Chairman Speech

Speech at the EPP Congress in Malta

30.03.2017 - 12:30

Dear Party President Daul, dear Joseph,

Dear friends,

The EPP Group is the driving force of the European Parliament. We are united and we are successful.

I give you an example: Despite the Socialists breaking their promise: we elected Antonio Tajani as President of the European Parliament with a solid majority. A President who wants to serve the whole institution, after decades again a president from Italy and a President from the EPP. Congratulations to our friend Antonio Tajani!

More important is, what we do for our citizens.

There are a lot of things we work on. We are simply doing our job! The EPP Group is the anchor of stability of the European Parliament. This is not a coincidence!

216 members from 27 Member States. That is diversity: But we are voting together at over 95% of all votes! The EPP is not only the biggest Group, but it also sticks together like no other Group. We are a team and this makes us strong! I am proud to be the Group Leader of such a strong team – thank you all for this!

And President Daul, you can count on your Group. We will deliver together with Jean-Claude Juncker and the EPP Commissioners. We will meet all our campaign promises to 2019.

Dear friends,

We all feel it - we are standing at a historic crossroads! How will Europe continue? And above all: how do we convince the people to walk this way with us?

Firstly, if we want to convince people, we must stop all this crisis talk. Of course there are challenges to be met, but this was already the case in earlier decades! Europe was never the promise that we can live without problems, but it was always the promise that we can solve them better together. We must acknowledge Europe’s successes!

I give you a few examples: Europe was the driving force on the Paris Agreement to fight against climate change. We managed the nuclear deal on Iran. We had a common answer to the agressive behaviour of Russia in Ukraine. The EU creates wealth and prosperity. In 2016 we had a better growth rate in the Eurozone than the Americans. 

We contribute to stop illegal migration by delivering on the EU-Turkey-Agreement and better conditions for an effectiv border guard, for strengthening FRONTEX. More money, better legislation!

And we bring people together: Think of Interrail and Erasmus. Our Youth are living the European spirit! In 2015 alone, almost 700’000 young Europeans have experienced Europe.

And most importantly – I am 44 years old! I am the first generation on this continent who can say that we live on the whole continent in peace and freedom. The generation of my father lived in a divided Europe, where half of us Europeans where locked up behind the iron curtain. And before that, generations lived always in war, over centuries. Again, I am the first generation on this continent who can say: All over Europe we live in peace and freedom!

Don’t tell me that Europe is not successful.

If we acknowledge these successes of the EU, it would be a good precondition to win the support of the people!

Let us be proud of what we achieved!

Secondly, we must assume responsibility. What do I mean by this? In Brussels, no regulation and no directive is adopted without the approval of the Member States. The approval rates of the ministers are outstandingly high. The French government, in this legislative term, has voted “yes” in 192 out of 193 votes in the Council of Ministers. The same goes for the other governments, regardless of the political colour: Portugal over 98% approval. Even the Polish government is voting “yes” in more than 9 out of 10 votes.

And then a miracle happens: Once these Ministers have landed at home, they start complaining about how bad Europe is. When you see this: How shall the people gain trust in our European project? If all those who bear responsibility in Europe would explain their European decisions to the people, then Europe would be deeply rooted. Assume your responsibilities. Stop using Europe as a whipping boy.

Thirdly: We are politicians and not diplomats! That means: We must speak plainly. The people want to know what we are thinking and doing!

Take Turkey - the statements of President Erdogan are inacceptable. Turkey is clearly moving away from Europe’s values. As this is the case, Europe simply cannot continue as if nothing has happened! We need at least a freezing of the accession talks while Turkey is struggling to find its way to the future. The recent weeks made it clear to everyone: Turkey cannot become a member of the EU. We want a close partnership with Turkey, but not full membership. Europe is not limitless. The people in Paris, Amsterdam and Budapest do not want us to overstretch the EU, but to make it fit for the future. A clear message is necessary!

Yesterday, the British government officially declared its intention to leave the EU. This is a historic mistake. This will create damage. But one thing is clear: Someone who leaves the European Union is losing the advantages of this club. We will not allow any kind of cherry-picking! Again clear message!

And a fourth point is key: many people perceive Europe as an external power. As something they have no say in. Such a perception is fatal in the long run. We can only end it if we manage to democratise Europe. We all know it: it is not about North against South or the small against the big. In essence, the choice is between EPP - or a Left or populist Europe! Be it at home at the local council or at this year’s elections in the big Member States such as France or Germany. People decide about the direction.

It should also be this way in Europe. Instead of bureaucrats or backroom deals - the Plenary of the European Parliament is the place for debate on our future. In 2019, we have to show the voters all over Europe what EPP stands for.

And by the way, one point is decisive: what about national pride and Europe? Le Pen and other populists tell the people to go back to nationalism and “to hell with Europe”. They want to drive a wedge between our fatherlands and Europe. What nonsense! I am a proud Bavarian, Bavaria is home for me, I am a German citizen and I am also a convinced European with all my heart. No populist will ever be able to tell me that this would be a contradiction! Whoever loves his fatherland, says “yes” to a strong Europe!

And finally: If we want to convince people we need emotions!

It is so wonderful to be a European. The diversity of this continent, its languages, its cultures, its arts. The towns and landscapes of Europe. Plato, Da Vinci, Cervantes, Mozart or Chopin ... they all had their roots in one or several parts of Europe: but they belong to all of us together!

And then there is our soul. When you get on a plane in Dublin and fly to Athens. Or when you fly from Lisbon to Riga, all the way across the continent. You will realize not only the diversity of our continent, but also one common point that unites us all. In the centre of every village and every town you will see a Christian church. This continent is a Christian continent. Christianity is engraved in the DNA of Europe. Christianity is the soul of Europe, just as Pope Francis said last Friday in Rome. And we as EPP are proud of and we are led by it.

Stop talking about crisis. Talk about our successes. Assume responsibility. Let’s practice democracy. And finally let’s be proud of our national and European identity and of our Christian roots.

The European integration is the only way to defend the European way of life and to keep it alive in a globalised world. The coming years will be decisive. In a sea of populism, from the left and from the right, the EPP will be the key player.

Challenging times – Let us begin!

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