Dear President Tzitzikostas, dear President Muselier, dear 1st Vice-President Cordeiro, dear Vice- President Šuica, dear President Metsola, dear participants,
I would like to thank President Tzitzikostas and President Muselier for the invitation to join you today. It is my pleasure to be here for this important debate on behalf of the European Economic and Social Committee.
Building the House of European Democracy is not a topic of easy grasp. I believe that wording is important. What do we mean with "democracy"? What does it mean to be "European"? And how can we build a structure which is not only a house, but rather a home: a place where all Europeans feel they belong, where they are listened to and participate in shaping political decisions?
One point for me is sure: democracy builds its strength and vitality from what the Greek called "demos" - the people, be it employers, be it workers or be it citizens at large!
What does this mean in the European context, what does it mean to be "European?".
What we are witnessing today, with the appalling developments in Ukraine, is a true attack to all the values that hold us together as a community. I am deeply convinced that being European is, in the first place, adhering to a consistent set of non-negotiable values, like the respect of freedom, of democracy, the rule of law and of fundamental rights. All this with committed citizens –men and women- at the heart!
We believed that territorial integrity of a country was not in discussion anymore, nowadays, but the Russian invasion has brought war once more again on the European continent, and dragged us back into the XX century.
This unjustified aggression is against everything that is "European" and everything that is "democracy", and Europe cannot and will not tolerate it.
Ten years ago, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of over 60 years of peace, reconciliation and democracy. The EU must continue to be an agent of peace and democracy on the European soil and beyond.
The narrative of peace, once again, came to the core of our considerations.
However, we should further enrich the peace narrative with a new narrative for Europe, one that helps citizens rediscover an emotional link and a new sense of ownership of the European project.
What we need is a future-oriented narrative, with Europe as a haven for unique economic and social model, driver of sustainable prosperity and guardian of fundamental values, with a strong organised civil society in the driving seat.
The EESC launched consultations all around Europe in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe. We did so counting on our Members, that are well-rooted in the organised civil societies in their countries, from employers to workers, from consumer associations to environmentalists and civil society at large.
I've read with great interest the Marseille manifesto of local and regional leaders. I believe that it touches upon key issues. The House of European democracy, as built on the different levels of representative democracy, is for sure a precondition for a well-functioning democracy. But let's not forget another aspect which I believe is key and complementary to representative democracy: participatory democracy.
As an institution, the EESC has been built exactly to embody that link between the EU institutions and civil society, represented by those organisations that are most active in societies.
Those civil society organisations are the concrete of our joint House of European democracy. Those civil society organisations are our allies and goodwill ambassadors for Europe: they are closest to citizens and local realities, similar but different as you, local and regional leaders, are.
So, if the main objective of the Conference on the Future of Europe is to bring Europe closer to citizens, both our Committees can represent great assets to keep, also in the aftermath of the Conference, an open channel for dialogue with citizens.
And besides the Committees, I believe that all EU institutions have a role to play, in unity, in this difficult moment. Citizens often do not even understand what is the difference between Commission, the Parliament and the Council: divisions of tasks and roles that for us are crystal-clear are for them bureaucracy and EU jargon. All they see is the EU flag, what it does for them and what it represents for them.
That's why the Conference on the Future of Europe will become a boomerang if citizens do not see concrete follow-up and results. Citizens expect a throughout screening of their proposals: what will be taken on board, how and what was not, and why. With this in mind, the EESC proposed an online dashboard where all proposals issued of the Conference will have to detail what was or will be of them.
This will be the honour and the responsibility of the French Presidency: to wrap up this important exercise and to ensure it delivers, and not backfires. Transparency and structured feedback will be the only way to demonstrate to citizens that we took the Conference seriously and that, when we talk "democracy", we mean it.
I would like to conclude my speech by directly quoting the words of Bijan Moini, a German writer and lawyer, President of the "Everyone Foundation". Mr Moini joined the EESC on 24 February for our event in the framework of the Conference, "Shaping Europe together".
Democracy is not given, but something to be continuously "built and polished, and tended and mended". Like a house, democracy needs maintenance and remodelling. Let us all together be that construction team, and renovating force.