‘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 19 April 2023, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, emphasised three topics: i) democracy and the rule of law, ii) strategic autonomy, and iii) migration. He called for greater protection of minorities and respect for the rule of law and fundamental values. Openness was also an important point for him, both regarding internal borders within the European Union and on cooperation and trade with the world. Given the challenges – financial, climate, security, industrial and social – that lie ahead in the coming years, he called for more solidarity and greater means on which to build the EU’s political action.
The fundamental rights of citizens must remain the backbone of this European Union. We cannot procrastinate on this point.
Roberta Metsola launched the ‘This is Europe’ initiative soon after her election as president of the European Parliament in January 2022. Xavier Bettel is the eighth 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 his participation is the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, who will speak during the May 2023 plenary session.
A similar Parliament initiative, ahead of the 2019 European elections, saw a number of EU leaders speak in Parliament’s plenary sessions about their views on the future of Europe. Xavier Bettel, who is currently the third longest serving member of the European Council, also took part in that series. A 2019 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 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 follow up on the proposals ‘within their own sphere of competences’, rather than acting jointly. 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 the latter’s 2019‑2024 strategic agenda and its conclusions over the past 3 years.
Main focus of Xavier Bettel’s speech
Bettel addressed a wide range of topics in his speech to Parliament (see Figure 1). In terms of words, he devoted most attention to i) democracy and the rule of law, ii) strategic autonomy, and iii) migration.
Democracy and the rule of law
Respect for minorities was a central focus of Bettel’s address. He gave a personal insight based on his own experience, underlining that homosexual people wanted first and foremost ‘respect’. He welcomed the fact that 15 Member States had supported the European Commission’s referral of Hungary’s ‘anti-LGBT propaganda’ law to the Court of Justice of the European Union. He called for Members to continue the fight for democratic rights, for the rule of law and for human rights.
Bettel expressed his support for the concept of ‘strategic autonomy’, stressing that it meant ‘neither protectionism nor renunciation of friends and close partners, nor equidistance between allies and the rest of the world’. He argued that none of his colleagues in the European Council understood it in such a narrow way. In his view, openness was an essential part of strategic autonomy.
Bettel called for improved surveillance at the EU’s external borders and for greater engagement with international partners on issues such as returns, the management of migratory flows, ways of addressing the root causes of irregular migration and of setting up possibilities for regular migration. He expressed hope that the Parliament and Council would reach agreement before the end of this legislative term.
Specific proposals and positions
The Luxembourgish Prime Minister 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)|
|Democracy||‘We need to complete our toolkit on human rights and minority rights’.|
|Russia’s war on Ukraine||‘Sanction the aggressor, continue to financially support Ukraine, and deliver weapons to them’.|
|Internal market||‘It brings us prosperity, but is also at the origin of our common rules and standards in social, environmental, consumer protection and food safety’.|
|Migration||‘A common European migration policy needs to be fair, resilient, rules-based and characterised by the right balance between solidarity and responsibility’.|
|Energy and climate||‘In the face of the dual climate and energy crisis – too often we tend to forget – we have also succeeded in significantly reducing our consumption while accelerating the transition to an energy system based mainly on renewable energy’.|
Contrast with Bettel’s speech during Parliament’s 2019 Future of Europe debates
The magnitude of the change in the political context since Xavier Bettel spoke before the Parliament 4 years ago, on 30 May 2018 as part of the Future of Europe debates, is apparent when comparing the two speeches. Back then he talked a lot about i) tax harmonisation, and called for ii) further deepening of economic and monetary union, and iii) efforts to move towards a European social model. Then, he was also the EU leader who addressed the highest number of policy areas.
Read this ‘at a glance’ note on ‘‘This is Europe’ debate in the European Parliament: Speech by Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, 19 April 2023‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.