Should we stop paying former presidents

The president. Dear former Presidents of the European Parliament! Dear President of the European Council, dear Chancellor Angela Merkel! Mr President of the European Commission, dear José Manuel Durão Barroso! Mr President of the Assembly of the Council of Europe, dear René van der Linden! Ladies and Gentlemen Presidents and Representatives of the European Institutions! Dear guests, and above all dear colleagues! The change in the office of President every two and a half years is in line with the tradition of the European Parliament since its first direct election in June 1979. In historical terms, two and a half years is a short time. If, however, we consider that a President of the European Parliament accompanies five Presidencies of the European Council - now Germany, then Portugal, Slovenia, France and the Czech Republic - then the responsibility that the European Parliament has at a time when the European is very clear becomes clear The work of unification is well advanced, but not yet completed, and is in jeopardy because of the temporary failure of the constitutional treaty in France and the Netherlands. The European Parliament is aware of this responsibility and must therefore not be outdone by anyone when it comes to achieving the unity of our continent!


We are all in the continuity of those who preceded and will follow us. I would like to thank my predecessor Josep Borrell Fontelles very warmly and sincerely for his great commitment and tireless efforts as our President over the past two and a half years for the entire European Parliament, but also personally!


These sincere and heartfelt thanks also go to the previous presidents who are with us today:

Emilio Colombo, President of the not yet directly elected parliament and then from 1979 Simone Veil, Lord Plumb, also known as Henry Plumb, our colleague Enrique Barón Crespo, Egon Klepsch, our colleague Klaus Hänsch, José-María Gil-Robles, Nicole Fontaine and Pat Cox.

(Loud applause).

I extend a very warm welcome to you all. We are very pleased that you have all accepted this invitation. Pierre Pflimlin and Piet Dankert are no longer with us. We remember them with gratitude.

Together with my colleagues Klaus Hänsch, Ingo Friedrich, Karl von Wogau, Francis Wurtz and Jens-Peter Bonde, I have had the privilege of being a member of the European Parliament since it was first elected in 1979. During this time we have seen ups and downs in European politics.

The greatest success is overcoming the division of Europe. Our common values ​​have prevailed. Membership in the European Union of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia - and of Malta and Cyprus - since May 1, 2004, and since January 1 of this year of Bulgaria and Romania and the unified Germany since October 3rd, 1990 remain for me the miracle of our generation. We have every reason to be delighted about it today from the bottom of our hearts.


But, dear colleagues, it remains a task for all of us to learn from one another and to strengthen respect and understanding for one another. We should stop talking about the “old” and “new” member states. We are all together the European Parliament and the peoples we represent are the community of the European Union.


In the 80s there was talk of "Eurosclerosis". Then came the single market and the common European currency. As the European Parliament, we have fought for our rights and will continue to do so. Our Parliament is influential and confident today. Experience teaches us that we will be successful for our continent if we want it ourselves, if our will remains strong and determined to realize the unity of our continent while preserving its diversity. I would like to ask you all to show this determination today.

But we will only be successful in this if the citizens of the European Union - in addition to their attachment to their homeland and their own fatherland - also see themselves as Europeans and are aware of what connects them. Community awareness and a sense of togetherness are necessary prerequisites for our common European future. European unification is not only a matter of concern to our minds, it is also a matter of the heart. Making this clear to people is perhaps the greatest task that we have to master together.

We must serve the citizens of the European Union. Europeans should be proud of what they have fought for over the centuries - values, freedom, law and democracy. It was a long way. We know: our European roots are Greek philosophy, Roman law, the Judeo-Christian heritage, the Enlightenment, i.e. our common European culture. But this also includes the tragic European civil wars and, in the 20th century, the inhuman ideologies of totalitarianism and then, after 1945, the courage of the founding fathers to follow the path of forgiveness and reconciliation, to build a new, better, peaceful, common Europe. We should remember that today and rediscover what we have in common. In the tradition of Robert Schuman, the great French European Jacques Delors spoke of the “European soul”. The great Polish European, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, once said: “Europe, that means above all personal freedom, human rights - political and economic”. Both are right.

I want to speak of European values. They are essentially based on human dignity. In the dignity of the person we respect the other, commit ourselves and thus build an order of responsibility and solidarity. We should always serve human dignity in our practical political action, and I encourage all of us to defend human dignity and human rights around the world.

This is not an abstract requirement. We are not the masters of the world, but our image of man and our values ​​become more convincing for others when we ourselves live them credibly. This has very concrete consequences for our politics:

We want partnership with a capable and democratic Russia. That is why we expect the Russian authorities to make visible efforts to ensure that the murderers of Ana Politkovskaya, who has done so much for the freedom of the press in her country, are brought to justice.


We will never forget that without the United States of America, neither Nazism nor Soviet Communism could have been defeated. But we also tell our American friends: “Guantanamo” is not compatible with our European principles of a legal order.


We protect human life. Anyone who denies the Holocaust, the worst of all crimes, like the president of a great cultural nation, must be resolutely countered so that a new Holocaust does not strike us as a horror again.


We are convinced that the people of Israel and Palestine are united by the same dignity. We therefore stand up for Israel's right to exist as well as for the right of the Palestinian people to live in their own state.


We stand by those who fight peacefully for freedom and democracy. That is why our solidarity goes to our Sakharov Prize winner Alexander Milinkievich and his colleagues for a free and democratic Belarus without fear and oppression. The same solidarity goes to our Sakharov Prize winners “Las Damas de Blanco” (The Ladies in White) in Cuba and Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma / Myanmar.

We defend human dignity and human rights. We, the European Parliament, are deeply convinced that the death penalty is incompatible with this. I call on all of us, the institutions of the European Union and the Member States, to work within the framework of the United Nations for the abolition of the death penalty.

If we want to achieve our goals, this presupposes that we continue to build a European Union capable of acting. We have to put ourselves in a constitution that ensures that we can represent our values ​​and interests in Europe and in the world as a respected partner.

I still hear the great speech by Louise Weiss, which she gave here in Strasbourg on July 17, 1979, when she was the President-in-Office of the first directly elected European Parliament. She said: "In any case, let us never forget that we are heirs and executors at the same time: heirs of a spiritual world and its executors for the benefit of future generations".

I couldn't find any better words. We could hardly feel any differently today than we did in 1979, and yet at the same time we are facing new, our own challenges.

The idea of ​​the unification of Europe has developed successfully across the board since the Treaty of Rome was signed fifty years ago. It has become the expression of one of the happiest periods in our long European history. After the Second World War, the idea of ​​Europe initially drew its strength from the will for peace and freedom. Then followed the increase in prosperity and social balance as a mandate and drive for European unification. Europe remained true to both ideas when the reunification of our continent gave us the unique opportunity to grow together in freedom the halves of the continent that had been divided for too long.

Today Europe is recognized and driven by our citizens' pursuit of security. This is a very serious concern that we have been given involuntarily but inevitably in the fight against terrorism. To do this, we need solutions to the questions that are burning under the nails of our citizens.

Striving for security also includes the mandate to create work and social protection in a rapidly changing world. We cannot gain security against globalization. We have to shape it by strengthening our competitiveness while preserving our European social model.

This means that we not only talk about the dramatic climate change, but - together with our partners in the world - take the necessary measures and implement them decisively before it is too late.

Security includes a common energy supply and a common immigration policy that respects human rights as well as the need for integration in our society. We must not allow people to keep losing their lives in the floods of the Mediterranean.

We cannot find our security in a world that is on fire, where people live in poverty and under social pressure, where there is disorder and where natural environmental conditions are further destroyed.

If we want to live in security in Europe, we must commit ourselves as partners for security in the world in all its aspects. And we have to know that without European solutions, most of the challenges facing our continent and our world can no longer be mastered. Europe's unity has always been strengthened by crises, even if this seems paradoxical at first. I am not saying that we need crises because we would be unable to advance the good of ourselves. The European Union needs a new departure, a renewal. The way is arduous, that is probably true. But I am deeply convinced that our continent is better equipped for its future in the world of the 21st century than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

We ourselves will be judged by the extent to which we have brought the re-establishment of European unification on a lasting and safe path. Leaders are expected from us politicians. Better than we have sometimes done so far, we have to explain why Europe is good for all of us, what added value European unification brings about and what goals our work serves. We have to overcome the impression that European politics only have a technical function, without foresight or context. We have to convince through our actions. We have to concentrate on the essentials.

It is our common task to prepare the future so sustainably that it is safe for our children and grandchildren as far as humanly possible. To do this, we need a new departure for a better, stronger, future-oriented Europe. But above all we need a Europe that believes in itself, that draws its strength from its values ​​and that wants to be and can be a good partner in the world.

Without the media, we cannot convey Europe to the people. I would like to expressly thank the correspondents and journalists here in Strasbourg for their fair and objective reporting. But I appeal to the national media, especially the private and public television broadcasters, to make their contribution to European public relations work. It is not up to date to present European unification only from a national perspective. I ask the national television broadcasters to open their studios to European issues and to invite members of the European Parliament as interlocutors.


We need a new pact between European citizens and their political institutions in the European Union. A “Europe of the Citizens” and the credibility of the European institutions are mutually dependent. The “Better Legislation” work program can make a contribution to this if it ensures more democratic control, transparency in the Council, reliable implementation in national law, social, ecological, economic and administrative impact assessment and simplification of the legal texts themselves. We should always ask ourselves when European legislation is intended: Does it serve people and the environment? Is it necessary in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity? Does it strengthen our competitiveness? Does it reduce bureaucracy and costs? We should only act as legislators in the European Parliament if these questions can be answered in the affirmative.

As the European Parliament, we should not just try to represent the interests of the people. We should also express our respect for the commitment of European citizens who, through their work, increase Europe's reputation - in Europe and in the world. We should introduce an award from the European Parliament for this. And why shouldn't we also pay particular tribute to the commitment of young people to the European idea? High-ranking European awards have had so many positive effects in the public consciousness, why don't we also create awards for the young generation, for young Europeans who are particularly exemplary in their commitment in Europe?

European history is almost always only presented nationally in national museums. I want to suggest a place of remembrance and the future where the idea of ​​the idea of ​​Europe can continue to grow. I would like to propose the construction of a “House of European History”. It is not supposed to be a boring, dry museum, but a place that cultivates our memory of European history and the work of European unification and is at the same time open to the further shaping of the identity of Europe by all current and future citizens of the European Union. Such a “House of European History” should be founded at the headquarters of the European institutions and networked with comparable institutions in the member states. The "Declaration on the Future of Europe", to be decided jointly by the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission on March 25, 2007 in Berlin, under your presidency, Mrs. Council President, Mrs. Chancellor Angela Merkel, could create the conditions for this.

The European Union is the largest association of peoples in the world - from 27 nations with almost 500 million people. Europe is a complicated continent and this poses enormous challenges for all of us. The European Union can no longer be managed with the inadequate instruments of current contract law. If our community of values ​​is to endure, we have to reform it fundamentally. The Constitutional Treaty strengthens both the European Parliament and the national parliaments, it is an increase in parliamentarism and democracy.Local self-government as the basis of our European democratic order is recognized for the first time. The competency order defines the European competences. I say to you frankly, ladies and gentlemen: I do not understand those who criticize "Brussels" on the one hand - and there is occasionally just as much justification for criticizing national politics - but at the same time reject the constitutional treaty, which is precisely that The means is to help reduce and correct the deficits that have been identified.


We must leave no doubt: the European Parliament stands by the constitutional treaty. We want to help ensure that the substance of the constitutional treaty, including the chapter on values, becomes a legal and political reality. The consensus developed here in the European Parliament on the Services Directive and the limits of the European Union's expandability takes up existing concerns of people constructively. The “Declaration on the Future of Europe” of March 25, 2007 in Berlin can mark another important milestone on this path. Its core should be: the commitment to our values ​​and to the necessary reforms; the commitment to face together the challenges of the future I spoke of; the commitment to solidarity between our peoples and the validity of the law as the basis of our actions. No people in the European Union should be left alone with their fundamental problems. But this also excludes national egoism. Those who only serve the interests of their own country will in the end gamble them away because they destroy the solidarity that is necessary to defend their own interests.


We want to help ensure that a timetable and a mandate are agreed during the German Council Presidency at the summit on June 21 and 22 in Brussels, at the end of which the core of the content of the European Constitution will be fully implemented by the next election of the European Parliament in June 2009 stands. I would like to remind you that the Constitutional Treaty has been signed by all 27 governments and has already been adopted by 18 countries. Of course we have to respect the referendums.

Regardless of this, if changes of government in a country call into question what has been agreed in the European Union, not only will the national societies be divided, but our already complicated continent will become increasingly incapable of acting. We have to commit to our European legal principles: pacta sunt servanda - contracts are to be adhered to.

Our will must be strong and determined to make these necessary reforms a reality. We must press these reforms forward in such a way that the peoples in the European Union are not divided but rather brought together. We insist that the European Parliament be properly involved in the work.

As the European Parliament, we must also be ready to reform ourselves. Initially, this places high demands on each of us, for example being present at votes and important debates. As we all know, much remains to be done here. I would like the European Parliament to always have as many members as it was this morning, although there is still room for improvement. That is why the day after tomorrow, on Thursday, I will be putting a proposal to the group chairmen for a comprehensive reform of the work of the European Parliament. The Conference of Presidents, that is to say, the group chairmen - and these are important people - set up a working group to improve our work. I can see that there is a smile on the faces of the group chairmen - they are pleased with this confirmation. I ask my colleagues to start work and to present the results of the work as soon as possible.

We have an efficient administration and I would like to sincerely and sincerely thank Secretary General Julian Priestley, who is leaving his post on March 1st after ten years, for his great commitment!


Dear Colleagues! There are certainly occasional, perhaps more frequent, reasons to criticize the administration. We allow ourselves to be criticized. But when you work closely with Julian Priestley and his staff, you can see what a high level of responsibility and commitment they have, and I have never seen anyone act against the President's intentions. Of course, I would like that for my entire term of office as well. I will keep in close contact so that we can go in the same direction. Thank you, Julian Priestley! The only yardstick for the administration is service to our European convictions - politically independent, fair and objective.

Ladies and gentlemen! Europe's future depends to a large extent on how we manage to coexist between cultures and religions in the European Union and with our neighbors, especially in the Arab and Islamic world.

We must therefore work to ensure that the dialogue between cultures and religions becomes the trademark of Europe. We live on the continent of the three great cultures and religions, the Christian, the Jewish and the Islamic. And we have fellow citizens who come from one of the other great cultures of this world and who have their home in the other religions of this earth. As the European Parliament, we must encourage and support examples from European civil society that are committed to the dialogue of cultures. In Seville I got to know the work of the "Tres Culturas" institution, and I say it not only as a reference to my Spanish predecessor, Josep Borrell, that we all have examples of the European coexistence of Christians, Muslims and Jews - and of course everyone, who do not profess these religions - should actively support them. This is the crucial investment in our spiritual development. It is also the best contribution to give impetus for the dialogue of cultures across the Mediterranean to the Middle East and North Africa. We do not want the "clash of civilizations", we want peace in freedom and justice between all peoples and beliefs. For this we want to build a spiritual and cultural bridge across the Mediterranean.

This dialogue must be based on tolerance and truth. Tolerance does not mean arbitrariness. Tolerance means respecting the convictions of the other while maintaining one's own convictions and thus living together without violence. On one of my many visits to Arab countries, I was once asked by a high Islamic dignitary how Muslims live in Europe. My answer was that they are often not sufficiently integrated, but can live their own faith and have their houses of prayer and mosques. My counter-question was whether it was true that a Muslim woman or a Muslim could be punished with death in his country if he or she wanted to convert to the Christian faith. The answer not given to me was the answer.

Dear Colleagues! I am firmly convinced that the dialogue between cultures can only succeed if it is based on truth and mutual tolerance.


I have decided to visit the neighboring Arab states of the European Union and, when I visit the countries of the European Union, to seek dialogue with ethnic minorities, especially with young people. In the Euro-Mediterranean Assembly we have an important parliamentary institution for dialogue with the Middle East, including Israel and the Arab world. We must use this institution effectively for peace, partnership and, if possible, friendship. Last weekend, the four Presidents who make up the Bureau of the Euro-Mediterranean Assembly - the Presidents of Parliaments from Egypt, Tunisia, who chairs the Parliaments, the Speaker of the Greek Parliaments and myself - met in Tunis, and we agreed that the dialogue of cultures and the problem of unemployment in the Mediterranean countries should be the subject of the next dialogue in March, and that in June we will deal in a special way with the Middle East and the - hopefully ongoing - peace process.

As soon as circumstances permit, I will visit Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. I am grateful for the invitation sent to me to address the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. In our invitations to speak to the European Parliament, we should focus on the dialogue between cultures.

Dear Colleagues! Strengthening European democracy and European parliamentarism is our common task. That is why we want to work constructively and in partnership with the national parliaments for the benefit of our peoples and the entire European Union.

Helmut Kohl, who is an honorary citizen of Europe, once said: “We don't have a lot of time. The world we live in is not ready to wait until we solve our internal problems. ”He is right. I would like to add: Failure to act, indifference, would be the greatest guilt we can bear.

At the end of my term of office, a new European Parliament will be elected. If our work is convincing and if Europe is spoken of well in the national capitals too, the turnout in the European elections will increase again. Achieving this should be our ambition.

Our work is often sober, also grueling and not very spectacular. But our goals are big and so are the expectations of us. Our aim is to satisfy you. I would like to represent you all in this task so that the dignity of the European Parliament, the unification of our European continent and the effectiveness of the European Union are strengthened. I ask for your help, thank you for your trust and hope that we can achieve our goals together.

(sustained applause)