Spoken word counts
It is always an idea that makes the world a better place.
Ideas turn into inventions.
Once in a while an invention brings about something great – with meaning to all of us. A tool we can never live without.
With European integration it is exactly like that. In principle, a simple but majestic idea. In practice, an invention, a machine that fulfills its promise.
As the first climate minister in Dutch history, I’ve seen its inner workings. I now go to Brussels more often than I see my dog at home.
And this city, this capital of Europe, never seizes to amaze me.
Its historical importance.
We Europeans don’t fight each other anymore with weapons.
We send our judges to Luxembourg and our politicians to Belgium.
They come together in tiny grey-carpeted rooms.
Under suspended ceilings.
In bleak lighting.
With a serious shortage of coffee.
We use words, laws, negotiations, patience.
We sit together in a room until we have a solution.
On a day like today, I am very conscious of the responsibility of being in the room where it happens.
Of using power for good.
Of forging solutions for peace and humanity.
Today is the 20th of January.
On this day in 1942, exactly 82 years ago, fifteen Nazi officials came together in a room by the Wannsee, a lake on the outskirts of Berlin.
Their meeting lasted less than two hours.
And in that time they used their individual power and responsibility to decide on their “final solution”.
Europe as we know it today was built in response to that trauma.
To make war between states materially impossible.
To deal with the unspeakable horror and the shame
of the genocidal climax of European civil war.
To make sure the room where it happens has its powers constrained.
Its morality guarded by new layers of European protection.
‘Never again’ not as a hollow phrase, but as a practical point of political departure.
Pain turned out to be the pathway to our current European Union.
We in the west of Europe have now lived in freedom and peace for almost 80 years. A uniquely long period in history. A privilege.
Will it really take another period of violence, destruction and collapse for European countries to realize that we need each other?
Are we that short-sighted?
That is my greatest fear.
How many Europeans remember the lessons of history?
For today’s young generation Charles de Gaulle is only an airport.
And, I would add: Robert Schuman just subway station.
Of the 450 million EU citizens, few would recognize them in a photograph: Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monnet, Simone Veil, Louise Weiss and all those others who made the European project such a beacon of prosperity and progress.
The fact that the men and women would not be recognized does not seem the main problem to me and, in fact, might remain a specialty for historians.
As long as those hundreds of millions of EU citizens continue to experience what Europe means in their daily lives:
– Making payments in our strong and stable currency;
– Crossing borders to live, study, love and – if you’re like me and live on the border – walk your dog into Germany;
– Security, comradeship and brotherhood – they are all within reach!
Know this: a United Europe is one of the strongest entities in the world. Putin wants to divide and conquer us. We cannot let that happen. Whatever our differences, we have to stick together.
I say this today, because we are on the eve of yet another major battle for Europe.
Far-right nationalists are threatening to hollow out the power of our political partnership.
Wilders, Meloni, Orbán, Le Pen are on the rise. The problem is no longer that they want to damage our Union by leaving it.
The problem is that they want to stay to break it completely.
While the physical war is already here, the rhetorical war… the battle in language and ideas … the race between raising hope and sowing fear … has not yet half begun.
And that’s on us, liberal-democrats and progressives:
Are we doing enough?
Everyone in this room: are we telling a story of hope for a better future?
Are we appealing to the heart,
which in politics as in life is so much stronger than the mind?
Which conversations are you having with people you disagree with?
I say: we are falling short.
Let’s change that today.
I will not stand by the side of the road with a “Watch out for populists!” sign.
Today is a warning shot. Time to wake up!
Are you with me?!
My nephews and nieces, your children, they should be saying to each other in fifty years, ‘wow, 130 years of freedom and peace, that’s magnificent!’
And whether they can name the leaders who stood up… I Don’t Care…
… as long as they know that Europeans decided to fight for peace, security, prosperity and happiness.
And that winning every battle, begins with this decision (!)
If you want to put French people first, you should put Europe first.
If you want to put Italians first, you should put Europe first.
If you want to put Dutch people first, you should put Europe first.
The evidence of 80 years of ever closer union is that things have only become better for us.
– We already have a single market. That gives us great prosperity.
– We have shared values, enshrined in common laws, which give people freedom and opportunity.
Now, the question should be: “What is the next good thing we are going to achieve together?”
For me the answer is clear: collective security.
We need a European defense ready to protect our own territory.
We have proven we can change quickly.
We can be nimble.
We are master improvisers.
Look at what happened after covid:
European economic support, European vaccines.
Look at what we did after we were cut off from Russian gas:
we came together and fixed it.
That’s the attitude we need. Now more than ever.
Another crisis is looming right around the corner.
Another era of Trump in America.
We should hope that the Democrats stay in power, but make sure we get our own affairs in order as soon as we can.
Build a Europe ready to defend our own territory.
If we stand divided, we are toast.
If we stand together, we can and we will defeat the evil on our border.
Peace and security are not just about Russia and Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, or any other armed conflict.
They are also about climate, energy, migration, health and work.
The EU we need right now should be able to answer the Five Big
Questions of our time:
First: do you wish for green(er) industry, a healthier continent and a cleaner country?
Then put Europe first
If we work together, we can harness the power of the sun in Spain, of water in Scandinavia and the wind power of our North Sea.
We will create European funds to mine, develop and recycle the critical raw materials we desperately need.
And don’t forget: this is the time to heal nature and agriculture.
The soul of Europe is not only in our cities, squares and cathedrals,
but also in our forests, flatlands and hills.
Local food in a healthy landscape – that’s the mission.
No time to waste: let’s end all bio-industry and ban pesticides now!
Second: do you want more money at the end of the month?
Then put Europe first.
Let Europe enforce better pay and conditions.
Let Europe spread child care as a public good to all of Europe, setting people free and sparking economic growth.
We make our money in Europe.
So let’s strike fair and green trade deals around the globe.
This is not a time for complacency, but for ambition!
Not for less, but for more!
Third: do you want a digital world based on your values?
Then put Europe first.
Let’s stop building malfunctioning lie detection systems for migrants,
And start using AI to make wind turbines perform better;
Quit spending public money on algorithms for huge companies,
start using machine-learning to map deforestation;
Let’s use our collective digital power in a positive way.
Fourth: do you have concerns about migration?
Then put Europe first.
The time to make failed deals with dictators is over.
Now is the time to build safe and legal routes
for those rightfully seeking shelter in Europe.
Protect our common European border,
so we can keep our inner borders open.
And let’s be grown-ups: we can each take our fair share of refugees.
Many hands make light work.
And last, most fundamentally: do you want to take away the fear of war?
Then put Europe first.
Give Europe your blessing in June, so we can finally defend ourselves on this great continent!
We can only maintain our individual sovereignty if we guard our collective solidarity.
We spend 240 billion euros on defense, the same as the Chinese, 3 times more than the Russians, and yet we are not capable to defend ourselves.
This is an insult to taxpayers all across Europe and it has to change.
We need a European pillar within NATO that can operate independently if and when needed.
We need a European minister of defense.
We must stop shying away from our own potential strength. We are a peace machine that has entered a war operation. Let’s act like it!
Our new European stability is based on our will to look into the future together as far as we can.
I myself call it: ‘Europe as our State of Being and Belonging’.
The European project was born out of the courage of its people.
We should prove that we hear each and every European,
respond to the anxieties of our fellow citizens.
The far-right nationalist elite is out of touch with what people want and need.
Liberal democrats need to stand up and give people a voice.
75% of Europeans want to give Ukraine the financial support it needs,
not cosy up to a Russian dictator.
77% of Europeans want a common defense and security policy,
not a complete denial of the reality of the world.
85% of Europeans want massive investments in renewable energy, not a complete denial of climate science.
Europe gives us power and agency. Allows us to deal with fear. Gives us hope.
And it is our responsibility, all of us here in this room, to make that hope heard.
Our political family must never make the mistake of normalizing the far right.
We fight this election to defend liberty against tyranny.
Democracy against autocracy.
Stability against chaos.
If we enable and normalize politicians like Le Pen, Orban or Wilders,
we corrupt freedom.
We taint democracy.
We lose our right to speak.
This progressive liberal family
– our proud Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
and the Renew group in the European Parliament
– has welcomed our brave Ukrainian brothers and sisters.
I am grateful a few of them are here today.
Let us never betray them by collaborating with those who openly admire the Russian dictator that slaughtered their countrymen.
Let us be allies not of oppression, but of liberation.
That’s who we are.
That’s our liberal creed!
Dear European friends,
We must win the battle for Europe, from June 6 to 9.
Our friends in Poland have showed us it can be done.
So I ask you here in the room: please join us!
Staying silent is no longer your ticket to safety and security.
Let’s reach out to all those who are worried.
Hear their concerns.
Talk about Europe’s mission to retake control of our destiny.
And recognize that being afraid is sometimes part of life.
There is no shame in doubt.
Even Churchill, Veil, and Delors were not born Europeans
– but became convinced of the idea during their lifetimes.
Europe is something you can grasp somewhere in your life
– to never let go.
That was certainly the case for François Mitterrand,
one of the signatories of the Maastricht Treaty.
His campaign ran the optimistic slogan:
‘L’avenir c’est maintenant’.
L’avenir c’est maintenant.
That’s where we are. That’s the spirit we need.
Not to foresee the future, but to invent it.
Not later. Now.
The future is now.
Die Zukunft ist jetzt.
El futuro es ahora.
De toekomst is nu.
Or, in the words of our European, Ukranian friends…
Maybutnye vzhe zaraz