The European Union and the Western Balkans have a shared interest in working more closely together to guarantee all our citizens economic and social development, as well as security. The future of the region is a European future. The EU and the Western Balkans economies have benefited from closer integration as trade doubled in the last 10 years. The EU is today the first trading partner of the region, the biggest investor and the most credible and reliable political and geostrategic partner.
As we celebrate Europe today, we should remember the promise of peace and unity that our founding fathers made to future generations. But in some corners of the Union, these generations are today questioning the value of the European project. There is no other alternative than a Union that is strong, fair and cohesive.
As Tocqueville used to say, our identity is first a democracy respectful of the individual, of minorities, and fundamental rights. Over the weekend of 5-6 May, we witnessed a beautiful exercise of democracy, which can only strengthen our European identity.
There are too many people who feel that their opinions are not taken on board. If this feeling persists or even grows, our democratic system will risk collapsing, and so will our project of peace, prosperity, growth and cohesion in which I believe from the very bottom of my heart. We must get to work now, have a fresh start and be prepared to re-energise change for what I call 'rEUnaissance' – a new renaissance for the European Union.
In the EU as well as in neighbouring countries, representative democracy is experiencing a crisis of legitimacy. One manner of addressing this challenge which puts at risk our democratic societies is to promote participation. Involvement in local democratic processes builds trust, generates an understanding of the complexity of democratic processes and empowers citizens.
I welcome today's proposal on the Multi-Annual Financial Framework and the Commission's significant effort to come up with an EU budget fit for the future. The proposal contains many constructive elements for a Europe that protects, empowers and defends, yet, on one crucial point, I would have preferred a more daring and ambitious plan. I remain convinced that the current ceiling for EU expenditure has to be increased to 1.3% of GNI to face the growing EU agenda.
Europe is still troubled by high levels of unemployment, affecting in particular young people. The risk of social exclusion and poverty has never been so high and the problem of the working poor undermines social progress. When you add the unresolved migration crisis and the low levels of trust in democratic institutions, citizens might feel lost and fear for the worst. On International Labour Day, however, we need to look at the glass half full, rather than the one half empty. Let's not forget that Europe is home to the world's most advanced welfare systems and the European Social Model is a success story. It has proved its resilience during the extremely harsh economic, financial and social crisis that hit Europe in 2007.
Besides expressing her enthusiasm on Luca Jahier's recent appointment, European Parliament's First Vice-President Mairead McGuinness showed admiration on his previous work in the Committee and his presidency agenda priorities, i.e. sustainable development, peace, culture and youth.
Enrico Letta, former Italian Prime Minister and MEP, conveyed an inspiring message, giving full support to Mr Jahier in his new function.