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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Speech by President Barroso at the opening of the Academic Year 2011-2012 at the College of Europe (Natolin campus)

College of Europe – Start of the 2011-2012 academic year

Natolin, 29 September 2011


President of the Foundation College of Europe,


Your Excellencies,


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is both a pleasure and an honour to have been invited to give the opening speech for the 2011-2012 academic year of the College of Europe at Natolin.

And it is a pleasure to find myself once again in this College, acknowledged to be ‘the most European of the institutes of European Studies’, and this time to be here in Poland at a time when this country is taking on, for the first time, with flair and enthusiasm, the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It is an honour, too, to be addressing such an audience, and especially the driving forces of the Europe of tomorrow, at such a crucial time for the future of European integration.

I also consider myself fortunate to be here today following the inauguration in April of the Bronisław Geremek European Civilisation Chair, sponsored by the European Parliament, the first holder of which, I am delighted to say, is Professor João Carlos Espada.

This is an ideal opportunity once again to pay homage to Bronisław Geremek, a remarkable man; it is impossible to think of Bronisław Geremek without emotion and admiration. Bronek, as his friends called him, was a patriot and a European, a historian and a history-maker, a free spirit and a brilliant humanist, and we miss him terribly. In my memory I treasure many moments that I shared with him. At this difficult time for the European Union, we would have liked to be able to draw once more on his intelligence and clarity of thought, his passionate commitment and his courage.

I am also touched by your choosing to name this year after Marie Skłodowska-Curie, a woman of true genius who was first in everything, who twice won a Nobel Prize, and yet was able to remain completely natural. Albert Einstein even said that, to the best of his knowledge, she was the only person whom fame had not corrupted.

Other than France, where both of them lived, while remaining very attached to Poland, the country of their birth, it strikes me that Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Bronisłav Geremek had a number of things in common. They were both creatures of passion and thoughtfulness, energetic and determined, guided by intellectual curiosity and the will to become involved: to understand and to act.

I trust you will allow me to deliver my address today under the benevolent gaze of these two marvellous personalities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bronisław Geremek was an outstanding heir of the French Annales school of historians, one of the founders of which, the Frenchman Marc Bloch, wrote that "the ignorance of the past is not only detrimental to understanding the present: it also jeopardises action in the present".

I believe that we have now reached a point where, more than ever, in order to move ahead we need to turn to the past: the building of European integration on the smouldering ashes of some of the most devastating destruction ever witnessed in European history.

In a Europe crushed by the murderous folly of two World Wars and the extermination folly of the concentration camps, there was one battle still to be fought: the battle for peace.

This is the battle which is at the heart of the founding act of European integration: the battle for reconciliation which united six nations in a bid for peace and respect for human dignity.

At once, however, a new rift opened in Europe, a division that was to separate East from West throughout the Cold War and right up to the second great historic event in European integration: reunification, the foundations of which lay in the desire for freedom and democracy. This same aspiration and desire for an integrated Europe were forcefully expressed a few years earlier in the former dictatorships of southern Europe - Greece, Spain and my own Portugal.

The College of Europe with its two campuses is in fact the perfect symbol of this development from reconciliation to reunification, from the 1948 Hague Congress to enlargement to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, from the Bruges spirit to the College spirit.

Let us not forget that these values – the core values of European integration: peace, respect for human dignity, freedom and democracy – are as fragile as they are precious. It is our responsibility to safeguard them. Whether Europe remains an area of stability, prosperity and freedom tomorrow will depend on the choices we make today.

So, what is the situation now in this unified, reconciled Europe?

Once again, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to echo Bronisław Geremek who, at a conference in March 2006, confided, as a man who had seen his dreams come true, how happy and moved he was: his country had regained its freedom and independence and had finally joined the European Union. However, he added (and I quote): ‘at the height of my pleasure, I have had to cope with the problem of the Polish plumber. Travelling through ‘sweet France’ which is so close to my heart, I have had to accept that I am this Polish plumber, albeit not the only one. Ms Curie-Skłodowska was the first Polish plumber.’

As Bronisław Geremek quite rightly said, the Europe which had been reconciled and reunified and had defeated two totalitarian regimes was turning into a fearful, worried Europe, stricken with doubt.

Since 2008, throughout this serious economic and financial crisis now exacerbated by the sovereign debt crisis, what is coming to the surface all too often is this same feeling of doubt.

Now we should think again about Marie Curie, who said 'nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood'.

It is the refusal to understand and the manipulation of fear which generate the worst populist speeches that call for protectionism and an inward-looking approach.

We have to respond to such rhetoric by asserting the strong position which membership of the European Union places us in. Our difficulties do not stem from our opening up to the world, from enlargement, from the euro, or from Schengen. On the contrary, it is precisely because we are an open-minded Europe that we have been able to become a strong single market with 500 million citizens, the leading trading power in the world, the top destination for foreign direct investment, the second reference currency in the world and the world's biggest donor of development aid. Our response to such ideas must be that the worst disaster of all for Europe would be seclusion, regression and protectionism.

We must respond and say that our values are a source of inspiration for many countries and I know that the Marie Skłodowska-Curie year has many students, from the South to the East of Europe and from outside Europe, who could directly testify to this. We have to respond to these speeches by saying that we will not renege on the commitment given to the candidate countries for enlargement as long as they play their part, and we will always support those who fight for liberty and democracy, as long as they are prepared to take responsibility for their future. It is this message that I am taking today and tomorrow to Warsaw, to the Eastern Partnership summit, where I shall speak in support of achieving strengthened political relations and economic integration between the Union and our six partners in the region.

We must respond to these ideas by refusing to allow new dividing lines to form in Europe. We must never forget that the worst threat that could weigh Europe down is that it should itself become divided. We will not stand by and let that threat materialise.

We have to reply that in a world in the throes of major change, if 27 countries reverted to forging their individual destinies, they would not be better placed to maintain their influence and their lifestyle.

We must respond to this kind of discourse that our strength derives from the choices we have made to share our destinies and our sovereign powers. Our strength is a result of the famous Community method, which does not set the institutions up against the Member States but, quite on the contrary, enables us to join forces in the general interest and thus reinforce solidarity and cohesion within the European Union. The Community method guarantees compliance with the principle of equality of all Member States before the Treaty, and ensures that any new initiative of Member States does not jeopardise what is the Union's acquis. It guarantees that Europe is strong and united in its diversity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

After reconciliation, after reunification, I think that, for Europe, now is the time for renewal. Now is the time for a new federative impetus, for Europe to assert itself, based on a component that has too often been lacking recently: confidence.

Yes, Europe is facing a number of challenges; yes, the European population is ageing; yes, some of our economies are not coordinated or competitive enough; yes, some have lived beyond our means; yes, we have witnessed financial excesses that have damaged the real economy; yes, and this is intolerable, too many Europeans, and in particular too many young Europeans, are unemployed and vulnerable.

But Europe has what it needs to overcome these challenges. And yes, the European project remains more than ever a project of the future. But only if we have confidence in ourselves, in our project, and confidence in each other; only if we breathe life into these words that are vital to any Union: solidarity and responsibility, in particular financial solidarity and fiscal responsibility; only if we invest in the future, in other words as a priority in education, in research and in innovation; only if we federate to defend a Union of stability and responsibility, a Union of growth and solidarity.

This is the project that I championed yesterday in my State of the Union Address to the European Parliament. It is a test for our generation of European leaders. It is a test we cannot fail.

It is wrong to say that Europe has done nothing in the face of the crisis. We have taken important decisions to tackle the question of sovereign debt and strengthen eurozone governance, improve financial supervision and stabilise public finances, start the necessary structural reforms and enhance our competitiveness.

But we have hesitated and waited too long. We allowed too many doubts to remain about the strength of our political will and the solidity of our cohesion. It is therefore high time to apply all the decisions that we have taken together and not to let the clock tick against Europe.

It is now that we must act together for a Europe of stability and responsibility. A Europe that deepens economic integration by recognising that an intergovernmental approach to economic and fiscal policies is not compatible with the credible existence of a common currency and a single market, and that the European Commission is, by virtue of the competences vested in it by the Treaty, the economic government par excellence of the Union. A Europe where citizens can have confidence in their financial institutions and are not always the payers of last resort for years of speculation, of which they have often been the main casualties. A Europe that aims high and where countries that wish to move ahead faster are not held back by those who do not or cannot.

It is now that we must act together for a Europe of growth and solidarity. A Europe which exploits the full potential of its single market and its trade relations, which invests in infrastructure for tomorrow, which creates jobs and which develops social dialogue.

In a nutshell, it is now that we must act, with confidence, to improve European political effectiveness in order to make our presence felt in an increasingly competitive and demanding world.

So let us not hesitate to defend the strength and unity of Europe, let us not hesitate to have confidence in ourselves.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear students,

We must without any doubt pursue European integration further, but we must do so openly, transparently, with the support of the citizens of Europe.

Bronisław Geremek used to say in somehow provocative way ‘We have made Europe, now we have to make Europeans!’ I believe he is right, and that the idea of belonging to a community of values and interests is fundamental. I believe that the European solidarity can coexist with patriotism - Bronisław Geremek was a perfect example of this. I also believe that Europe cannot be reduced solely to institutional and technocratic issues; Europe must, can live in the heart of Europeans. I believe in the strength of our collective memory, made up of all our many memories.

And I think we have no reason to be pessimistic about our future, but every reason to assert our confidence, our proudness, and our will to live together to preserve the values, interests and influence of Europe in a re-shaping world where the major challenges know no borders and where we must together build a stronger, more balanced and more robust world economy.

The poet Saint-John Perse wrote: ‘pessimism is not only a sin against nature, but an error of judgement as much as a desertion’. Allow me to conclude by taking inspiration from this excellent sentiment and urging you not to desert.

I am sure the new generation that you represent will defend the European project.

Thank you for your attention.

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