Foreign Affairs
Internal Policies and EU Institutions

Buzek´s speech at the Festival of Europe in Florence:'Europe is not a given to us. Europe is our task.'

Florence -
Monday, May 9, 2011

Dear President Borrell, 
Dear Commissioner Vassiliou,
Dear Colleagues, Dear Friends,

Standing here in the stunning Salone dei Cinquecento, surrounded by beautiful frescos and magnificent paintings, I would like to use this occasion to paint a picture of my own. A picture of Europe as I see it today.

The condition of Europe can be assessed by different criteria. We have the criteria of historical, institutional, economic, political, social, cultural kind, criteria of values ​​in which we believe and even the criteria of our European dreams. Being an optimist, pessimist or fatalist - you'll find something for everyone.

The most optimistic is the historical criterion. In the entire history of this continent there has never been a period as bloodless, peaceful and constructive, despite such a huge diversity and openness, despite so many conflicts. Democracy - as we all know - is the brainchild of the Greeks. The ancients said that "men" differs from "barbarians" by resolving their conflicts through debate, speech, persuasion and not by force and violence. In this regard, we, the descendants of Aristotle and Cicero, we have succeeded. Today we talk more than we grab a gun.

Another criterion is the state of the European institutions. I think that here also we can be optimistic. These are robust institutions, effective and what is very important - open to change.Because Europe as a company (because of the institutional point of view this is a kind of business) must operate smoothly and respond quickly. The European institutions must be sensitive to the diverse needs of citizens, must be flexible yet transparent and internally coherent, as the frescoes and paintings surrounding us.

The fresco of today's Europe

So what will this European painting look like? First of all it is still a work in progress. We have been operating under the new Lisbon Treaty for almost eighteen months.

We have created new procedures - like the citizens initiative - which allow for greater involvement of citizens in the legislative process. We have a new External Action Service. Both the European Parliament and National Parliaments have acquired new powers. We have a new institution, the European Council with its permanent President.During the crisis some hesitate to put this painting in the living room. However, when we look at the long process of painting it - from the Schuman declaration until today - I am convinced we can be proud of this picture. Having said that, some additional work is still needed.

Next in line were the economic and political criteria. So I would like, as a politician, to be concrete and on this basis to assess the state of Europe and give examples of necessary actions.

The most important challenge is the economy. The situation in some Member States (not all of them fortunately) is dramatic. We are witnessing unemployment levels in certain countries -especially among young people - which have not been seen since the 1930s. Talking about the State of the Union, we should underline this.

Let us remember that we have imported the financial instability from outside the Union. We should therefore prepare ourselves better to react in the future on any kind of global crisis. 

The European Parliament has just passed a legislative package of six proposals of the European Commission which aim to help stabilise the markets. Previously we had decided on new European supervision and coordination agencies - in banking and insurance. Regulations on bankers' bonuses and on general financial supervision were also important. The new rules introduce more transparency and more controls so that we can avoid the mistakes of the past.

We have also supported the changes to the Treaty to make the European Stability Mechanism, so-called "bail out" mechanism, permanent. The Euro is a common good which we must defend. We have to show solidarity to member states not only when things are going well, but also when they go badly.

But member states have to also show responsibility. In the time of Solidarity we used to have a slogan in my country - no freedom without Solidarity. But freedom and solidarity without responsibility is just an empty slogan. 

European institutions have also decided on the so-called "European semester" which gives the possibility of discussion of our national budgets, and to make them compatible and create added value with our annual European budget. From the later we need to invest in research and new technologies to create the jobs of the future. We need to invest in infrastructure - both the hard kind of roads and bridges. But also the soft infrastructure of internet connections and telecommunications. We need to close the gaps in the internal market to stimulate growth. All the mentioned above tasks and goals are the main topics of our Europe 2020 Strategy for creating innovations, competitiveness, growth and jobs.

To exit quickly from the crisis we must also continue with structural reforms. They are strongly connected with the so-called "Euro plus pact". We must tell our citizens the truth that we have lived on credit too long. Today we need to pay this credit back and work longer hours, save more, spend less and retire later.

From crisis to opportunities

Dear Friends,

What the financial crisis has taught us is that to have a Monetary Union we have to have an Economic Union. We need to implement the letter and the spirit of the Lisbon Treaty. Which means more integration and more community method should be used. Of course it is not easy as we are a Union of 27 Member States, and it always needs support from the national governments. But it is nothing new. A few decades ago Member States reacted to some difficulties and took important Community decisions - for example, creating the Schengen Area, the Euro, and the Single Market. Today we still need more coordination therefore we still need more Europe.

If we are to achieve an economically efficient Union we need more political will and more power to the commonality of the Union. To make it more solid, more uniform, or rather - more explicit in the eyes of the outside. Political will works miracles, but there is no political will without the will of the individuals. Hence the appeal to the leaders of the countries - let us unite. Europe needs us just as we need a politically united Europe.

If we succeed, we can be certain that two further challenges - social and cultural -whose implementation depends on an efficient economy and wise politics will successfully be concluded. Our community is also vital if we want to be successful in foreign policy. You see it most in our closest neighbourhood.

When we talk about the State of the Union, let us underline the importance of the security of energy supply and climate change protection.

Starting with the United Nations climate change conference in South Africa in this December, we need a Common European approach and to present unity in our views. We should achieve an international agreement if we do not wish to be alone in fighting this global phenomenon, and at the same time losing our competitiveness.

Using energy causes 80% of climate change. So we need a Community approach in research for new technologies, and to create low carbon prosperity. We need to create a real common market in energy as the basis for a complete single market. We need a community approach for purchasing energy resources from outside of the Union. A European Energy Community, as was proposed one year ago by myself with Jacques Delors, could be the answer for all these tasks and goals.

Our neighbours - our strength

The second most important challenge today is to enable Europe's neighbours to participate in what I call the three "P's - an area of peace, prosperity and partnership.

If we try to reach too far we may make a mistake. Let us focus our efforts on cooperation with our closest neighbours. When we are successful there, we can go further.

Of course we cannot impose anything. If these countries are ready for democracy and free market economy, we should help them. But these countries do not need aid, they need better aid.

We need to invest in building up public democratic institutions and procedures. They expect free trade. They need financial support for investment. They want to know how to develop small and medium-sized businesses.

We can also help them by promoting contacts and exchanges among themselves. The relationship should not be only between one country and the EU. It should be multilateral.

What the Jasmine revolution has taught us is that there is no true stability without democracy. But there is also no stability without prosperity.

Dear colleagues,

Real change can only come through prosperity. As a Parliament we have called for a greater opening up of the internal market for goods coming from North Africa. By helping to implement our rules we also raise their standards. We simply make North African countries better trading partners. Not only for our market but world wide.

We should never forget that we also have our partners in the East of Europe. We have just launched with them the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly. Here too, the EU is part of the solution. Our neighbourhood policies will be the major long term project of this generation.

If we talk about our neighbourhood policy, it also involves the principle of our European values, and so axiology, and this is another criterion for assessing the state of Europe. We Europeans, no matter if we invoke Greek, Roman, Christian traditions, or the Enlightenment, we are universalists and we cannot say that our values, privileges and rights are only relative to 'being European'. Because human rights were invented in Europe, but they are universal. Moreover it was us - Europeans - who invented the values ​​and attitudes such as charity, tolerance and recognition not mainly for us but for the "others", "foreign". And we should be faithful to these values. There is something great in this European attitude. It is about respect for the autonomy of others. And to recognize it.

Solidarity and responsibility

Finally, the last - eighth - is the criterion of evaluation: implementation of our dreams about Europe, which can also be called a utopian criterion.

This leads me to my last major challenge which is the rise of populism and anti-Europeanism.  If irresponsible politicians are elected on the wave of the crisis, we will wake up in a different EU. Then it would be difficult to turn back the clock.

This is of course a natural reaction that national egoism appears when money begins to lack. Questions appear about the need to finance the common EU budget. There is a growing fear of a 'foreigner', 'other', the immigrant with different skin colour or a Roma.

But it is the responsibility of us politicians to rise to the challenge and not fall into easy populism. Pushing ahead with pro-growth measures which are sometimes unpopular is as important as the short term positive feeling of our citizens. 

I know that it could be politically very difficult, I have my own experience in this leading my country for four years, and personally I believe in social dialogue, honest public debate. We must introduce all the necessary reforms. We must ensure that solidarity continues to be the principle of the EU, both in times of prosperity and in times of crisis.

We also have to be honest with ourselves. As politicians we are failing our citizens by not making the case for European integration. By not defending the values our Union is based on, we are letting the extremist parties - with their easy slogans - lead the debate.

Europe is not a given to us. Europe is our task. It is a utopian project, with the implementation of which we can have obstacles and setbacks, but it is like a lighthouse for our actions. Today, the status of this project for many of us may seem unsatisfactory. We are far from its full implementation. We do not know entirely in what way it should be implemented.  But we are working, debating, arguing, without the use of violence, as would the Greeks. So even if we assess the state of Europe today as not the best one, however, we can admit that not for a moment have we forgotten how big and difficult project we refer our actions to.

Let us be successful! "


For further information:

  • Robert A. Golański


    Mobile: +32 475 751 663