President Santer, Léiwe Jacques,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
And for many of you – dear friends,
Let me start by wishing the Academy a very happy Silver Jubilee Year.
I am delighted to be here – you are supposed to always say that you are delighted to be where you are; normally it is not true, but this time it is true. And even if I was not, I would still be here anyway because I can never turn down an invitation from my great friend and mentor, Jacques Santer, my predecessor in all his functions, including the one he has for the time being.
He and I, we are probably the only people in this room to remember the creation of the Academy 25 years ago. It was his government, in which I was a humble Finance Minister – in our days which are no longer humble, but that was the rule during that period – which pushed for a European network to train professionals and provide a forum for debate and exchange on European law. And it is the merit of Horst Langes that the Academy is located in Trier, because initially it was foreseen and planned to locate the Academy in Luxembourg, close to the European Court of Justice, but given the long friendship between President Santer and Horst Langes it was only under a death threat that we decided to bring the Academy to Trier.
As our Union has grown and evolved over the last 25 years that need for knowledge exchange has become ever greater. The European Union has changed a lot. When I was starting my European life in 1982, we had 12 Member States. And now we have 28 minus – according to Mr Trump, "minus" … But according to the reality, the leave can be limited to Britain.
That is why, given the fact that the European Union evolved over the last 25 years, the work of the Academy has been invaluable in developing, understanding and applying European Law across our Union.
I would not go as far as saying I am amongst peers this evening – because my active legal career ended almost the same day as I was sworn in to the Luxembourgish Bar; because Jacques Santer decided to take me immediately in the government, so I had no chance to deploy my legal knowledge before court. But I am among like-minded friends.
I say that because the law has always played a central part in my world view. The pursuit of justice – and in particular social justice – was the reason I got into politics in the first place. And it is still the reason I am in it today.
I have always considered the law as the best tool to defend our freedoms and to protect the most vulnerable in our societies. And I have always considered the word "law" to be synonymous with the word ''Europe''.
One of our great predecessors, Walter Hallstein, used to stress that the European Union is at its heart a Community of Law – eine Rechtsgemeinschaft. That Community is the foundation of everything we have achieved and everything we still have to do.
Whether it be protecting our workers from social dumping through the Posting of Workers Directive or protecting our citizens from illegal guns through the Firearms Directive, the law is our best tool to build the Europe that protects, the Europe that empowers and the Europe that defends our citizens.
And legal certainty – many politicians worldwide are forgetting this – is still the most important pre-condition for the investment in our economies.
But more importantly than all of that: our justice system is the guarantor of our democracy and of our fundamental rights.
And just like all of the values handed down to us by our founding fathers, we cannot take the Rule of Law for granted. We have to defend and we have to improve it. That is true today even more than it ever was.
Right across the world, we have seen populist movements wanting – and sometimes succeeding – to subvert the Rule of Law and create divisions and disharmony in our communities.
But the whole basis of our Law is that it should not be subverted by any movement, even one supported by the majority or the powerful.
That is why I see it as our duty to ensure our Law is defended and upheld. Some people say that makes judges "enemies of the people". But I believe it makes them the complete opposite.
There is something new in the European Union. In former times the general rule was that adopted rules should be implemented by all the Member States. Today, things have changed. We are adopting – on a proposal of the Commission – a law in the Council of Ministers of Interior and Member States are not implementing that law. That is the reason why I am saying that we have to defend the virtue of law.
We have acted – as the Commission – whenever we have identified a threat to the Rule of Law. And I assure you: we will continue to do so.
But my defence and passion for law does not mean that I want more of it. In fact, since I took office I focused on having better laws rather than having more laws.
As part of our drive for Better Regulation we have gone from 130 initiatives a year, down to the 21 most important initiatives relevant for our citizens. And for each and every one of those we are making sure that legislation will have an added value, rather than an added burden.
But for that approach to be effective, European Law needs to be applied thoroughly and consistently and consequently across all the Member States. And that is where the work of the Academy is so important. Whether it be judges, prosecutors, court staff, or even probation officers, we need effective cross-border training for all of our legal professionals. Your work helps to improve our collective understanding and implementation of European law and it helps build mutual trust between national legal systems.
The European Judicial Training Network, partly funded by the Commission and developed in partnership with the Academy of European Law and its national partners, is an excellent example of what can be achieved in this field.
The Commission is committed to further supporting these efforts. Our target is for 700,000 legal practitioners – that is 50% of professionals across the European Union – to participate in European judicial training activities by 2020. And I can report that thanks to funding earmarked as part of our Justice Programme for European judicial training we are firmly on track to meet that goal.
Mes chers amis, je vous souhaite pour les 25 années à venir all the best. Je voudrais que l'Académie continue son rythme de croisière, qui est impressionnant.
I would like to thank you for this evening's event. I would like to thank those who are in charge of promoting our Academy, and I wish you all the best for the next coming years. Ich wünsche Ihnen alles Gute. Maacht et gutt!