A founding speech by the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, at the University of Sorbonne, Paris
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I want to tell you my pleasure and honour to be with you tonight.
Before developing my remarks, in French, I would like to let you in on a secret. Every time I speak in Molière’s language, my boys tell me ‘Mom, your accent is horrible...’.
So, as Churchill said on Place Kleber in Strasbourg in 1950, let me warn you: “Beware, I will speak in French”.
But rest assured, the beauty of this place, the history of the Sorbonne have not affected me to the extent that I could presume to be that British and European statesman.
We differ on several points...
However, as in 1950, we are at a crossroads, and unlike in the aftermath of the Second World War, where hope for a better future prevailed, we are facing multiple perils.
That is why I am honoured to be able to share these words here, with you.
And before developing my thoughts, let me thank the Sorbonne for welcoming me.
And thank the Grand Continent magazine, who offered to organise this event.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I came this evening to talk about the future. To talk about Europe. Europe’s role in an increasingly dangerous and unstable world. Of the importance of Europe for France. Of the importance of Europe’s voice in the Middle East, in Africa, in Ukraine, in Armenia.
I have also come to share my deep conviction that we can build a strong Europe together, a world leader in the green and digital transition. A Europe that succeeds in moving away from its dependencies to ensure our security, autonomy and prosperity. A Europe that responds to the challenges and everyday difficulties.
Finally, I have come to tell you that Europe is not infallible, and that it needs to evolve, reform to avoid becoming irrelevant.
But I also want to talk to you, to hear what you expect from your Europe. We are less than one year away from the European elections, and I know very well that we need to do more to convince people of the added value of our collective project.
There is no better place to lead such a discussion, than here, at The Sorbonne, a place of knowledge and thought.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The world is facing challenges on multiple fronts. Some of these fronts are on the doorstep of Europe, in our Eastern and Southern neighbourhood.
The desperate situation in Gaza sheds a shadow over the whole region. The response to this situation will define the future of this region and of Europe.
Nothing can excuse – or justify – rape, abductions, torture and killings of entire communities, children, women, men and young people. These horrific acts were perpetrated by a terrorist organisation. Let’s be clear about this. Hamas does not represent the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. They hinder them.
Hamas cannot be allowed to act with impunity. Kidnapped hostages must be released.
The situation in Gaza is horrific. It is a humanitarian crisis. This is why Europe has called for a humanitarian pause, de-escalation and full respect for international humanitarian law.
Civilians and innocent people must not have to pay for despicable actions of Hamas.
We must end terror, and we must be able to do that with ensuring the safety and lives of civilians, of children, of journalists and without targeting civilian infrastructures.
It matters to Europe how Israel responds.
Europe is ready to commit itself in the long term, to work towards lasting peace in the Middle East. For Europe has learned to overcome the insurmountable and has been able to find the way to peace. France knows it too well, it has been one of the major players in European reconciliation.
We support a fair and just solution for the parties involved, based on the coexistence of two States. We will keep pushing this forward.
The complex situation in the Middle East cannot distract us from what is otherwise being played out on our Eastern Front.
In Europe, many thought that economic and trade relations with Moscow, including the import of Russian gas, were factors of stability. This was wrong.
The truth is that nothing prevented Russia from invading Ukraine in a brutal, unjustified and illegal way. And this war, which is taking place on our continent, concerns us all.
Our support for Ukraine must in no way weaken. Contrary to what President Putin thinks, we will not allow fatigue to set in. It is about the security of Europe as well as the security of Ukraine.
In this context, Europe needs to answer very serious questions.
Are our democracies strong enough to respond to total threats?
Can our open economy, our rule of law withstand attacks?
Must the ‘law of the strongest’ govern international relations?
These are vital issues for Europe. We have no choice but to defend our civilisation firmly and with courage.
We must vigorously defend our values and our political models of liberal democracy.
This is what played out in Ukraine.
There is no alternative. I mean, there is one... But it would be a moral and political mistake to abandon Ukraine. Russia would not stop on this momentum.
Everyone here knows this other sentence of Winston Churchill, again, at the time of the Munich Accords: “You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war”.
If today the European Union has chosen to support Ukraine massively, it wants two things: honour and peace! But a real peace based on the freedom and independence of Ukraine
And while Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, is undergoing an unprecedented wave of destabilisation and predation, it is urgent to get out of our posture, at best naive, in reality condescending with this great continent.
I share your conviction, dear Gilles and Matheo, that in order to succeed in its geopolitical transition, Europe must emerge from some bad habits. We must stop with a kind of arrogance towards Africa.
We need to think about the continental scale.
Thinking on a continental scale means allowing Europe to be able to speak on an equal footing with major continents.
To do so, we need to invest in our relationship with Latin American countries. We also need to give new impetus to our historic transatlantic partnership.
I repeat it without naivety, building on our strengths, taking on our interests and defending our values, all of which are essential components of our European model.
Europe also faces challenges within its borders.
People struggle to pay their bills. The urgency of global warming and the digital transition are affecting our economies and jobs. Migration issues are also a cause for concern.
In the face of this, Europeans need answers. In the face of this, we need to ensure their safety: physical security, economic security, social and environmental security.
To this end, it is time for Europe to take on a renewed responsibility. Let Europe become a project of power and independence.
The future of Europe will be defined by our ability to remain sovereign and competitive. By our ability to become the leader in the digital and climate transition. Moving away from our energy dependencies and ending the dominance of big digital companies.
This is why we are preparing for the future by committing to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The European Green Deal concerns as much our energy security and the strengthening of our competitiveness as the environmental and climate transition.
However, we must ensure that no one is left behind in this transition. We need to ensure that our smallest industries, businesses and citizens have the necessary safety nets.
We also need to better explain why this transition is needed to boost sustainable economic growth, create new jobs and lead the industrial revolution of tomorrow.
None of our policies will work without social acceptability and if the measures implemented are neither realistic nor pragmatic.
Digital is also a challenge that is still ahead of us.
With laws on digital markets and services and on artificial intelligence, Europe has already taken the lead in setting standards that are intended to become global. This normative power is the guarantee of our independence.
Migration is also of concern to Europeans.
Too often we have seen quarrels between national governments over the reception of boats of fortunes in the Mediterranean.
No Member State should be left alone to take a disproportionate responsibility. All Member States should be united when faced with migration challenges.
We cannot leave this issue in the hands of populist forces that rejoice in our inefficiencies, without providing realistic solutions to a complex problem.
Also among Europeans, we are working on a legal framework that will be fair with those in need of protection. A legal framework that will be firm with those not eligible for asylum. Finally, a legal framework that will harsh with smugglers who profit off the poverty of the most vulnerable.
We owe it to our fellow citizens, we also owe it to those who risk their lives on the path of migration. Because behind the figures there are always human lives, sometimes tragic stories, and hope for a better life.
After a decade of efforts, we are finally ready to break the deadlock.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Another challenge I would like to address is: that of information warfare, or rather I should say disinformation.
Disinformation, which has affected our liberal democracies and societies since the turn of the 2000s with the development of the internet and social networks.
Disinformation is as old as the world. The technological tools of artificial intelligence, social networks give it an unprecedented reach.
And it is an absolute danger.
This danger is all the greater, as it is amplified by States such as Russia and Iran, which are all but models of democratic virtue and have a nice game of blowing on the embers of the polarisation of our political scenes.
The objective is the same: denigrating democracies. The method is constant: to sow doubt.
More than ever, we need to take the necessary measures and arm ourselves to fight this offensive.
Yes, the world is increasingly dangerous. Yes, Europe faces big challenges.
But we have to hold on. Hold on to build and defend peace and freedom. We do not have the right to forget what we are and what we want. For ourselves, for our children and for Europe.
I am part of a generation who was a child when the Berlin Wall fell, when a people turned up in Tiananmen Square... A generation that remembered the collapse of the Soviet Union and the unbridled joy of millions of Europeans finally free to choose their destiny. We lived this victory.
But over time we have become too assured of the solid and obvious character of this freedom. Extreme movements are at the gates of power and there in Europe. Or even take part in it.
And this is why we must seriously rethink and reform Europe. The history of European integration has shown us that it is through crises that we take responsibility, that Europe advances, transforms, evolves and strengthens.
And while it may seem distant, sometimes worrying, for many of our citizens, we need to address the issue of enlargement as a whole.
The world is not waiting for us. If we do dare change, our collective project will stagnate and lose its relevance. We msut adapt to the new geopolitical reality that I have already mentioned. If we do not respond to the call of our neighbours, other geopolitical palyers will do so and will fill the gap at our borders.
We had the same fears before the 2004 enlargement. Yet history has shown us that an enlarged European Union, based on clear objectives, serves to defend Europe’s peace, security, stability and prosperity on the international stage.
All Member States and Europeans win.
This is why we fought for Ukraine and Moldova to be granted EU candidate status. This is why we believe that negotiations with the Western Balkans must make progress.
Because the hope of accession gives these countries a European perspective and gives them an impetus to push democratic reforms.
However, such a perspective cannot be realised without institutional reforms of our political project. A Union of thirty, thirty-three or thirty-five will not be able to operate under the same rules as twenty-seven.
Reforming our institutional structure and procedures, and reforming our European budget are key. The adaptation of our structural policies is just as much to match the candidate countries well before their accession, but also to allow the Union to integrate them.
This is one of the major challenges ahead of us.
In spite of what I have just said, I am by nature optimistic. I am convinced that if we succeed in establishing an enlarged, ambitious, united and coherent Union; an effective Union that leaves no one behind and delivers on the concrete concerns of our fellow citizens while holding its place in the world, then it will be our best response to populism and extremism.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the run-up to the June European elections, it is more important than ever to reflect together on the role that Europe plays, and especially on the role we want to give it...
I am the youngest President of the history of the European Parliament. I am just the third woman in this position, after Simone Veil and Nicole Fontaine. And if I able to stand before you here, it is thanks to the battles that these two admirable women fought.
I understand my responsibility towards them, to all women who will come after me, towards our European project.
And that is why, at this critical moment in our history, I want to call on all French women and men to commit themselves.
If you think that the direction our joint project is taking is not the right one or, on the contrary, if you want it to be deepened, then commit yourself! It is your responsibility to change it.
Do not wait for someone else to do so for you. So go to vote, find your voice, find a cause and fight for it.
Believe in Europe. Europe deserves to be defended and we all have a role to play in this.
A last word, dear friends,
I know how much the French like to quote illustrious men of their past. So, how can I conclude my speech without mentioning the one who gave his name to this beautiful amphitheatre and who rests not far from here.
Cardinal Richelieu once said: “We have to listen a lot, and speak little to do well...”.
I may have spoken too much, but I am ready to listen now.
"Courtesy translation – original version in French available here".