RIGA - European citizens must care not only for their respective country, for its common good, but also for the common good of the European Union, Latvian President Egils Levits said in address to the European Parliament on Tuesday.
The Latvian president indicated that the European Parliament is Europe's political heart where the diverse interests of the citizens of the European Union come together. It is where the public opinion of 450 million European citizens is formed and crystallized, Levits said, adding that Europe must use its economic, intellectual and cultural potential in such a way that all 450 million of us can shape our lives according to our values and achieve our goals.
Levits underlined in his speech at the EU parliament that a citizen of a member state is at the same time a citizen of the European Union, which means that they are first and foremost concerned with their own nation, society, culture, and language. They are the bearer and maintainer of democracy. Their political horizon first and foremost encompasses their own country.
However, for a citizen of the European Union, this is not enough. According to Levits, a citizen of the European Union is also a bearer and maintainer of the European Union’s democracy.
"We, all European citizens, but especially political decision-makers, must be able to step up from a purely national to a supranational European perspective. There is still work to be done on this common European point of view. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, Europe united. Imposed political and economic borders were gradually dismantled. But the border remains in our consciousness," the Latvian president said.
In Levits' view, the border has remained in the social memory of European society, and the European story is still largely told only as the story of Western Europe. This narrow provincialism in understanding the whole of Europe prevents us from achieving our goals because full story of Europe is one in which all European nations can recognize themselves and their historical experiences.
"Today’s Europe has no centre and no periphery. Today, Europe is created and shaped in Riga and Paris, Warsaw and Berlin, Bucharest and Brussels, Prague and Rome. In all European countries, in all European capitals. Also in Oslo, Bern, London. Also, in Kyiv," Levits said.
The Latvian president underlined the need for a common understanding of European history where there is a place for the historical experience of all European nations. It is also necessary to consolidate a common point of view from which the whole of Europe – from North to South, from East to West – can be seen. And from which the world, and Europe’s place in it, is clear, so that we can define what Europe wants to achieve globally, Levits said.
The president referred to German political philosopher Jurgen Habermas who over 20 years ago identified the lack of a common European public opinion as one of the European Union’s biggest problems. Levits believes though that since then things have somewhat improved. The common European public opinion has acquired greater significance in the minds of citizens. Crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine have also contributed to Europeans' common consciousness. This is the basis of Europe’s ability to act, Levits said.
"The European Parliament is a unique, democratically legitimized European forum. I, therefore, call on you, honorable members, to play a more active role in shaping the common European public opinion. This does not mean merely advancing national, economic or other interests in a fierce battle for compromise. In the parliamentary debates and decisions, you need to achieve a European vision that is qualitatively more advanced than just agreeing on a price," Levits told MEPs.
According to the Latvian president, solutions that are agreed upon in the EU parliament must be truly European. Such solutions must equally incorporate the national and historical experiences and equitable interests of all member states. They must synthesize them into a new quality. That is what European citizens expect from the bloc's lawmakers, Levits said.
"When thinking about European solutions, we need to be clear about our European foundations. Our shared values and our common European legal system are precisely what distinguish the European Union from all other international organizations, from all other regional platforms. Our values and legal system make Europe and our way of life attractive to others," the president emphasized.
In Levits' opinion, values such as democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental human rights are the source of strength for the European Union. The member states of the European Union are, in principle, stable, consolidated democracies. However, we face serious challenges, Levits admitted, noting that the most obvious challenge is the desire to limit the rule of law on the basis of populist arguments about the will of the people.