Austrian President praised by MEPs for robust defence of the EU
Alexander Van der Bellen says EU is 'worth all the effort'.
Alexander Van der Bellen | Photo credit: Press Association
In a passionate speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, new Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said of Europe’s democratic success since 1945, "It takes only a few minutes to chop down a tree, but for it to grow again, it takes decades."
He said the challenges facing Europe could only be tackled together.
His message was, "We, the older people, must not allow Europe to be stolen from the younger ones."
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Van der Bellen was addressing MEPs as part of his first official foreign trip since taking office in late January. During the speech he said, "The European idea is great. It is unique. It is worth all the effort."
He warned of the consequences of growing nationalism and populism, telling MEPs, "No single problem will be solved by violating people’s dignity, rejecting everything that is different, restricting fundamental rights, constructing new walls and nationalism. We will only create new problems."
The Austrian also stressed the value of the European project, saying, "European peace is an accomplishment of our civilisation, which we should be proud of and should not be underestimated. On the basis of this peace we can accomplish a prosperity and growth that countries acting on their own are not capable of."
Van der Bellen stressed the need to work together in order to create a better Europe. To loud applause, he said, "I believe in a Europe that with its law-based value system can continue to be an example for the whole world."
He also pointed out that he wanted to encourage pro-European forces, "It is possible to win elections while being clearly in favour of the EU."
Parliament’s new President Antonio Tajani welcomed the Austrian’s speech, saying, "Twenty years after its EU accession, Austria is at the heart of Europe, with a successful economy at the centre of the single market."
His speech was also welcomed by European Green Party co-chairs Reinhard Bütikofer and Monica Frassoni, who said he had sent a "strong pro-European signal."
In a statement, they said that by holding his first public speech abroad in the European Parliament, Van der Bellen had "clearly declared his support of the European unification as well as rejecting false contradictions: one can love their home country - and the European idea."
The pair added, "Van der Bellen's speech demonstrated the calm self-awareness and the strong self-confidence that so many other European politicians are lacking. The authoritarian populists are no match against such a plea for Europe."
EU leaders on Friday were digesting an offer from UK Prime Minister Theresa May that would allow about three million EU citizens living in the UK to stay after Brexit.
Negotiations on the UK’s departure from the EU will start on Monday, it has been confirmed.
Senior EU figures have reacted to the outcome of the UK general election, which has resulted in a hung parliament.
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