Merci de m’avoir invitée à parler de l’avenir, de notre avenir à tous au sein de notre famille européenne. L’Europe de demain se définit par l’Europe d’aujourd’hui et par l’Europe d’hier. Le poète estonien Juhan Liiv a dit que celui qui ne se souvient pas du passé vivra sans avenir. Je suis d’accord.
In order to look 70 years into the future, we should not forget the 70 years of our common as well as divided past. This is the past when the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall divided Europe.
This is the past when the foundations of the current European Union and the transatlantic alliance (NATO) were laid. It also marked the beginning of the end of empires and collapse of colonialism in Europe. Professor Timothy Snyder rightly said that “in order to become better, a country must lose its last colonial war”.
The eminent French political theorist Raymond Aron wrote already 70 years ago that there is no heavier mortgage to the future of the continent than the abandonment of Central and Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union during the Second World War.
No doubt, we all have reaped an enormous peace dividend after the collapse of the Soviet Union and after the end of the Cold War. It has turned the abandoned Bloodlands into Homelands – it has united and brought Europe together like in no other period in history. Professor Timothy Garton Ash has described Europe as a place where you can be “at home abroad”. This change – the rise of Homelands and the collapse of colonial powers and former empires in Europe – has been the most important geopolitical shift of the century.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Unfortunately, we have run out of peace dividends by now as a large-scale war is ongoing against Ukraine. After the 24th of February 2022, we can again talk about Before Times and After Times. The waking up of Europe had taken us far too long. I am glad that we managed to lead the charge at the Versailles EU Leaders’ Summit. This chapter of continued abandonment of parts of Europe will have to end. This includes keeping the promises that EU leaders gave in Thessaloniki in 2003 and in Versailles in 2022 – these were the promises of a Europe whole and free, a Europe without grey zones.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Shortly after the start of Russia´s large-scale aggression against Ukraine, analysts started asking if the balance of power in Europe is shifting to the “East”. And this fear carries over to other discussions, including that of enlargement. As if there was still an artificial line between the East and the West, between new and old Europe. And I keep noticing that notwithstanding 20 years of membership within the EU and NATO, Central-Eastern Europe is still often described as a “post-Soviet” space or the “former Soviet Union”.
President Macron recently rightly said, and I quote: “I do not believe there is Western and Eastern Europe, an old and new Europe. There is only one Europe.” I am telling this because the way we speak, the way opinion leaders discuss, the terms we use – this all also defines the mental landscape we live in. Recognizing it helps to leave behind artificial boundaries, the remnants of the time when Europe was split into the world of freedom and that of the Soviet prison. You had more luck.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our Europe is something that will never be ready – after each crisis, after each enlargement, after the formative experiences of each new generation, Europe has to reinvent itself over and over again. This is necessary to remain meaningful and relevant to our people. And this is necessary to deliver not only hope in a better future, but also tangible benefits to our people.
As is said in the Schuman Declaration, “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.” The Monnet method has allowed us to overcome deep splits and differences in many areas and build unity and a strong Union based on freedoms, solidarity and trust.
It is fear itself that we must fear the most – not freedom. Like my father has said, only freedom will give certainty, will conquer fear and will guarantee a fair economy. European freedom and solidarity take various forms, but most importantly it is grounded in democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
One of my favourite cartoons is where people are asked who wants change and all hands rise, but when asked who wants to change, there are no hands. Enlargement as the most important and transformative tool is also about positive change. It is about difficult reforms, prosperity, solidarity, common values and freedoms. EU enlargement has also been the world’s greatest economic convergence machine, driving newcomers to become high-income economies. The EU is delivering to its citizens some of the highest living standards and the lowest levels of income inequality in the world.
Honestly, I do not believe in the rhetoric of fear that goes with enlargement. I am most certain that we will be able to do it and that we can also afford it.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Many used to think that the fall of the Berlin Wall on the 9th of November 1989 was also the culmination of the European movement for freedom. Who would have thought back then that within the next 34 years, the EU would be joined by 16 new members? Following the 24th of February 2022, there has been another culmination of the movement for freedom – besides Western Balkan countries, today Ukraine and Moldova are EU candidate countries.
There is no alternative – for peace in Europe, we need to end grey zones of security. Grey zones fuel conflicts and invite dictators to invade. That´s why we need Ukraine in NATO and the EU, and we need Russia to lose its last colonial war.
EU enlargement has always brought about change and reforms. I would like to encourage you not to get lost in Brussels’ favourite pastime: institutional reforms. It will be 20 years next year since our own accession, and since then the Treaties have been made enlargement-ready. There is no need for a major revision. It is clear from geopolitical, technological, and planetary challenges that our enlarged Union will have to become stronger, more free, more connected, and more united together. This has to be the main driver of our future reforms, to use our collective imagination for a better future.
In addition, we need to urgently discuss how to increase European defence readiness and the resilience of our critical infrastructure. We also need to safeguard our democracies online and offline. The free movement of data should be a fundamental freedom in the 21st century – the way we built the other four EU freedoms. We must see AI and other transformative technologies not only as risk or a threat, but also as major life-improving opportunities.
In light of the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity, we should also ask if the systematic destruction of nature is ecocide. What does it all mean to global population movements? These are only a few of the fundamental questions that determine the next 70 years of our Union and that our people are eager to get an answer to ahead of the European Parliament elections.
And then we need to build our institutions and other instruments around these answers. As it’s often said, the best way to predict the future is to create it.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While looking into the future, then few questions are more important for the future than the question of what do young Europeans want Europe to be and do. The torch will soon pass to a new generation of Europeans who have never seen Europe divided by the Iron Curtain and who define the meaning of freedom and the future of Europe based on their own lived experience. That is – a life in freedom, a life in an open and free society, life in a democracy.
But for them to have a Europe to shape, we need to ensure that freedom endures. It is our task to be vocal in our messages and actions that this freedom is not for granted. Current tragic events behind the European Union border reconfirm what we’ve learned from the past – that freedom and democracy belong to those alone who have the courage to defend it.
That is the case right now in the unfolding escalation in the Middle East where Israel is facing some of the deadliest and darkest days in its 75-year history. Israel is engaged in self-defence against terrorism. Throughout this defence, civilian lives should be spared, and norms of international law followed. Hamas shows no regard for human life, including for the lives of their fellow Palestinians. In democracy individual lives matter.
And that is the case in Ukraine’s fight for its freedom. Ukrainians are showing remarkable courage, but without our help, Ukraine cannot win. Without Ukraine’s victory, our values, freedoms, and democracy would be lost. If we let aggression pay off, we have accepted the end of Europe as we know it and a return to the age of Empires.
So we all have „skin in this game“.