This decisive period in our history poses many challenges, but it also offers us extraordinary opportunities, which we must seize if we are to improve our quality of life.

The day of the European elections, 26 May 2019, marked a turning point: the number of votes cast in the elections was the highest ever, reversing a long-established trend.

The voters sent out a clear message, a message that confirmed the faith millions of men and women have in the European institutions and the European project. It was a demonstration of our citizens’ resolve and their ability to resist the siren voices of populism, which feed on fear, selfishness, rancour, the dangerous temptation to seek a return to the past and the desire to turn inward. Sometimes fear and opportunism lead us to think that integration can be slowed down, that solidarity is not a universal imperative, that exceptions can be made to the principles of tolerance and respect for others and that we can even set aside our humanity when taking decisions. Instead, we must always remember that Europe was founded on the principles of openness, cooperation and acknowledgement of a shared destiny. It was born of a great vision, of an audacious idea, an idea that commands us to play a leading role in addressing the challenges of today.

The fight against climate change is of course a priority for our Union, unless we step up our commitments as soon as possible in an effort to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, how can we encourage other countries to do the same?

Millions of young people are taking to the streets every day, urging us to do more, to take action to save our planet, to come up with more ambitious policies, because we know that business as usual means that the Union will miss its 2030 targets. The action we take must boost competitiveness and be accompanied by far-reaching social and inclusion measures, in order to guarantee a just transition based on a high level of welfare protection. We need to act, and we need to act now.

We know that today’s Europe is not the Europe we want. That it has limits, shortcomings, that within its borders too many injustices persist. That selfishness is holding us back and that the institutions need to show greater political courage. At the same time, we know that there is no alternative to Europe. Europe is our destiny and the next few years will be decisive for its future.

If we are to safeguard our democracies, we need to strengthen Europe, build a different Europe, more democratic, more open, greener, more social and inclusive, more secure and more responsive to the needs of its citizens.

These transformations represent an opportunity for the Union, but at the same time will entail profound changes to our societies and economies.

We face many challenges, it is true, but the European Parliament is ready. Let us not forget that in recent years a weaker and less democratic Union has dealt with the financial crisis, the Greek debt crisis and the migration crisis. These were only preliminary tests, however. Today, we must continue to choose the path of dialogue and work together more closely on the basis of a single, shared vision. The financial crisis inexorably widened inequalities and raised poverty levels in Europe. In an increasingly globalised and complex world, many have come to feel that they have been left behind and that they are much more alone than before. For that reason, this European parliamentary term must mark a break with the past. We need a new approach which gives the Union the ability to act, to extend democratic legitimacy, to show our citizens that our institutions are functioning and able to respond promptly to problems as and when they arise.

During this parliamentary term, we will have to address issues that affect people’s everyday lives. In that connection, the Conference on the Future of Europe will be an important forum in which citizens can be heard and their expectations and aspirations can be discussed, with the institutions, in the institutions and in order to strengthen the institutions.

We must not forget, in particular at times such as these, that the motto of the European Union is ‘United in diversity’. Our planet needs a Europe which lives up to its ideals by steering the economy in the direction of social and environmental sustainability, in order to narrow divides and inequalities.

We are not starting from scratch, because in recent years we have achieved objectives and reaffirmed our freedoms: to express ourselves, to travel, to fall in love with whoever we want, to live without gender discrimination, to voice our opinions without fear of being imprisoned, to live in countries where the death penalty has been abolished once and for all and in which democracy and the rule of law are the guiding principles which underpin our efforts to strengthen the European Union.

All this is possible only when living in a pluralist society committed to dialogue, sustained by the humanitarian principles which we must reaffirm every day if we are to build a free, strong Europe based on solidarity.

We must set the European Union on a new course, not only in order to safeguard what we have already achieved and protect our freedoms, but also to ensure that we can play an effective role in a globalised world which has no set rules, but which is in dire need of them.

President of the European Parliament