Martin Schulz calls on EU to regain trust of its people

European Parliament head criticises EU ahead of awarding of prize to Pope Francis

Pope Francis: will receive the Charlemagne Prize at a ceremony in the Vatican on Friday. Photograph:  Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis: will receive the Charlemagne Prize at a ceremony in the Vatican on Friday. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images


The European Union has failed to fulfil its founding promise of better economic security, conditions and opportunities for its citizens, the president of the European Parliament has said, as he called on the EU to regain the trust of its people.

Speaking during a debate on the state of the EU in Rome ahead of the awarding of the Charlemagne Prize to Pope Francis on Friday, European Parliament president Martin Schulz said that many citizens throughout Europe had lost belief in the European project.

“People are now paying higher taxes, less salary – for what? To save banks . . . their children are unemployed, that is the bitter reality in some countries of the European Union,” he said.

“The European Union was a promise of more opportunity, more chances, but the promise has not been kept.”

Speaking alongside European Council president Donald Tusk and the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in the room where the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, Mr Schulz said that his generation had grown up with the promise of “more” from the EU – “more salary, more chances for our children more equality, more freedom, more services of the state.”

Now, he said, a feeling of injustice existed, with citizens being asked to bail out banks, while billionaire speculators avoid paying their fair share of tax. “Regaining the feeling of justice . . . is key to regaining trust in the European Union,” he said.

Praising the political journey made by the EU in incorporating countries from eastern Europe after the collapse of communism, Mr Schulz paid tribute to Mr Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who spent time in prison after challenging the communist regime in his country.

“I am very grateful that two of the presidents of EU institutions can sit today with an eastern [colleague] who was a prime minister of a democratic country of the European Council. This is a wonderful achievement.”

Addressing attendees at the event in the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi called on the EU to balance its demands for balanced budgets and fiscal discipline from member states with an emphasis on investment and growth.

Mr Renzi, a long-time critic of the commission’s emphasis on fiscal austerity, said that the concept of growth was also included in the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact. “In Europe if only a few [countries] are growing, then that’s a sign that something is wrong.”

He also called on the EU to show leadership on the migration crisis, warning that Africa could become the next focus point of the refugee crisis.

First awarded in 1950, the Charlemagne Prize honours those who are deemed to have made an exceptional contribution to European unity and co-operation.

Pope Francis will receive the accolade at a ceremony in the Vatican on Friday. Previous recipients include former US president Bill Clinton, former British prime minister Tony Blair, former US secretary of state state Henry Kissinger and current German chancellor Angela Merkel and finance minister Wolfgang Schauble.

Former European Parliament president Pat Cox, who oversaw the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 member states while president of the parliament, became the first Irish recipient of the prize in 2004.

The prize is named after Charlemagne, the 8th-century king and first Holy Roman Emperor who is credited with unifying western Europe in the early middle ages. All three current presidents of the European institutions – Mr Juncker, Mr Schulz and Mr Tusk – are previous recipients of the prize.