Dear President, dear Commission President, dear representatives of the Council, dear colleagues. First of all, on behalf of the EPP Group, I also express my condolences along with the Parliament President. And I want to thank him for this political speech. One year ago, we elected a political Commission President who today presented an analysis of Europe’s situation and submitted precise proposals. For this I thank you.
I also want to begin with the currently most urgent topic, the issue of migration. When we were in Milan with the EPP Group, the Italian Interior Minister Alfano was our host and he told us a story. He visited a refugee home in the south of Italy and talked with a family, a mother, who reported that she started her journey in Africa with 5 children and arrived in Italy with one child alive. He said that he had looked into empty, destroyed eyes.
Therefore, for a start, it is important to clarify that when we are talking about numbers, we are talking about people! And this is why Europe must measure up to its humanitarian standards. We must help people who want to cross our borders, we must guarantee help. As the Commission President said, if poor countries like the Lebanon and Jordan can manage it, a rich continent like Europe must also succeed in measuring up to its humanitarian responsibility.
Dear colleagues, we have heard statements and I would like to highlight here once again that the Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said he only wanted to welcome non-Muslims, only ‘Christians’ to his country. This is why, for the Christian Democratic group, the EPP Group, I would like to clearly express once again: in Europe, we are not proud of having invented rights for Christians, Christian rights. In Europe we are proud of having invented human rights, and it is imperative to defend those, wherever someone comes from.
It has been said over recent days that Europe has failed. All of us read it in the newspapers! Some days ago, I gave an interview to the Corriere della Sera and afterwards received an e-mail from Franco Frattini, former European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, who pointed out to me that he already proposed to the Commission ten years ago the concept of safe third countries and that it wasn’t possible back then to gain the Member States’ support for it.
Dear colleagues, it isn’t Europe that is failing here, we can see this in the Commission’s proposals. Brussel isn’t failing, Strasbourg isn’t failing. National egoisms on this continent are failing!
Nevertheless we have to remain realistic. Last year, two thirds of all the people who arrived in Europe were rejected in accordance to the rule of law and were not accepted as refugees. Therefore, my Group is arguing for the issue of ‘forced return’, external border control and safe third countries.
People expect us to implement and execute the existing asylum law and fight abuse. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what migration is about.
I would like to say something on the second major topic of our parliamentary term, namely the economic situation on our continent. We need jobs; we need an economic future, especially for our young people. The Single Market has been mentioned. So far, it has always created growth and wealth and this is why we should be ambitious. We need free trade, we shouldn’t think that free trade is taking something away from us, rather we should see that free trade, global free trade has always helped us Europeans.
We must fight youth unemployment therefore we expect a lot from the Commission’s mobility package. And I would also like to mention our farmers who are working under difficult circumstances at the moment. On a European level, we stand by our farmers and we will also help them in this difficult market situation.
And please allow me a last thought on the economic situation in Greece. Those who want to learn how to create a future should look at Ireland, Spain or Portugal. We have great growth rates over there. And if you look at Greece, you will see that we now have wasted months behind us. We have also had hard debates on Greece’s future in this Parliament with Prime Minister Tsipras, but let me say very clearly: he now deserves respect for his change of course, and he clarified that the country has no future without reforms and solid budget. And I can say politically: Tsipras demonstrated therewith that Leftist ideologies failed on this continent and this is also why Podemos is in the decline in Spain.
Dear colleagues, there is still a lot to say! Regarding the Ukraine issue, I would like to make it clear that we must not forget this conflict. We are open to the visa issues that the Commission President has indicated, and we need of course more investor protection in order for investment in the stable regions of Ukraine. We must not accept Putin’s frozen conflict.
And with regard to Great Britain, I would just like to send the signal that we, the EPP, are open to proposals. We believe that they can make Europe better and will participate constructively in the debate. Dear colleagues, we have had one year of Jean-Claude Juncker, one year of a political Commission. Dear Commission President, you managed to focus, to limit Europe on the essential issues. You have advanced the political approach and achieved results above all.
The best number is that last year, 1.65 million new jobs were generated on this continent. And this is also linked to work on the European level. Thank you very much. You submitted an election programme, you implemented this programme and you will have the support of your EPP Group for this programme in the future too.
(Translation from the original German)