Speech by President-elect Ursula von der Leyen at the 2019 Paris Peace Forum

“Check against delivery”

Monsieur le Président Macron,

Mesdames et messieurs les chefs d’État et de gouvernement, 

Mesdames et messieurs, Chers amis, 

Je suis honorée et profondément émue d’être avec vous au Forum de la Paix en cette semaine de commémorations.

Cette année, nous marquons trente ans depuis la chute du mur de Berlin et l’ouverture du rideau de fer.

Trente ans depuis la victoire du mouvement Solidarité à Varsovie, ou la Révolution de Velours à Prague. Trente ans depuis la chaîne humaine d’indépendance allant de Vilnius, à Riga et à Tallinn. 

Et bien sûr, nous marquons cette semaine la fin des combats fratricides de la Première Guerre Mondiale. Cette guerre – cette tragédie humaine – nous impose à tous l’obligation de ne jamais oublier.

De ne jamais oublier ce que l’humanité peut produire de pire pour pouvoir construire ensemble un avenir meilleur. C’est se devoir de mémoire et d’action qui nous réunit aujourd’hui.

Mais je voudrais aussi parler d’un autre anniversaire.

C’est il y a 170 ans, ici même à Paris, que Victor Hugo ouvre le Congrès de la Paix. Ce jour-là, il parle d’une Europe de la paix. « Le continent, au lieu d’être un champ de bataille, serait un atelier (..) où nous aurions sous les yeux l’espérance, la joie et l’effort de tous vers le bien-être commun ».

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It took too many lives, too much pain, for Victor Hugo’s words to be proved right. But as we stand here today, we see this Europe that he spoke of.

We see a Europe peaceful and united, settling our internal differences around tablesrather than in between trenches.

This reconciliation was achieved by making ourselves stronger internally – from the Single Market to the Rule of Law. We should never forget how far we have come and why!!

Europe, as we see it today, has evolved, because not only do we help and support each other, but also because we expect every member of our Union to step up and work hard to meet our standards and common goals.

What does this European principle of “encouraging and demanding” mean for Europe’s place in the world?

Well, Europe can and should contribute to tackle the challenges: climate change, digitalization, demography, migration, conflicts, poverty

In light of these global challenges, we see the need for strong institutions and more effective multilateral cooperation.

Far too often, the opposite is the case!

Existing powers are going down new paths alone. New powers are emerging, re-emerging and consolidating. We also see the need for stable and responsible leadership.

This is why, as President of the next European Commission, I want to build a truly “geopolitical Commission”

I want a more outward-looking Europe.

A Europe which collectively defends our common values and interests in the world. 

My vision is of a Europe which helps to reconcile those who are divided, Europe that brings together those who are apart, but at the same time, that demands responsibility. From ourselves, from our friends and from our partners.

A responsible approach to our planet. Good governance, fight against corruption and respect for the rule of law and dignity of people.

The point is that Europe needs to develop a common strategic culture and answers that are comprehensive.

And I am open to new ideas to make this happen.

This is what the Paris Peace Forum is all about: coming up new ideas to make global governance fit for the 21st century. As President-elect of the European Commission, I want to ensure that the European Union is well equipped, to be truly geopolitical in the way that it thinks and acts – from foreign policy to trade and development cooperation, from humanitarian aid to security.

In the next long-term budget, I want Europe to spend 30% more on external action than we do today. And I want us to spend this more effectively and more strategically.

What use is it to a family to be freed from terror – if they will then only starve? What use is it to help a farmer to install an irrigation system – only for him to be slaughtered by Boko Haram? 

What use is it to the young woman to finish her law degree – if she will only despair at the wall of corruption? 

The European Union has tools and instruments but it has to focus more on sustainable solutions. And we need you all as partners.

We need you, Heads of state and government, NGOs, International and Regional Organizations, Companies, Journalists and activists, your dedication and your knowledge to develop sustainable solutions for your regions and perspectives for your people.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The challenges are enormous, but it is not the first time in history that huge challenges have been turned into opportunities.

Thirty years ago, it was the courage of women and men that broke down walls. Women and men who stood together, for freedom, simply for a better life. Standing together, they built a united Europe.

Of course, the challenges we face today are different. But the need for courage – the need to stand together – is stronger than ever.

Alone, none of us can face up to today’s global challenges. Only together do we have the strength, to fight poverty, corruption or terror. Only together can we fight climate change and invest in progress. And only together can we stand for peace and prosperity.

The European Union will always be ready to be a partner, trustworthy and demanding, reliable and dedicated to values that serve the people.