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ACP | Address by President Barroso at the Opening of the Milan General Assembly

Address by President Barroso at the Opening of the Milan General Assembly 

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European Commission - SPEECH/13/1043   09/12/2013

European Commission

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Address by President Barroso at the Opening of the Milan General Assembly

New Narrative for Europe/Milan

9 December 2013

Presidente Letta,

Prime Minister Bratušek,

Senatore Monti,

President of ISPI

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

Let me start by thanking Prime Minister Enrico Letta. When I spoke to him some time ago, some months ago, suggesting that the second General Assembly of this New Narrative for Europe could be organised here in Milan, immediately he embraced this idea and he promised me his full support. I want to thank you very sincerely Enrico also for your inspiring words today. I know they are extremely sincere and they show your commitment and, I would even say, your passion for Europe. And I know that in Italy, here in Milano, and in Italy, we can feel this spirit. And I know that you are going to keep this line.

My words of appreciation also go to Prime Minister Bratušek. In fact you represent that new Europe that now unites us. In fact even if I am a man - I think I don't have to apologise for that - I am one of those who believe that women have brought so much to our Union. And probably it is good to remind, in fact we discussed this last night, that in the very founding charter of the European community, the Treaty of Rome, it was already recognised in the fifties, that men and women are equal in rights. And this was important also for the shaping of our policies, even if you believe that something has still to be done on that matter.

It is a personal pleasure for me to have the opportunity to be with such a distinguished audience in such a vibrant city, a cradle of culture, creativity and innovation, as Milan is.

I would like to congratulate ISPI for its 80th anniversary and also for its European vocation. And also I believe it was difficult to find a better place than Milano, because, as the President of the Italian government just said, Milano has now a destiny to be our capital and I will be happy after this meeting together with Prime Minister Letta and the other authorities to witness the signing of the European Union, the European Commission contribution to that very important European and global exhibition here in Milano in 2015.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At our previous General Assembly in Warsaw we discussed how Europe's cultural heritage and academic disciplines – our European soft power – can contribute to respond to the crisis and develop a new notion of European citizenship and how men and women of culture can inspire young people.

I think we all know that the word Europe comes from the goddess Europe, Europa. And one of the questions we should raise today is how can we make today's Europe as attractive for the Europeans as Europa was for Zeus.

After all Europa is the central character of Antonio Salieri's Europa Riconosciuta that was first performed for the original inauguration of La Scala in 1778; and also a few centuries later was chosen for its reopening in December 2004 after a 3-year major refurbishment. So how can we recognise Europe today? This is indeed a point; a point that was already mentioned in the very eloquent intervention of Enrico Letta.

We have also this morning heard two excellent keynote speeches by Professor Jean-Marc Ferry and Professor Elena Cattaneo with a lot of food for thought. I really want to thank you. Because from two different perspectives, namely philosophy and culture, and including political science, on one hand, to science, research, neuroscience on the other, we understood better where Europe is and where Europe may be going. Those statements vividly illustrate how much insights from thinkers, from scholars, scientists, artists can help us navigate in this transformative moment. Because indeed I believe we are in the midst of a turning point, a very important challenge for Europe that has to do of course with globalisation.

We are at the turning point and all turning points in history: our fraught with uncertainty and anxiety, angst. This in Europe is now reinforced, of course, by the social problems that we have in so many of our countries, namely the tragedy of unemployment, specifically youth unemployment. Europe has been seriously hit by a financial, economic and social crisis, which became indeed a crisis of confidence. If you want to be honest, it is not just about Europe, it is about leadership in general. It is the way people look at the European institutions, certainly, but also look at national governments, look at national politicians, look at some elites, including by the way, the financial elite, because people have lost confidence in the so-called elites. And this is why it is important more than ever, to listen to people, as we have discussed today. We are asking people to contribute. We are asking, as Olafur Eliasson put it yesterday, we are asking an effort. An effort of people to contribute. And we should also make the effort of listening. Listening to citizens (as we have been doing all over this year with the European year of citizenship), but listening also to men and women of culture, to men and women of science. First of all because of a very pragmatic reason: it is that they have more credibility than politicians today. Because our publics in general are very much disappointed when they see that politicians, be it at national or European level, are indeed in difficulties to find convincing responses. So we need our friends from the cultural and scientific fields to come to discuss with us. Not because culture or science are an instrument, but because they can illuminate us in this very important and challenging moment You know, and I have said it already in Warsaw, that for me, culture or science are not instruments for some kind of objective; of course, they can help our sustainable- growth, certainly. But culture and science are ends in themselves, in the sense that they are the best ways we have to fulfil our dreams, for the improvement of persons. - Apart from, let's say, the more intimate aspects of our lives, what has to do with spirituality, or with friendship or love;- in the public sphere, it is from knowledge and art, culture and science, that men and women can fulfil their dreams. And this is why it is so important also for our European project.

When having the honour of receiving on behalf of the European Union the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo last year, I underlined precisely the value of culture and science. Because, I believe, the European project is a project that puts at its heart the human being. And we have also discussed this last evening. European Union is not an end in itself. The European Union is a great project but the project that helps us, as human beings, being able to realise our potential, the emancipation of men and women, this is our goal. At the core of the European vision is the human dignity of every human being: a man, a woman or a child. And this is why, I think it is important to reinforce that attention to every human being because we know by experience also in our continent that all the ideologies, or the parties, or dictators that put at the end as an objective in itself, a party or the state, they created totalitarianism; while those who have put at the centre every human being they created democracy, pluralism and societies about which we can basically be proud. Certainly, we have difficulties and we know about the difficulties but I believe we should be proud of what we have achieved as European countries.

And following the challenges of Enrico Letta, where we were before, let me now go a little bit more far away. Next year we are going to commemorate the beginning of the First World War; in fact, the first big first civilian European war. It started in Sarajevo, in the Balkans, not far from here. I think we should remember that time. Afterwards we had the Second World War, where probably the worst events in human history, like the Shoah, took place.

And then we got the European Union of six. Six founding fathers, including Italy, the Treaty of Rome and then nine, 10, 12, I remember well when we were 12 because it was when my country joined the European Community and I was member of the government then.

And afterwards we were able to realise the reunification of our continent. Basically, it's done. So, how can we be pessimistic about Europe when we think that for instance in the 70s the South of Europe, like my country, or Spain or Greece, were under dictatorships, or in the beginning of the 80s, Central and Eastern Europe was under communist totalitarianism and some countries were indeed part of the Soviet Union, like the three Baltic countries. Now they are free and united in peace, sharing basically the same values.

So, I think that Europe today, and I want to give you my testimony, is much better than Europe 20, 30, 50 or 60 years ago. Of course, if you think only about a small Europe some people may have doubts, but if you think as Europeans as a big family, I think there should be no doubts. Europe today is stronger than before. Europe counts more in the world than before, but we have to see what is the next stage. Yes, what can fuel the European dream? I think if the Europeans have not yet discovered or understood, they will understand and discover because of globalisation. Because globalisation, and then I join what Jean-Marc Ferry said, can be seen as a great opportunity or as a great problem. I also tend to see it as basically a great opportunity. Whether we like it or not, globalisation will happen, unless there is a catastrophe. Why will it happen? Because globalisation is not controlled by politicians or by governments. Globalisation today is basically driven by science and technology.

And so, we have to prepare for it and the question is what message we convey to our citizens? What message do we convey to our young people? That they should hide? That they should just resist? Or that they should embrace the opportunities of globalisation, namely the great opportunities of science as highlighted in the brilliant intervention of Professor Cattaneo? I believe it is like that. But it's critically important, as Enrico Letta mentioned, to have the dimension to count in the world. Because Europe alone can give also our countries, a country like Italy, smaller countries or big countries even, the necessary leverage to count at the global level. This is quite obvious. And to count for what? To count to defend our interests certainly but also to promote our values. This is important: the values of Europe, of peace, of freedom and justice. The values that are in the Treaty of Rome and, today, in the Treaty of Lisbon.

The social market economy that is important for us. I think we should be proud that we have open economies, but economies that have a commitment to social justice and also that care about the future of our planet.

We can be setting the standard for a much better world order. Yes, following also the comments of Professor Jean-Marc Ferry, yes, Europe by its own definition, is a cosmopolitan order. We are open to the world. We are not creating an identity against other identities, a counter-identity, the identities of chauvinistic people. We are creating an identity that is open to others and able to promote, precisely, these values. And this is the goal of the New Narrative of Europe: to shape globalisation with our values and be confident about values. And I am saying that because today I feel very often this pessimism, this negativism, the déclinisme that is so fashionable today.

And I think we should remind today; today myself and Enrico Letta we are going to travel to Johannesburg, so that tomorrow we can pay tribute to one of the greatest figures of our time indeed of any times, Nelson Mandela and he said:"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." Such inspirational words. And I think there could not be a better place than Italy, because of the Renaissance, to remind us that Europe is faith in progress and faith in human beings. This is a great message of the European humanism.

My appeal to all the intellectuals, to all men and women of culture, to all citizens, is not to give up to this defeatism, is to have the courage to fight the negative forces because yes, the populist forces, the extremist forces are negative forces that are today under a theme that is very often an anti-European theme, making the revival of the all demons of Europe, like extreme nationalism, like xenophobia, sometimes racism – these are negative values.

It is important, in face of these challenges - instead of keeping ourselves in the comfort zone, namely the so called establishment parties - to have the courage to go out and fight, not to give up to those arguments, to explain with reasonable and rational arguments - sometimes for some of us with emotion - why we care about Europe, why Europe is something we must cherish precisely to defend these values.

And if sometimes in Europe some of us have doubts about how important these values are, just look at Ukraine. Those young people in the streets of Ukraine, with freezing temperatures, are writing the new narrative for Europe.

When we see in the cold streets of Kiev, men and women with the European flag, fighting for that European flag, it is because they are also fighting for Ukraine and for their future. Because they know that Europe is not just the land of opportunity in terms of economic development, because they have seen what happened in Poland or what happened in the Baltic countries, but also because Europe is the promise of hope and freedom. And I think the European Union has the right and the duty to stand by the people of Ukraine in this very difficult moment, because they are giving to Europe one of the greatest contributions that can be given.

Just yesterday I had a phone call – another one - with President Yanukovych. I asked him to show restraint in the face of these recent developments, to not use force against the people that are demonstrating peacefully, to respect fully the freedoms that are so important for all of us in Europe. I have asked him to receive the High Representative / Vice-President of the Commission Cathy Ashton who will be in Kiev already tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, so she can also have a role in trying to bring some solutions to the very tense situation that Ukraine is living today. And I hope that the European forces will show their commitment to our common project. Because it is not true that is it just in the Western part of Ukraine. No, most of the Ukrainians care about a future in peace and freedom. And I think we have this duty to recognise them today.

Because precisely, our history is a history of openness. I said it also when we were discussing about the world that knows hunger, knows so many difficulties. Just now, thanks to the European Union support, we are providing humanitarian assistance for the people in the Central African Republic. The European Union, in spite of all difficulties, is the biggest donor of development aid. I think this is something we also should be proud of, namely our young people, that Europe is not just looking inwards, but also looking outwards. That we keep this cosmopolitan objective, precisely because, as Jean Monnet, probably the biggest genius of the European integration said - I am now quoting, by memory, the last words of his Memoirs: "La communauté d'aujourd'hui n'est qu'une étape vers l'organisation de la communauté internationale de demain". So, the European community of today is just a step for the organisation of the world community of tomorrow. That was the final message in the Memoirs of Jean Monnet. I think it cannot be clearer that cosmopolitan vision that we are aspiring to.

I think this is very important to remind us today, when we see so many voices calling for chauvinistic, ultra-nationalistic, protectionist or sometimes even xenophobic attitudes. So I am looking forward to the ideas that you can bring in this New Narrative that can inspire our citizens.

I would like once again to thank the Cultural committee and all those who have given a great part of the efforts to building this New Narrative. I think it is a proof of modesty and humility to put some of these ideas in paper, not only the individual contributions like the bright contributions that we have heard today, but to try to have a declaration, in the spring, that could be a way of filling the debate in Europe.

One of my masters, with whom I have worked for several years in Geneva, Denis de Rougemont, said: "Penser l'Europe c'est la faire." To think Europe is also to do Europe. And L'avenir c'est notre affaire, il a dit aussi, he said also,. That's why I think the contribution of people from the cultural and scientific side is so important to reinforce our vision and our hope. And I believe that your contribution can be extremely important for the European debate. Because, and I conclude, the Europe we want, the dream we want, cannot be of a bureaucratic, technocratic or even diplomatic Europe. It has to be a democratic Europe, and so for all those who are not happy with the current situation in Europe, I say don't turn your back on Europe, make it better. Give your contributions through our debate, because what we have in Europe is too important to be lost for future generations.

I thank you for your attention.