75 years ago, the guns of the Second World War in Europe fell silent. The Nazi Regime was defeated, but Europe lay in ruins. Just 5 years later, on 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman made a declaration that would profoundly change this continent - and it would put it on a path that no one could have anticipated.
For me, this is a special moment. 70 years ago, Robert Schuman started a journey, step by step. He showed us the way and the direction. And today, here we are: just 7 days ago, at the EU-Western Balkans Summit we laid the ground for reuniting the Western Balkans with our Union. Reuniting Europe's history with its geography.
And yes, today our Union faces its greatest challenge yet: a pandemic that knows no borders; a pandemic that threatens our lives and our way of life; a pandemic that has tested our Union to its core. But as so often in history, this crisis has also shown Europe's greatest strength: our commitment to unity - born of common values and a shared history. And our solidarity with those in need.
Schuman's words resonate today stronger than ever before: “it is no longer a time for vain words, but for a bold, constructive act.” The Schuman Declaration embodied the perfect balance, the delicate dance between idealism and pragmatism, without which there would be no European Union, and no European solidarity as we know it today. He famously said: “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements, which first create a de facto solidarity.”
This crisis has put that solidarity to the hardest test. In March, some even said that we would not pass that test. But if you look around the world today, Europe has become the beating heart of solidarity. French patients treated in German hospitals, Polish doctors and Romanian nurses working in Italy. And a huge Recovery Plan is in the making.
The world is watching. Our European model will only mean something to the world, if we show solidarity within our Union's borders, to each other, and beyond, with our partners globally.
Since this pandemic began, the EU has been working on all fronts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, support health systems, protect and save lives, and counter the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic with historically unprecedented measures at both national and EU level:
-The Commission will directly support the healthcare systems of the EU countries, with €3 billion from the EU budget, matched with €3 billion from the Member States, to fund the Emergency Support Instrument and RescEU's common stockpile of equipment.
-The RescEU initiative helps secure vital equipment, from ventilators to personal protective equipment, and mobilise medical teams for assistance to the most vulnerable, including in refugee camps. The first hosting state of this stockpile protective masks were delivered to Spain, Italy, and Croatia in the past weeks.
-And since the beginning of the outbreak, thanks to the EU Civil protection mechanism and consular protection coordination, the EU has brought home over half a million citizens stranded from all over the world.
-And thanks to the Emergency Support Instrument, the EU has procured another 10 million masks, the first 1,5 million of which have already been delivered to 17 Member States.
I want to thank this House for having launched the #EuropeansAgainstCovid19 campaign. This Europe Day, the Commission and Council joined forces with you and we all paid tribute to those who are making history today - the every-day heroes fighting the coronavirus in our hospitals, in the research labs or by delivering personal protective equipment to those in need.
Because we know the coronavirus knows no borders. Tackling this pandemic is a global challenge. The EU is leading the global effort to develop and deploy effective diagnostics, treatments and a vaccine. Without these tools, every country in the world remains vulnerable.
Countries and international organisations are joining forces to develop these tools, and put the structures in place, that ensure they are universally available and affordable. How wealthy a country is should not determine whether its people get to live without this virus.
That is why President von der Leyen launched an international pledging marathon on 4 May, which will run until the end of May. So far, we have raised €7.4 billion. This includes a pledge of €1.4 billion from the Commission.
But we know more is needed, and I am confident it will come. A crisis gives us an opportunity to lead by example, to reach for our highest aspirations, even when in the short term, it might be easier to sweep for our lowest instincts. We will be remembered tomorrow for how we act today.
Looking ahead: Conference on the Future of Europe
Therefore, Honourable Members,
This crisis forces us to reflect. The pandemic will have a lasting effect, not just on the global system, but also on our daily lives.
It is vital that on our path to recovery, we reach out, engage and listen to citizens - at European, national, regional and local level. The Conference on the Future of Europe is an ideal forum for that and should commence as soon as the conditions allow it.
The Conference, as a pan-European democratic exercise, can reinforce representative democracy and strengthen the link between European citizens and the institutions. It can help rebuild trust and solidarity even in the new, coronavirus reality.
The context might have changed. But our determination has not. We want the Conference on the Future of Europe to give citizens a greater say in shaping future EU policies. And we want this to be a joint exercise involving the European Parliament, Council, and the Commission on an equal footing. That is also why any decision on when to launch the Conference must be a joint one, taken by the three institutions.
Given the circumstances, my colleague and friend Vice-President SUICA, who is leading the Commission's efforts on the Conference, is following this debate remotely from Croatia. She is very much looking forward to joining the debates in this House, in a physical mode, again as soon as possible.
In order to be ready for the launch of the Conference under the containment measures scenario, the Commission is exploring digital solutions to host virtual debates and dialogues. We are working on a multilingual digital platform allowing citizens to share their results and promote other interactive ways for public engagement as part of the Conference. Such a digital platform would be open to all EU institutions.
But a digital solution only cannot reach everyone and cannot compensate for the real deal - face-to-face town hall discussions and workshops across the continent, reaching people from all walks of life. To protect the health of our citizens, we need to be patient, but plan accordingly.
Step by step, once the Council has adopted its mandate, we will get there. I am confident that the next step - the Joint Declaration by the Parliament, Commission and Council that is necessary to launch the Conference - is within reach.
Little bit than 30 years ago, I was looking through the barb wire of infamous Iron Curtain to Austria. This fence was just two kilometres from our apartment and I was passing it every single day. I could see the people, the houses, the lights on the other side of the Danube.
But I was told by my father, that I would be never able to cross the border. Therefore, for me, the Schuman declaration is also celebration of European dream and freedom.
I am sure Robert Schuman would be proud today how much we have accomplish, but I am also convinced he would push us higher and further and therefore, let's respond to his inspiration by building even fairer, greener, freer and stronger Europe.
Thank you very much, Mr. President!