President Metsola at Humboldt University: peace, justice, freedom and human dignity distinguish us as Europeans 


“Much more effort needs to be made to transform the values of peace, justice, freedom and human dignity into concrete benefits for our people”, said European Parliament President Roberta Metsola at a keynote speech in the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany.

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you so much for having me.

I had a speech prepared for this event that I re-wrote a few times and then re-wrote again. I wanted to do that because the global geo-political situation and Europe’s role within it has become far more complicated than it was even two-weeks ago. 

In my first speech as European Parliament President, I quoted Churchill to promise that our Institution will never be neutral between the fire and the fire truck. And it is true that too often, it seems as if there is a new fire erupting that risks everything we have worked to achieve in terms of global stability. 

I want Europe to keep fighting those fires. I want Europe to have the tools we need for that role that will help bring the world a little closer to how it ought to be. I know Europe can be the answer - but I also know that we must do more to convince you - a younger more sceptical audience – of the true value of Europe to not only shape our lives but those of generations to come.

I find that talking plainly helps. So allow me to be direct.

We are at an inflection point. A decision point - that will determine the path we are to take. There are no easy solutions, there are often decisions that offer only bad and worse outcomes, but they are decisions that we must take, that we will keep taking. That’s when you must remember to keep your head even when all around you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, or when you hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves. That is the responsibility that comes with election to public office. It is one we all carry. 

We are here today under the darkest of shadows cast by Hamas’ brutal terrorist attacks against Israel, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the situation in Armenia and Azerbaijan worrying the region, a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Iran playing with fire all over the Middle East as they try to impose a hardline theocracy on their young women who are bravely rising up, and the Middle East thrown into instability.

And this is without talking about the rise of China or India growing into a new powerhouse. Africa - that we talk too often about but too rarely with. Latin America that is critical. A Transatlantic partnership that has a historical, unbreakable, bond but is in need of renewed impetus. 

All of this just from a Foreign affairs perspective. We are facing also huge challenges at home, with people finding it harder to pay their bills at the end of the month. With our liberal democracies under threat. With the need to create new jobs, address climate challenges and boost sustainable economic growth. Questions on how we are to level up our societies, how we tackle inter-generational societal issues and ensure equality of opportunity. 

That is what Europe must be about. That is what Europe has done in the past and what Europe must do again.

Allow me a moment to focus on the attack in Israel and the situation in Gaza and the wider region.
The reality on the ground is horrific, it is tragic and desperate. I saw it myself a week ago in Israel, when I visited the sites of the atrocities and met with grieving survivors. There, I expressed Europe’s solidarity, urged for the release of hostages and reiterated our rejection of terrorism. I underlined that how Israel responds matters, how Hamas is stopped matters, and that we must work together to mitigate the humanitarian consequences to innocent people in Gaza. It is entirely correct to stand with a nation that has suffered the worst attack on its civilian population since the Holocaust. I am proud that we did. 

Too many Jewish communities in Europe feel lost, scared and threatened. Synagogues feel targeted. Mothers worry about sending their children to school. That is not the Europe we want to see. 
Europe stands against hate. We stand against terrorism. It is absolutely condemnable. Full stop. No excuses or justifications will ever convince me that babies, children, women and men should be massacred, raped, mutilated and kidnapped mercilessly. And we should say so. 

As author Frank Herbert put it: “Atrocity has no excuses, no mitigating arguments. Atrocity never balances or rectifies the past. Atrocity merely arms the future for more atrocity.” 

It is also entirely correct to voice our concerns and desperation at the unfolding crisis in Gaza, that has seen too many innocent lives lost, too many children orphaned, too many mothers cry. Standing strongly against terror and doing everything possible to alleviate the humanitarian crises are not mutually exclusive. That’s why we insist on respect for international law. Why we do everything we can to protect innocent lives. Why we push for the release of hostages. Why we emphasise that Hamas must be stopped. 

We recognise that Hamas are a terrorist organisation. They do not represent the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. They hinder them. That’s why the Parliament also called for a humanitarian pause last week to ensure that desperately needed aid gets through to people in need. And I am proud that we have done so.

Europe also stands ready and willing to engage in the longer term. We know a thing or two about overcoming seemingly insurmountable issues. There is no better place than Berlin to reiterate that. We will always push for sustainable and lasting peace. For a fair two-state solution that is equitable and just. 

The sad reality is that the vile actions of Hamas terrorists have pushed this prospect back years, perhaps even decades. With every day 200 hostages remain in Hamas’ captivity we are a day further away from lasting stability.

As a Union, we have a responsibility to remain coherent and united in ensuring that such acts are not excused. To do this is not to condone more death and violence. But to provide a sliver of potential for peace to be found. Hamas does not offer hope for peace. They offer bloodshed. And too much blood has been spilt. 

Europe has always been on the side of humanity. That is our role and we have to meet this moment.

I belong to the generation who was sitting on their parents’ lap as the Berlin Wall came down. Who watched Tiananmen Square on small, grainy TV screens. Who remembers the collapse of the USSR and the unbridled joy of millions of Europeans finally free to determine their own destinies. Who reaped all the benefits of the victory of liberal democracy in a new world. But along the way maybe we did grow a little too complacent, a little too comfortable that this life, our way of life, was here to stay. 
Last year we understood, in the most brutal of ways, just how painfully true that was, when Russia launched an illegal, unprovoked and unjustified military invasion into Ukraine. I would like to believe that we have drawn on the lessons from our mistakes. 

That in this crucial moment of relaunching, reforming and reimagining Europe, the values of peace, justice, freedom and human dignity would remain firmly positioned at the bedrock of everything that we have built and everything that we will continue to do. This is what distinguishes us as Europeans.
The geopolitical sands are shifting. We have Putin’s tanks on independent and sovereign Ukraine; Lukashenko persecuting, imprisoning, torturing people for their democratic beliefs.

The question we need to ask ourselves is where do we fit in all of this? The world cannot thrive on imbalances. We must reinforce our role in the world by being stronger and more united on the global stage. To do this we need to work on building-up a global democratic alliances of trusted partners and friends.

That entails a continued commitment to stand firmly alongside Ukraine. With the situation in the Middle East dominating the headlines, Putin is expecting our political, humanitarian and military support to waiver. We cannot allow fatigue to set-in. This remains as much about Ukraine’s security as it is about ours.

We have to reinforce our relationship with like-minded actors. With the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada on security, on digital, on climate, on trade. With India, as its economy continues to grow to keep up with the aspirations of its youth. With democracies in Latin America to secure global supply chains and that can give the critical materials that the world needs. We have to talk with not talk at nations in Africa. Not only about migration but about the investments we can undertake to support and encourage their prosperity. 

At the same time, we also need to look at China. The de-risking versus decoupling strategy is a good one. We must use this moment to see where we are being undercut and find appropriate ways to address it. Because we in Europe we do things differently. That is why are legislating on the European Green Deal where we have adopted a revised Emissions Trading System, a new Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, complemented by a revised Renewable Energy Directive and a Social Climate Fund.

And as we look into diversifying who we work and do business with, what remains crucial is that we resist the temptation of moving from one unreliable partner to another.

This leads me to my next topic: reform. The past few years have been difficult for Europe, and for the world. We are living in an era of so-called polycrises. Now, to be clear, I am proud of how we have been able to react and deliver. We overcame a financial crisis, a pandemic. We have gone through Brexit and found new ways forward. We have stood up for our values and stood firm against geopolitical threats. All this while future-proofing our economies, addressing climate change and pioneering digital laws that the rest of the world will inevitably follow.

The European Union has met these challenges head-on. Instead of dividing us, they united us. Instead of weakening us, they strengthened us. Our reaction has shaped us and has laid the foundations for years to come.

But we also have to be honest with ourselves about the limitations of our current structures. From my conversations with Europeans, from my discussions with young people like you, I have come to understand that there remains a gap between what people expect and what the European Union is able to deliver at the moment. 

If we are to grow, if we are to remain a force to be reckoned with, if we are not to stagnate, we cannot be afraid to lead the debate for change. To reform and adapt to this ever-changing and increasingly geopolitical world. 

That implies readying the ground for enlargement. I have heard and acknowledged many of the concerns about enlargement. They are very similar to the ones that were raised prior to 2004. Yet history has showed us that an enlarged European Union that is based on clear objectives, criteria and merit, continues to serve as an investment in peace, security, stability and prosperity on the European continent. It is a process with an outcome that benefits everyone involved. 

The European Parliament has understood this. Which is why we were the first institution to call for Ukraine and Moldova to receive EU candidate status last year. It has given these nations a clear European perspective and is serving as a powerful impetus for advancing democratic reforms. The same is true of the Western Balkans.

At the same time, while they are reforming and getting ready – we also need to be getting ready to do the same. What works for a Union of 27 will not work for a Union of 30, 33 or 35. We cannot be caught wanting. If we find ourselves in a situation where we leave everyone pending, then we shouldn’t be surprised if the vacuum we leave behind is filled by someone else.

Security, defence and migration should be high on our reform agenda. Work must start immediately to build a real security and defence Union. One that complements NATO without competing with it. Member States must continue with efforts to increase defence spending. Because if we want to ensure the longevity of our project and the security of our way of life, we simply need the resources to back it up. The current geopolitical climate is proof of that.

On migration, I am happy to say that after a decade of deadlock, we are now at a point where we can start to chart a way forward. On the table, there is a holistic legal framework that is fair with those in need of protection, firm with those who are not eligible, and that is harsh with those who profit off the most vulnerable. A proper common European migration and asylum system that will deliver on citizens’ expectations. I understand and agree that more work needs to be done. There are many loopholes in the current framework, also in the one that is on the table. I give you one example: between a negative asylum decision and a return decision. This came to light even more a few days ago in the heart of Brussels. But we are closer than ever. So let me assure you of the European Parliament’s unwavering commitment to finalise this legislative package by the end of our mandate.

When I started, I reflected on the values that bind us together as Europeans, and what would be required of us in our current state of affairs. We must refrain from reducing these values to mere abstract notions and ideals. My point here being, that to forge a genuinely equitable and fair path forward, much more effort needs to be made to transform these values into concrete benefits for people. Whether that is in the green transition or in the digital transition for example, our job is to ensure that our policies are ambitious enough to address the challenges we are facing, while also providing real incentives and safety nets for industry, and crucially, remaining human-centric. Meaning that they must work for people if they are to succeed and be understood.

With the European elections coming in 2024, 6th-9th June next year, this is more important than ever. My fear is that if we get this wrong, if we ignore when people are telling us that they are worried, we will see a re-rise of the extremes. It is a balance that I know we can find. One that I am confident will rekindle citizens’ hope in the potential of our project

So my final appeal to you today is to join me in this critical moment of reimagining and reforming our Europe. To reject the temptation of easy cynicism that takes over so quickly. Have your say on how you want our Europe to look like. This is not just next year in European polling booths - which is important. But also today. Let’s start discussions everywhere on transforming Europe. I am happy to answer all your questions and more importantly, to listen to your ideas.

Thank you.

You can read the President's speech in German here.