Sassoli at European Youth Event: The EU is not a frozen system - we have shown we can challenge taboos 

Speech of the President at the opening of the European Youth Event in Strasbourg

Dear participants,

Welcome to you all!

It is a great pleasure to open this fourth edition of the European Youth Event, which is, by far, the most anticipated!  It is an even greater joy since this event had to be postponed twice to ensure that everyone can participate, meet in person, and do so in Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament and the heart of European democracy.

This event is being organised for the first time in a fully hybrid format: with activities taking place on site in the Parliament, and outside in the "EYE village", but also via an online platform. Over the next few days, you and thousands of young Europeans will be able to participate in over 160 events online or in person in real time!

I am very moved to see so many young people in this hemicycle, our plenary, once again full of citizens from all over Europe, gathered here to exchange ideas, debate and vote, to talk about our future, and to bet on the challenges that our future holds for us. This is our Europe. It is not a frozen system. Europe is a mechanism that forges itself through crisis. We have seen – particularly in this year and a half of the pandemic - how far we have come, challenging many taboos, that before the pandemic were untouchable, inviolable rules.

We saw that it was convenient for our Member States to put those rules aside. Of course, Europe needs rules, but new rules that can allow the younger generations to be protagonists and not simply burdened with the debts of the past.

I am very moved to see so many young people in our plenary for this event. It is incredibly important in the current situation, as the European Union is slowly emerging from this pandemic and is beginning a new chapter by looking to the future. We all know that there will be no going back. We cannot turn back the film of the present overnight. You all have had to reinvent yourselves, through distance learning. You have been deprived of human relationships at such an important time in your life and you have had to change your plans for your future and for your career. We have discovered new ways to preserve human and working relationships. All this is the baggage we hold, and that we should not dismiss, but instead, that can enrich our societies and democracies.

The European Parliament is very aware of the difficulties that young people in particular are facing. Young people, women, vulnerable groups in our societies are today threatened by the economic and social crisis. We have asked, and will continue, to ask Member States to mobilise all necessary funds to support youth employment, education, mobility and sport. European funds are important because they are directed towards these policies. We will not give up. The European Parliament has done its part and increased many of the funds available for young people and women.

Looking with you towards the future, we must think about the future of our European project, of a fairer, more inclusive and more prosperous society, continuing to live with our values of freedom and peace on our continent. I know that some countries are undermining the EU at the moment, and we hope and wish that they will reconsider some of their positions. We cannot allow any country in our Europe to violate fundamental laws and our treaties, and we will be unyielding in this.

I think it is good to pause for a moment, to take stock of what has happened, to appreciate the commitment and tenacity that we have witnessed from young people, in their commitment to volunteering, in offering help, which could be a strong lever for a more resilient Europe. We launched at the beginning of this legislature the conference on the future of Europe. Our point of reference for this is the Honorable Mr Verhofstadt, who is present in plenary with you today.

We want this conference to open up a new phase, a phase of participation, but also of change. To change the rules, because we have seen in this year and a half that there cannot be taboos because the functioning of European democracy must be more efficient and effective. The conference is an important moment to make sure that in a year's some key steps towards a more efficient democracy are on the table and discussed with the other institutions. Know that the European Parliament is very ambitious on this. We believe that today it is urgent to look at where we are, and where we want to go. This is an unprecedented exercise, because you, young people, the citizens of the Union, and all of us are called upon to contribute to this debate and to find ways forward together.

Your generation is more politically active and engaged today in defining the Europe of the future. This is demonstrated by the large number of you present here today, as well as the unprecedented mobilisation of young people during the last European elections in 2019. We encourage all parties to give young people more opportunities, but already at the beginning of this legislature we have seen a very strong renewal of the European Parliament. We need young people, and thank you for your mobilisation. I am referring to an essential trait of our identity, which is made up of many stories and many different feelings.

The beauty of Europe is in its debate, it is in the progress we make together, it is in the concrete realisation of the features of a participatory democracy. I believe that this is what our founding fathers wanted, and we must not only preserve it, but use it to shape a world that needs its own rules. Europe can and must contribute, because I believe that European rules of freedom, democracy and tolerance are the cure for the world's ills. This cannot be taken for granted, it requires a stronger and more resilient Europe in which the spirit of the founding fathers is embodied in the solutions that we must provide in the face of such a difficult, unprecedented, but also fascinating time.

Thank you, I wish you a great and wonderful experience in Strasbourg and I hope to meet you in person soon.