Citizens of the European Union, fellow parliamentarians, colleagues, dear friends, representatives of the institutions and governments, members of the administration,
All of you will understand how moved I am to take office as President of the European Parliament and to have been chosen by you to represent the institution which more than any other has a direct link with ordinary people, which has a duty to represent and defend them and to let no-one forget that if we are to safeguard the freedom we enjoy today, we must focus on two things: justice and solidarity.
Please allow me to thank President Antonio Tajani for his work, for the dedication he showed in performing his duties and for his commitment to this institution. I should also like to welcome the newly elected MEPs, who make up 62% of our Parliament, to welcome back the MEPs who have been re-elected and to welcome the women who have been elected and who make up 40% of our Members: it is a good result, but we want to do better.
Today, at the end of an intense election campaign, a new parliamentary term has started. In the light of recent events, that term will bring with it great responsibilities, because we cannot content ourselves simply with preserving what we already have: that is the conclusion which we must draw from the election result and from the composition of this assembly.
We are living in a time of great upheavals: youth unemployment, migration, climate change, the digital revolution, the new world balance, to name just a few. If we are to tackle these new challenges, we need new ideas and the courage to combine wisdom with a bold approach.
We need to rediscover the pioneering approach of the founding fathers, the spirit of Ventotene, the spirit of those who found a way to put aside the enmities of war and heal the wounds caused by nationalism and who offered us a project for Europe geared in equal measure to peace, democracy, rights, development and equality.
In recent months, too many people have wagered on the demise of that project, fuelling divisions and conflicts which we regarded as belonging to a dark period in our history which we had put behind us. The citizens of our Union, meanwhile, have shown that they still believe in this extraordinary project, the only one which offers answers to the global challenges facing us.
We must find the strength to relaunch our integration process, to transform our Union into a body which can respond effectively to the needs of our citizens and which can address their concerns, their ever growing feeling that they have been left behind.
Defending and promoting our founding values of freedom, dignity and solidarity is a task to which we must devote ourselves every day, both inside and outside the Union.
Dear colleagues, let us focus more on the world we have created and on the freedoms we enjoy. And let us spread our message, given that others, to the east, to the west and to the south, struggle to grasp the fact that there are many things that make us different, not better but different, and that we Europeans are proud of that diversity.
Let us make it clear once again to everyone that in Europe no government has the right to kill and that the way we uphold the value and the dignity of each individual is the yardstick against which our policies are measured;
that in Europe no-one has the right to muzzle opponents;
that our governments and the institutions which represent them are the fruit of democracy and of free elections;
that no-one should be persecuted for their religious, political or philosophical beliefs;
that our children have the right to travel, to study and to love without restriction;
that no-one in Europe should be humiliated and marginalised because of their sexual orientation;
that in the European space social welfare, however it is guaranteed, is part of our identity; that safeguarding the life of any person in danger is a duty laid down in our Treaties and in the international agreements we have signed.
We need to put our model of a social market economy on a new, stronger footing. We must shape the rules governing our economy in such a way that growth, welfare and environmental protection can go hand in hand. We must give ourselves the tools we need to combat poverty, to offer young people a future, to boost sustainable investment, and to strengthen the process of convergence between our regions and territories.
The digital revolution is radically transforming the way we live, the way we produce, the way we consume: we need rules that enable us to combine technological progress, business dynamism and the protection of workers and individuals.
Climate change is exposing us to huge risks which are becoming only too clear: we need to invest in clean technologies as a response to the millions of young people who have taken to the streets, and in some cases come here to this Chamber, to remind us that this is the only planet we have.
We need to work to bring about ever greater gender equality and give women an ever greater role at the highest levels of politics, the economy and society.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is the visiting card which we must present to a world that needs us to help it devise rules which work.
But none of this has come about by chance. The European Union is not an accident of history.
I am the son of a man who, at the age of 20, fought against other Europeans. I am the son of a woman who, likewise at the age of 20, left her own home and found refuge with other families.
I know that this is the story of many of your families as well. I also know that if we were to sit down together and tell each other our stories over a beer or a glass of wine we would never say that we are the children or grandchildren of an accident of history.
Rather, we would say that our history is written in suffering, in the blood of the young British soldiers who perished on the beaches of Normandy, in the yearning for freedom of Sophie and Hans Scholl, in the desire for justice of the heroes of the Warsaw ghetto, in the violence employed to put down freedom movements in the countries of Eastern Europe, in the feeling of fraternity which we draw on every time our consciences urge us not to renounce what makes us human and every time obedience to authority cannot be regarded as a virtue.
We are not an accident of history, but the children and grandchildren of those who found the antidote to the disease of nationalism which poisoned our history: if we are Europeans, it is also because we all love our countries. But nationalism which turns into ideology and idolatry prompts feelings of superiority and harbours the seeds of destructive conflicts.
Dear colleagues, we need vision and for that we need political debate. We need European parties that grow into their role as the cornerstone of our democracy. But we must also equip them with new tools, as the ones we have are not good enough. We must use this parliamentary term to strengthen procedures and help the European Parliament give full expression to European democracy.
But we are not starting from nothing. We have foundations to build on. Europe is based on its institutions, which may be flawed and in need of reform, but which have guaranteed our freedoms, our independence. We can work through those institutions to respond to all those who are bent on creating divisions among us. So here today, in this Chamber, let us state clearly that the European Parliament will guarantee the independence of the peoples of Europe and ensure that they alone can shape their own future. No one can perform that task for them, and no one can perform our task for us.
Along with many experienced returning Members, there are also a large number of Members in this Chamber today who are starting their first parliamentary term. I bid them a warm welcome.
I have read many of their CVs and am convinced they have much to contribute through their skills and professionalism. Many of them are active in civil society or are involved in the work of protecting others. This is an area in which Europe needs to improve because we have a duty to deal properly with new situations.
On immigration, for example, there is too much ‘passing the buck’ between governments. Whenever a problem arises, we find ourselves ill-prepared and starting again from scratch.
I would say to the European Council that this Parliament believes the time has come to discuss an overhaul of the Dublin Regulation – something which this House voted for by an overwhelming majority in the last parliamentary term.
You owe it to the peoples of Europe, who are calling for greater solidarity between Member States. But you also owe it to the poor of this world, drawing on that sense of shared humanity which we do not want to squander and which has made us great in the eyes of the world.
Much rests in your hands, ladies and gentlemen of the Council. If you are to live up to your responsibilities, you cannot go on postponing decisions, undermining the faith of our citizens, who with every emergency will ask themselves once again: ‘where is Europe? What is Europe doing?’ The issue of immigration will be a litmus test of our ability to rise above and overcome complacency and self-interest.
What is more, Parliament, the Council and the Commission must make it their duty to respond more courageously to the demands being made by our young people, who are clamouring for us to wake up, open our eyes and save the planet.
I would say to them that they should view this new Parliament as their point of reference. They too should help us to be more audacious in addressing the challenges of climate change.
I want to assure the Council and the countries which take up the presidency in their turn that we will work with them very closely, and I would say the same to the Commission and its President: the EU institutions need to rethink their roles and ensure that they are no longer viewed as an impediment to a more united Europe.
On behalf of this House, I would also like to send greetings, through the President of the European Council, to the Heads of State and Government of the 28 countries that make the European Union great. They are 28 states, both big and small, which harbour treasures unique in the world. They are all steeped in history. They each have their own unique culture, language, art, landscapes and poetry. They are our vast heritage – a heritage worthy of universal respect.
That is why, when I visit those Member States on behalf of Parliament, I will always behave in a manner befitting my office and show due respect for their flags and anthems as the representative of the Members of this House – including of those who fail to show such respect.
Finally, let me welcome all the British MEPs, whatever their views on Brexit. It is painful for us to conceive of Paris, Madrid, Berlin and Rome without London.
With all due respect for the choices made by the people of Britain, you know that for us Europeans this is a political process that must be conducted rationally, through dialogue and in a spirit of friendship, but also in accordance with the rules and prerogatives which apply on both sides.
I also wish to welcome the representatives of the States which have applied to join the European Union: they have chosen this path freely. Everyone understands the advantages of being part of the European Union. The accession procedures are ongoing and Parliament has repeatedly expressed its satisfaction with the results achieved.
Finally, I would like to wish the best of luck to Parliament’s entire administration and everyone working here.
We set ourselves a target in the last parliamentary term, which was to make the European Parliament the home of European democracy.
For this we need reform, greater transparency and innovation. Much has been achieved, especially as regards the budget, but even more impetus will be needed in this parliamentary term.
This calls for closer dialogue between Members and the administration, which it will be my responsibility to develop.
Dear colleagues, Europe still has much to say if we can all speak with one voice, if we can place political debate at the service of the people of Europe and if Parliament can grasp what they want, what they fear and – above all – what they need.
I am sure that you will all throw yourselves into the task of creating a better Europe. This will require courage, and above all ambition.
Thank you, and I wish you every success with your work.