As you know I am obsessed by unity. This obsession was with me during last European Council but in fact it has been with me since the first days of my work in Brussels.
This is why I rejected the idea of removing Greece from the euro zone in 2015. And this is also why I pursued a common position of the EU vis a vis Russia during the conflict in Ukraine. For many months I was building agreement among the 27, in order to give Prime Minister Cameron arguments to stay in the EU, even though this meant that each of the 27 had to make a sacrifice. Unfortunately, this was not enough for the Brits. After Brexit, I worked towards creating unity of the 27 in the negotiations with the United Kingdom. We have shown also during last European Council that no-one can divide the 27 in these negotiations.
Striving for unity is also the main reason for creating the Leaders’ Agenda. Last Friday all the leaders agreed that the priority for them is unity among 27. This was voiced in unison. On this most important issue to me, we reached full understanding right from the start. The Leaders’ Agenda invalidated a dangerous assumption that together we can only stand still, and that we can only move forward when we divide. It is about reconciling dynamism and unity. About being ambitious and staying together at the same time. This of course does not rule out enhanced cooperation as the last resort, open to all, and in accordance with the Treaties.
My intention is to build on what connects, not on what divides. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stand up with courage to the issues that are – or could be – divisive, so that we can find common solutions to them. I will just mention migration, the EMU and Brexit.
When it comes to the migration crisis, I appealed from the very beginning to build Europe’s response on what connects us: on the protection of our external borders. I did so often being aware that there are also ideas that put member states in a permanent conflict.
One such question is relocation, precisely speaking: the mandatory quotas. On this issue, consensus is as unlikely today as it was many months ago. But I do see a real chance of full agreement by June on matters like:
- protecting external borders,
- decisive support for frontline countries, that is Italy, Greece, Spain, Bulgaria,
- strategy vis-à-vis Africa and adequate support for international organisations helping refugees and migrants (UNHCR, IOM and World Food Programme),
- European management over return and readmission policy,
- as well as most of the elements of the Dublin reform.
If on these matters we are really effective, we will be close to a lasting solution to the migration crisis.
As regards EMU reform, following the publication of the Five Presidents’ Report, no-one should have any doubts what we need to do. Everything is crystal clear. The problem is member states’ conflicting interests. One of the first effects of the Leaders’ Agenda is the agreement to find potential solutions in the nearest possible future despite these differences. I will do everything in my power to take the first very concrete steps, by June towards establishing the European Monetary Fund and strengthening the stability of the Banking Union. I still believe that this is possible. In June it will become clear if I am an incurable optimist. But one thing I can promise you today. If we don’t reach agreement by June, I will say precisely why it wasn’t possible, and who is responsible.
As for the Brexit negotiations, we have managed to build and maintain unity among the 27. But ahead of us is still the toughest stress test. If we fail it, the negotiations will end in our defeat. We must keep our unity regardless of the direction of the talks. The EU will be able to rise to every scenario as long as we are not divided. It is in fact up to London how this will end: with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit. But in each of these scenarios we will protect our common interest only by being together.
We continue to look for the best way towards a Europe that is united, solidary and sovereign. Our quest must be accompanied by a constant and profound reflection on the essence of our community. I would like to say a few words on three of its dimensions.
First of all. We are a territorial community, which means that we have a common territory and common external borders. Our duty is to protect them. The migration crisis has made us aware, with full force, of the need to rebuild effective control of our external borders, while the aggressive behaviour of certain third countries, and the destabilisation around Europe, has made us aware of the need to defend our territory. For this reason we want to launch PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation on defence) by the end of this year. In order to protect our external borders, we must build a model of durable and efficient financing on a bigger scale than ever before. It should become a part of our discussions on the future MFF.
Secondly. We are a cultural community, which doesn’t mean that we are better or worse – we are simply different from the outside world. Our openness and tolerance cannot mean walking away from protecting our heritage. We have the right and obligation to care for what distinguishes us from other cultures – not in order to be against someone, but to be ourselves. Without a feeling of superiority, but with a feeling of justified pride. I remember a great hashtag by one of your leaders, which said: I am European and I am proud. This is why the first point on the Leaders’ Agenda for our meeting in Gothenburg in November is culture and education.
Thirdly. We are a political community. It is high time we renewed our vows in the name of our political values enshrined in article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union. Let me quote: The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.
I would like to remind all those in power, all the member states, that by signing the treaty, you have also signed this article. So either you respect it, or you clearly say you reject it, with all the consequences of this fact.
Finally, I would like to refer to an issue it would be hard to avoid being here in Strasbourg, namely the future composition of the European Parliament. For this topic, I have planned a special European Council in February next year. As you know, we must deal with this matter because of Brexit as well as the changing demography. I take all the proposals seriously that have surfaced in this debate, they are all interesting and pro-European ideas. I personally believe that the most natural solution would be to adopt a simple rule: fewer countries, fewer mandates. It is not only pragmatic and logical, but also what is expected by public opinion. Of course, such a solution in no way invalidates the idea of transnational lists. I am aware that this will be our common decision, since the Parliament will be proposing and co-deciding on this matter. This is why I would like you to take such a possibility into account.
When I was here in March this year you may remember that I recalled a proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Today I feel we have a real chance to go together, far and faster. Thank you.