Written by Ralf Drachenberg.
‘This is Europe’ – an initiative proposed by the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola – consists of a series of debates with EU leaders to discuss their visions for the future of the European Union. In his address to the European Parliament on 14 March 2023, the President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda, emphasised three topics: i) support for Ukraine and that country’s place in Europe (i.e. enlargement); ii) the importance of historical memory; and iii) the challenges facing Europe today. Among the greatest challenges is maintaining an independent posture in EU relations with authoritarian regimes.
We have seen time and again serious crises give impetus to European renewal. There is something remarkable about the ability of all of us Europeans to adjust and move forward with unfaltering optimism whatever happens.Gitanas Nausėda
Roberta Metsola launched the ‘This is Europe’ initiative soon after her election as president of the European Parliament in January 2022. Gitanas Nausėda is the seventh EU leader to have addressed the Parliament since its Conference of Presidents endorsed the initiative on 28 April 2022. These debates will continue during subsequent sessions. The next leader to have confirmed their participation is the prime minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, who will speak during the April 2023 plenary session; he is due to be followed by the chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, during the May session. A similar initiative by the Parliament, ahead of the 2019 European elections, saw a number of EU leaders speak in the Parliament’s plenary sessions about their views on the future of Europe. An EPRS analysis of the future of Europe debates pinpointed the similarities and differences in EU leaders’ views.
The ‘This is Europe’ initiative is particularly relevant in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), a bottom-up exercise that allowed EU citizens to express their opinions on the EU’s future policies and functioning. On 30 April 2022, the CoFoE plenary adopted 49 proposals (see an EPRS overview), including more than 300 measures by which they might be achieved. As a follow-up, Parliament adopted a resolution, by a large majority, calling for a convention in accordance with Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union. This call was backed by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in her State of the Union speech on 14 September 2022. At the June 2022 European Council meeting, the Heads of State or Government ‘took note’ of the CoFoE proposals. While calling for ‘an effective follow-up’, they did not provide specific guidelines in this respect. Instead, they merely stated that each EU institution should do so ‘within their own sphere of competences’, rather than jointly among the EU institutions. EPRS research has shown that there is significant convergence between the results of the CoFoE and the priorities of the European Council as expressed in its 2019‑2024 strategic agenda and its conclusions over the past 3 years. The current Swedish Presidency of the Council indicated that it will follow up on the CoFoE’s work, and push to achieve broad consensus on how to proceed with its proposals.
Main focus of Gitanas Nausėda’s speech
Gitanas Nausėda addressed a wide range of topics in his speech to Parliament (see Figure 1). In terms of words, he devoted most attention to three issues: i) Russia’s war on Ukraine; ii) history; and iii) enlargement.
Russia’s war on Ukraine
The main topic of Nausėda’s address was Russia’s war on Ukraine. He notably praised the EU’s response to Russia’s aggression, as it stood ‘united and extended a helping hand to Ukrainians when they needed it the most’. He stressed the importance of European civil society’s and European citizens’ strong support and determination in enabling this united European response. The Lithuanian President called for continued support for Ukraine and strengthened sanctions against Russia, ‘until it stops the brutal war against Ukraine and ensures that those responsible for the crimes of aggression are held accountable’.
Nausėda underlined that Lithuania had been an integral part of Europe for centuries. He warned that some purposely distorted historical memories to meet their political aims, and stressed that it was necessary to remember the crimes committed to avoid repeating old mistakes. In his view, ‘ignor[ing] the past is never an option’, and by ‘commemorating the crimes of the two totalitarian regimes, we can respond more decisively and more accurately to today’s challenges’. He called for a stronger EU focus on European historical memory, notably through educational programmes for schoolchildren, and by providing EU funding to investigate and evaluate the crimes of Communist regimes at the international level.
Nausėda reiterated his support for the enlargement process of both Ukraine and Moldova, and for giving such a perspective to Georgia. He argued that ‘historical experience shows that the most effective way to expand the space of peace, stability and prosperity in Europe has been and will continue to be EU enlargement’. With the aim of launching negotiations with Ukraine before the end of the year, he said it was crucial to ensure continued EU financial and technical support for Ukraine’s European reforms.
Specific proposals and positions
The Lithuanian President used the opportunity to present his views on how the European Union should advance in specific policy areas. He also made some new proposals, summarised below.
|Policy issue||Priority action and proposals (quotes)|
|Energy and climate||‘Invest increasingly more in green energy to become truly independent and, which is no less important, to safeguard our planet’s climate.’|
|Competitiveness, economy and trade||‘A long-term strategy for European competitiveness should include strengthening the single market and the technological and industrial base, removing the existing excessive barriers to the movement of goods, services and private capital, promoting international partnerships and rules-based trade.’|
|Migration||‘The issue of irregular migration certainly deserves our joint focus. We therefore support the targeted use of EU funds, the smooth return of irregular migrants, stronger focus on countering disinformation in third countries, combatting human smuggling and eliminating the root causes of illegitimate migration in countries of origin.’|
|Democracy||‘If we are serious about maintaining the rules-based international order, we must not only take on responsibility but also continue to deepen and expand the transatlantic bond. We must cooperate to the fullest extent with like-minded countries in strengthening democracy, developing rules-based global economic relations, promoting fair competition, and countering economic coercion.’|
Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘‘This is Europe’ debate in the European Parliament: Speech by Gitanas Nausėda, President of Lithuania, 14 March 2023‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
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