Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner
Ambitious and achievable – Solar Impulse and renewable energy
Dinner Under the Solar Impulse Wings
Brussels, 23 May 2011
We are right in the middle of the future – and Solar Impulse is the very vivid proof of that!
I guess the witnesses to the Wright brothers' first flight in December 1903 had the same feeling of future. And look where that "future of the past" brought us.
The Wright brothers dared to be different. And they dared to think outside the box of the past and the present. Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg have managed to do the same. They did not just see the adventure of the future. They also saw the need of the future.
And I do not have to convince you who are gathered here that the two words "renewable energy" equals the four words "need of the future". It is all about resource efficiency, or as the motto of Europe's Green Week says: "using less, living better".
Dr Piccard and Mr Borschberg, just like the Wright brothers did, have showed us and the world that goals can be both ambitious and achievable. This is what brings the world forward: a sense of daring adventure together with a feeling of responsibility.
Aviation has always been about innovation. And that makes it an important symbol to me. Research and innovation is the key to building sustainable economic growth. And this is the daring adventure the European Commission has embarked upon. This is where our feeling of responsibility lies.
Renewable energy is a need of the future. That future has already started. The European Commission has set goals that are both ambitious and achievable. For example, we have adopted a strategy for competitive, sustainable and secure energy. The reasons for this are really simple:
Europe's energy system must become low-carbon
The EU needs to save energy and find new energy alternatives and to produce more of its own energy.
Citizens and businesses are entitled to have access to affordable and clean energy.
And when it comes to renewables, Europe maintains its leading role. The Directive on renewable energy sets confident targets for all 27 Member States: by 2020 we will reach a 20% share of energy from renewable sources and a 10% share of renewable energy specifically in the transport sector.
On top of that, green house gases should be at least 20% lower than in 1990 and we should be 20% more energy efficient.
Today more than half of the renewable energy research is done by the public sector and one quarter of the public spending comes directly from the EU budget. That is an impressive figure. But by 2020 we want 3% of the EU's GDP to be invested in R&D and innovation. That is an ambitious target. That is an achievable necessity.
Put all this together and we have a credible and responsible recipe for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It is all part of the ambitious yet achievable Europe 2020 strategy. We are in the middle of the future and we shape it at the same time.
My colleague Günter Oettinger, the EU Energy Commissioner, has recently said that "… energy is the engine of our economy and the basis for the prosperity of our society." That is our reality! Our policies on energy and research are not just about reducing fuel bills – it is about our competitiveness, it is about our jobs and it is about our future on this planet.
Or slightly above this planet, if we follow the example of Bertrand Piccard and his Solar Impulse!
But is Solar Impulse more than just another utopian dream, or an idealistic illusion? Yes, it definitely is! It is eccentric and avant-garde. It is sharper than cutting-edge. It is a paradox and a provocation. But it is real and it is here.
Dr Piccard and his team took what most others see as a limit and instead treated it as a challenge. They turned that challenge into the mind provoking opportunity we see here: Solar Impulse. Just like the adventurers of the last century he and his team are pushing back the limits of the impossible.
To me, the biggest question is: "what next?" – if this can actually be done – "what next?"
The simple answer to it is that we will not know it unless we dare to dream it; we will not know it unless we have the courage to challenge it; we do not know what is next unless we have faith in our ability to shape the future.
For this very reason, Solar Impulse is an inspiration and an encouragement not only to adventurers, researches and energy experts, but – perhaps more importantly – to business and to politicians in Europe.
When business people and politicians see the need of the future, they too should ask themselves the question; "if this can actually be done, what next?" This is exactly the question I am having.
Albert Einstein once said "The distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, however persistent". Solar Impulse is the concrete, challenging and courageous proof that Einstein was right: we are in the middle of the future – so let's shape it!