Addressing a jam-packed Allianz Forum in Berlin on the 34th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola said that Europe can, once again, overcome impossible odds.
Thank you Christian
Good evening everyone.
Thank you so much to the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung for having me.
It is great to see young people taking initiatives to bring European cooperation and innovation forward. I want to start by congratulating all the contestants in the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Makerthon.
From the idea of establishing a cross-border European network of cooperatives, to creating a single EU legal form for Start-Ups. And from connecting people of all social backgrounds via an EU-Buddy-Programme, to an Erasmus-like exchange programme for European soldiers. Sharing your ideas matters.
I wanted to start with this because Europe is about ideas. It is about finding the political courage to turn those ideas into reality. That is the essence of Europe. That is what has driven us forward for the last decades. That is the spirit that we need to re-capture now. That sense of hope in possibility.
We need new ideas. We need more people to think about how we can change things. How we can fix things. How we can reform. How we can bring the European Union closer to the people we represent. How we can make Europe less about bureaucracy and more about change.
The story of Europe is about overcoming the odds. And there is no better place or date, to remind people about that, than in Berlin, on the 9th of November.
I was a child when the Berlin Wall came down - just a few meters away from here - on this day, 34 years ago. My generation may not have grasped the enormity of that moment immediately, but I remember clearly the sense of unbridled joy of millions of Europeans finally free to choose their destiny. I remember the raw emotion of my parents watching on our little TV. That sense of victory - of overcoming impossible odds. The future, suddenly, was limitless. Berlin did that for the world.
That was the tangible expression of what Europe meant to people around the world. It was the personification of hope.
We embraced its liberating ripple effect. It ran across the whole European continent, reverberating across the world.
But perhaps we grew too comfortable. Too convinced that our way was here to stay forever. We allowed new generations to take Europe for granted. To take freedom for granted. We thought the benefits of liberal democracies were so self-evident that we stopped telling our children to fight for them.
And that has led to a younger audience in Europe, who have more information than ever at their fingertips, but who are more sceptical and lonelier, than ever before. Who do not remember the battles of the past.
We need our politics to reach out beyond our comfort zone. We need to reach people who do not believe as fervently as we did. That is our responsibility to explain. To listen. To argue. To counter the narrative of extremists and populists or malign actors for whom the very existence of Europe is a threat.
We cannot take our project for granted. Not anymore. We must stand up for Europe. We must make Europe more relevant to people.
Ours is a European Union that must strike the right balance between embracing change and protecting citizens. Our responsibility is to ensure our people’s physical, economic and environmental security, to ensure social wellbeing and equality of opportunity. That does not mean making everyone the same. It means giving everyone the same chance to fulfil their potential.
That is my hope. And I am so proud to share this stage with Philipp Lahm. He is someone, who knows something about leading victory, about belief, about beating the odds. Philipp, thank you for understanding "den feinen Unterschied" - of giving a team hope.
And I hope you will forgive me, but half my team wants me to return with your autograph.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I want to talk about Europe. About Europe’s role in an increasingly dangerous and unstable world. Of the importance of Europe for Germany. And of Germany for Europe. Of the importance of Europe’s voice in the world - in the Middle East, in Ukraine, in Moldova and the Balkans and across the globe in defending liberty and supporting democracy.
I have come to share my deep conviction that we can build a strong Europe together, a superpower of rights. A leader in future-proofing our economies and in setting global standards.
A forward-looking Europe that can set out, how we remain competitive, how we embrace change, how we can ensure prosperity and dignity for our people and beyond our borders.
A Europe that puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to generating real, sustainable, economic growth. A Europe that understands that if we go too far, too fast, we will lose people and lose the narrative to the populists who can churn out the easiest false answer to the hardest of political questions. That is why in our green and digital transitions we must ensure that our policies remain human-centric. That we are able to create the right safety-nets for industry, for businesses and for families. That we are able to incentivise change in a manner that leaves no-one behind.
A Europe that succeeds in moving away from Russian energy dependencies and is able to create an Energy Union that ensures our security, autonomy and prosperity. A Europe that steps up to meet today’s challenges and that gives itself the means to plan with foresight for tomorrow.
The world is facing challenges on multiple fronts. My 15-year-old son told me yesterday it seems like the world is on fire. And he’s not wrong. But if I can misuse a quote by Winston Churchill: Europe was never built to be neutral between the fire and the fire brigade. We must step up to our global responsibilities or we should not be surprised if others, with a very different outlook and a very different value-set, fill the vacuum.
In 1956, Konrad Adenauer said: “Unless we act, events that Europeans will be unable to influence will overtake us”. He then added that Europe would lose influence “unless - and I quote - we defend it and adjust ourselves to new conditions”.
In the current geopolitical context, we would do well to reflect on his words.
The situation in Gaza following the horrific terrorist attacks on October 7th in Israel, cast a dark shadow over the entire region - and indeed the world. How we handle it will determine the future of the region and of Europe.
Nothing can excuse – or justify – rape, abductions, torture, mutilations and the murder of entire communities, children, women, men and young people. These horrific acts were committed by a terrorist organisation.
We must be clear that Hamas does not represent the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. They hinder them. They must be stopped.
Hostages that they took must be released and we will keep doing what we can to bring them back home.
Hamas cannot be allowed to operate with impunity, but how they are stopped - Israel’s response - matters to all of us. We must be able to do that with ensuring the safety and lives of civilians, of children, of journalists and without targeting civilian infrastructure. We must ensure that international and humanitarian law is always our guiding principle and is respected.
The situation is horrific. It is a humanitarian catastrophe. That is why we have called for a humanitarian pause, for de-escalation and for more aid to reach those so desperately in need. That is why we have quadrupled Europe’s aid to 100 million euros.
In this fog of war - it is difficult to talk about this - it is also necessary to talk about peace. About the day after. About what we can do to ensure lasting stability in the region. About the post-Hamas scenario in Gaza. About how we can empower peaceful, legitimate, Palestinian leadership.
Europe is ready to commit to the region in the long term. We can help re-build and help bring about stability. Europe has learned to overcome the insurmountable and we can use our experience here again to give a real future to people.
We support a fair and just solution, based on the co-existence of two States. We will keep pushing this forward. I said this in Israel, when I went to the sites of the attacks. I said it to the Palestinian authority in Ramallah and I said this to representatives of countries in the region. It is the way Israel is able to thrive in safety and security and how we can give a real perspective to the Palestinian people. The solution must be political. It can only be political.
Meanwhile, of course, while all of this is happening, what the Kremlin wants, is for the situation in the Middle East to distract us from what is still playing out in our Eastern neighborhood.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our support for Ukraine will not waiver in any way. There is no alternative. Our support for Ukraine is about peace, a real and just peace based on the freedom and integrity of Ukraine. It is about Europe’s security as much as about Ukraine’s.
It is about our open economy and our rule of law withstanding attacks. It is about defending that European way of life that millions of Europeans when the Berlin Wall came down, 34 years ago.
There is much that we can be proud of in our innovation, unity and successes to date.
To spark a post-pandemic economic recovery, the European Union came up with the unprecedented NextGenerationEU fund. We helped to shield our households and SMEs further with our Social Climate Fund. We’ve complemented all this effort with a revised Renewable Energy Directive. In parallel, we have adapted our Common Agriculture Policy to new climate targets.
Not to speak of our determination in getting a Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act adopted, while preparing ground-breaking legislation on Artificial Intelligence. In doing this, we can ensure that innovation can thrive, while also ensuring proper regulation.
This is no mean feat. This does not happen overnight. But we need to ensure that necessary regulation does not evolve into unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape. We must turn our successes into a narrative that brings back the enthusiasm we have seen about Europe.
That means also being honest about where we have not managed. At least not yet.
Migration is one area where we have seen too little progress in the last ten years.
It is perhaps the most emotive issue we have to deal with and certainly the most exploited by politicians seeking an easy target.
Germany is one of the main destinations for migration to Europe, it carries a disproportionate responsibility too. No Member State should have to face this alone, whether it is Germany or a front-line Member State in the Mediterranean.
That’s why Europe has to get it right. In the European Parliament, we are working on a legal framework that is fair with those in need of protection, firm with those not eligible for asylum and hard with traffickers who exploit the most vulnerable. I explain these three pillars because I want to never forget that behind these figures there are human lives; and ultimately a hope for a better life.
After a decade of efforts, we are finally ready to break the deadlock. And I am cautiously optimistic that we can do it.
We also need to talk more about global trade, or rather talk less, and act more. We need to ensure our industry is able to compete and access the critical materials we need.
All of this while we are also readying the ground for enlargement.
History has shown us that an enlarged European Union that is based on clear objectives continues to serve as an investment in peace, security and prosperity on the European continent. It is a process with an outcome that benefits all sides involved.
That is why the European Parliament called for Ukraine and Moldova to receive EU candidate status last year. This gives these nations a clear European perspective and serves as a powerful impetus for advancing reforms. The same is true for Albania and the Western Balkans.
We must prepare and we must reform. While all that I’ve said is going on, we must be able to realise that what works for a Union of 27 will not work for a Union of 30, 33 or 35. When that happens, we cannot be found wanting.
In all these countries, the promise of Europe is what drives people. Governments rise and fall on the basis of us delivering on our promises. We cannot allow people to become disillusioned with our way, if we want our way to survive. It is not easy, but it is necessary. Ultimately, easy is not a criteria for action.
Delivering on our priorities is what will strengthen the political centre in Europe. It is what will give people hope in our project. It is what gives Europe credibility in the world.
If we fail to do that, we run the risk of seeing our people seek refuge in the easy cynicism of political extremes. Europeans want answers on inflation, on migration, on security. People are worried about a world that is changing, their world is changing. They are worried about a climate emergency, about the digital transition affecting job prospects, businesses and our economies. Young people in many countries are facing an uncertain future. We cannot ignore that too many people are feeling left out, and frustrated by our processes.
And that is why - with the European Parliament elections fast approaching - our biggest task is to re-ignite in our people a sense of collective purpose and belief in the European Union’s raison d’être.
And let me reiterate: it is the political centre that is best placed, to cut through the noise and to stay focused on meeting the challenges of our time.
Centre politics is not easy. I read an excellent article explaining it. It requires balancing and mitigating competing advantages and risks. It is not black and white, it is very often boringly grey. It does not represent a single position. We favour compromise not because we are weak, but because a stable society and the rule of law require that the vast majority of people must be willing to agree on common solutions, while ensuring that arguments are properly considered and risks mitigated.
Chancellor Merkel once said “a good compromise is one where everybody makes a contribution”. Compromise is not a dirty word. It is how we make change.
It is how we beat the extremists. And on this terrible anniversary of Reichspogromnacht, we need to remember the depths that man can sink to, we need to remember where extremism leads. And the rise of Anti-Semitism in Europe that we are witnessing today is a warning sign for all of us. Children do not feel safe wearing a Star of David. Synagogues are targeted.
Our Jewish community in Europe must feel safe. That is our duty. Our responsibility.
We must ensure that the Europe we create is truly the Europe we need, that allows all of us to live and worship as we like.
That is why, I want Europeans to come out in force, to contribute and to vote. Because in seven months on Sunday 9th June 2024, Germany’s voice will matter at the next European Parliament election. It matters that we sustain and take part in our democratic processes without taking them for granted. It matters because this election will determine the direction of Europe for the next five years.
The future of Europe will be defined by our ability to remain sovereign, by our ability to defend democracy at home and abroad, and by our ability to keep people at the heart of all decisions. For that we must keep listening.
I have spoken a lot, but now I really want to listen to you.
You can read the President's speech in German here.