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The European Parliament, Heart of European Democracy?
European Union - 09/05/2018
On Wednesday 9 May 2018, the Robert Schuman Foundation organised in Warsaw, in partnership with In Europa, a conference supported by the European Parliament entitled "The European Parliament, the heart of European democracy?'.

On Wednesday 9 May 2018, the Robert Schuman Foundation organised in Warsaw, in partnership with In Europa, a conference supported by the European Parliament entitled "The European Parliament, the heart of European democracy?'.

The aim of this meeting was to conduct a fundamental reflection on the theme of democracy and the rule of law and the role of the European Parliament a few months before the next European elections but also, more broadly, on the prospects and future of the EU.

This reflection was nourished by debates and discussions between eminent political figures. Presidents Bronislaw Komorowski and Aleksander Kwasniewski have done us the honour of accepting the principle of a very high level and high quality dialogue on Europe's prospects and future. Mr Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament, and Mrs Roza Thun, Member of the European Parliament, also participated in this reflection on the situation and challenges of European democracy. These debates were also fed by experts from academia and civil society. The Foundation salutes the real public success of this event, which was attended by over 200 people.

The third and final conference of this cycle will take place in Strasbourg on 12 June.

In 2018 14 years have passed since Poland joined the European Union. For Poland 1 May 2004 was the culmination of a transformation process launched at the end of the Cold War in 1989. Today, Poland is locked in various disputes with the institutions of the European Union and its position in EU has weakened. This does not mean that we should neglect the discussion of the future of Europe. We want to encourage debate, engage the government, local and regional authorities and civil society.

The conference brought together more than 200 participants: politicians, academics, diplomats, experts and media to explore the latest and the most pressing topics shaping the future of Europe.

The event aimed to promote, inform and contribute to debate regarding the democratic nature of the European institutions at different levels.

Sessions explored the importance of the rule of law, which is a fundamental value of liberal democracy, upon which the EU is based on.

Guests and panelists (among others):

Aleksander Kwaśniewski, President of the Republic of Poland in 1995-2005
Bronisław Komorowski, President of the Republic of Poland in 2010-2015
Hanna Gronkiewicz-Walz, the Mayor of the City of Warsaw
Adam Bodnar, Commissioner for Human Rights, Poland
Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament
Róża Thun, Member of the European Parliament
Sébastien Platon, Professor of Public Law, University of Bordeaux, France
Martin Koopmann, director of the Genshagen Foundation (Berlin)
Thierry Chopin, Head of Research, Robert Schuman Foundation

The conference was a part of a project supported by the European Parliament "The European Parliament, Heart of European Democracy?" run by the Robert Schuman Foundation. Conference partners: the In.Europa Institute, the Miasto Stołeczne Warsawa, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Genshagen Foundation.


The last decade was difficult for European integration. The economic crisis brought a wave of right and left-wing Euroscepticism that swept through virtually all EU countries. The peak of this trend was the decision of the British people to leave the community, which was made in the referendum in the summer of 2016.

Over the last two years pessimism however, has begun to give way to optimism. In France, the presidential election was won by Emmanuel Macron, running a campaign based on a strong pro-European message. A good economic situation has developed once more in most EU countries. Ideas for a revival of the European idea, as well as a debate about the reform of the community and its future shape are not making a return.

At the beginning of the discussion on the future financial perspective, it was said that Europe is facing many challenges with various capitals, institutions or groups giving different recipes to overcome these problems. Does a multi-speed Europe represent the future of the Union, or should we be moving forward primarily together? Should cohesion remain a priority or should it be promotion of new technologies and economic growth? How do we restore EU solidarity in face of the refugee crisis? These are just a few questions that we should be trying to answer over the next 12 months.

The European Parliament, Heart of European Democracy?

There have been differences between Western countries and Central and Eastern Europe regarding many of these challenges. The countries of the region have criticized the solutions proposed by Brussels for solving the migration issue. Differences also concern the shape of the EU internal market (posted workers), monetary integration (many Central and Eastern European countries remain outside the euro area) and climate policy.

At the same time, in at least two of the community's countries, Poland and Hungary, there are processes that are seen as a threat to European values ​​and liberal democracy as such. The European Commission has decided to submit an application for the examination under Art. 7 of the EU Treaty, of whether Warsaw is complying with the principles of the rule of law required by the Union. The Council of the European Union is dealing with this matter.

What role should the European Parliament play in this situation? It is the only body in which there can be a continuous debate on the part of many interested parties about the challenges facing Europe and the values ​​on which our continent is based. What is more, this debate is of a civic nature, because MEPs are above all representatives of the citizens. Brussels and Strasbourg are places where various ideas can be discussed every week and, as a result, where we can achieve a compromise.

The discussion in Warsaw aimed to help us answer some basic questions. • How has the role of the European Parliament changed during the last turbulent decade? • How can it respond to the challenges mentioned above? • How can it respond to problems faced by ordinary citizens of the community? • What is its role in protecting civil rights and EU values? • In terms of the rule of law, has Warsaw made sufficient concessions to reach a compromise with the EU institutions?

1. New energy for the European Union?

"We have to readopt a pro-European stance and abandon Euroscepticism based on Polish fundamentalism, as this is a road that is leading to marginalisation within the European Union", said Aleksander Kwaśniewski. Poland's position in the European Union is "extremely limited - due to the volition of the current authorities", Bronisław Komorowski warned.
Both former-presidents, Bronisław Komorowski and Aleksander Kwaśniewski, participated in a conference celebrating Europe Day held on 9th May organised in the Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw by the Robert Schuman Foundation and the In.Europa Institute. Other conference participants included: Thierry Chopin - Head of Research of the Robert Schuman Foundation, Pat Cox - former President of the European Parliament, Róża Thun - and Adam Bodnar - the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights, Róża Thun, Member of the European Parliament, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Walz, Martin Koopmann, Director of the Genshagen Foundation Sébastien Platon, Professor of Public Law, University of Bordeaux, France, Anna Radwan, In.Europa President. Moderator: Łukasz Lipinski, journalist, In.Europa Institute.

"We are meeting on Europe Day - on 9th May Robert Schuman announced his declaration that would change Europe and - subsequently - also the world. Schuman believed that one day Poland would also become part of the European plan. Today, we are a member of the European Union and we can shape Europe together, but we are not as active as we should be. This is why a year ago we established the In. Europa institute - because we believe that Poland is an important part of the European project and we want to develop it for future generations", said Anna Radwan, founder of the Institute.

In the opening speech Thierry Chopin, Head of Research at the Robert Schuman Foundation (Paris) said:

"Today's conference entitled, The European Parliament, the heart of European democracy is part of a project supported by the European Parliament. The Robert Schuman Foundation in Paris is organising three public conferences in three European cities: One is taking place in Warsaw today. The second will be held in Budapest, and the third will be staged at the European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg in a month's time. The three conferences share one topic; challenges faced by European democracy".

As Thierry Chopin stressed the conference fits within a certain political context: - the Eurozone crisis, migrant crisis, Brexit and terrorist attacks. There are certain consequences that result from these ongoing situations, especially from the attacks being made on liberal democracy. The question which has brought us here together, the one relating to democracy and its essence within the European Union, is of particular importance at the time of this conference. Therefore, this meeting seeks - albeit to a modest degree - to encourage profound reflection on the nature of democracy, its development and the role that the European Parliament plays. These questions are of special importance ahead of the European Parliament elections in 2019. Our reflection will be fuelled by a discussion held by eminent politicians who will elaborate on this perspective and on the future of the European Union. [I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to the presidents, Mr. Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Bronisław Komorowski, for agreeing to participate in the discussion. I also want to thank Mr. Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament, and Ms. Róża Thun. Experts from academic circles and those representing civil society will also contribute to the debate. I am also grateful for their willingness to participate in the discussions].

The European Parliament, Heart of European Democracy?

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise the significance of the day on which the conference has been convened - said Thierry Chopin. The 9th of May is a momentous date, as this is the day marking the Schuman Declaration, and on this day we celebrate the glorious legacy of European integration, which is a guarantor of peace and conciliation between our countries and of a level of welfare that has never been reached before. I believe that this legacy should be celebrated, especially since we have to protect it now that it is under threat. I do not want to sound pessimistic, but the challenges and crisis situations that we have to face as Europeans require a reassessment of the way think about a united Europe. This unity is indispensable in rising to future challenges. We are aware that this unity cannot be taken for granted. Political tension seems to be threatening the unity and stability of the European Union. It is obvious that political pressure in any part of Europe endangers cohesion. Populist parties are trying to use this fragility and postulate withdrawal behind national borders which may be pernicious. And it is in this particular context that the significance of today's conference is obvious".

Mr Chopin recalled Robert Schuman's legacy:

"Common European interest was the founding Fathers' main idea. We want this legacy to be relevant and I believe it still is. If we look at security, we can see that we all share a common interest. Moreover, we are all affected by the migration and financial crises. Solutions adopted at national level are not sufficient to rise to the challenges that now await us. Action should be taken at European level. Efforts taken at the national and European levels should be combined: the first legacy means co-dependency (shared values and interests); the second legacy means defending common values and interests; the third legacy means Europe's internal and external cooperation not only in economic fields but also in terms of migration and security. This will make Europe more aware."

Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, President of the City of Warsaw, emphasised that Poland's position in the European Union "has deteriorated": "Still, a short while ago, many Poles held important positions - that of the President of the European Parliament or the current President of the European Council. We had the most important portfolios in the European Commission. Now, the government of our country is making a laughing stock of us", she said. She quoted the example of voting for Donald Tusk's re-election as the President of the European Council which was lost by Poland by 27:1.

"I am filled with anger and sadness as once we were a nation that embodied the love of freedom and democracy, but now in Europe's opinion we have become tricksters, who only want to squeeze money out of the European Union without respecting its fundamental values", the President of Warsaw said. According to her, the Law and Justice government "is trampling on those values by dismantling the justice system". She added that the government's policy "under the motto of Poland getting up off its knees is leading to the diminishment of our country's role in Europe,.

Trends in Europe and its Future

The panel discussion Trends in Europe and its Future brought together the formerPolish presidents who were involved in the transformation process and Poland's accession to the EU: Aleksander Kwaśniewski, President of the Republic of Poland, 1995-2005 and Bronisław Komorowski, President of the Republic of Poland, 2010-2015.

"Poland's economic, social, political and military potential may allow this country to play a major role again - however, this requires changing our position in the international arena and adopting a completely different approach to the European Union", said Bronisław Komorowski during a panel discussion entitled Europe: challenges and trends.

Bronisław Komorowski emphasised in his speech that Poland's position in the European Union was "extremely limited - due to the volition of the current authorities": "Poland's central government has assumed the position of a boxer struggling to defend himself, using blocks and avoiding punches, but offering nothing, having no counter attacking tactics up his sleeve and not even trying to influence European policy" - said Komorowski.

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He also said that "human, economic and - currently - also political and military potential predisposes Poland to reclaim a role matching its potential and ambitions, as well as its diligence.  This requires changing Poland's internal policies, as well as its foreign policy in the European and international arena, and this is perfectly feasible", said Komorowski. There were also calls for Poland to join the euro area, because only then would the country be able to start playing any role in the future. 

"It is not true that the European Union has reached a state of exhaustion. The European agenda can win! It is quite successful in Europe, which is proven by France, for example. But we have to show that the European alliance means not just institutions; the European Union has a unique model of cooperation in terms of education and its economy and there are numerous practical solutions to help citizens. They must be reminded of this", said President Aleksander Kwaśniewski.

In his opinion, Poland has to readopt a pro-European stance, because Euroscepticism is - at best - a road leading to marginalisation within the European Union. "The European motive concerning our position in Europe will be one of the leading themes of the Parliamentary election debate as this is our Polish "to be or not to be", said Kwaśniewski quoting Shakespeare. 

"I do not believe in long-term projects advocated by certain Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) party leaders, so let us re-adopt a pro-European stance. The damage that has been done so far will require a long period of recovery", he said. In the opinion of the former-President, "the worst thing is that confidence in Poland, even in its pro-European stance, is dented to such an extent that even very pro-European governments to come will have to work hard to restore this confidence". 

He also called upon pro-European groups to be more active: "Firstly, we have to realise that the situation is difficult, that the Union and European integration are facing threats from various sources and that it has to be defended, and if this is to be effective, we have to find strong arguments and involve the people", he said.

2. Where is the heart of European democracy?

During a panel discussion entitled Where is the heart of European democracy? Its participants stressed the importance of a close dialogue focusing on values, such as the rule of law, which is fundamental to the European Union. It is important to keep on talking - but in a way that will get the message across to the citizens of the EU.

Polish MEP, Róża Thun stressed that EU needs more Macron-style "audace"; right now, things seem ossified. The government should be initiating this debate.

We need vigorous action! Digitalisation is an accomplished fact, the world is moving so fast, we have to look for new sources of EU energy - and look for it in citizens' actions. We need to have the courage to shake up the debate that we are holding. But the European institutions cannot get to each district by themselves! It is the governments and public media that should provide citizens with information on the role of the European Union; we are here only as a proxy, this debate should be moderated by the government", - said MEP Róża Thun.

The future of Europe is not an abstract term but an issue of paramount importance. As Europeans we have to remember that we account for only 7% of global population but we own almost a quarter of global wealth. If we, the European Union, divide into 27 parts - we will have no influence on what is happening globally - said Pat Cox, President of the European Parliament in 2002-2004.

Sébastien Platon, Professor of Public Law, University of Bordeaux, France: I would like to go back to the topic of the European Parliament's role in protecting human rights. Looking at the evolution of the European Parliament, it is obvious that it quite soon became an institution guaranteeing civil, human, and fundamental rights. That was a natural expansion of the remit of this European institution, because it represents all citizens. Therefore, it is obvious that it is supposed to protect them.

The European Parliament has become a guarantor of fundamental rights, which has used all available legal powers to secure them. At present, the European Parliament is a co-legislator, it adopts legal acts, including those of paramount importance for protecting fundamental rights. The European Parliament has become one of the main bodies protecting human rights. Therefore, I would like to relate to the issues of the rule of law and tensions between the European Union and, not only Poland, but also other countries. It can be seen that from the legal viewpoint the European Parliament is not playing first fiddle. The European Commission, as the guardian of the treaties, the Councils and - increasingly - the European Court of Justice are the main players in this remit. Article 7 does not offer the European Parliament the best tools; the institution can only propose to launch the procedure under this article as part of preventive measures, but it cannot legally propose the launch of such a framework, nor does it approve any potential sanctions. Despite that, the European Parliament has been very active in the field of the rule of law. Its role is extremely important because, as a forum representing all the citizens from all the Member States, its action defuses the accusation of a West-versus-East cultural struggle.

Adam Bodnar, Polish Commissioner for Human Rights: A debate on the rule of law in Poland should have taken place in mid-2016. Now the clock is ticking. PiS's latest tweaks to judiciary laws are merely cosmetic. What Poland lacks is the way it relates debate to human rights. We are discussing the GDPR from the perspective of risks, but we have forgotten that this is aimed at strengthening civic rights - said the commissioner.

Thierry Chopin stressed the three following points. First, some basic reminders on what democracy and its different components are: popular legitimacy certainly; but also the rule of law; and other forms of liberal type legitimacy (counter-powers) and independence. Second, he tried to define the characteristics of the development of a counter-model of democracy in Europe: a political regime based only on electoral legitimacy, a strong executive power and few counterweights ; a regime in which political power, once legitimate through elections, is allowed to intervene in the counterweights in the name of the popular will; last but not least, a political regime characterized by the tension between democracy and political liberalism and the transformation of the register of legitimization of power into a "national-populist" form with an organic conception of the nation as a historical, cultural and religious community that the State must protect. Third, he concluded with the need for political representation at EU level and on the role of the European Parliament, which is an essential component of European democracy. He finally stressed on: the limits of intergovernmentalism and of the forms of national representation within the EU (this is a lesson learned from recent crises); only EP elections can establish a direct (albeit perfectible) link between citizens and representatives at Community level; the stakes of the forthcoming European elections and the centrality of the new cleavage "Europeans / "national-populists" and "liberal democracy / illiberal regime".

Martin Koopmann
Director of the Genshagen

The European Parliament, Heart of European Democracy?

Foundation made the final statement

Preparing for the European Future:
European integration has reached a critical point in its development and if we do not succeed in finding a solution and stop this development, Europe will be on a collision course with what was decided in Maastricht and it will be reduced to mere economic aspects. It will be an area offering freedom of movement to people and goods, but providing no means to solve the problems when its citizens face external threats.

One of the main reasons for this analysis is growing nationalism practically in all Member States, and it is a result of the fear of the processes that are currently occurring in our civilisation. By that I mean migration. These fears require not so much a solution, but consideration has to be given to the previous system, which means nation states.

This quote dates back to 1994, so it is not new, which is quite surprising. It comes from Germany, and we are all aware of the important role the country has played in European integration. These words were said before the EU's enlargement and before the numerous crisis situations now affecting the European Union, which have led to diminished confidence by the population in their political decision makers.

We can increase citizens' confidence in the European Union and boost cohesion within the EU by:

1. Increasing the credibility of political representations at EU, national and regional levels. If democracy-related problems arise, they do not refer to EU level only, but they mean shortcomings at national level.

2. Protecting the foundations of liberal democracy. Protecting solidarity in Europe. Solidarity has many dimensions, let us not forget that!

3. The European Union should become more effective via improvements to its cohesion. If we take that path and display more audacity, we will see that the European Union offers not only added value, but also a perfect combination of welfare, security and peace in Europe. I hope this will guide those who will go to vote in next year's elections.


Conclusions from the debate on Poland's changing role within the European Union and on what is indispensable for the dynamic development of Poland and the EU?

First of all, on the one hand, there is a need for more practical and information-oriented measures on the part of the EU, which would involve citizens. On the other hand, it is of paramount importance to hold discussions focusing on values and to make constant reminders of these - the European Union is not only an economic entity, but also a community of values. In the opinion of those participating in the panel discussions, the European Union needs a practical approach and direct actions, and responsibility for its development should be assumed by individual countries and citizens. Populist tendencies and actions by extreme political groups are hard, but not impossible to combat - Austria and France are obvious examples.