Internal Policies and EU Institutions

Buzek's speech at the opening of the Academic Year of the European College of Parma

Parma -
Saturday 07/01/2012

It is a great pleasure - as well as a genuine honour - to be with you today. It is also delight to be able to address you in this splendid and breath-taking setting of the Teatro Regio - here in the great city of Parma. Thank you for this invitation.

Parma is for me a true European metropolis. If we take metropolis to mean a mother city, a city to which we have a debt and to which we are linked through our shared identity, then Parma certainly qualifies as such a city. Parma might be famous for its food or its industry, but it is also a musical and cultural centre, the birthplace to personalities such as Verdi and Paganini. Not many people might know that even the Polish national anthem was composed by my compatriot, Józef Wybicki, just few kilometres from where we are meeting today.

It is always inspiring for me too to address an audience of young Europeans. Europe needs your enthusiasm, your inspiration, and your hopes. In times of great difficulty, we understand that experience and rationality are not enough. We need the courage to dream.

For me, Europe is in fact a 'rational dream'. Many of the great figures of post-war Europe have shared this rational dream. Willy Brandt - the man after whom the current promotion here in Parma is named - was a giant figure of this kind. Another hero who shared Brandt's love for freedom, peace and European unity - a long-time friend and a wise man of Europe, whom we tragically lost a month ago - was Václav Havel.

Havel said that "Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."

Havel and Brandt shared the same belief and hope in European unity - Brandt called it Ostpolitik; Havel called it freedom; in Poland we called it solidarity. The point is the same. Europe is not just some kind of dry cost-benefit analysis or argument about the advantages of joint action. It is that, but it also a political choice - a choice in favour of hope - hope based on the lessons of the past and the possibilities of the future.

This is why, today, I would like to tell you about my own hopes for the European Union - after sharing with you a few of my reflections on the lessons which I have learnt during my 30 months as President of the European Parliament.

Lessons from the recent past

My first reflection concerns the current crisis. My presidency of the Parliament has coincided with the migration of the financial crisis of 2008 from the United States to Europe and its transformation into the sovereign debt crisis of some Member States of the euro area of the last two years. These two crises have pointed to two types of inter-dependence: first, the extraordinary inter-dependence of financial markets worldwide, and now the great economic and political inter-dependence of Member States within the European Union.

Ironically, we learned the word crisis from the ancient Greeks. The Greek word krisis originally meant "judgment" or "decision". In this sense, it was both a diagnosis and a cure. We can only overcome a crisis by showing real leadership - by showing a capacity for good judgment and taking the right decisions. This must be based on an understanding of the high degree our inter-dependence in Europe.

To take one very simple example: roughly 70 per cent of German exports go to European states and 60 per cent to member states of the European Union. France, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium take the lion's share of German exports. With this very high degree of interpenetration, the idea of national markets no longer makes sense. It follows that, if the euro crisis were to turn into a 'euro chaos', there will be nowhere to hide. Paradoxically, it was the crisis which has truly helped creating a common understanding among European citizens of the extent of our dependence on each other.

This leads me to my second reflection: the need to identify and assert a clear end-goal. Why have the financial markets been so sceptical about the pledges made by the Heads of State and Government so far? Why have they not been satisfied by the bail-outs, the rescue funds, the pledge to change the treaty, and so on? They have not been convinced because they do not see a grand design, and feel that, if there is a grand design, European leaders have so far failed to show it to them.

Markets want to see where our Union is heading to, where we will be, not in a few months' time, but in several years' time. Take the case of energy for example. The time-frame needed to commit financial resources in the energy field and energy infrastructures is 30/40 years time. Investors - and let me add, the citizens who invest their savings in the funds that operate on the markets to their benefit and those of their children - need to have a clear panorama, not just a series of jumbled sketches, of the way ahead.

We need to show that we believe in our political project and we have concrete proposals and ideas to make it a reality. We need to give new impetus to our 'rational dream'.

The elements we need are the ones that the European Parliament has been advocating - a stronger and more confident Commission, a larger and more flexible Union Budget, based on genuine 'own resources', a greater willingness to 'mutualise' the debts of the member states, and a credible régime to enforce fiscal discipline in the future.

This leads me to a third reflection, based on my experience as the Parliament's President. Discussion of treaty change has its place, but it should not be a substitute for, or alternative to, showing political commitment in the here and now.

We fought tooth and nail to get the Lisbon Treaty signed and ratified by all. I even went to Prague to convince President Vaclav Klaus personally of its importance and discussed about it with Irish citizens ahead of the referendum. Many other hurdles were thrown up on the road to ratification. We said its adoption would mark an end to a decade-long discussion. Yet, now, only after two years after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, we are already witnessing another round of treaty negotiation.

My point is simple: whilst the legal basis for the EU action must always be solid, the key thing is that the politics behind EU action must be sufficiently strong to give it meaning, to make it real - not the other way round.

Challenges ahead

So what of the challenges we face and the hopes we can entertain of the future. I will start, if I may, with Willy Brandt.

Willy Brandt was mayor of West Berlin when the Wall was put up. His Ostpolitik as Chancellor was aimed exactly at tearing down walls, whether material or mental. His Warschauer Kniefall in 1970, for example, was vital in launching Polish-German reconciliation. On his official visit to Poland, he spontaneously fell to his knees before the monument of victims of World War II. His silent kneeling was worth more than a thousand words.

To me his lesson also points to a continuing challenge for the European Union. The Union needs to keep aiming to be a place where barriers are being brought down, not erected. And here I am not referring only to the four freedoms of the free movement of goods, services, capital and people in our single market. I am also worried about some new, more subtle - or psychological - barriers, which are dividing us.

We often hear talk of Old and New Europe, East and West, Centre and Periphery, North and South, 'ins' and 'outs', eurozone and non-eurozone. We have witnessed at the last European Council, on 9th December, the reluctance of one Member State, the United Kingdom, to proceed further in the process of European integration. In short, if you want to see divisions, you have no shortage of options.

The European Union needs to strive for inclusiveness and unity. We need, to recall the words of Robert Schuman, to see and feel ourselves having 'a destiny in common'. Those countries which are willing and able to go further in deepening their integration, using the Community method, need to be allowed to do so. Equally, this process must not create new barriers or to exclude others, on a discretionary basis. If one or more states wish to step aside or exclude themselves, they must be allowed to do that. My hope is that time and the success of the project will win them over.

A second challenge is to build a sustainable Europe. If the EU wants to be successful and durable, it needs to be balanced, in all its dimensions. There cannot be rampant inequalities or imbalances within Member States. There cannot be a depletion of resources from one generation to the detriment of the next generation - or many next generations. We cannot favour growth at the expense of discipline - but equally we cannot have austerity alone to the detriment of growth.

As things stand right now, frankly, I do not feel that we have got the balance right. The efforts in the Member States have sometimes concentrated too much on simple fiscal correction and not enough on building and unleashing the future productive potential of our economies. Policies have at times exaggerated the economic cycle, rather than helped us to escape from the current down-turn. We need more investment in training, in research and in infrastructure, in particular.

But the following question would naturally be: where should we take the money from and where the resources to reignite growth? There are, according to me, four elements to the recipe. The first answer is simple, but very difficult politically. We must work harder, work longer and retire later.

The second answer means introducing reforms which maximise the efficiency and save money wherever is possible, where spending is not giving enough added value or is not justified by humanitarian and social reasons. From my own experience, I believe that it is possible to maintain the European social model, but this requires political imagination and courage. More than a decade ago, I was Prime Minister in my country. My government took sweeping reforms in the pension system, local administration, education, healthcare system and coalmine sector. Some of these reforms were bitterly painful and some families had to undergo a very difficult period, but we can safely say that the Polish economy is now on a healthy path.

The third answer rests in a renewed and European energy policy. We need greater investment in the energy infrastructure which would enable the Union and its surrounding area to achieve greater efficiency through economies of scale. We need a genuine single market in energy. And we need to focus on proper funding of research and innovation in energy field. Only by being innovative we can produce more green energy, without harming our economies. All those goal can be achieved by creating a real 'European energy community', as Jaques Delors and I proposed in May 2009.

The fourth answer would be relaunching the single market. This is not primarily a question of public spending, but all the money which we use for it are invested in a highly efficient way. The route for Europe has been traced by the current Italian Prime Minister, in the report named after him which he submitted in the spring of 2010.

The third challenge: Europe must become a citizen's Europe. Thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, we will soon have a new instrument for direct involvement of the public through the European Citizens' Initiative. The European Parliament has helped to make this innovation easier to use and less bureaucratic. But we need even greater involvement and dialogue. As Willy Brandt succintly put it: "Wir wollen mehr Demokratie wagen" - Let's dare more democracy.

As you may suspect, I think the European Parliament is a good place to start. As a first step, I would like all the major European political parties to run candidates for President of the next European Commission at the European Parliament elections in June 2014. All future Commissioners would be chosen from those elected. Future Commissioners would gain their democratic mandate this way. We should also make sure that European party logos appear on the ballot paper in European elections, alongside national ones, to make it clear what the choices are in Europe.

In your study so far, you have certainly come across the concept of a democratic deficit in Europe. I myself think that if this deficit exists, it does so primarily in the form of a communication and accountability deficit. The creation of a 'European Civic Space', where citizens would both learn and contribute to their identity as European citizens, would be a great way of helping to address this problem. We need to work together on building and nurturing such a civic space.

Today's crisis is not only an economic crisis, but also – and above all – a crisis of values. It sounds banal, but we need to take it seriously. In Poland during the '80s, with all the gravity of those days, we used to say "no bread without freedom", but then realised that there could be "no freedom without solidarity." Today, in the midst of the crisis, we might even add, that there cannot be solidarity without responsibility – as our union must be built on trust and shared rules. Those who think of profit, must also think of values. Those who gain wealth must be responsible. Those who are concerned about their prosperity must be concerned about equality, and those who believe in competition must come to believe in justice.

'I am a European citizen'

On 26th June 1963, five months before his death, President John F. Kennedy gave a famous speech in Berlin, standing next to the then Mayor, Willy Brandt.

He said that "two thousand years ago the proudest boast was 'civis Romanus sum'. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner!' ... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner!' "

But let me claim that nearly fifty years after that famous speech, nowhere in the world as in Europe are such high standards of living enjoyed by so many people. No where else in the world people can count on such a comprehensive system of safety nets which allow them to look positively to the future: whether we look at health systems or programmes to keep people out of extreme poverty. Nowhere else in the world people are so strong and united in their support for fundamental rights. We can and must be proud of our Union and of the values which underpin it.

We are all European citizens. There is no contradiction between being a good Pole and a good European, a good Briton and a good European, a good Spaniard and at the same time a good European. The attempt to present these as alternatives is absolutely false. Europe allows you to discover the magic of the word "and": being a good citizen of your town, your region, your country - and your continent.

I believe that we must - and we will - emerge stronger and more united from the current crisis. We will do so, more than anything else, by being sure of what we have achieved and confident about the future - by being convinced that one of the proudest boasts in today's world is 'civis Europeus sum' - I am a European citizen.

Thank you.


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