Speech by the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, at the Bled Strategic Forum
Prime Minister, thank you for your invitation to this Strategic Forum and for the opportunity to discuss the future of Europe today with you, representatives of governments and institutions.
This gesture testifies to the importance you attach to the European Parliament as a key institution of our European democracy and as the voice of our citizens.
As we discuss the future of Europe, I would like to reaffirm the central role of European citizens and parliamentary democracy, particularly in this moment when the European Union faces great challenges.
We must never consider the mandate that citizens have given us with their vote as an acquired fact or as a carte blanche, but rather as a solemn mandate to reaffirm on a daily basis the universal and European values to which our constitutions and our treaties remind us.
In this regard, I would like to share with you the results of the last Eurobarometer of the European Parliament in August, which shows the crucial importance that European citizens attach to respect for the rule of law: 81% of Europeans believe that the EU should grant funds only to Member States that respect the rule of law, including 72% of Poles. This issue, together with democracy, is the top priority for Hungarians and Poles. And 85% of Europeans believe that respecting our values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law should also be a priority in our foreign policy.
These values of democracy, rule of law, freedom, equality, respect for human dignity and human rights are nothing but empty words if they are not embodied and translated into our daily actions. And democracy is only a theoretical concept if it does not bring tangible benefits to our citizens, solutions to the challenges they face, if it does not create the conditions that allow them to enjoy their freedoms, their fundamental rights, to fight for greater equality and human dignity.
The question of our common future is fundamental and more imperative than ever, and I am delighted that the European Parliament has brought it to the center of the debates of our governments, notably through the Conference on the Future of Europe, which we have so ardently requested. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted our daily life, our societies and our communities, requires us to make a long-term strategic reflection and forces us to rethink the relations between institutions, citizens and territories.
This crisis has made us aware of our weaknesses and inefficiencies, both at national and European level, but also of the depth of our interdependence. And, if the crisis has shaken our societies and the balances that existed before, it has also pushed us through adversity to new and deeper forms of cooperation, to unprecedented European solidarity and to renew the tools at our disposal.
We now need to bring the same level of ambition that marked the launch of the European Recovery and Resilience Plan to other decisive areas where European action and European solidarity are urgent and necessary. This is the case, for example, with health policy.
That is why this forum is an excellent opportunity to discuss the ambitions, common goals and purpose we want for our European Union, which inevitably leads us to address the question of its effectiveness and the means we need to provide to meet the challenges of the future.
Indeed, I am convinced that we must strengthen our socio-economic, social and democratic cohesion if we want Europe to continue to reaffirm in the world the civic and democratic values which are part of our very identity. To be credible in the eyes of our citizens and in the eyes of the world, we must also affirm these ideals and these values in our daily actions.
One of these fundamental values is solidarity, a goal enshrined in our founding tracts. Solidarity when we take joint loans, solidarity in the face of threats at our borders, solidarity in the face of our responsibilities and obligations to protect asylum seekers, solidarity in the common management of migratory flows.
We were very disappointed with yesterday's Home Affairs Council conclusions.We have seen countries outside the European Union come forward to welcome Afghan asylum seekers, but we have not seen a single member country do the same. Everyone rightly thought of those who worked with them and their families, but none had the courage to offer refuge to those whose lives are still in danger today. We cannot pretend that the Afghan question does not concern us, because we participated in that mission by sharing its objectives and aims.
A strong and common European voice on the international stage is more necessary now than ever. Europe must take its place, make its voice heard, define its strategic interests also in the framework of the Transatlantic Alliance, in order to be able to carry out stabilization, peace building, and development action together with our partners in a multilateral framework .
And this goes hand in hand with the need to move forward together towards a true common security and defence policy, without which we will remain dependent on the goodwill of other great powers and expose ourselves to the threats of authoritarian regimes.
For this we must also take an ambitious step forward and consider qualified majority voting in the Council whenever possible, to ensure the speed and effectiveness of our common external action.
Furthermore, a true geopolitical Europe should begin at our borders, with our partners, with our closest friends. I am thinking in particular of the countries of the Western Balkans, towards which we have a historic responsibility. From Tirana to Belgrade, from Skopje to Sarajevo, from Pristina to Podgorica, the countries of the Western Balkans are part of our history. We share a common European identity.
That is why we must be ready to engage in the accession process with each of these countries, based on their progress and ambitions. Any delay and hesitation risks playing the game of other powers. Having a stable, peaceful, democratic and prosperous continent would bring immense benefits to all European citizens. The time has come to inject new energy into the enlargement process towards the Western Balkans.
I am convinced that the Slovenian presidency will be an important voice in taking this issue forward in the coming months.
I hope that this Bled Strategic Forum will make a substantial contribution to our reflection on the common future of our European Union, and that it will also feed the debates of the Conference on the Future of Europe. But at the end of this day or of the Conference, I hope above all that we will translate our ideas and promises into actions and reforms because this is the only place on which we will be judged by our citizens and by history.