José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Dare to think and dare to act for a brighter European future
Ghent, 18 March 2011
Rector Van Cauwenberge,
Voorzitter Van Rompuy,
Geachte Burgemeester, onderscheiden eregasten, Dames en heren en studenten.
Het is een eer en een plezier hier te zijn.
Graag zou ik Rector Van Cauwenberghe en de Universiteit van Gent heel erg bedanken.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have a very good memory of my visit to you in January 2008. I know the long tradition of leadership in this University and a deservedly good reputation in a wide range of disciplines from philosophy, law and science to physics and chemistry, to medicine and biotechnology, and many others. You are a fine example of what science, culture and innovation can bring to society as a whole.
So it is a real honour to be invited on this very special day, your Dies Natalis, to receive this honorary degree. And it is a pleasure to share this honour with so eminent academic personalities- such as Professor Frank Ankersmit, Professor Cherif Bassiouni, Professor Paul Flecknell, Professor Eric Wood and Professor Thomas Kipps.
But allow me to say a special word about the President of the European Council. To be honoured together with Herman Van Rompuy, such a distinguished Flemish, Belgian and European personality, is an honour but I think it is also a signal of confidence in the European Union and of your support to the European institutions. I take it as an encouragement of the work we are pursuing in tandem for Europe and I thank you very warmly for your gesture.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am not the first person from Portugal to have admired the winning combination of dynamism, innovation and openness that is found here in Ghent and Flanders. Indeed I come here sometimes privately. I have admired the magnificent cathedrals, the great museums – the Museum of fine arts, but also the Museum of modern art, one of the leading institutions in contemporary art in Europe and in the world. But the honour of knowing about your culture here in Flanders goes to the philosopher Damião de Góis, Portuguese friend of Erasmus, who made Antwerp and Leuven his home in the 16th century. He was a great humanist, a true Renaissance man; open minded, thirsty for learning and knowledge, confident in the potential of humankind, ready to challenge accepted orthodoxy and seek progress, and fully involved in public life.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
You surely expect me to say some words about Europe today. Let me start by saying that today there is often what I call an intellectual glamour of pessimism related to discourse on the marginalisation and even the decline of Europe.
In fact, decline is one of the greatest themes of our culture. It runs through our history. But so does rebirth. This is our European legacy. This is our strength. And we, Europeans have a rich heritage – a heritage based on the values of the Judeo-Christianism; but we are also the children of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, but the traumatic events of the 20th century are part of our heritage as well.
The acute awareness of the tragic dimension of history is indispensable to move forward and progress. We need memory, knowledge and reflection to grow and to build our common future.
Francis Bacon said "I have taken all knowledge to be my province." Questioning and broad intellectual curiosity are key. We need to remain thirsty for better and greater understanding. We have to keep on looking at the world and our societies in a different light while sticking to our fundamental values: respect of human dignity, political freedom, democracy and rule of law. "Knowledge without conscience is but the ruin of the soul", as Rabelais wrote.
I believe we are at a time of rebirth. I believe that Europe is now preparing to defend its interests and values in the age of globalisation. But we have a more immediate and urgent task – to build a bridge between Europe before the financial and economic crisis and post-crisis Europe.
Before the crisis, we enjoyed years of strong growth and the comfort of a relatively stable world order which, in many respects, gave us a false sense of security.
This has changed. We might fear the challenges we have to confront. But we have to overcome them. It cannot be the "fear of a coward" as former Belgium Prime Minister Paul-Henri Spaak's said in his famous "speech on fear" delivered at the United Nations in 1948 on Soviet Policy.
Our founding fathers stood up and acted decisively and that is what we too are doing today.
The crisis has been a rude awakening but we are drawing the right lessons from it.
We are addressing our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. We have acknowledged our responsibility towards the future generations. They should not bear the burden of our debts. They should not be the ones to pay the price of the lack of long- overdue reforms.
This is why we have engaged in ambitious financial stability measures as well as fiscal consolidation programs and structural reforms to boost growth, smart, sustainable and inclusive growth; to create jobs that are adapted to tomorrow's world; and to ensure a better environment and quality of life for our citizens.
That is the purpose of our shared strategy for employment and growth.
Over the past year we have also acknowledged our strong economic interdependence and we have designed a system of reinforced economic governance.
Faced with the crisis and the challenges of a globalised world, the European Union has indeed made progress and there is today a greater awareness of the need to have a more coordinated and a more coherent European action both internally and externally.
But we always have to be aware of the forces of fragmentation. We have to overcome them, break them, to keep and promote our strong unity and our openness, which have always been the conditions of our prosperity and our cultural and economic dynamism.
We always have to be vigilant and safeguard the basic principles of integrity in the European Union.
And we have to think European to better act globally. Erasmus wrote in a letter to Budé "that you are patriotic will be praised by many and easily forgiven by everyone, but in my opinion it is wiser to treat men and things as though we held this world the common fatherland of all."
And indeed today's globalised world is more than ever the "common fatherland of all" where we share many common challenges that call for many common responses.
That is why the Europe Union took the initiative to establish together with our American friends the G20 process at the level of Heads of State and Government. And we are promoting the principles and values of global governance.
That is why the European Union has been leading the fight against climate change, trying to assure future foe our planet. That is why the European Union is committed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty by half by 2015.
That is why Europe's place is alongside those who are calling for political freedom and respect for human dignity. And today the peoples of the South Mediterranean countries should know we stand by all those who value democracy and justice.
And equally, Europe's solidarity and support is very clearly felt around the world and in these times of sadness in Japan we have been clearly expressing our solidarity with the great people of Japan.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The crisis has brought a new lease of life to our Union. We will be now in a better position to shape our destinies in this fast-changing and increasingly competitive globalised world. And the University of Ghent, in the great tradition of the universities of Europe, has a key role to play here. Education and innovation contribute a lot to economic growth and employment. New technologies also help to address social challenges such as environmental degradation but also the fight against poverty and also many health challenges.
I think we can all feel proud and happy to be Europeans. And we also need a rebirth of hope, of a craving for Europe - without arrogance, without imposing our solutions, but being able to propose our solutions.
I have mentioned today some great European voices because it is important to remember such voices to be inspired by them. They taught us that audaces fortuna juvat. And indeed we do all have to dare; dare to think and dare to act for a brighter European future. We will show that the pessimists are wrong. We will show that the cynics are not right. We will show that Europe will stand once again for a better future.
I thank you for your attention.