We can’t choose our times, but we can choose to change them. Speech at #EuropeTogether

Thank you, grazie Gianni (Pittella), Sergei (Stanishev), thank you for organising this, it’s good to be… back home. We are living, indeed, difficult times. Some of the photos you have just seen, some of the things Gianni has just said remind us all that we definitely live in difficult times.

It is easy to have the feeling that working for peace and security – and we are not ashamed of saying peace – in our times, is becoming more difficult than ever. The point is that we don’t get to choose the kind of times we live in. You don’t choose the time you live in, you don’t choose your parents, you don’t choose your neighbours… Everything else in live somehow you can choose, or at least you can determine.

We don’t get to choose the kind of times we live in, but we can choose to try and change our times, together – together – with those who share our aspiration to a more peaceful and secure world.

And this is what truly defines us, as a political family – as Progressives, Socialists, Democrats: the desire for change. The belief that we, that our action together can change things. The belief that tomorrow can be better than today, if we work for that. That despite all obstacles, progress is always possible, however difficult it may seem. The belief that “it always seems impossible, until it’s done” – as Nelson Mandela used to say.

But if we want to be the drivers of change, we need to have the courage of our own ideas. In global affairs, we need the courage to say that yes, there is an alternative to the foreign policy of isolation, fear, protectionism, threats and confrontation.

There is an alternative, and that’s the European way. We can be proud of that. There is an alternative made of cooperation and partnership, of international law, respect of international standards, multilateralism, and the constant search for win-win solutions. For us – the Democrats, the Socialists and the Progressives – this alternative is based on our ideals. It is part of who we are.

I wonder how many in this room – for sure myself, but I’m sure many of you – have started to be engaged in politics because of some international campaign, because of some tension or injustice that we have seen in the world, and we wanted to change.

This is part of who we are. I know this may sound a bit idealistic – maybe yes, but let me say that there is nothing wrong with being idealistic, particularly in these times of cynical realpolitik. (Applause).

I’m often accused – and many of us, I think, are often accused of being naïve. No. It’s because we know that it is not only right to look for cooperation, to do politics also with a smile, also with our feelings, but it is also the most useful thing to do.

Because there is more than believing in what we are doing. We know that cooperation and partnerships are not only more just, but more effective. We know that the solution to the issues of our times will never come from isolation, confrontation and protectionism.

We know this because that’s our European experience. Centuries of confrontation and war led us to believe that building our Union together was much more convenient for all of us.

This is the European experience: when we decided to stop fighting, build our Union, we achieved sixty years of peace, rights, and unprecedented levels of economic and social opportunities. A welfare system that has no comparison in the world. This is when we realized that shooting at each other, killing each other was not leading us anywhere, but cooperation with each other would lead us to be the most successful regional integration process in human history.

With the courage of our ideas, we also need the pride for what we have achieved together, as a political family and as a Union.

We need the pride to say that the alternative to the politics of isolation and hatred – hatred – is already there. It is made of practical policies on sustainable development, on a humane system to manage migration together, on a strong multilateral system. And it is delivering some very concrete results, already today.

Perhaps the most important one is summed up by the keyword we have chosen for all our events: together.

Together – first and foremost, together as a Union, a community of shared values and interests. And this makes us unique, precious on the world stage. If you look around us, today, there is one global power that is credible, reliable, predictable, humane and indispensable to the rest of the world, and not only to its own citizens. And that is us, the European Union. (Applause).

And also on the global stage, the word “together” truly sums up our action. It’s the European way: to do things together with others.

In a moment when the United Nations are under attack, we are the strongest and most reliable supporter of an effective multilateralism – because we know this is our own interest, that coincides with the interest of others.  We are the strongest partner of our friend Antonio Guterres, who is doing a wonder job, and of his work to reform the UN system and make it deliver at full on the challenges of our times.

Because we know that we cannot be better off if the rest of the world is going wrong. It is also in our interest to invest in peace, security, economic and social development, protection of the environment – everywhere in the world. We are all connected.

Because we know how crucial the United Nations and its agencies are. Sorry, I go to very practical things, but policy and politics is about very practical things.

We understand – in Europe, as Socialists, Democrats and Progressives – the value of UNESCO, to protect cultural heritage in conflict, to protect history, memory, the identity of the people of the world.

We value the work of the World Food Program to prevent a humanitarian crisis. And rather than complaining afterwards, for not having funded the World Food Program in the refugee crises, we fund the World Food Program – because preventing a crisis is always better than dealing with it.

And we are the strongest supporter of the UNHCR, UN Refugee Agency, as they work to save millions of displaced people – men, women and children who flee from war, exactly like we Europeans did during so many European wars in the last centuries.

All this is not charity. These are key contributions to our common European security.

We are the ones who believe in win-win solutions, and in the importance of sticking to the agreements that we have reached together.

Starting with the deal with Iran. A deal that we negotiated for months and years – twelve years, it all started with Javier Solana, one of my great predecessors and members of our family – and that managed to an effective monitoring system, to make sure that Iran’s nuclear program could only have peaceful purposes.

The IAEA has conducted hundreds of inspections, has verified the deal eight times, and it has said, again in these days, that Iran has complied with all its commitments – all of them.

It is a deal that has prevented and continues to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, next door to us. (It is a deal) that brought security to our region and hope to the people of Iran – those young people who celebrated in the streets of Teheran and who deserve, as much as the European young people deserve, a brighter future. And it has also created great opportunities for us, Europeans.

That deal was possible thanks to us, to the European way and to our role as a mediator. And as we were indispensable to reach the deal, we are and we will be – in the coming days, weeks and months, which will be difficult – a point of reference for all those who believe that when multilateralism delivers, it needs to be protected. Especially, you cannot afford in the world of today, where everything is going wrong, to dismantle the single agreement that is working – especially on nuclear non-proliferation.

There are some who believe that strength, in foreign policy, means scrapping rules and agreements, and move on in isolation. Alone against the others. That being strong means being tough. Let me tell you – I think it’s an experience we have all made in life – that you need more strength to smile than to shout. The real strength lies in creating the space for dialogue, for a win-win solution.

The real strength lies in building new partnerships, listening and understanding and finding the common ground, and making sure that our partners are also strong.

Fighting, shouting, being tough for the sake of being tough is often a sign of weakness, not of strength. (Applause).

It is when you are strong, and self-confident, that you can afford to make peace and build partnerships – cooperation, not confrontation.

This is also the meaning of “together”. This is the guiding light in our work with Africa. Gianni is perfectly right: we turned the page.

A few weeks we were together in the European Parliament for the Africa week you organised. And the hashtag for that event was #withAfrica. It is not just a good hashtag, or a good slogan. I think it explains the historic change that our relationship with Africa needs and that we are putting in place, as European Union and as a political family. From the logic of aid, to the logic of partnership.

It’s a Copernican revolution. It’s what Africa needs and what we need. We don’t just work for Africa, we work with Africa – knowing that there are some things they know better than we do, and we need to do things together.

And we – the Democrats, the Socialists and the Progressives – we must lead this change of attitude, this change in mentality in the way we relate with the rest of the world.

These are not just good intentions. We are making this change happen, with our daily work.

This is the logic behind our External Investment Plan Gianni was referring to – that now has become reality, also thanks to our joined-up work in the Commission, in the Council and in the Parliament.

This was our initiative and it came to reality, bringing private investment in the fragile parts of Africa, to match sustainable development with the objective of creating sustainability in the fragile areas of the continent.

Again, this is a win-win. It is a win-win for the European private sector, for the European citizens, and for the African citizens, especially the youth.

“Together” is how we are dealing with migration. This is not a war between the North and South, Europe and Africa. Actually, I often remind to the whole of us that there are more people moving within Africa, than from Africa to Europe. It’s a global phenomenon that we need to manage together.

Only together we can make it sustainable. It is not a phenomenon to stop: it is a phenomenon to manage, in a humane, sustainable manner.

And let me add one thing. I know it’s very unpopular, but sometimes you need to tell the truth. Occasionally… (Applause). If all migrants were to disappear from the European Union, entire sectors of our economy would collapse tomorrow morning. We have to have the courage to tell the truth. (Applause).

This doesn’t mean open borders, this doesn’t mean fences. This means a partnership with the countries of origin and transit to work on a sustainable, rational, humane way to manage the phenomenon together.

Together with the countries. Together with the NGOs, that are doing a remarkable job. Together with the UN agencies, together with our partners in the world. Putting at the centre human beings – human beings: it’s never about numbers, it’s people with a name, with a story, with a family, with parents and children. People like us, like each and every individual in this room. (Applause).

Together with African, and with our African partners, we are also working to create good jobs, in a continent that is extremely young and hopeful. But we also have to take care of the security of the continent – avoid that the Sahel explodes, the Horn of Africa, the Lake Chad region. This is our immediate neighbourhood.

And here, also on security, our engagement as a political family is truly essential. We have to deal with security – and make sure that security forces, for instance in our partners countries are professional, well-trained and respect the human rights of each and every human being.

The work we are doing on security and defence – inside Europe and with our partners – is sometimes controversial in our political family, I know that well. It’s in my job description, but still, I belong to this family. But I can tell you this is something that – as European, Socialists, Democrats and Progressives – we can all be proud of.

Our work for a European Union of security and defence has nothing to do with “militarising” our continent. On the contrary, it’s a way to get strategic autonomy from others. It’s a way to put in place the European way to peace and security.

First of all, this is about spending better our resources. Spending more or less is a decision for national governments and parliaments, but spending better is an issue of European Union capacity.

In times of strong constraints on our budgets, after so many years of tough financial crisis – and Gianni said it all about it – can we afford to duplicate spending within 28 Member States, or to invest our resources in an ineffective manner? Our work over the past year has constantly aimed at creating something the European Union is perfect for: economies of scale. Because together – together – we can invest better than alone, use our budget more effectively, avoid any kind of duplication or waste.

A European Union of security and defence has nothing to do with “militarisation” also for another reason – even more important to me. Hard power, the strength of military force – we are not naïve – sometimes is helpful, sometimes is needed. Sometimes it is needed to protect people on the ground. But for us, Europeans, it is never the solution, alone. Never. It always comes with diplomacy, the patience of mediation, conflict prevention, with the work on reconciliation and reconstruction.

Our military staff – because we do have military personnel of the European Union, serving in our missions and operations around the world – works side by side with the police officers, the lawyers and the doctors, the aid workers and the human rights experts, the UN agencies and the civil society organisations, the engineers and the school teachers. And in most cases, all these people couldn’t do their job in difficult security situations without our military personnel.

So whenever I visit one of our missions and operations – be it in Mali, or elsewhere in Africa and in our region, or in the Mediterranean Sea, where we have saved tens of thousands of people – I am proud of the work our military is doing under the EU flag. Because for us the use of force is always at the service of human beings, always at the service of peace.

This is why we need a European Union of security and defence. And this is why we – as a political family – must be engaged in this process all along the way. We must be proud of our work to make our citizens more secure. Do not leave this issue to the right. Because there is a way and another way to guarantee security. It is not ignoring the issue that we will have cleaner hands. But I do not want to see a right-wing approach to security only. I want us to engage on how we create real, sustainable security. A security that includes the rule of law, human rights everywhere in the world: sustainable security.

And we should make sure that our ideas and our ideals shape the European work ahead of us.

I’ve been long, I close it here. I’ll say only that the years ahead will be important. We need to bring our ideas and our ideals into the way we shape the future of the European Union.

Because we don’t get to choose the kind of times we live in, inside the Union and outside of it, in the world, but we can choose to shape our times – together. Thank you.