It is a great pleasure and honour for me to speak to you here for the first time today as a representative of the Presidency at this plenary meeting of the European Parliament.
On 25 March, the European Union will mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome.
This is a special day. A day on which we should pause to think for a few hours, away from the day-to-day business of politics. We should pause to look back on the unique success story of European unification. But we should also pause to look ahead. How can we Europeans find answers to the pressing questions of our times?
I think that all of us, together, can be proud of what people in Europe have achieved over the last 50 years. And so 25 March should be one thing above all: a day of confidence in the future!
The European Parliament has played a key part in shaping the process of European unification. Many achievements would not have been possible had the Members of the European Parliament not fought with such persistence and commitment for more integration, more democracy and more transparency in the EU.
We in the Presidency believe in a good working relationship, based on trust, with the European Parliament. So far, you have done everything you could to support us, and at this point I would like to thank you expressly for that.
This also applies to preparations for the Berlin Declaration, which we want to adopt on 25 March – as a joint declaration by the three institutions: the EU Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission.
The European Parliament and the Commission have been actively involved in drawing up the Declaration right from the start. I would like to thank you, Mr President, and all of the Honourable Members of this House, for the trust you have put in the Presidency with regard to this important issue – and for your approval of the procedures which we proposed.
Ladies and gentlemen,
One goal of our Presidency has been to strengthen citizens’ confidence in and support for Europe. To achieve this, we need to engage in a dialogue. And so, over the last weeks and months, we have been listening very closely to what people are saying and what they hope for from the EU.
One thing is clear: If we are to obtain people’s support for Europe then we have to show them, by giving concrete examples, that European unity is something beneficial to them. Then we have to get to work on making sure that the European Union faces up to the tasks ahead and offers convincing solutions to them.
The European Council on 8 and 9 March demonstrated that, even with 27 Member States, the EU is still able to take action: in this case, in policy areas which are particularly important to Europe’s citizens: climate protection and energy policy.
The successful outcome of the Spring Summit gives us confidence for the upcoming months of our Presidency. We intend to take advantage of this momentum for the Berlin Declaration. The message of the Summit was that, if we Europeans summon up the strength to act together, we can shape our future.
At a dinner for the Heads of State and Government on 8 March – at which both you, Mr President, and President Barroso of the Commission were in attendance – Chancellor Merkel presented our ideas which themselves were the result of in-depth consultation with representatives of the Parliament, Commission and national governments.
The text of the Declaration is still a work in progress. We see today’s discussion as another opportunity to listen and to receive your proposals and ideas in the days remaining until the Berlin meeting.
We want the text to be short, coherent, and in language which citizens can understand.
What should the key messages be?
Other achievements of European unity include the principles and processes which underpin our cooperation: democracy and the rule of law, equality of the rights and duties of Member States, transparency, and subsidiarity. These principles – and this is something we can take a certain amount of pride in – serve as models for regional cooperation in other parts of the world.
The next section of the Declaration should be a joint affirmation of the most important values which unite us in the EU: human dignity, freedom and responsibility, solidarity with each other, diversity and tolerance, respect in our dealings with each other. The EU is more than just a common economic space. It is also a community of shared values. This foundation of shared values and a common outlook on life is an important prerequisite for Europe being able to act as a single political entity.
At the heart of this Declaration will be the tasks ahead, the challenges which Europe, which we, must tackle and overcome in the 21st century. These include energy and climate protection. They also include having a European Foreign and Security Policy for effective action. This involves effectively countering the threats posed by terrorism and organized crime without restricting human or civil rights. It also involves us getting together to find common solutions for illegal immigration.
The list goes on. I believe, however, that one message is particularly important if we want to restore people’s confidence in Europe. Europe stands for a societal model which unites economic competitiveness with social and ecological responsibility. Entrepreneurial freedom is just as much a part of the European project as the rights and participation of workers. The EU has a social aspect to it; we want to bring out this social dimension clearly in the Declaration. At their last Summit meeting, the European Heads of State and Government specifically reaffirmed their commitment to this.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We all know that the EU’s reform and renewal process must continue. The next European Parliament elections will take place in 2009. Voters have a right to know about the instruments and options for action which the EU will have at its disposal then.
We hope, therefore, that the Declaration will also contain a joint commitment to achieving this quickly.
By way of conclusion, allow me to say this: The 50th anniversary is an opportunity for us all. An opportunity to summon up strength for the tasks ahead. On 25 March, let us focus on what unites us. Let us use the symbolism of this day to send out a signal of cohesion.
Europe – succeeding together: this is the motto we chose for our Presidency. The people of Europe expect European policy-makers to have the will, courage and determination to act together. This is the spirit in which we want to conduct the second half of our Presidency also. And for that, I ask for your continued support.