Pellegrini: We need to overcome the East-West divide // Future of Europe Speech, March 2019


We cannot be credible and successful in achieving our ideas if we do not overcome the last leftovers of the former east/west divide Mr. President, Mr. Vice President of the Commission,
distinguished leaders of the political groups, honorable members of the European Parliament. I should like to thank you for the opportunity
to take part in this debate about the future of Europe. And it is a real honour and privilege for
me to be here today as this democratic house represents all European citizens. Human history is driven by a desire to achieve
ideals and create better future, this is exactly what was at the birth of the European Union 60 years ago. This is what started democratic changes 30 years ago in Czechoslovakia, we were driven by ideals of peace, prosperity and unity. The project of the European Union brought peace to Europe and it brought us stability, freedom
and prosperity. It brought us success. And even to smaller countries like Slovakia. Ladies and gentlemen. Slovakia’s road back to an advanced Europe began in 1989 driven by a desire for freedom, democracy, human rights, economic, and technological progress. By joining the EU and NATO 15 years ago, we
made our return to where we have always belonged ie the western European and transatlantic
system of values. The story of Slovakia that followed has been one of exceptional success. Nevertheless the path has not always been
easy and straightforward. We have had to make it through times of economic
collapse and a difficult transformation process. We have had to grapple with high unemployment,
restructure the banking sector, and implement structural changes in the economy. We’ve built democratic institutions under
the new Slovak sovereign statehood, and we have managed to overcome a period of democratic crisis and we met the challenging NATO and EU accession criteria. EU enlargement in the period from 2004 until
2013 is a classic example of a win-win process. The new member states were given the prospects
of modernisation and growth while the old member states expanded the area of stability
and single market. Today, Slovakia is a fully fledged member
of the European family. We are among the EU countries with the highest
GDP growth. We are a stable member of the Eurozone with
relatively low unemployment levels. And from a country of emigrants, we have recently
become a country registering more arrivals into it, rather than people leaving it. The overall atmosphere in the country has
changed as well. Our citizens enjoy more freedom and are richer,
but they have also grown more demanding when it comes to their political representatives. We tap into this potential in an effort to
modernise our country. Slovakia has a robust civic society and enjoys
a high degree of media freedom. We are of course aware that there are areas
where we need to do more, notably in the education system, research and innovation potential,
streamlining the functioning of state administration, and curbing corruption. Slovakia’s story can also serve as inspiration
for the EU right now, if there is a will, major challenges and roadblocks can be overcome
successfully. Milan Rastislav Štefánik, the great Slovak
and European diplomat. One of the founders of the Czechoslovak Republic
in 1918. And our friend general said: ‘For People of
strong determination and endurance, there is nothing they cannot achieve.’ His message guided us after our accession
to the EU as well at a time when a lot of work still required completion. We went through the difficult process of joining
the Schengen and Euro area. We have never come to a halt on our road to
integration as we sincerely believe in the power and rectitude of the European idea We consider united Europe to be the natural
environment for our existence. I am convinced that for us there is no alternative. We made this obvious also during the Slovak
presidency of the Council. The Bratislava summit sent a clear signal
of EU unity in the aftermath of the shock result of the UK referendum. However Slovakia, just like the rest of Europe
is currently not fully immune to the attacks against EU values. This is also true in the highly important
area of freedom of speech. Any attacks on journalists trigger a legitimate
public backlash, as we have seen in Slovakia too. This is a sign of great maturity of our democracy
and our citizens. It’s been a year and a couple of weeks since
the murder of the journalist Ján Kuciak and his partner Martina Kušnírová. This double murder of young people sent shockwaves
through the general public, as well as the political establishment. We all have one common goal, I want to assure
you, and that is to uncover and punish the perpetrators. As I stand here I would like to express my
gratitude to the European Parliament including the rule of law monitoring group for the help
and cooperation provided up until now, albeit quite critical at times. And I would also like to thank Europol in
their investigation, which has delivered first concrete results as several accused persons
have already been taken into custody awaiting trial. Today, on behalf of Slovakia, I can confirm
that in these difficult times we have every intention of remaining in the group of most
closely integrated EU countries. We are ready to assume our adequate share
of responsibility for the common integration project as well as contribute to shaping our
European future. The Slovak presidential elections are just
around the corner. I am confident that the Slovak citizens will
prove their maturity by selecting a candidate with a clear pro-European orientation. And it is my view that the party that I represent,
Direction – Social Democracy, being the governing party, could not have put forward
a more pro-European candidate than the Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič. Sending a clear signal about values to the
country itself as well as to the
outside world. Ladies and gentlemen, the success story of Slovakia is to a certain extent defined by where we come from. Central Europe is a natural
living environment for Slovakia. Based on our history, geography and culture. After all, a regional political cooperation
is the essence of EU success. Franco-German cooperation Weimer, Benelux, Baltics or even the Visegrad Group are bringing new initiatives and ideas and thus strengthening our union. Slovakia currently holds the presidency of the Visegrad group. Our main objective is to bring a positive
agenda to strengthen the EU. Of course we are aware of differences maybe even criticism
and misunderstandings but at these challenging times we need to keep everyone on board at the table. And when we need to solve our disputes through dialogue. The European Union is the result of a strong
vision and immense efforts of several generations we are simply obliged to protect it. Especially now when Europe and Western democracies
face dramatic new developments we are surrounded by challenges coming from all directions both
from inside and outside Europe. We see growing Russian and Chinese aspirations
which require a strong and united EU response. We see that climate change can have an unpredictable
economic, political and social impact on our lives we see a new wave of technological revolution, industry for zero. Europe as we know it will survive only if
it stays in the forefront of technological progress and innovation. To achieve this our governments have to become
also governments for zero. Moreover we face many challenges coming from within Europe growing social differences destroy original social contract. We face dramatic ageing of our societies,
regional socioeconomic disparities do not contribute to a feeling of unity. Many people feel that they are being left
behind in this context. It is no surprise that mass immigration from
countries outside the EU has caused new tensions and conflicts. We forgot to talk to our citizens about Europe. About democracy about our plans for the future. When they hear no answers from us, they turn
elsewhere. Lack of communication can become a breeding
ground for this information and fake news. One example was the British referendum in
2016. It is obvious that isolationism protectionism and nationalism
are not a solution our answer must not be fragmentation into small national states with
limited resources but stronger unity of the EU as a global power. Ladies and gentlemen as my 17 colleagues have
done already. Let me be brave. And determined in presenting my vision of
our common future, a vision of an attractive union that citizens can trust and support
this still remains a valid message of the Bratislava summit. First, a union which is united. Prosperous and secure. Second, A union which is globally relevant. A union
which is honest to its citizens and union which cares about its own future. However, we need to find a common path. To achieve our ideals. So my question is: How shall we get there? First, we need to be united. Unity was the most
frequently used word among my colleagues who have already addressed this House and they
are completely right. Without unity among the member states, we would
become subjects to the decisions of others. We cannot be credible and successful in achieving
our ideals if we do not overcome the last left overs of the former east west divide. We have to get rid of the stereotypes through
which we perceive our differences. Here I would like to recall the words of
the highly regarded Slovak politician Milan Hodža who served as a prime minister of
Czechoslovakia in 1935-38 and back in 1942 he wrote: ‘European security cannot be built
only in the West. It also requires central Europe and the common
democratic ideals and institutions of both provide hope for the future.’ I believe that beyond differences and geographical
boundaries there lies a common interest. We need to communicate, try to understand each
other and perhaps go the extra mile on both sides There are many positive examples of differences
being overcome. To name just two major examples the posting of workers or the dual fuel food
quality. On the other hand there is one major issue on which we failed to communicate on
both sides. Migration. We must work out a solution that
can work for everyone immigration must be mangeable And migration should serve the European interests.
Yet, we cannot preserve political unity without achieving sufficient socioeconomic convergence
and cohesion in the EU. In other words, we must use prosperity for
the benefit of all. We must mitigate the negative consequences of globalization and prevent
tax avoidance by corporations. We have to make them consistently pay taxes
in the countries where they really operate and generate their profits. We have to combat growing inequalities in
society. And redistribute wealth more efficiently the
introduction of the European minimum wage would be one way to create social solidarity.
My government is particularly committed to the European pillar of social rights. Which should provide a strong social dimension
in the European Union of the future. Slovakia also advocates fair labor mobility
which will allow our citizens and companies seize the opportunities of the single market. And therefore, we welcome the agreement to
establish the European labor authority. And we have already declared our intention
of hosting it in our capital Second, we need to be globally relevant. We need the EU which plays an important global
role reflecting its economic power. We must take action to unify our forces and
increase capacity building in defence. Therefore Slovakia strongly supports permanent
structured cooperation on security and defence. PESCO. While ensuring complementarity between
the EU and NATO. Globally relevant also means that we should uphold our long term commitments. We are not an exclusive club. We want to be an inclusive community open
for those who fulfil criteria. And even for those who once left. It is in our strategic interest. Otherwise, somebody else will fill the vacuum
around us. At the same time, global means having significant
economic power backed by a strong currency and based on free but fair international trade
the EU has to remain the champion in this regard. Third, we need to be honest to our citizens. We cannot promise our citizens life without
problems, hard work and challenges. The EU has no magic wand to solve all problems. However, we can offer our citizens a credible
vision of our future and turn that vision into tangible deeds. We need to make our citizens and above all
young people feel a sense of ownership. The EU is not some fictitious distant Brussels. We are European Union. We need to confront. We need to confront those who tell us otherwise. Ignoring them or ridiculing them is not a
solution. We need to challenge them by facts. The EU is now a large and strong community. It provides us with a collective identity
because there is something about the EU that is also personal. However, it does not take away our national
or personal identity. Our unity must be a unity of values within the diversity of our national, regional and local cultures. And finally the fourth. We need to care about the future soon in the
run up to the European elections. You, the European political parties, will have an opportunity to present a new realistic vision of our union. The European debate has become very lively
and intense at many levels. Political and civic. National and regional. My appreciation goes to President Macron who
has significantly stimulated these discussions with his own vision of the future. And I do agree with him. We cannot be trapped in the status quo and
give way to resignation. We have to renew our union. It is up to us
leaders to find a common path and instruments which citizens can trust and support. Because we need freedom, progress and protection
in the European Union. We have to find a way of protecting the four
freedoms that are at the core of EU integration We need an EU wide debate on what our strategy
and aspirations should be for the middle of the century The EU will certainly have to undergo a major
transformation towards a climate neutral economy We need a transition which is socially just
towards our citizens and fair towards our businesses. An important issue for the future development of the European economy is digitalisation and automation On the one hand, there is a great concern that people will
not have enough jobs because robots will replace them. On the other hand there are great concerns
about the lack of skilled workers on the market. Yet in the future, we shall need even more
highly skilled people. The best evidence of this is that the countries with the highest
number of robots per job is Germany, South Korea, Singapore Have the lowest unemployment rate. They are currently around one hundred fifty one robots per 10,000 working places in Slovakia. That is more than half the European average
and the highest level in Central and Eastern Europe We should not be afraid of technological change. We only need to adopt smart and responsible
policies. If you want to be honest in our aspiration for the future we must have the right tools such as the next multi-annual financial framework. The current EU budget represents only 1 percent
of EU GNA while focusing the budget on new challenges we should not give up on cohesion
policy calls for his reduction in the next IMF effort reflect a wrong understanding of
the role of Cohesion Policy. It is indeed cohesion policy that helps rich and poor regions to converge and contributes to economic growth. Even in difficult economies times. I mentioned. I mentioned that we need to speak about our
future and please, How can we speak about the new MFF. Without to have a clear vision of the European
Union. I don’t think that it is a right approach
that first we see which kind of budget we have. And then we decide what we can pay out of this budget. I think we should do it otherwise. First we have to see where we would like to be in next 5, 7, 10, 15 years which are our priorities and then decide. How big and which kind of budget for our priorities
we need. This is the approach which I like more than
than what we do in this moment. And when I speak about new technologies. Please, we have to say very open that, and I’m not speaking about European Parliament, but in general, at the European level we are not
able to catch the speed of the development in this area. We are always behind. We are facing a digital revolution but we are not able to do some revolution in the regulatory framework. We are always behind we are trying to regulate
something which already people are using and sometimes we are doing such a regulation that
we over-regulate everything and then we are crying “Why we are not at the same level than
the United States or Asia” where the innovation environment is growing up and we are still divided in 27 or 28 different regulations. So please, we need to think about some flexible
legal regulatory framework not to regulate each simple thing which is going on in our lives because this is not the future in the digital revolution. We need to put only some basic rules on the
table and some framework which is quite flexible enough because we politicians are not able
to act as fast as we need to act. And that’s why I mentioned the world. If we speak about industry for zero we need
to push our member states that in their stage we have also governments for zero because in this moment, I think we have in some countries maybe government to zero somewhere maybe 3 0. But I am not sure if we have somewhere governments
for zero which are reflecting the needs of the future. Ladies and gentlemen, the European elections
are quickly approaching and we need to mobilize our forces to fight against fake news hybrid
threats and cyber propaganda. Make people feel the urgency, Talk to them about the importance of the EU
for their everyday lives make them understand that elections matter. That is their only opportunity to steer the
EU and they should not let others speak for them. There is a lot of work ahead of us. Let me finish my speech with the words of one of the founding fathers of European integration, Jean Monnet “People only accept change when they
are faced with necessity and only recognized necessity when a crisis is upon them. We must be brave and determined. We have to make changes and make the union
attractive to all. A union that is able able to learn from its
past mistakes in order to prepare itself to embrace the future. And once again, we need the vision of an attractive
union that citizens can trust and support. Thank you for your attention.

2 thoughts on “Pellegrini: We need to overcome the East-West divide // Future of Europe Speech, March 2019

  1. We were outside the iron cage, now France is inside it too. We are all inside.Of course some countries became more developed in the last years, while countries like France are getting poor and desperate. There is no miracle, the money did not not fall from heaven, it was taken from french workers to be given elsewhere.

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