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  • EUThe Presidency (EU)

DPM & FM Venizelos’ statement at the EP Plenary for the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI (Strasbourg 16.04.2014)

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Venizelos’ statement at the EP Plenary in Strasbourg, on 16 April, for the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI.

Dedicating today’s sitting of the Plenary to the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the European Parliament is rightly choosing to end its proceedings with a message to the citizens of the European Union: that it has a historical conscience. An active historical memory is the only sound foundation for major political initiatives like the ones Europe so urgently needs.

The end of history, the end of wars in Europe, at least, and the establishment of “perpetual peace” were not declared for the first time following the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. They had been declared theoretically before the outbreak of the First World War.

The 100th anniversary of the outbreak of what was once called the Great War finds the European Union on the eve of elections for the new European Parliament; that is, on the verge of shaping a pan-European balance of power that comes to be added to the intergovernmental balance, or rather the inter-state balance, that exists in any case. The anniversary finds the European Union still grappling with the repercussions of the fiscal and financial crisis that broke out in 2007-2008.

For many member states and their societies, the big question is whether there can be a Europe without austerity policies and without high unemployment, particularly among the young. The burning question in all the member states is whether Europe  can continue to be identified with democracy, with the rule of law, with a European social state that transcends the demographic and fiscal crisis; whether Europe can retain its identification with pluralism, tolerance, competitiveness, full employment, innovation, creativity, culture; the values that are at the historical, ideological and political foundation of European integration following the tragic experiences of the two World Wars.

This anniversary also finds Europe facing a large number of pending crises in its eastern and southern Neighbourhoods; facing situations that are once again putting the Union to the test as an international political entity. From Syria to Libya, from Iran to Ukraine. A few months ago, no one was talking about an acute crisis in the relations of Europe and of the West in General with Russia, with Ukraine as the focal point.

Now, however, this is the Union’s number-one political and economic issue.

The course of the First World War and America’s participation in this principally European conflict effectively rendered the problem of European peace, stability and security a Euroatlantic problem from 1917 on. The Second World War came to confirm this, and it continues to be a reality reaffirmed by all the pending international and regional crises.

The situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is in the heart of the European continent, continues to demand the special attention of the European Union and the international community as a whole. This means a great deal – 100 years after an incident in Sarajevo sparked the Great War. History does not repeat itself as long as we learn from it; as long as it is a substantial parameter in our analyses and strategy.

The Hellenic Presidency of the Council sees it as a sign of added responsibility that these six months coincide with all of these major historical challenges: From the European Elections and the agreement on the Single Resolution Mechanism for systemic banks, to the crisis in Ukraine.

This semester is shorter, parliamentarily, due to the European elections, but it is more dense. So we have an obligation to present to the peoples of Europe a new, comprehensive and attractive narrative for the integration and prospects of the European Union. Every European political party is putting forward its own version of this narrative, within a democratic and pluralistic process. The technical elements of this narrative are being shaped with difficulty and delays, through compromises – but they are being shaped. I am referring to the Banking Union, the working group on own resources, the ongoing debate on the principle of conditionality.

New tools, like the initiative for the young, are being added to Europe’s financial mechanisms. The stability-growth-jobs triptych is again the centerpiece of the Union. The linking of the Union’s foreign and energy policies comes to be added to the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The Union’s relationship with NATO has been rendered much more balanced and reflexive.

The anniversary of the outbreak of World War I forces us to remember, of course, that the major issues are always political in nature. They concern national, ethnic, linguistic and religious identities and sensitivities. They concern longstanding national priorities. Stereotypes. Geopolitical and geo-economic perceptions.

So it is important for us to stress here today, in Strasbourg, at the European Parliament Plenary, that, 100 years after the outbreak of the First World War, the fundamental and definitive choice of the citizens and peoples of Europe is peace, stability, respect for existing borders, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the states of the European continent.

Unfortunately, this is not self-evident. Unfortunately, nothing is self-evident. But it is existentially imperative if we want history to look not to the past, but to the future.