EU. They are the instruments we need to prevent future crisis. And they reassure the markets.
No individual country is capable of surviving on its own today. Iceland, Greece, Ireland, and today Portugal, are examples we should never forget. The only way we are able to get out of this economic crisis, is through European solidarity.
This is my second point - if the Polder model is the way we do business in Europe, it is solidarity that keeps this model working. Today more than ever we need European solidarity - and sometimes we need to show solidarity in areas which may be controversial.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me give you two examples where I believe we need more European solidarity. The first is in foreign and defence policy.
What is happening in both our Southern and Eastern neighbourhoods should be a wake up call. The European Parliament was one of the first to call for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians. I praise the Dutch government's decision to make soldiers, ships and planes available to the international coalition.
But this should have been Europe's hour. Like in Chad two years ago, or in FYROM earlier, this should be an EU led mission. This is our responsibility. Libya is only 300 km from the European Union.
What is becoming clear is that we may have a new European External Action Service - which is good - but we don't have common policies which can be implemented. There is a gap between our ambitions, the instruments we are shaping and their political implementation. Because of this, the EU is not present enough, which is disappointing.
We should not be afraid to defend our interests - in trade, in energy security, in foreign policy. We should not be afraid to push for the spread of democracy, for the projection of stability and good governance. A stable, democratic neighbourhood, whether in the East or in the South is in all our interests.
We are stronger when we work together. As with the new stability mechanism it is only through finding a common position that we can achieve great things. But to find a common position we need to show solidarity to each other.
For Europe to continue being relevant in the 21st century it is not just through the Euro, aid and humanitarian assistance - we need to be players and not just payers. This is why we need to work towards a Common Foreign Policy, and a Common Defence and Security Policy.
The second area where we should show greater solidarity is with our immigration and asylum policy. Except for Luxembourg and the Czech Republic all countries of the European Union are responsible for an external land or sea border. This is, and must be, an EU Policy.
The European Parliament believes we need a joint immigration policy so that we avoid that certain countries are overwhelmed by illegal immigrants. But for a joint immigration policy to work, we again need to show solidarity among the twenty-seven Member States.
Yes, to make sure our borders are secure we need to strengthen FRONTEX. But we also need to help member states when they are faced with difficult situations. For example, in one night 3000 refugees appeared on the island of Lampedusa. The population of Lampedusa is 3000. No EU member state should cope on its own.
It is not enough to strengthen our external borders. We need to channel illegal migration into legal immigration though such schemes as the blue card. For this to work we need common rules and common standards and this is again what the EU can offer as added value.
We in the European Parliament believe that what the EU offers - through our common policies, through the laws we pass and the money we spend - is a way to face the challenges of the 21st century. And be successful.
As I said in the beginning, Europe is not just a single market, or simply a common agricultural policy, or any other single policy. It is a Community of shared values. A community that believes in solidarity and consensus. Two values that your country, and your Parliament, is famous for.