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In her speech ‘Is Europe fit for the next generation?’, she encouraged European citizens and leaders to believe, to be confident and to use this difficult moment in time as an opportunity for change. The full speech can be found below.
Dear Distinguished guests,
Dear Professor Dehousse,
Thank you to EUI for having me here today, at this beautiful place. The EUI represents a real public good by contributing to and sharing our European heritage and values between academics and being the link between academia and policy-makers.
La prima cosa che vorrei fare è raccogliere l’eredità che ci ha lasciato David Sassoli. Diceva lui che era innamorato di Firenze.
David era un combattente per il Parlamento Europeo, per noi, per l’Europa.
Credeva nel potere dell’Europa di forgiare un nuovo percorso in questo mondo.
That is the essence of the question we have before us today.
But before we examine what “Europe” should be, I believe that we need to better understand what “Europe” is and more importantly what people want Europe to be.
In my first address as President of the European Parliament I described myself as part of the generation that sees no old and no new Europe. We are the first of the Erasmus generation, the last of the Wałęsa, Kohl and Havel generation.
What I meant was that I am part of the Europe generation. 18 years ago on the 1st May, I was standing in Valletta with what felt like the entire country, at midnight staring across the sea in our Grand Harbour as we counted the minutes and the seconds until Malta, together with nine other countries, joined the European Union as Member States.
I still recall the feeling of unbridled possibility, hope and belief in the future. A sort of sense of homecoming, of victory in the potential of our people, of relief, of joy – feelings shared by millions across Europe.
With war in Europe, today, it is that spirit, that sense of purpose, of enthusiasm, of a clear direction, that I want our European project to re-capture.
People in Ukraine, in Moldova and Georgia, and still in the Western Balkans, are now looking to Europe, with the same sense of belonging and hope.
And I want people to believe as we did. And to do that we need to understand that we are not just an economic bloc, we are not just about free movement, or about abolishing roaming charges. For my generation, Europe is – as cliché as this might sound – about a shared dream. About shared values. About a shared future, about coming together.
To us, Europe is the future. It has always been the future.
However, we cannot deny that over the last years polarisation in our societies has increased. There are still too many people who feel lost, let down and left out. At the same time many will now look to Europe and to our institutions for leadership. And we need to be able to respond, we need to be able to lead. We must counter the anti-EU narrative that takes hold so easily and so quickly: mis- and dis-information, enhanced by bots and fabricated in Russian troll factories.
Europe is about the defence of multilateralism. The understanding that we can only face the future together.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Leadership requires a capacity to also be self-critical. And we must acknowledge that there exists a gap between what we believed, what people expect, and what Europe is able to deliver at the moment.
The events of the last months, with Russia’s brutal, illegal, medieval, invasion of Ukraine has accelerated the need for Europe to create the tools and the processes that it needs to lead in this new and uncertain world.
There is a pre-February 24th reality and a post-February 24th reality. The world has changed. We must understand that the weight of the global democratic order now rests more heavily than ever before on Europe’s shoulders. And we must be able to carry it.
It is our whatever-it-takes moment. A moment that comes once in a generation.
A moment where we must understand that Europe is also on the streets of Bucha, in the tunnels of Mariupol, in the cellars of Irpin, on the shores of Snake Island.
People being brutalised are looking to us for support, for hope – even for survival. They understand that there is no alternative to Europe.
Anyone who has lived under the autocracy that has marked so many nations in Europe in the last century understands only too well that there is no other way.
Europe may not be perfect – we are far from perfect – but we represent a bastion of liberal democracy, of personal freedoms, of liberty of thought, of safety and security. Where you can be whoever you want to be. A way of life and living that we perhaps have taken, for far too long, for granted.
In Europe, we celebrate differences. It is what enables us to develop and what will enable us to become stronger. What makes us unique. What makes us European.
Putin’s grave mistake was assuming our differences were a weakness; our defence of fundamental rights, a sign of feebleness. He was wrong. In democracies like ours, these are our strengths. They are the foundations of the next steps. They are our legitimacy and they are our compass.
This is why we have accelerated our moves towards building a new Security and Defence Union.
Why we must and we will disentangle our dependencies from the Kremlin.
Why we will end imports of oil and why we must follow through with our policy of zero-gas from Russia.
Why we will continue with sanctions and aid to Ukraine.
Why we will and must rebuild Ukraine.
Why we will care and welcome all those who flee Putin’s bombs, missiles and atrocities.
And, this is why Ukraine will win. This is why Europe will be ready for the next generation.
Turning to our populations, it has become increasingly clear that European leaders cannot fail to address rising prices and the increasing cost of living that are hitting hard. And for European businesses in a globalised economy shaken up by the consequence of war, the European Union must continue to encourage and support them as they diversify away from Russia.
But again we must be honest – we can mitigate the consequences as far as possible – but our way, our European way, is worth a cost. It is worth defending and it is worth the price we must pay.
Europe has shown the world unprecedented determination, solidarity and unity against the war. Of this, I am proud. It must remain the blueprint for us going forward. We will continue to stand forcefully against autocracy and continue to stand strongly for Ukraine and for our common values of democracy, dignity, justice, equality and the rule of law. We must become closer, but at the same time more open.
After World War Two, cynics mocked Robert Schuman’s 1950 Europe Day declaration deeming it to be a utopian aspiration for peace and prosperity. Yet, belief then, in what seemed impossible for Europe, is the reason why we are here together, today, in this Palazzio Vecchio – an emblem of European civilisation – discussing our achievements and the next steps for our common European future.
Our legacy – what we leave for those who come after us – will not only be ornate palaces but firm foundations for a new European way.
I trust the next generation. I am certain they will play their part for climate action, reap the benefits of a digital economy, consume differently than today. However, we cannot expect them to fix unresolved crises, which are ours to address.
They need us to take our responsibilities seriously, today. Europe needs leadership, today. Not tomorrow.
Leadership that saw us welcome more than 5 millions of people fleeing Ukraine. Leadership that is also on display here at EUI with people who have worked hard to integrate and facilitate Ukrainian professors, academics and students in this institution.
Next Monday, on Europe Day, we will receive the conclusions from the Conference on the Future of Europe: the results of a pan-European citizen consultation. The onus, the responsibility will be on us, European leaders, to listen, and to take recommendations on board: in terms of acting on people’s demands on policy changes, on defence, health, climate, security and more. This is a real opportunity for Europe – because if it is not now, then when?
Coming out of a devastating pandemic and since Russia’s illegal and brutal assault on Ukraine, we are now at a historic crossroads.
European leaders together, must stand for the politics of hope. We must confront easy cynicism and stand firm against aggression. And as long as we keep our priorities right, I am convinced that we are fit for the next generation.
Let me end on this note of optimism: The truth is that the European Union has never been stronger. The European Union has never had such a determined sense of direction as it does today. We have never had such a sense of purpose to collectively address war on our continent, a climate emergency, our digital transition and energy concerns.
We have never felt such an urge to stand together against threats to peace and prosperity. We have never been more determined to stand up for European fundamental rights of democracy, liberty, solidarity and equality.
We know the threats that we face and we know we must confront them.
Let us have confidence in ourselves. Let us believe.