Speech of the European Parliament President David Sassoli at the launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe in Strasbourg
President Macron ,
President von der Leyen ,
Prime Minister Costa,
Ladies and Gentlemen, Ministers of Foreign Affairs,
Dear colleagues and colleagues
I would like to welcome all of you to the European Parliament for the opening ceremony of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which is held on Europe Day. It was important to start this great democratic exercise in the hemicycle of the House of European Citizens in Strasbourg, in the headquarters of our institution from which the COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately kept us away for many months, we are confident that Parliament will be able to return very soon to hold its plenary sessions when the health situation permits.
I would like to thank President Macron for his presence and involvement in this very important issue, as well as my fellow joint presidents of the Conference, President von der Leyen and Prime Minister Costa. This hybrid inauguration ceremony also brings together on this day 250 citizens, the presidents and members of the executive committee of the Conference, the 27 ministers of European affairs, the leaders of political groups and members of the European Parliament, the presidents of national parliaments, the presidents of the other European institutions, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who are with us, some in our hemicycle, and most connected virtually on the screens. Despite the fact that we cannot all gather together due to the health situation, your presence today allows us to mark this event with the solemnity it deserves.
Since the beginning of the legislature, the Conference on the Future of Europe has been a priority for the European Parliament, which had requested it. Even before the pandemic, Parliament was convinced of the need to bring citizens closer to the European project, to involve them more and to develop together a vision for our common future.
The various crises that have marked the last decade have been a warning that our European Union needs to be modernized, and that we must adapt our resources and our tools to be able to face the challenges of globalization, the financial, economic, social challenges, environmental and migration. Until the Covid-19 pandemic, which has been hitting the whole world and each of us, women, men, young people, the elderly, children, students and workers, with full force for more than a year. This pandemic has shaken our societies and democracies and, as we see the way out, we realize the immensity of the economic, social and societal challenges we face, which are equal to the expectations our citizens have of them. of Europe.
It is clear to us that the Union is and will be at the center of economic and social recovery, just as it will continue to be at the heart of the vaccine strategy. I am convinced that the vast majority of citizens are aware that “strength is in numbers” and that the solidarity embodied by Europe can only be the answer to this crisis.
We cannot return to the status quo, we cannot return to the world of the past, we need new models that take into account the social and environmental dimension, a new approach focused on the dignity of the individual but also on the protection of the planet.
The EU recovery plan is historic. For the first time, massive budget transfers financed by a joint loan contracted on behalf of the European Union are allocated to Member States, with a total of € 390 billion in grants over three years. These powerful European solidarity mechanisms will be decisive in supporting Europe’s recovery, improving the growth potential of European economies, improving economic equity and mitigating the impact of climate change. The 2021-27 multiannual budget will also pave the way for a just and inclusive transition to a green and digital future and support the EU’s long-term strategic autonomy. Meanwhile, the Next Generation Europe program could help increase EU GDP by an average of around 2%, creating up to 2 million more jobs by 2024.
As we are about to rebuild our economies and our societies on new foundations, and in view of the colossal investments that Europe will inject into public policies, it is even more crucial and urgent to listen to our fellow citizens, to feel their needs, their expectations in terms of assistance, jobs, dignity, security and prosperity, and their vision of this common European future. I believe it is our responsibility to put citizens at the center of their European project, and the more we advance with integration, with this solidarity between states, the more important it will be for European citizens to be and feel committed to this project. The commitment must be commensurate with the ambitions we have for Europe.
Our democracies have also been challenged around the world. We still remember the assault on the Capitol in Washington, which was a wake-up call for everyone, not just for the United States. Our democratic values are increasingly attacked by authoritarianism, by those who would have us believe that our freedoms do not protect us from the challenges we face, that democracy is ineffective and useless.
I categorically reject this point of view. We must demonstrate again and again that only democracy can protect our individual and collective freedoms, our dignity, the common good, peace, security, social progress and economic well-being.
But for democracy to work, it must be defended, strengthened, developed and legitimized even more. How can it be done? Protecting the common good, thus strengthening the role of parliaments as guarantors of the democratic expression of peoples, but also guaranteeing the participation and involvement of citizens in democratic life. I believe it is urgent to renew our democratic and social pact by renewing the link with our citizens. That is why the European Parliament is taking this conference very seriously.
I am convinced that being satisfied with just the exercise of the polls every five years is no longer enough in the eyes of the citizens. We are at a time when citizens want to take responsibility, they want to have a say in the policies that affect their daily life, their future, the future of the planet. Citizen consultation mechanisms have been tested in many places and have proven their worth. It is time to open up to involve citizens more in public life, and that is the purpose of this conference.
We want to reach all citizens, in cities, villages, countryside, borders, minorities and majorities, young people, the elderly, students, workers, the most vulnerable. I would like to address the 300 citizens who are with us today, but also to all the participants in this inauguration ceremony. You have the task of taking this message to the four corners of Europe, of being the ambassadors of this enormous and unprecedented consultation of citizens. We count on you to motivate and involve your friends, relatives, neighbors, colleagues, voters, to participate in the events that will take place near them, to propose ideas or react to proposals in the citizens panels or through the digital platform of the Conference. Tell them that Europe is theirs and that they have a unique opportunity to shape it in the months to come.
Parliament obviously intends to play a leadership role in this conference. As directly elected representatives of the citizens, our 705 MEPs also have a great responsibility in making this democratic exercise a success. First, by reaching out to the citizens, the voters who have placed their trust in them, involving them in the Conference. But also, as an institution and guarantor of democracy, we are determined to play our part in all organs of the Conference, both in the Executive Committee and in the Plenary Assembly.
For the Parliament, it is undeniable that the Conference must reach the end of this exercise with concrete proposals, based on the recommendations of citizens and on the debates of the Plenary Assembly, and above all that they are followed by actions by all the institutions involved, each at the own level of power. This vision of our European project will be the compass that must guide our work in the decade to come, and by signing the Joint Declaration, our institutions are committed to this.
Without prejudice to the outcome of these debates, the Conference will be a forum where we will inevitably have to address the issue of European health, as Parliament has already indicated. I am convinced that it will be necessary to equip the EU with the necessary competences to establish a true European health policy . The current situation demonstrates that we cannot simply entrust the European Union with “missions” when we are faced with health challenges that are inherently cross-border and will become more and more so in the future. We need a European response, and not just in terms of vaccine supply. If we come out of this crisis without a breakthrough in terms of European competence in this area, we will have missed a great opportunity.
We are in the aftermath of the Porto Summit, and I also believe that the social dimension will be at the center of the debates at this conference. At the end of this pandemic, European solidarity will be more necessary than ever to tackle the social and economic consequences of the crisis together. Let’s make no mistake: without strengthened social cohesion, the identity of our societies and the essence of our democracies would be threatened.
I am also convinced that the time has come to reflect on the function and identity of the institution of parliament. As I said earlier, our democratic systems must constantly adapt and evolve to meet the new realities we face. Democracy is built every day.
Parliament, as the guarantor of democratic values in the European decision-making process, deserves particular attention in this reflection. Our institution enjoys direct democratic legitimacy. With its 705 elected deputies, the pluralism we represent within the institutions allows us , as co-legislators , to better convey the concerns of citizens and the realities of the regions.
I therefore believe that we should reflect on how to strengthen the European Parliament’s capacity and centrality, particularly as regards its power of initiative. Like any national parliament, the right of initiative should be conferred on the European Parliament so that our institution can make proposals to the Commission and the Council, and not just be the recipient. This would help give it a greater role.
We should also increase the transparency of our elections and allow citizens to indicate their preferences for the presidency of the Commission. I hope that the Conference will also address the question of the candidate leader, because I am convinced that this will contribute to the needs of citizens to be more involved in their European project and the better functioning of our institutions.
Likewise, the issue of unanimity in the Council absolutely needs to be addressed.
We see that in the world there are geopolitical actors who attack us and who take advantage of our divisions to weaken our strength, which is great and is supported by law, democracy and our values.
This also contributes to citizens’ distrust of their political representatives, to disappointment and aversion to the European project. It is time we saw it and we remedied it!
And if all these reflections and those of our citizens involve an update of the Treaties, we are courageous, we must not be afraid of them, and in this process we continue to discuss with our citizens, our constituents, national and regional deputies, public opinion . Today we cannot afford to have taboos, we must face this exercise freely and confidently through democratic debate.
I am personally convinced that the awareness of our unity and a common destiny is shared by the majority of citizens and decision-makers. Let us overcome our differences and work together, while respecting our diversity, to lay the foundations for a new social, democratic and European contract. Let us make a stronger, more resilient, more democratic and more united Europe.