Ever since I was entrusted by the late Wilfried Martens to assume the position of interim President of the European People’s Party, a decision which was later confirmed by the Party after the passing away of President Martens, I have tried to build on the valuable heritage of my predecessor, while bringing to the EPP all the lessons I learnt during my previous experiences.
Coming from a large farmer family, I was active in the agricultural trade union movement. It was as a member of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development that I started my career in the European Parliament after my first election in 1999. In 2007, I was elected Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, a role I fulfilled until 2014. But the most enriching experience, from a personal as well as political point of view, remains by far the almost 20 years I served as Mayor and Deputy Mayor of my home village of Pfettisheim, in Alsace. I learnt the importance of always being close to the people and listening to them.
All of this was very useful during the campaign for the 2014 European elections, the first elections held under the new provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon, which established de facto the indirect election of the President of the European Commission by the citizens. This was something for which the EPP had been working for many years, since the Estoril Congress in October 2002, under the leadership of my predecessor Wilfried Martens. Ever since my election as EPP President, I have committed myself to respecting the resolution adopted by the Bucharest Congress in October 2012 to present to the European citizens our candidate for President of the European Commission and to campaign with him or her on the basis of our common platform.
We were criticised by the other parties because it took us time to define a procedure and select our candidate, but in the end, we were the only big political family that followed an open and democratic process by electing Jean-Claude Juncker as our common candidate during the Dublin Congress in March of 2014.
Despite having been in power in many Member States during an unprecedented economic crisis that obliged us to take unpopular but necessary measures, we won the elections. We won because we told the truth and people understood this. We certainly lost some voters, but a majority of them still recognised that ours was the only recipe out of the crises which would not just transfer the burden [of debt] to our children. This proves that when we stick to our values, people trust us. We may lose some votes in the short run, but we will get stronger in the long run.
The EPP once again has the largest Group in the European Parliament, led by Manfred Weber. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, as well as the most members of the Commission, which is the most political, high-level and experienced Commission in history, belong to our family. But being the biggest political party also implies having the biggest responsibility.
Our aim today is to work to make a difference and deliver on all the issues that matter most to the European citizens, in order to be able, in 2019, to present an irreproachable track record to the voters: immigration, in order to protect refugees while securing our external borders; stability in the Balkans, in the Southern Mediterranean and in the Eastern neighbourhood; defence and security policy, in order to take care of the security of our citizens; and of course growth and jobs, by completing the single market, deepening transatlantic relations, targeting investment and cutting red tape that stifles our SMEs.
The Party, our heads of state and government, the Group, as well as our representatives in the different EU institutions and other international organisations, are all cooperating closely in order to tackle these challenges and promote the values and principles of our political family and the values of Christian Democracy: human dignity, freedom, responsibility, equality, justice, solidarity, subsidiarity, the social market economy and a stronger and more united Europe.
We will also pursue our close cooperation with our member parties in the Balkans and in the countries of the Eastern Partnership in order to help them in their difficult task of reforming their countries along the lines of the rule of the law, the fight against corruption and the implementation of independent justice systems.
I will do my best to remain faithful to my commitment to stay close to the citizens of Europe and I will therefore always be open to all suggestions, proposals and opinions.
When we stick to our values, people trust us.