We need major conference with national parliaments on future of European parliamentarism 
 

Speech by the European Parliament President at the European Parliament Innovation Day

Thank you to the Secretary General, thank you all for being here.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to address the staff at this important event.

It is now almost two years since the beginning of the pandemic and finally we can see some positive signs that make us hope for a return to normalcy. Of course we still cannot say that the danger has passed mainly due to the uncertainties caused by the variants of the virus.

Compared to a year ago, however, we have vaccines that give us confidence and the feeling of being close to the end of the health crisis. In this regard, I wanted to underline how the vaccination campaign we put in place in parliament has been a success and the objectives we set ourselves have been gradually achieved so that, using all the necessary caution, we hope to be able to resume many of the activities we have suspended.

We have never suspended legislative activity, despite the very complicated conditions we have continued to meet, to vote, to make the institution work. It was certainly not easy, it took a great effort on the part of the MEPs and the administration. For this, once again, I thank you.

However, we must resume some activities and functions that allow the parliament to fully express its prerogatives: the work of the committees, the interparliamentary delegations, the electoral observation and democracy support missions are an example.

We must reopen our doors to citizens as we have always been used to doing before Covid, to welcome them back to our institution in person or give them the opportunity to visit us using new technological means.

We have returned to Strasbourg in a somewhat reduced format, but we must as soon as possible have sessions that include all parliamentary activities.

In short, the first steps towards normality or rather the new normality.

The health crisis has completely changed the way we live, and it represented an unprecedented challenge for all of us, but it was also an opportunity to recognize the structural risks the EU faces.

The work of this Parliament is the best way to promote democracy, multilateralism, cooperation. These are values that we cannot take for granted at any time, much less during a global health crisis that is generating an unprecedented economic crisis. In this context, the sirens of authoritarianism could be a sweet temptation. Citizens in difficulty could be end up being tempted to give up freedoms and rights in search of a quick but often ineffective remedy for complex problems. Populism could find fertile ground in fear and lead to the search for selfish and short-term solutions instead of cooperation and shared solutions.

The risk was very high, but by remaining active and operational we sent a strong and clear message: We do not abdicate our role as legislators, we continue to exercise our prerogatives and democratic control both in prosperous times and in times of crisis. It is important to stress that by doing this we have not only defended our positions, but rather we have defended parliamentarism itself by becoming a point of reference for all parliaments in the world, setting an example. And this has been understood by us.

In my opinion, the EU response to the crisis has been prompt, decisive, effective. A response based on solidarity and cooperation, setting common goals and pooling resources. The result was the belief that only a Europe with more powers can face global challenges by overcoming national selfishness.

The role of parliament in all of this was decisive, above all in providing the tools necessary to work together, to make it possible to overcome vetoes, red lines and old ideological positions. We think of the suspension of the stability pact, the issuance of common debt, proposals that certainly are not new for the parliament, ideas that we have been promoting and supporting for years to stimulate development and growth, and which have suddenly stopped being taboo.  The solutions were already partly there and a correct reading of the current moment gave us the courage and strength to use them.

However, we have also learned that democracy based on the central role of parliament is a very fragile system which is only strong and robust if it manages to keep up with the times and transform itself. The pandemic was a threat we did not expect, but modernity brings many dangers and traps: the economic and social inequalities caused by globalization and climate change; the impact of new technologies and biotechnologies on the structure of our social and economic fabric; migratory phenomena; increasingly frequent and aggressive cyber-attacks. We cannot think of facing new challenges with tools from the past, because our responses will always be partial and inadequate. Rather, we need to rethink ourselves, the structure of parliamentarism, the role of parliaments, how it can be reformed to maintain strength and centrality.

In this regard, I believe that the European Parliament must once again take the lead and promote a major conference with national parliaments from which we can develop a new charter of European parliamentarism. Only by adapting our responses to the times we live in will we be able to give citizens the answers they expect from us and be ready to respond to the request to give more powers to the European Union and to Parliament.

In a world where information runs at a dizzying speed and the issues that make up the political agenda are constantly evolving; the European Union cannot afford to take a year and a half to dismiss a legislative measure. We become ineffective and anachronistic, just as the right of veto to the Council is anachronistic. Our goal must be to shorten the timing of decision making while at the same time asserting our prerogatives and our role.

The Conference on the future of Europe has recently begun its work, let me tell you this too is thanks to the great impetus and commitment of Parliament. I hope that in that area there is space to rethink the functioning of the EU institutional architecture and its procedures, not only to keep up with the times but to anticipate them and imagine what the world of tomorrow will be like and how we may have an impact on it.

But first of all, we begin to reflect on ourselves, on how we have dealt with this pandemic and how it has changed us.

We had to respond quickly and effectively to the crisis, addressing immediate health and economic issues, but we also had to make important decisions with long-term consequences.

But will it be possible to pick up where we left off before the pandemic? The answer to this question is not, and must not be trivial.

The obvious answer is no, we must not just rewind the tape, but we must recognise the mistakes of the past and prepare for the future. Who could ever object to such a unarguable statement?

To ensure that this does not remain just a rhetorical statement but becomes a concrete reality, we need a serious, in-depth, taboo-free analysis of what we have done, of the solutions we have found, of the methods we have used and of how to put all this, with a view on the functionality of a parliament which aspires to have a greater role, not a lesser one; who aspires to have more powers not less powers, who wants to be at the center of the democratic system, not to be marginal.

When we think about how the parliament of the future will have to work, it is not a question of having sterile discussions: such as participation at a distance? Yes, no, maybe ... who likes it, who doesn't like it ... If we start with this idea, we have already lost.

We must have a political project that is to put parliament at the center of the institutional architecture, increase our weight, assert our prerogatives to make the European Parliament a pillar of the political action of the Union.

Our internal organization, our procedures and working methods are fundamental to achieve these objectives, but we do not reverse the perspective: the working method is a means to an end, but it is not in itself the end.

With this spirit, with this political project as a fixed objective in our heads, we must evaluate new means, new methods and new technologies for work.

We must start from an almost obvious observation, but which is always good to remember and reaffirm: the European Parliament is a unique example in the European institutional framework, a multilateral assembly with 705 Members who must be enabled to express their legislative prerogatives in the best possible way. The services of the Parliament and its administration have this mission.

This is why I do not like the parallels with organizational methods and measures taken by other institutions very much. These, although effective elsewhere, do not necessarily adapt to our structure, our objectives, our mission.

Let's keep this in mind, for example, when talking about teleworking, which was one of the tools that allowed us to go through the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic and remain operational.

However, in what will be the so-called new normal, it will be necessary to find the right balance to keep together the needs of the staff and the functionality of the institution. The latter must be a commitment for every official of the parliament and for every deputy. As President it is a mission. I am willing to do everything possible within the rules to promote this balance in the lives of workers, but at the same time, workers must feel their responsibility towards this institution and its proper functioning.

I know that a reflection on what the new normal will be is already underway at the administrative level.

For my part, I wanted to launch an initiative that involving MEPs. A reflection on the post-Covid parliament, starting from the experience we have had in this year and a half of anomalous work, using different means and methods.

A process that is underway and that will shortly provide recommendations on five major areas, on which we must focus in order to achieve the goal I was talking about earlier: giving strength and weight to the action of parliament.

We must rethink the way in which our plenary is conducted in order to have a real, lively debate, an active and direct dialogue with the Council and the Commission, with an agenda that represents the topicality of the political moment. The plenary is the moment in which we finalize our work, we express ourselves as a legislative assembly and we are more visible. Focus Group 1 deals with this.

We must strengthen our parliamentary prerogatives, our power of democratic control and scrutiny vis à vis the other institutions, assert our role as budgetary authority and co-legislators with the aim of giving parliament a central role. Focus Group 2 is discussing this.

Rethinking the way we address the outside world, in relations with our international interlocutors to have a greater impact on the world stage and ensure that our voice is a point of reference for the Union and our partners. This is discussed in Focus Group 3.

Communicating the work of parliament and strengthening our bond with citizens in an era in which the media are constantly evolving. This is a major challenge that is at the heart of the debate in Focus Group 4.

How can we rethink the internal organization of parliament, can the tools used in the emergency be useful for strengthening the role of parliament also in the future? This is the question at the heart of the debate in Focus Group 5.

The work of the Focus Groups will end in mid-July when I will receive recommendations on each thematic area, I will take these to the decision-making bodies of the parliament who will discuss them each according to the competences attributed to them by the regulation.

Allow me to thank all the general directorates of parliament who have supported and enriched this path, with their experience, their professionalism and their contribution of ideas and proposals.

I want to conclude with a final consideration. We have done a lot in these two years, worked tirelessly side by side and achieved incredible results: Brexit, the Green deal, the migration crisis, digital transformation, data protection, defense of the rule of law, the European social model, fighting the effects of the pandemic, disinformation, recovery fund and I could go on and on. We have done a lot and yet the problems, the same as yesterday, are all still there today and demand our attention. The challenges of yesterday evolve and new ones will be added tomorrow, the solutions are temporary and our intervention must be precise, timely, continuous. We must be tireless, to defend democracy and our values we cannot afford pauses, we must therefore create the structural and organisational conditions to allow parliament to act quickly, effectively and tirelessly.

I will therefore rely on you, on the professionalism and resilience that all of you have shown so far. With this I thank you once again and I look forward to continuing to work together to ensure a better future for Europe and our citizens.