Tajani: “Europe needs to be changed not weakened”

Antonio Tajani made the case for European unity in his first speech as Parliament President at the start of a Council summit. “Today more than ever we can see how important European unity is,” he told political leaders at the summit in Brussels on 9 March. “Europe needs to be changed not weakened. All the institutions need to work harder to find the answers which ordinary Europeans are looking to us to provide.”

The summit is dedicated to issues such as competitiveness, defence, migration and the future of Europe.

Tajani started his speech by outlining the sort of president he aspired to be: “My priority as President will be to help bring Europe closer to its citizens.” He warned the heads of government presented against playing the blame game and called on everyone to take their responsibility: “The concerns of ordinary Europeans – unemployment, security, immigration, protection of the environment – must be at the top of our agenda.”

Regarding the economy, Tajani said that in order to reduce unemployment, especially among the young, a more competitive Europe was needed attuned to the needs of the real economy. “The single market is the biggest driver of prosperity for our citizens. But it has not yet fulfilled its potential.” In this light he called for the digital single market to be established as quickly as possible.

The President highlighted the importance of industry and said policies should strengthen Europe’s industrial base. He added that Europe had an interest in continuing to make the case for open markets: “Today more than ever, Europe has a duty to maintain its course towards an open society and free trade based on compliance with the rules.”

In order to boost defence, the President said Parliament supported the establishment of a European defence industry and market to generate economies of scale and encourage interoperability and joint research and also stressed the need for more coordination.

Immigration continues to represent a major concern to Europeans. Tajani called for a balanced approach: “ We must be just as rigorous in taking in people who qualify for asylum as we are in countering illegal immigration. We cannot leave the management of migration to people traffickers and terrorists. We need decisive political action at EU level to strengthen controls at our borders and, at the same time, to tackle the problem of migration at its roots.” He also we needed to step up our efforts directed towards the countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean and in sub-Saharan Africa, in particular those in the Sahel, and also called for more investment.

Discussing the Western Balkans, the President said the Parliament remained committed to cooperation with these countries: “Our objective is still that they should join the Union.”

Tajani finished his speech by looking ahead to the future of Europe: “The only response to populism is to demonstrate by means of practical achievements that we are working together for a Europe which produces results.” He said the adoption of three Parliament report on this issue and the presentation of the European Commission’s strategy paper showed the determination to move towards a better Europe.