Mr. President

Dear MEPs,


Thank you, Mr President, for this wonderful initiative, which breaks the mould. To allow the heads of State and Government to debate directly with directly elected MEPs .

To bring about an exchange of ideas. Highlighting the issues and different visions to understand them. Your initiative is both useful and necessary.


Ladies and gentlemen,

60 years after the Treaty of Rome, the European Union is facing another key moment in its history. All our countries, everyone feels a paradigm shift, to a degree.

To our grandparents, the EU was a reassuring concept. After several centuries of conflict and wars, the dividend from peace and prosperity was a genuine reality appreciated by them, for what it was.

Today, in the collective imagination, Europe is associated with fear-inducing globalisation, austerity, opacity or technocracy.

In a few years, a Europe that reassures has become a Europe of crises, a Europe that brings worries. The financial crisis, economic crisis, debt crisis, migration crisis, or even Brexit... The impression is that of a Europe that suffers, which seems to have lost control of its future and its destiny.

However, the European Union's added value is real, genuine and present on a daily basis. But is it visible enough?

We are facing a fundamental crisis of faith. Faith in public institutions, including European institutions.  Also a crisis of confidence in traditional media. With the illusion of the transparency of social media and direct information, which abound with fake news and manipulations.

Nevertheless, confidence is the key to democracy. Democracy is a contract between citizens and their representatives. Universal suffrage gives politicians the legitimacy to decide and act.

Extremists from all sides are inciting fear. They spread the venom of the simplicity and caricatures, to pit peoples against one another. To get people to turn their backs on each other. Or to roll back fundamental values.


Ladies and gentlemen,

I am a committed European, but not a naïve and smug European.

Europe is doing better. The crises are under control.

Growth and investment are picking up again. Our borders are better controlled. There is progress in the fight against terror.

And more than ever, we need to go back to the original fundamental principles of the European spirit. We need to win the hearts and minds of our fellow Europeans. We need to convince them with an ideal and with results.

Peace and security, prosperity and equality, freedom and democracy...

These are not empty phrases, they are a strong and steadfast ambition. It is a promise that we have inherited. It is a promise that we must honour day after day.

That is why the time for making choices has come.  There are three simple questions on the table, which I would like to respond.


What do we want to do together?

How? With whom?


I What do we want to do together?

I want a strong Europe based on 27 solid member states! Not a Europe that is dealing with everything, always and all the time.  But a Europe that acts when it can provide real added value.

Rather than engaging in a vain battle of sovereignty between the Member States and the European Union, I choose a different path, that of political and democratic primacy in the Member States and within the European Union.

We need to break this spiral of perceived democratic powerlessness.

We must use results to demonstrate the complementary added value of the European Union’s actions and of each of our national democracies.

European, national, regional and local democracy must work together and reinforce each other.

Likewise, we must bring together the solidarity of everybody with the responsibility of everyone.


Ladies and gentlemen,

I see three requirements for giving a new impetus to our alliance. A requirement for prosperity, security and values

  1. Prosperity: Fostering prosperity and investing in economic and social development
  2. Requirement for security: Ensuring the security within our borders and encouraging peace outside of them;
  3. Requirement for European values: reaffirm and consolidate our values.


1. Requirement for prosperity

Prosperity must be fostered.

We must complete the banking union and consolidate the economic and monetary union in the euro area. We need to reduce the risks and share them more. Between and with each other.



Taxation is a national instrument. But tax competition, which is sometimes outrageous between Member States, is an obstacle to making the euro area more attractive as a whole. How can I explain to my grocer that he pays a higher tax rate than an online giant that generates billions of turnover on European soil?

We have to continue to work together on tackling tax evasion and move towards a gradual harmonisation of the corporate tax base.

Belgium supports the principles proposed by the European Commission on GAFA. We are also following the work the OECD is doing in this respect.


(Digital agenda)

The Digital Agenda and artificial intelligence are opportunities for our continent. Everything is on the table. Let us decide as quickly as possible, unlocking the potential for employment and growth.


(Climate-energy transition)

Global warming is now a certainty. We only have one planet. The Paris agreements must be implemented. Here too, the energy transition is an opportunity for innovation and for the transformation of our economic model.



As a liberal, I obviously support free trade. Since time immemorial, it has supported harmony between peoples and has brought economic and social progress.

Free trade is virtuous, provided the relation between the parties is fair. Reciprocity on the basis of strict social and environmental standards must be our goal.

With this in mind, I personally have fought in my country to have CETA signed. It is in the same spirit that I am defending the concerns of our farmers regarding Mercosur. Our farmers must not become an adjustable variable.


(Investment Pact)

Healthy public finances, additional investments, jobs and purchasing power. That's the virtuous equation. Jean-Claude Juncker's initiative to relaunch investments is essential. I have also made sure my country joins this dynamic, with a National Pact for Strategic Investments (€ 60 billion by 2030).

Economic and social development go hand in hand. Europe’s base of social rights is a step forward. We welcome efforts encouraging convergence in the area of social standards and strengthening cooperation between Member States (European Employment Authority).


2. Second requirement: security

Ensuring security means guaranteeing the real freedom of every citizen.

Ensuring security means defending our values of democracy and the rule of law.

Ensuring security is our common responsibility.

We must develop an autonomous and credible response to any form of threat, as soon as possible.

Together, we have already begun to secure our external borders. And we have to go further.

Our security services are cooperating better in combating terrorism. But more remains to be done.

Belgium wants to be a loyal partner within NATO and within the European Union. 

We want a real European defence force within NATO (in line with the Warsaw Declaration).

The CFSP and the European Defence Fund are the right instruments for progress.

Our operational capability must serve our values and interests at the international level.

Belgium believes in multilateralism, but multilateralism is under threat. Standards and rules of international good conduct are less respected. Collective action is declining.

Now more than ever we have to think and act globally.

We need to develop a neighbourhood strategy.

We need to better prevent regional conflicts and anticipate their potential consequences.

Sahel, Libya, Syria.... so many major conflicts which seriously impact our future.  We need to develop a stronger geopolitical ambition, to promote our values and defend our interests in the short, medium and long term.

It is also in this spirit that we must change our development policy, particularly with regard to the countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, at the renewal of the Cotonou agreements.

It is in this spirit that we must leverage our relationships with the countries of the Western Balkans, within the framework of the Sofia Summit.

It is in this spirit that we must reconsider our role in the many conflicts that devastate the Middle East.

It is in this spirit, finally, that we must defend our commercial interests on the basis of the multilateral and WTO agreements vis-à-vis our partners in the US, China, India and Latin America.

I have a conviction.

In this changing world, in which no one can unilaterally impose its point of view, the European Union has a role to play.

We can be the driving force behind a renewed multilateralism.

We are the motor behind meeting the great challenges of humanity: peace and security, development, climate change,...



Ladies and gentlemen,

Migratory movements are an integral part of human history. We should not fear them. We should understand them.

For a long time, Belgium has been implementing a migration policy that combines humanity and firmness.

We combat illegal migration. It feeds into criminal networks and leads to human tragedies that have no place in our modern times.

But should we not also develop a system of legal and organised migration? We cannot avoid this debate much longer.

And in the short term, regarding the Dublin reform, we must continue our efforts to combine responsibility and solidarity.


Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. The third requirement is that of European values.

From the outset, the European Union has been based on common values that transcend our differences and identities.

A history consisting of moments of glory and of tragic suffering.

Intellectual, spiritual and philosophical histories.

Scholars, thinkers, statesmen, revolutions too... Voltaire and Montesquieu, enlightenment... it is these ingredients that have spawned liberties, democracy and the rule of law.

The European Convention on Human Rights confirms the dignity of each individual. It is a light that we must cherish and amplify.

More than 70 years ago (in 1946), Churchill spoke as follows about the failure of the League of Nations (predecessor of the United Nations): “The League of Nations did not fail because of its principles or conceptions. It failed because these principles were deserted by those States which brought it into being.”

We are committed to democracy and the rule of law at all costs. For this reason, Belgium proposes setting up a peer review mechanism on the rule of law.

Specifically, the 27 countries would submit themselves to regular scrutiny by the other Member States. This scrutiny will help to develop best practices and address deficiencies, in a collegial way.  It would be a way for each Member State to look at itself in the mirror.


Ladies and gentlemen,

We reject all forms of ignorance. We want an open society, based on knowledge.

That is why we promote a European culture that respects our different identities and diversity.

We need more exchanges and move beyond university cooperation. Erasmus needs to be expanded and extended, for example to artists or to the apprenticeship of trades.


(European Budget)

 Negotiations of the next Financial Perspective will be the opportunity to make choices and define our priorities. We need to consolidate and modernize common policies, cohesion and support for agricultural policy. We must also develop new policies: security, innovation or the digital economy, for example. 

Above all, we will have to be smarter in our spending.

The same rigour should be applied to the European budget as is applied by the Commission when it examines our national budgets.

Belgium will not accept any additional efforts that would jeopardize our economic incentive measures.

This proposal is a point of departure. We will analyse the proposals in detail. There is no doubt that the negotiations will be hard and intense.

This brings me to the second question. For any enterprise to be successful, it requires a solid approach.


II How and with whom?

A revision of the Treaties is not necessary, in the short or medium term. It would even be counterproductive.

We need to focus all our energy on meeting the requirements I just mentioned. 

The Treaties provide for sufficient flexibility to make our actions more effective.

In all of our member states we are faced with economic, social and political realities, which are sometimes very different.

The deepening of the euro area or the question of migration have sometimes brought home this reality all too clearly.

I believe in the virtues of speaking frankly and of negotiation. We must avoid unspoken thoughts or taboos. A better understanding between ourselves is indispensable to arrive at widely supported decisions.

We as 27 have to move together. Our strength lies in our unity. But not unity at the price of a standstill. Because standing still inevitably leads to moving backward.

I was among the first to argue for a Europe at multiple speeds. Not to divide, but rather to speed up our decisions.

Major advances have often been the fruit of an avant-garde: The euro area, common market, Schengen... A multi-speed Europe is not a Europe of multiple tiers.

When you are a member of the club, you get the benefits, but you also assume responsibility and restrictions.

Allow those who want to do so, to decide and move forward!

Without forcing those who do not want this or who need more time.

And I regret the hypocrisy of those who systematically turn the EU into a scapegoat without having the courage to underscore its advances.

We also have to mobilize our fellow citizens. Avoiding debates in silos.

We have to be open to real life. Young generations must be at the heart of our concerns. Young people are our hope and our strength. Their vitality, their impertinence and their creativity must be encouraged.

I hope they will take their place in the Citizens' Conventions Initiative.



Ladies and gentlemen,

In conclusion, the European Union represents a unique project in the history of mankind.

It is not perfect and will never be complete. It is mostly a promise for a better world.

A better world that is based on requirements. The requirement of prosperity, security and fundamental values.

Putting our public finances in order, engaging in economic and social reforms, taking measures to promote security and peace are a continuous battle in the interest of the European ideal, to serve the citizens of Europe.

We need to push a culture focused on results, to roll back the technocracy.

We must above all unleash the exceptional potential of our continent.

The innovation of our researchers, the creativity of our entrepreneurs, the dynamism of our start-ups, or the enthusiasm of our universities..., these are formidable weapons that can serve an optimistic and future-oriented project.


Ladies and gentlemen,

60 years ago, visionary statesmen (the Founding fathers, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman...) decided to set the first stones of a project of reconciliation, peace and prosperity.

This required courage, optimism and faith.

Later, building on the ruins of the Berlin wall, the generation led by Helmut Kohl, François Mitterrand and Jacques Delors decided to forge a strong alliance. They laid the groundwork for the euro area, opened up the Schengen area, with tangible progress for our fellow citizens.

This required courage, optimism and faith.

Our political generation and our citizens’ generation now hold the future of the European dream in their hands.

After the founding fathers, after the generation of builders, it is up to us to take on our common destiny.

It is up to us to give a new impetus, an impulse.

It is up to us now to make this promise work.

This ideal is based on intangible values that we cherish: the dignity of every human being, their liberties and their responsibility.

Now we have to show courage, optimism and faith.

Thank you.