The Munich Security Conference has hardly ever been more necessary than in these turbulent times. Key actors of secu ...
3. May 2018
Future of Europe 5 - Regions & Subsidiarity - Prime Minister of Belgium Charles Michel
SPEECH OF MANFRED WEBER,
CHAIRMAN OF THE EPP GROUP IN THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
Fifth Debate on the Future of Europe
3 May 2018
with Charles Michel, Prime Minister of Belgium
- English language original version -
Let us keep regions in the heart of Europe
Belgium is at “the heart of Europe” – this is the message that welcomes people who arrive at Brussels airport. “Heart of Europe”, what a big ambition!
I thank Prime Minister Charles Michel for his contribution to the Future of Europe discussion. The idea of the discussion is not to talk about the headlines of today’s newspapers, but to talk about the foundations of our Union.
Today I want to focus on one of Europe’s main foundations. Europe is not only built on strong nations, but it is rooted in every region. And Belgium is a perfect example of how much regions are our homes. When we talk about Europe, we talk a lot about identity. Regions are the places where we take our first steps in the world, where we grow up, where we define and shape our personalities. Our identities are not simply based on national thinking and culture. European identity is much more than that. The European identity begins in our schools, during a chat at the usual bar, passing the street in our hometown. Europe is deeply rooted in our regions. Without regions, Europe would be homeless. It is about feelings, community, participation, and responsibility – all of which we can learn in our regions. Without a community, without regions, Europe falls apart. Therefore, it is precisely the combination of its regional diversity that makes Europe so unique in the world.
However, the relationship between Europe and its regions is a two-way love affair. Thanks to the regions, Europe is grounded, but thanks to Europe, regions can take off. I want to give you a few examples:
We saw it in Jean-Claude Juncker’s recent proposal for the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF): in Europe, we spend a lot of money on the development of our regions. The European Regional Development Fund is a key element for our policy regarding the regions. We do not simply want to preserve the regions as some sort of history museum, as the populists would probably do. We want regions to have a brighter future. We want to have competition between regions. And we want to invest in human capital and innovation, infrastructure and quality of the institutions.
Let me give you a second example: Europe means taking pride in our cultural roots. In a globalised world, this pride is more needed than ever before. Only with Europe, we can preserve our regional identities.
A third element: Europe means moving regions from the corner to the centre. Most regional potentials would go to waste without connections in the European Union. Europe creates a network of regions that can develop. In fact, some of the most economically advanced regions in Europe are on the national borders. Many regions like Rhône-Alps region, Lombardi, Lower Silesia, or my home region Bavaria, have only a real chance to develop thanks to Europe.
Fourth, Europe means to live in safe regions. How else could individual regions deal with the threats of terrorism or the external problems with China and Russia? Europe shields the regions from an increasingly insecure world.
And let me also be clear about the regional egoism that we see from time to time in Europe: regional identity is not an excuse for regional egoism. If a region leaves its Member State, it leaves the European Union. Europe is about sticking together for a better future – and this also applies when it comes to being part of a Member State.
Some bureaucrats would say that we could only be efficient with greater centralisation. Some business leaders would say that we would have much more economic success through greater centralisation. I say, Europe is built on diversity, not on monotony. Everything that can be done better or just as well at local, regional, and national level must be done at the lowest level possible. That is why I ask for a competence check to determine which level should be dealing with which political matter in Europe.
Mr Prime Minister, I listened very carefully to your speech. An additional aspect when we talk about subsidiarity is that each level assumes responsibility for the decisions it has made. So when the Member States in Council meetings are deciding on legislation – mainly by unanimity – then they cannot complain later at home about this decision and tell that it was Europe’s fault.
Let us keep the power of the regions. One of the battles that we fought and won in the European Parliament was to ensure that it is not for the big companies to have a say about who provides the drinking water for the people, but it is the people, at the local level, who can take this decision on their own.
Finally, let us put the region in the heart of European democracy. Staying close to our citizens means staying close to our regions. And that is why we, as parliamentarians, must stick to our homes, our constituencies, and forget about such abstract ideas like transnational lists. The future of Europe must be made by the citizens, in close contact to their elected representatives.
I am a proud Bavarian. My nation is Germany and I am a European believer. These three elements belong together. Europe has no future if it does not start from its roots. So let us keep regions at the heart of Europe.
Here is the link to the video: