Opening speech delivered at the EESC Civil Society for rEUnaissance event [Check against delivery]
Dear members of the European Economic and Social Committee,
Members of European Civil Society,
Thank you to all of you for being here today.
Today is an important day for democracy. A little more than 90 days before the European elections we are gathered here to ask ourselves: Are we brave enough to grasp the urgency of the moment?
Five years, ago President Juncker, whom we shall have the honour to have with us today, said his was the Commission of the last chance.
Five years later, I do not want to say that these will be the elections of the "last chance", but certainly this period will mark the future of our countries and the future of our EU project for peace, progress and democracy which we have built for over 60 years.
Democracy is under attack. Euroscepticism, racism and anti-semitism are growing with great concern. Our values are being questioned, the right to do good is not perceived as the core of our political action.
Polls suggest a rise in populist and nationalist voting patterns and a weakening of the traditional centrist parties. While the reasons for this populist surge are certainly manifold, populist voices from many different countries, seem to agree on one thing: they accuse the elite, be this their national government or the European Union, of "not listening to the people", evoking a vague and indistinct appeal to a need to "regain control".
As Francis Fukuyama recently said, the growing divisions and demands that grow everywhere in the world are increasingly founded on the request for dignity or recognition, and accompanied by a powerful return of identity questions, which are intertwined with a widespread process of social narcissism, thus losing the sense of the common good and the collective.
Walls against foreigners are raised, protectionism is back, isolationism, the search for an enemy, solidarity is denied, even sometimes troops are displaced on some internal borders of the European Union, leading even to separation ... the dramatic case of Brexit.
We live in a time of an increasingly heated conflict between passions and reason. It seems that the reason today is more derided than heard.
The sleeping reason generates monsters. The great Spanish painter Francisco Goya immortalized this phrase in a famous image. But the painter himself also thought that the great wonders of human civilization arise only from the fruitful union between the logic of reason and the fantasy of passions.
The combination of the two has been a founding part of European history and civilization, and has always drawn from culture and values its foundation and generative power.
Voices of the good
This is not the time of resignation and depression, and even less a time for spreading fears, destructive envy or too many divisions on small homelands.
But it is the time of betting on life, on the ability to dare, to risk, to dream. Time is not tomorrow, it's today. It is the time of responsibility, of convergences and of strong alliances among the most diverse forces.
It is the time of a new emotional intelligence, of innovation and investment, of a new pact between the productive forces, between the generations and between the territories.
Instead of the extremes, we must manage to raise the 'voices of the good', as Sergio Mattarella, President of the Republic of Italy said recently.
We must listen to the people whose hopes and opinions are drowned out by the incessant violence of rallying cries. The majority whose constant, daily efforts to improve their lives and those of their communities are too quiet to make it to the headlines of the tabloids.
Forza Buoni, Come on Good! paraphrasing the president of the Italian Republic. Today, here after my speech, we will hear so many 'voices of the good,' the voices of those who every day, in every part of Europe, roll up their sleeves to build a better Europe.
Among these voices, I invited today what I believe to be one of these "voices of the good", Greta Thunberg. Thank you Greta for having accepted the invitation. She had a long train ride to be here with us today.
She is just 16 and in less than six months she has started, with tremendous courage and determination, a climate movement that is collecting consensus across the planet.
More than 3,000 scientists have given their backing to the strikes Greta Thunberg has started, and there are now 200 cities in which climate strikes are carried out every week.
Weld sustainable development, youth and civil commitment
Greta you're right! She is the voice of our conscience, of our children. The best way to face those who today oppose the European project, without proposing anything concrete, is to strongly affirm that Europe has a clear strategy for the next decade.
It is the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development based on the Treaty of the European Union, article 3 of the Treaty voted and approved by all. It is the matrix of this strategy. And if this strategy is firmly embraced by all member states and by European civil society, it would allow us to embark on a virtuous economic, social, environmental and institutional path of renewal for the future.
The Agenda 2030 has now become an imperative, capable of enhancing synergies between entrepreneurs, workers and the whole of civil society. The Agenda 2030 could constitute the Social and Economic Contract for the 21st century, aimed at eradicating poverty, ensuring decent living and working conditions for all and reducing social inequalities, guaranteeing the sustainability of the planet and above all issue a new season of innovation and progress in every field for a Europe open to the world.
Our young people through Greta are saying it clearly and roundly: the winning recipe is welding sustainable development, youth and civil commitment.
It is a difficult task but we must take it with responsibility so that the European Union will continue to be the best gift we can leave to our children, the best place in the world to live in, start a family, do business, be cared for, be protected and have a diversity of living together in a fruitful way.
Fundamental role for the EESC
In this challenging time, I believe that the EESC and you all representatives of civil society have a strong role to play.
This institution was founded 60 years ago by the most genuine spirit of our European democracies. It is a brokerage force, which gives voice to the needs and expectations of the many faces of this working Europe, #Europeatwork in our local and national contexts.
The EESC thus represents the very spirit of our European democracies. It is an intermediary force, carrying Europe back into local and national environments and listening to their needs and hopes.
It is a house of debate, consultation and compromise. And we must make sure that the polarisation we are experiencing in our national environments does not taint our constructive work.
For at the end, this culture of compromise and mutual listening must and will prevail.
To quote the Jewish, Romanian and US American philosopher Elie Wiesel, also in honour of the Romanian Presidency: "We must see in every person a universe (…) Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings."
For hope not to remain only a verbal evocation, it must be become action. This is why we are here today at this event bringing together "Civil society for a rEUnaissance".
The Renaissance was a powerful and vast humanistic revolution, which re-established the real dimension of culture in its concrete relation with science, the art of government and the organisation of economic and social life and founded the modern transformation of Europe.
The worst thing for us would be to remain silent.
A few years ago, in the midst of the financial crisis, on a quick trip to the City of London, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said he would do whatever it takes to preserve Europe's economic security.
For the good of our children we need to do it too. #Whateverittakes we will dare a sustainable Europe.
We promise today to stay engaged for a real #rEUnaissance.
And this time we will ask to vote for this #futureofEurope.