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Address by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor

Strasbourg, 11. 6. 2013 | speech

Mr President,
Honourable Members of Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the previous convocation of the European Parliament, I was your colleague. And to some of you, a friend. I have to say that I often miss your company. Personally and politically. A Member of the European Parliament has a special – irreplaceable – perspective from which he/she observes and co-shapes our common European destiny.

What I mean is that, in a way, no institution other than the European Parliament can provide this perspective; that is why your role is of constitutive importance for the European Union.

Mr President,

With utter respect for your high status, I would like to share with you my view on one of the many issues, which might or even must become one of the central questions very soon. It is about the future of the European Union. As you will see, this question is for me neither academic nor abstract, but highly topical and of strategic importance.

In my address today, I would like to speak in favour of a new legal and political step towards stronger integration of the European Union. Now, at this moment, in precisely these European and global circumstances, not out of neglect for them, but to take full account of them.

The most appropriate moment for such a debate will probably come after the elections to the European Parliament next year. As a suitable framework, a new Convention on the Future of Europe might be convened. I believe that by the time the Convention will be concluded, its results will show whether its work has been successful and a new European constitution will be elaborated. I am aware that many of you are opposed to such an outcome. Let us confront our opinions and positions in a democratic way. Let us ask our citizens, talk to people about this. Let us try to persuade each other tolerantly. After these discussions, everyone will decide on our community's fate according to his/her own conscience.

Before I briefly argue in favour of this step, allow me to emphasise two reasons which at least partly explain my political stance.

Firstly, I have been a devoted European all my political life, for a quarter of a century. First and foremost, I believe in Europe, in the idea of Europe as a community of diverse nations and states. I also believe that more things bind us than divide us. Moreover, past experience teaches us that cooperation ensures peace, and peace is the basis of welfare. I have never wavered in this belief. In fact, I can say that it has only strengthened. After World War II, Europe witnessed the achievement of extraordinary progress in cooperation.

I do not believe that adhering solely to the Lisbon Treaty will suffice for our common future needs. It is not only a question of the global financial crisis being the reason to consider the institutional strengthening of the European Union and eliminating its democratic deficit. The financial, economic and social crisis in this part of the developed world to which we belong has merely fully exposed this need. We cannot have one central bank, and 17 or 18 fiscal policies.

It is true that the European Council, the Commission and the European Parliament are striving to find either temporary or permanent ways to act in unison. But in the long term this is not really a reliable basis for strategic actions if the EU wants to preserve and enhance its role as a global political and economic player.

Secondly, I have performed various functions in my career. I was a member of the Slovenian and the European Parliament. I was President of the Slovenian National Assembly, Prime Minister, and presently I am President of the Republic of Slovenia. Yet, my firm belief that we need a powerful European Union was never endangered, regardless of my various political duties; it has even strengthened. As Prime Minister and a member of the European Council I could see up close how the economic downturn caught us almost completely off-guard, politically and institutionally. Within the European Council, the heads of state or government had to take many anti-crisis measures under intense pressure of time and circumstances, in the absence of adequate institutions which are normal features of other global superpowers. We do not have such institutions at hand. And this places us in an unfavourable condition.

As President of the Republic, I have to note that Slovenia is still combating the crisis, which has deepened the mistrust among citizens, also towards the European Union. However, it is apparent that the entire political class has reached consensus regarding the strategic approach, which is why I believe that Slovenia will soon return to being a European success story. On the rise are also the hope and realisation of the historical importance of the European Union in overcoming the crisis, as well as for restoring a safe and successful future both for Slovenia and the European Union itself.

Mr President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My position in favour of closer integration of the European Union and its further enlargement, primarily to the Western Balkans, has been inspired by the internal needs of the Union and external circumstances in the global economy and international politics. Peace, as the basis for welfare, may be achieved by European peoples only through cooperation. In the current situation, stable peace and increased welfare that we seek require stronger cooperation. Thus, my thesis is that we can only protect and upgrade the acquired heritage of peace and welfare by deepened and overall political cooperation. Any undue hesitation in the current deliberations on these crucial legal and political decisions could seriously jeopardise this heritage. Such is my belief.

As President of one of the smaller EU Member States, I find it difficult to imagine that Slovenia or even a larger EU Member State could efficiently cope with the political, economic, social and security aspects of the contemporary world on its own. Even if the level of integration remains the same as laid down in the Treaty of Lisbon, it will not be sufficient to meet our future needs.

Mr President,

Since World War II, the European project has reached many a turning point, when brave and ambitious decisions were required. I believe that at this moment we stand at one of those crossroads again. I also believe that we do not have indefinite time to take a decision. However, I am convinced that we are nearing the time when Europeans' intellectual and political interest in our common future can be rekindled with successful work of the Convention on the Future of Europe. When you stand at a crossroads, the first step you make can only be right if you have chosen the direction and vision.

In my opinion, the United States of Europe is a prerequisite for Europe's global competitiveness and social cohesion. Young people can be enthusiastic about Europe only if they see it as a guarantee of security for themselves and their families. Such development is only possible on the basis of rapid progress made in economy, science and technology. Young people are equally sensitive to social justice – therefore, it is necessary to preserve the European social model to the maximum degree possible. Taking into account the present rate of unemployment among youth, i.e. one quarter of the young population, we cannot expect that they can be mobilised to support the common European vision. Therefore, I call on the European Council to adopt a scheme which will promptly ensure new jobs for the young people as a matter of priority. Through investment in micro, small and medium enterprises as well as education and training. In this context, I also plead that the European Council and Parliament reach an agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020 without any further delay.

And let there be no misunderstanding. When some of us talk about a United States of Europe, we do not have in mind the American concept of a melting pot. Europe’s advantage lies in its diversity and colourfulness in all respects. In order for it to function for the benefit of the majority of its over half-a-billion community, it has to find a new and appropriate balance between respect and perseverance in its diversity, and strengthening and encouraging unity.

If we, the advocates of a stronger Europe, do not start to fight for a new vision now, the eurosceptics will have the say. Theirs may be a short-lived victory, but our defeat would entail adverse consequences in the long run.

Mr President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, I would like to thank the European Parliament. Perhaps especially in this mandate you are creating an important record of democratic decision-making on behalf of all the people in the European Union. I know it is sometimes hurtful that your work does not receive the public acknowledgement it deserves. So please, accept my deep gratitude and the gratitude of the country I represent. I look forward to our common future with faith, hope and awareness that, more than congratulations, the Nobel Peace Prize was a warning to all of us and our citizens that peace should not be taken for granted and that it should be unselfishly striven for every day. This is the only firm basis for the welfare of our people.

Good luck!