Speech by Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in Athens on the Day of Europe
Mr. President of the Hellenic Republic,
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is a milestone year: sixty years have passed since the signature of the Treaties of Rome and forty years since the establishment of the European Commission Representation in Greece.
This anniversary is also a moment to think about the achievements over all these years and our responsibilities in view of what needs to be done in the future.
60 years of peace, stability and prosperity for Europe.
A quick flashback to the recent history will remind us of the tragedies of the two World Wars, of our divided continent, of more than 70 million lives lost, as well as a landscape of human and natural destruction and devastation.
Few months ago I visited Auschwitz, a place of unspeakable atrocities against the human race; a place of high symbolism and great responsibilities.
It is a significant historic lesson that reminds, teaches and puts us before our responsibilities not to return to these dark ages.
And it was precisely at that time, sixty years ago, when leaders with vision and determination decided to create the united Europe. They took this decision in the name of their peoples, leaving behind their experiences and rivalries of centuries.
The United Europe defined a wider geopolitical area where, over time, peace, cooperation, stability, security, the rule of law, human rights would prevail. All these were accomplished.
This heritage was left to us by the previous generations with the order not to allow anyone to undermining it.
But humans, by their very nature, as history has proven, forget. Some take all these achievements for granted.
However, it is our moral and political responsibility not only to keep this European vision alive but also to further strengthen it, by completing the European project politically, institutionally and socially.
Nowadays, the European endeavor is being questioned; fortunately, not by the majority.
The European vision is gradually fading. Not by itself.
Dark forces, with populism and nationalism first among them, are challenging and undermining it.
The voices of euro-skepticism are converging with these forces in view of their common goal of weakening the meaning and content of Europe.
The fundamental principles of the European construction, such as solidarity and responsibility, are being neglected.
These principles have not only moral value. They are legally binding for all Member States that have signed and accepted the founding Treaties of the Union, where these principles are clearly stipulated.
We are concerned by those governments and parties that address their country's audience, consciously feeding with Euro-skepticism their electoral clientele, using an easy but also pleasant populist discourse.
With their political and historical lack of responsibility are driving their countries to dangerous paths.
Today's European leadership should not just react but also undertake the great responsibility to keep the European vision alive, to enhance Europe's values and principles, and to move forward towards the direction that its past visionary leaderships have shown, sixty years ago.
The way forward is principally defined by the strong resistance to the movements of populism and nationalism, and, above all, by the completion of the European project; because Europe has not yet been completed.
And this explains some of the weaknesses it still has; because, it does have weaknesses.
Europe lags behind in integrated policies as far as economy, external relations, defense, internal security and society are concerned.
Joint programs are not enough. Common strategy and common actions are needed.
In the field of the economy, we rushed into adopting a common currency without having first adopted a common economic policy.
In foreign policy, Europe does not play the role of a truly global power.
In the defense sector, Europe was hindered in its very early steps to be emancipated defensively, to create the relevant structures, to strengthen its defense industry and to adopt a single defense doctrine.
Finally, in the field of internal security and despite the initiatives taken, a lot, still, needs to be done. A precondition for the establishment of the European Security Union is to embed and cultivate the necessary trust between us. Something we have not succeeded yet.
Simply because, and this applies to all countries, the deep state still resists. It continues to treat internal security as a purely national aspect, despite the fact that all the threats we face are now cross-border, international and global.
Our recent experiences prove that terrorism knows no borders. But everyone recognizes that the security of our citizens and the security of our societies are, above all, a common challenge and responsibility.
However, we must not forget what has been achieved in the last two years in the areas of Security and Migration. As you know, I have the political responsibility for these issues on behalf of the European Commission.
From the very beginning, we have intensified our efforts and we managed, in record time, to adopt the European Agenda on Migration and the European Agenda on Security.
Detecting the gaps in the protection of the European external borders, we have established the European Border and Coastguard that now is fully operational.
We have also put in place actions to better manage our external borders.
We have ensured a more effective internal security policy, with concrete actions to prevent and fight against terrorism, while in the field of migration we have not only addressed the immediate needs but also proposed a long-term strategy. The implementation of this strategy is essential for its success. It is exactly where we need improvement.
Many EU governments are still reluctant to fulfil their responsibilities. But all Member States must fulfil their obligations, and in time. It is our political responsibility to ensure coherence, unity, within the European Union.
Ladies and gentlemen,
All that I am referring to today are happening in the shadow of Brexit, but also in the light of Emmanuel Macron's recent election win.
It is true that for the first time in its modern history, Europe after Brexit becomes a little smaller; but certainly not weaker. Everything shows that through this experience it will become stronger.
On the other hand, France has sent a strong message of victory for democracy and Europe. The citizens of this great European country choose and support their European future, inviting their European fellow citizens to work for a better, stronger and fairer Europe.
Our common European future must go hand in hand with the basic principles enshrined in the Treaties, as well as our common values, but also our duty to show solidarity to the people, but also among the Member States.
Our duty for solidarity does not refer only to migration and security. Solidarity and responsibility should be the fundament of all our policies – from employment, to economy, to natural disasters.
And Europe can only exist as a Europe of its Civil Society.
A social Europe is needed, a Europe that will support its citizens in their daily lives and inspire a feeling of security to them.
To achieve this, reforms are needed, while restoring our moral values. The last decade, complacent and stagnation have prevailed, weakening the relations between our citizens and Europe.
A Europe closer to the citizen means more accountability, more transparency, and more social sensitivity.
This unique achievement in the history of human kind requires a more powerful, justified, sincere, communicative, presentation and explanation.
It should be recalled that the rights for workers, students and other social groups, are what differentiate Europe from other regions or even big, globally, states.
Europe, however, is not only important internally, for its own Member States and citizens. Europe is very important for its neighbors, as well as for other key partners on a global scale.
We are not an island, nor an isolated region on the map.
We should remember that, even today, for some countries their people's vision and expectation to join the European family constitutes their national strategy. Because, they know that this will ensure a better and safer future.
The aspirations of these people remind us how valuable it is to be part of a Union of peace, stability, tolerance, solidarity and prosperity.
The European Union is not just procedures and regulations, as some argue. It is not an abstract concept. It is not the "state of Brussels".
Europe consists of all of us: governments, European institutions, political systems, parties, local and regional authorities, citizens, the business community, media, civil society.
It is a Union in which cohesion constitutes a guarantee of freedom, dignity, and democracy.
And the Europe's cohesion is one of our main priorities.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today's event takes place in Athens, at the south-eastern corner of Europe, at the southernmost edge of the Balkan Peninsula.
And at this point, I can't hide my concern about what is happening in the wider Balkan neighborhood, where the exacerbation of populism and nationalism, and contrary to peoples' expectation to join the European family, lead to a "re-balkanisation", not only in geographical terms but also historic, of this delicate corner of the European Continent.
The fear of the return of the ghosts of the past is there. The leaders of this region have to realize it and to think about their great responsibilities towards their peoples.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Greece's accession to the European Union, that bears the stamp of a great leader of modern Greece, Konstantinos Karamanlis, has marked deep and significant changes for our country over the past thirty-five years.
We only have to look back at the situation in Greece before it became the 10th member of the European family and to what we have managed to achieve, for example with the support of the European structural funds and the funding of major infrastructure projects.
Greece of the recent past has nothing to do with Greece of today.
Our responsibilities for the creation of a modern European state, responsibilities that we all share equally, from the political leaders to the last citizen, were and remain significant, and, at a certain extent, explain why this, by definition, European country, a historical and cultural fundament of Europe, is in crisis.
However, the only way out of the crisis is the European way. Only Europe can guarantee a better future for our country, a future of security, stability and progress.
And it is precisely this future that the younger generations dream of and are looking forward to.
Greece is called upon to make a better use of its privileges, as member of the European Union, and make a proper use of its historical and geopolitical position, its political and cultural bonds with the European family and its neighbours, by playing a responsible role, as a stable and stabilising geopolitical power.
Greece should take into account this global approach on its relation and position in Europe, contributing to the overall and collective effort to strengthen and complete the European project.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It would be a mistake to take for granted all that have been achieved over the last sixty years.
These achievements and accomplishments demand constant support, protection and reinforcement. The way forward has had and will have obstacles. It depends on the power of will, determination, power of our ideas and politics, the power of inspirational leadership and the historical responsibility of our generations, to continue following the way that the past generations have shaped.
A prerequisite for this is to properly study and read history in order not to allow to be repeated. It is not history that repeats itself, but ultimately it is the people who repeat history, because they do not study history and do not draw lessons from it.
It is and remains our great responsibility not only to keep Europe upright but also to live and coexist with other peoples in a spirit of mutual respect and solidarity, walking along our common European path.
Only Europe can continue to lead us to the age (of which we have walked through its doorstep before sixty years) of security, democracy, peace, stability and prosperity; towards the way to a more coherent, fair and balanced European society, with all its citizens across Europe to exercise equally their right to life.