Speech by President von der Leyen at the closing event of the Conference on the Future of Europe

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

« Nous devons penser et planifier une Europe unie comme si chaque jour il était possible de la créer immédiatement, rejetant la lassitude de ceux qui la renvoient toujours à demain. Le possible, s’il est vraiment possible, nous pouvons commencer à le réaliser aujourd’hui. »

President Metsola,

President Macron,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On this very special day for Europe, I could not think of a more fitting way to start than by using the words of Ursula Hirschmann. For those that do not know her story, Ursula Hirschmann was an architect and builder of today’s free and united Europe. She resisted the rise of Nazism in Berlin in the 1930s – she shaped the future of Europe on the island of Ventotene in the 1940s – she pioneered women’s rights across our Union.

The courage of her actions and of her convictions helped make Europe what it is today. I start with this picture because, for Europe, the memory of our past has always framed our future. And that is all the more important at a time when the unthinkable has returned to our continent. Russia’s flagrant attempts to redraw maps and to rewrite even the most tragic parts of our history have reminded us of the dangers of loosening our grip on both our past and our future. Of living in a perpetual present and thinking that things can never be different. That there cannot be better ways of doing things. And even worse: That things will always stay the same if only we do not change. That is so wrong! Standing still is falling back.

But this Conference has shown us that Europeans are determined not to make that mistake. You have told us that you want to build a better future by living up to the most enduring promises of the past. Promises of peace and prosperity, fairness and progress; of a Europe that is social and sustainable, that is caring and daring. Just like Ursula Hirschmann and all those who went before us.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This Conference has spoken clearly. And I am delighted to see so many of you here today. Through your 49 proposals and more than 300 measures, you have weaved and crafted a vision of a Europe that delivers on what matters most, that helps to make everyday life better, that is not confined to one place but is at your side when you need it. On every day priorities – such as the air we breathe and the food we eat, the education that we give our children and the houses that we bring them up in.

It is a vision of a Europe that pools its strength and diversity to tackle the biggest challenges – from climate change or nature loss, to pandemics or security in our region. A Europe that has a stronger capacity to activate and uphold its values and the rule of law. A Europe that is able to provide for itself in vital areas from energy and food, materials and medicines, to digital chips and green technologies. A Europe that delivers unique social protections and benefits all the way through these major transitions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to address every single one of you who took part in this Conference: Your message has been received. And it is now time to deliver. This is what I promised when I stood for election in this very House, two and a half years ago. And together, we have proven that we can do just that with the powers that already exist – even in the midst of a pandemic or a war. Whether procuring billions of vaccines for citizens across Europe, or kick-starting the economy of the future through NextGenerationEU. Whether setting an ambitious and legally binding path to climate neutrality, setting the rules of the game in the digital world, or supporting small businesses to retain their staff during the pandemic.

None of this was explicitly foreseen in the Treaty, but it was possible. And we did it together – because Europeans expected their Union to step up. And you can count on me to continue to push the limits to get things done – just like you have asked us to do in this report. Next month already, we will set out what is needed to bring your proposals to life and respond as best we can. In some areas, your proposals give us a push to speed up work already ongoing – for example on the European Green Deal or on making society fairer. So that means accelerating negotiations on the Fit for 55 Package so that we can boost renewable energies, save energy and wean ourselves off fossil fuels. And it means ensuring that our proposal on minimum wages becomes law so that work pays for all.

In other areas, we have already started the work you have asked for. For example, in the next weeks and months, we will bring out proposals, from restoring our nature to cutting down waste coming from packaging. We will act to ban products made by forced labour from entering the EU market and make recommendations to Member States when it comes to minimum income. On all of these upcoming initiatives, we will look closely at your proposals so that we can best cater for what you have asked for.

The point is that there is already a lot that we can do without delay. And that also goes for those recommendations which will need us to take new action. To make sure that we follow up swiftly, I will announce the first new proposals responding to your report in my State of the Union Address in September. But even beyond this, there is a need to go even further. For example, I have always argued that unanimity voting in some key areas simply no longer makes sense if we want to be able to move faster. Or that Europe should play a greater role – for example in health or defence. And we need to improve the way our democracy works on a permanent basis. I want to be clear that I will always be on the side of those who want to reform the EU to make it work better.

The point is: you have told us where you want this Europe to go. And it is now up to us to take the most direct way there, by using the full limits of what we can do within the Treaties – and, yes, by changing the Treaties where we need to. And I welcome the fact that, for the first time ever, the European Parliament is ready to use its powers to propose a Convention. Let us work on all of this together. With no taboos. No ideological red lines. Let us deliver for the here-and-now.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

‘Democracy has not gone out of fashion, but it must update itself in order to keep improving people’s lives.’ Those are the words of David Sassoli – a great European who stood here a year ago to launch this Conference. We all miss him dearly and I have a special place for him in my heart today.

And I feel pride that citizens from every corner of Europe have brought to life his vision of a vibrant and modern European democracy. We saw that in National Citizens’ Panels, such as those held right across France. And we saw it in the European Citizens’ Panels – from Dublin and Natolin, from Florence to Maastricht. It connected men and women who had never engaged with Europe before. Different stories, different languages, different identities; one shared future to build together.

You have proven that this form of democracy works. And I believe it should become part of the way we make policy. This is why I will propose that, in the future, we give Citizens’ Panels the time and resources to make recommendations before we present certain key legislative proposals. Because democracy does not end with elections, conferences or conventions. It needs to be worked on, nurtured and improved every day. We saw that in the grassroots events held right across Europe. Whether debating biodiversity in Varna, gender-based violence in Lisbon, or democracy and subsidiarity in Budapest. And we saw it in the image of Linda, a young mother, speaking about the future in this very hemicycle while holding her baby born halfway through the Conference.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is the image I want us to celebrate on the 9 May. An image far more powerful than any military parade going up and down the streets of Moscow as we speak. An image that reminds us to never take for granted what Europe is and what it means. Europe is a dream. A dream that always was. A dream born from tragedy.

But today, that dream shines brightest not only here in this historic place. It shines brightest in the hearts and the minds of people in Kyiv and Kharkiv, Odessa and Poltava, Mariupol and Mykolaiv. It shines brightest in the courage of those families and young people bunkered down in subways and basements; of those mourning the senseless, mindless atrocities in Bucha, in Irpin and in every Ukrainian village and town struck by war. And it shines brightest in the eyes of all those young Ukrainians who have found a refuge in Europe – a home away from home. Those people – young and old – are willing to fight and to die for their future and for that dream of Europe. That dream that always was. That dream that must always be.

So I want to finish with a special message to our Ukrainian friends and family. The future of Europe is also your future. The future of our democracy is the future of your democracy. 72 years ago, war in Europe was replaced with something different, something new. First a Community, and then a Union. It was the day when the future began. It is a future that we have been writing together ever since – as architects and builders of Europe. And the next page is now being written by you. By us. By all of us together.

Slava Ukraini. Long live Europe.

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