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European Commission

Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner

The 2014 European elections: What will you vote for?

EPP Senior Citizens' Union Congress, Committee of the Regions/Brussels

7 November 2013

Main Messages

  1. "Your Union was born on 7 November 1995, making today your 18th birthday - old enough to vote in next year’s European elections!"

  2. "Europe is what we make it. And Europe is what it is today because of the efforts of your generation."

  3. "Our next challenge will be to pass on the torch. To pass this precious heritage onto the next generation."

  4. "It’s great that seniors are so engaged! But we can’t afford another “grey election day” next year where seniors turn out to vote and the young stay at home!"

  5. "Today, I'm not just asking you to go out and vote. I'm asking that whenever you meet a young person in the next five months, talk to them about why they should vote too. For this message, there is no audience too big and no conversation too small."

  6. "Europe has always faced challenges and it has always come out stronger. In the words of the late Wilfried Martens: Luctor et emergo. I struggle and I overcome."

Full Speech

Introduction

Ladies and Gentleman,

It is a pleasure to be here today with the European Senior Citizens’ Union.

Your Union was born on 7 November 1995, making today your 18th birthday - old enough to vote in next year’s European elections!

You have achieved things most 18 year olds could only dream of. You have brought together more than a million members, making you the biggest political body representing senior citizens.

And since 1995, you have given senior citizens a real voice on the issues that matter, such as the economy, growth and solidarity between generations.

So firstly, I would like to say a few words about you.

Secondly, I would like to ask you to do something.

And thirdly, I would like to present you with a choice.

1. You built the Europe of today

Let me begin with a few words about you.

Your generation built the Europe that we all live in today:

  1. A Europe which emerged from the shadow of a devastating war.

  2. A Europe which lived through a global confrontation.

  3. And a Europe which today – for the first time in its history – is peaceful, democratic and united.

But for many young people today, this Europe of peace, democracy and unity is the only one they have ever known.

For most of them, war is something they read about in history books. Tyranny is something that exists “out there”, beyond Europe's borders. In a Europe of free speech, free movement and online communication, the idea of a divided continent seems impossible. Let us never forget just how precious this Europe is.

In many ways Europe has become the victim of its own success. The temptation today is for young people to take Europe’s achievements for granted. To suppose that peace, democracy and unity are the way it always has been and always will be.

This is not necessarily the case. Such colossal achievements as peace, democracy and unity do not just "happen" overnight. They need to be nurtured and defended.

Europe is what we make it. And Europe is what it is today because of the efforts of your generation:

  1. The efforts of people like Helmut Kohl – who helped to unite Germany after the fall of the Iron Curtain and, in doing so, healed the wounds of our divided continent.

  2. The efforts of people like the late Wilfried Martens – the co-founder of our European People's Party. He, too, brought people together, both here in his native Belgium and in Europe as a whole. The title of his memoires - Europe: I struggle and I overcome – sums up the unwavering spirit of his generation: to build a better future for all.

  3. The efforts of people like President Dr Bernhard Worms who has led the EPP Senior Citizens' Union for over a decade with such distinction. I am sure you would like to join me in thanking him for all he has done for your organisation and for Europe.

  4. And the efforts of engaged citizens, like the many members of your Union – some of whom are here today.

You are the true architects. You built the Europe we know today. And I thank you all for that.

2. Passing the torch to the next generation

Yet Europe belongs to no single generation. In the future, there will be many more congresses like the one here today. Many more Commissioners will come and go, but our European project will remain.

And this brings me to my second point.

Our next challenge will be to pass on the torch: To pass this precious heritage on to the next generation. To help young people see the EU as "their" European project.

In exactly 200 days' time, Europe will be waking up the day after the European Parliament elections. Yet if past elections are anything to go by, first time voters would rather stay in than speak out on Europe's future:

  1. In the 2009 European elections, the turnout for over 55 year olds was almost twice as high as the turnout for first time voters.

  2. And voter turnout in national elections for over 55 year olds was well over double the turnout for first time voters.

It is great to see that seniors are so engaged! But we should not accept another “grey election day” next year where seniors turn out to vote and the young stay at home!

Today, I am not just asking you to go out and vote. I am asking that whenever you meet and talk to a young person in the next five months, talk to them about why they should vote too.

For this message there is no audience too big and no conversation too small.

Whenever you see a first time voter – at the dinner table, at the bus stop or in your neighbourhood – explain to them why Europe is important and why it must continue to be so.

Explain to them how a united Europe has changed your life and how it can change theirs.

Explain to them that their vote means a say on issues that matter to them – from funding their ERASMUS studies abroad, to breaking down borders through Schengen, to protecting the quality of their food by keeping "Frankenstein foods" off of the table and the ensuring safety of plane, rail or car travel.

And explain to them that their vote determines the extent to which we can protect their personal online data from being abused by large corporations overseas.

This is the one thing I would ask you to do. To inspire not just the next generation of European voters, but the next generation of European leaders! So that, one day, they too will pass on the message about Europe to their children and grandchildren. As an old Chinese proverb goes: “if you want happiness for a lifetime – help the next generation”.

I hope that the youth of the parties can also hear this message well – and I count on Konstantinos Kyranakis – to pass it on to the members of Youth EPP (YEPP).

3. European elections as "choice"

This brings me to my third point.

The elections next year are about many things. But above all, 2014 will be the year that Europe makes a choice.

2014 will be the year that people across our continent – including of all you here today – choose what kind of Europe they want to live in:

  1. A Europe of nation states or a Europe of citizens?

  2. A one-speed Europe or a two-speed Europe?

  3. A Europe based on values or a Europe based on interests?

For each of these questions, I myself and we in the European People's Party have our own positions, our own answers. But an election is about letting people make their own choice. It is about letting people find their own answers.

Yet, for many young people, the first question they ask themselves is not "What choice will I make?" but "Will I make a choice at all?" or even "What's the point?"

According to a recent survey, only 4 out of 10 young people think their voice counts in the EU.

And what is the result? Fewer than 1 in 3 people young people voted in the last European elections in 2009.

We need to change this. We need to show people that their voice matters. And their choice matters.

How can we do this?

  1. Through a European debate before Election Day. Discussing the options so people can make up their own mind.

  2. And through a European election on the day itself. So that, once they have made up their mind, people can cast their vote easily.

Let me explain what I mean by this.

Firstly, a European debate. During this year of 2013, the European Year of Citizens, the Commission has been holding "citizens' dialogues" in town halls across Europe, bringing together Commissioners, Members of the European Parliament and citizens.

In doing so, we are listening to the concerns of local families and communities – and we’re sending out a message that Europe is for people, not politicians.

So far we have held 35 of these Dialogues across Europe, bringing the debate to citizens. These will continue into 2014, all the way up until the European elections in May.

And I would just like to share with you something which I have noticed at these Dialogues. Often it is the seniors who are the first to stand up and make their voice heard. I would like to continue this trend and invite all of you here today to get involved in the debate.

Today, Commissioner Borg will take part in a Dialogue with the citizens of Valetta on the island of Malta. In exactly one week today, I will be discussing Europe's future with French citizens in Marseille. The dialogues will then be heading to Vilnius, Copenhagen, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona and many, many more leading all the way up to election day.

And secondly, we are making it easier for people to cast their vote through a truly European election.

In a democracy, people make their choice by choosing one of many political parties. At the Commission, we are recommending that national political parties make this choice clearer to citizens by placing their European party alongside the national one on ballot papers.

This means that when a German citizen goes to vote, they would see that the CDU is a member of the European People's Party. But obviously this is not just about the EPP.

It is about showing people that their choice is also a European choice.

That their choice will determine who sits in the European Parliament, voting on areas of European competence, ending in real results for European citizens. This is what European elections are really about.

But it is also about showing people that their vote affects not just their fellow countrymen, but every one of Europe’s 500 million citizens.

Conclusion

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, we live in the Europe you built.

We live in a Europe of peace, democracy and unity – three achievements which must never be undone.

But challenges still remain. Our journey is not over.

We need young people to take over this precious heritage. To ensure that Europe remains a peaceful, democratic and united place for our children and grandchildren.

And we need your help to do this:

  1. By making your choice in the European elections next year.

  2. By convincing young people that their choice matters - that their vote matters too!

  3. And by getting involved in the citizens’ dialogues taking place all around Europe.

With just 200 days left to go, this is no easy task. But I believe that it can be done and I believe in your ability to make it happen!

Why do I say this? Because Europe has always faced challenges and it has always come out stronger.

In the words of the late Wilfried Martens: Luctor et emergo.

I struggle and I overcome.

Thank you.


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