Internal Policies and EU Institutions

Buzek's speech "On democracy in Europe" at Freiburg University

Freiburg -
Thursday 17/11/2011

It is a great pleasure to be with you in Freiburg today. And I am particularly glad to be here with my colleague Andreas Schwab, with whom I have worked for many years within the Industry, Research and Energy Committee.  

I was told this is the city with the longest sun-shine in Germany. But this city also shines, first and foremost through the bright minds that have lived within your city limits.

Hannah Arendt, one of the most famous daughters of this University once said: “Political questions are far too serious to be left to the politicians.” As a politician, I take this as a challenge to share my thoughts about the future of European democracy with you. I am not here to give simple slogans, rather to ask questions. And I trust you to help give some answers. Your questions are of crucial importance for us politicians to find these answers.

Many think Europe is in crisis today. They are right, at least in the original sense of the word. It is not without irony that we learned the word crisis from the ancient Greeks. The Greek word krisis meant in the first place “judgement” or “decision”. And a decision we have to make. It will not be an easy one. We have to decide to trust each other – despite all that has happened recently.

Is trust something obvious? No, it is not. I would even say that trust amongst people is one of the most difficult things to happen. The history of mankind is a history of war and conquest, of slavery and oppression. One of the first books ever written was “The Art of War” by Sun Tsu.

Perhaps in the past we had many reasons not to trust each other. But we chose to do so today – for our mutual benefit. The principle “love thy enemy” is indeed the most important teaching ever made. Having seen the darkest face of humanity, especially in our wars, we Europeans chose to apply this principle. And enemies have become friends. For some it was not an easy choice.

If Europe is in crisis today, it is because trust has eroded. We need to gain it back. We need to remember our common values to make the right choices for the future. Besides democracy, freedom and justice, solidarity is the most fundamental value Europe is built upon. Solidarity is not our destiny. It is our choice.

Was it a bad choice? I do not think so. Against so many odds our continent has changed for the better. But if there is a doubt, a look from outside can sometimes help us to see more clearly.

When I visited Tahrir Square in Cairo in March or Martyr Square in Tripoli just two weeks ago, one sentence struck me most: “Thank you, Europe!” We must stop for a moment and contemplate what that really means - there are people out there, in our neighbourhood, who have risked their lives for our values. They do not see Europe as the colonial power of the past, but as a model for their hopes in the future. 

I understand how they feel. I have experienced something similar. Looking from the other side of the Iron Curtain under a Communist regime, we saw what we wanted. When my friends and I were building the Solidarity movement in 1980, we made our choice.

We made the choice of freedom – against a regime which decided what was best for each woman and man. We made the choice of truth – against a regime that lied to itself and to its citizens. We made the choice of solidarity – against a regime that was built on intimidation. We stood up for our faith, for our human dignity and our human rights. And we changed the face of Europe. I woudl like to underline teh power of our values.

Those in our neighbourhood who share these aspirations must be assured of our solidarity. We have the unique opportunity today to expand our way of life – not through domination, but through the promotion of our values. We need to help democratisation in our neighbourhood and beyond. We need to make an honest offer, similar to the offer Europe made to Germany after the end of the Second World War. Similar to the offer Europe made to Greece, Portugal and Spain after the end of dictatorship. And similar to the offer made to the whole of Central and Eastern Europe when we found our freedom. Of course, we cannot offer full EU membership to everyone but we can offer true partnership.

Partnership based on shared prosperity, and in the future perhaps, a shared sovereignty in certain policy areas. The community method which has made Europe the strongest economic power in the world can be applied elsewhere. We need the three "Ps" in our neighbourhood: peace, prosperity and partnership.

Dear Students,

But today, we also have to live up to our own values. Values that are such a beacon of hope in the world. We have to renew our European social contract. We have to rebuild that trust among ourselves.

How will European democracy look like in the 21st century? How can we cope with the challenges ahead? These questions are indeed too serious to be left to politicians alone. Our democracy relies on the free choices of free citizens. It relies on you. The level of individual freedom we enjoy today has never been seen in history. But this freedom has also led to deep complexity.

We need to develop a new model of governance that relies on direct links to citizens at all levels of integration. This is what we call subsidiarity. Political decisions have to be taken at the level which is most appropriate. Our EU should only act in those areas where the nation, the region, a city or a family cannot find the answers. But sometimes - like in energy issues - the best level to act is the European level. Subsidiarity works best in both directions.

How much Europe do we need? I think in most policy areas, we need rather more than less. Let me give some examples - does anybody really still think that we can create better results with 27 independent diplomacies? How can we make human rights count in our foreign policy if some world powers can play one EU member state against the other in trade or investment talks? This is why I think that foreign policy should be a fully integrated EU competence. In today's world it is an extension of our internal market. The same applies to environmental protection, energy, trade, development and other sectoral policies.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you can imagine I believe in the merits of parliamentary democracy. We all can be proud to have established the first directly elected supranational parliament. I firmly believe that we have to pass from a Europe of diplomats to a Europe of citizens. I am convinced that the European Parliament is one of the best places to do so.

We have achieved a lot over the last decades. The great majority of EU laws and regulations have to be adopted by the European Parliament today. We are more and more becoming a bicameral system - similar to federal states like Germany. With the Council as the state chamber and the Parliament as the citizens’ chamber. We still have to go a bit further. We need to give citizens a real choice about who should run our Union.

As a first step, I wish that all big parties run a common top candidate for becoming President of the European Commission at the next European elections. I also wish that in the future, all European Commissioners will also be candidates in European elections. Elected first as MEPs before being elected to the Commission. We do not need to change the Lisbon Treaty for this, and it would grant the Commission greater legitimacy. We should also have national political parties run with the logos of their European Parties so that citizens know who has the majority in Europe.

We should also use all the potential of new technologies to create links amongst us. In this sense, I invite you all to connect and interact with me on Facebook or Twitter. Together, we can create a true European Civic Space.

Dear Friends,

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, "democracy may be the worst form of government, except all those tried before". True democracy is never easy. It takes time to build a majority, or even consensus. This is why it seems to work slowly.

As I said at the beginning - solidarity is not an obvious choice, but like democracy, it is the best one. On the road of European integration we can not leave anybody behind. If some states want to move slower, it is our responsibility not to exclude them. On the other hand it is their responsibility not to stop us moving ahead. We must discuss and we must try to convince – but we should always keep respect for each other.

Our EU is a community of destiny and a union of choice. In order to make it ready for the future, we need to rely more than ever on the trust and participation of every single one of you. Let us continue to trust each other. This is our decision today for your tomorrow.

Thank you