Written by Ralf Drachenberg.

‘This is Europe’ – an initiative proposed by the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola – consists of a series of debates with EU leaders to discuss their visions for the future of the European Union. EU unity was a central theme in the address of the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, to the European Parliament on 7 February 2024. Iohannis also emphasised the EU’s values and model of democracy, pointing to the European elections as a key moment in the continent’s democratic process. For the Romanian President, the EU must assume a leading global role in maintaining the international order, as a precondition for preserving our way of life and the EU’s values. In that context, he sees the strengthening of the EU’s internal resilience as a fundamental condition for a stronger Union and for its increased geopolitical role. Iohannis stressed the benefits of EU membership whilst outlining how enlargement makes the EU more attractive. Finally, he emphasised the need to streamline the EU’s decision-making capacity and – without excluding changes to the Treaties eventually – to use all available possibilities under the existing Treaties to smooth decision-making.

Defending democracy, territorial integrity and sovereignty, as well as the rules-based international order cannot be subject to any ‘fatigue’.

Klaus Iohannis

Background

Roberta Metsola launched the ‘This is Europe’ initiative shortly after her election as President of the European Parliament in January 2022. Klaus Iohannis is the 12th EU leader to have addressed the Parliament since its Conference of Presidents endorsed the initiative on 28 April 2022.[1] These debates will continue during subsequent sessions. A similar Parliament initiative, ahead of the 2019 European elections, saw 20 EU leaders speak in Parliament’s plenary sessions about their views on the future of Europe. Iohannis, who is currently the third-longest-serving member of the European Council, also took part in that series. A 2019 EPRS analysis of the future of Europe debates pinpointed the similarities and differences in EU leaders’ views.

The ‘This is Europe’ initiative is particularly relevant in the context of the follow-up to the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), and the preparations for the Strategic Agenda 2024-2029. The CoFoE produced 49 proposals on the EU’s future policies and functioning (see the EPRS overview), including more than 300 measures by which they might be achieved. Research by EPRS has shown that there is significant convergence between the results of the CoFoE and the priorities of the European Council, as expressed in the latter’s Strategic Agenda 2019‑2024 and its conclusions.

Time devoted by Klaus Iohannis to various topics in his speech
Figure 1 – Time devoted by Klaus Iohannis to various topics in his speech

The ‘This is Europe’ initiative is particularly relevant in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), and the preparations for the Strategic Agenda 2024-2029.

The CoFoE produced 49 proposals on the EU’s future policies and functioning (see the EPRS overview), including more than 300 measures by which they might be achieved. Research by EPRS has shown that there is significant convergence between the results of the CoFoE and the priorities of the European Council, as expressed in the latter’s Strategic Agenda 2019‑2024 and its conclusions over the past three years. The European Council, on the initiative of its President, Charles Michel, has started the reflection process on the priorities for the next institutional cycle, which will lead to the Strategic Agenda 2024-2029. The first step in the reflection process was a discussion at the informal European Council meeting in Granada on 5-6 October 2023, on the basis of general questions formulated by Charles Michel. The next step involves a series of consecutive group meetings with a small number of EU leaders representing a mix of geographical regions in the EU, political party affiliations and diversity of opinion. Three meetings have taking place to date: on 13 November in Berlin, 14 November in Copenhagen and 16 November in Zagreb. Another meeting is expected to take place in Paris at the end of November.

Main focus of Klaus Iohannis’s speech

Iohannis covered a number of topics in his speech to Parliament (see Figure 1), devoting most attention to i) EU unity, ii) EU values and democracy, iii) EU resilience, and iv) public trust in institutions.

EU unity

Iohannis argued that the EU’s unity had been repeatedly tested and had not faltered, underlining that this had been a strategic advantage in recent crises. He stressed the need to ‘maintain the Union on the path of success, staying true to our vision of a united and stronger Europe’.

EU values and democracy

He reiterated his strong commitment to the EU values, notably unity, solidarity, cohesion, and the rule of law, as stated for example in the May 2019 Sibiu declaration (see EPRS analysis). He declared he would remain deeply faithful to these values and principles in his future endeavours

EU resilience

The Romanian President outlined that strengthening the EU’s resilience was a fundamental condition for a stronger Union and for its increased geopolitical role. This broad priority includes different policy areas, notably responding to hybrid threats, developing technology, such as artificial intelligence, fighting climate change, stimulating competitiveness through industrial production, and sustainable supply chains.

Public trust in institutions

He warned of a crisis of public trust in our institutions, and of rising euroscepticism, which offers wrong and dangerous solutions to Europe’s challenges. He therefore emphasised that it was everyone’s common duty ‘to be honest in our communication with the European citizens’.

Specific proposals and positions

President Iohannis used the opportunity to present his views on how the European Union should advance in specific areas, summarised below.

Policy issue Priority action and proposals (quotes)

Public trust in institutions

‘We need to do more to promote the feeling – and the certainty – that we are all part of the same community of values, which must be protected by every single one of us.’
EU’s global role ‘The European Union must assume a leading global role in preserving the international order, as a precondition for preserving our way of life and our values.’
Security and defence ‘While working in full complementarity with NATO, it is indeed high time to deliver on our European ambitions when it comes to our defence industry.’
Enlargement ‘Enlargement is an essential part of our strategic answer to the geopolitical developments and a key investment in lasting peace, stability, and democracy in our neighbourhood.’
Table 1 – Specific proposals made by Klaus Iohannis, by policy area

Comparison with Iohannis’s 2018 Future of Europe speech

When Klaus Iohannis spoke before the Parliament over 5 years ago, on 23 October 2018 as part of the Future of Europe debates, EU unity was also the central point of focus in his vision for Europe. Back then, he emphasised i) the EU’s global role, ii) security, and ii) defence. When comparing the two speeches, there is a lot of consistency in the focus points, although new EU priorities, also addressed in the later speech, have emerged since the earlier speech as a result of recent crises.


Read this ‘at a glance’ note on ‘‘This is Europe’ debate in the European Parliament: Speech by Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania, 7 February 2024‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.