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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Speech by President Barroso at the official dinner hosted by Shimon Peres, President of Israel
9 July 2012
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to start by thanking very warmly President Peres for his gracious words, for his warm welcome and for this magnificent dinner in the company of so many distinguished guests and friends.
President Peres, you have already won your place in the gallery of the Great Men of Israel. Your biography follows closely that of your country and you have been present and associated, in different capacities, with the most important moments of Israel's life. We are very privileged to have you as an interlocutor and myself personally I treasure all the moments we have shared in different capacities, even when I was a very young Foreign Minister in my country and I visited this country in 1994, or when I had the privilege of exchanging views and receiving the advice and the wisdom of President Peres in different capacities.
I will not burden you with a long speech. I have in mind the wise words of Baruch Spinoza, who said, and I quote "the world would be happier if men had the same capacity to be silent as they have to speak".
Nonetheless, I need to tell you that I am very happy to be back to Israel, this time as President of the European Commission.
The relationship between Europe and Israel is anchored in strong values, with democracy and the rule of law at its heart.
Neither of us takes these values for granted. When I was born, my country was still under a dictatorship and I had to fight during my youth to see the triumph of democracy. Europe is about freedom and democracy above all. Of course we have a common market, of course we have financial integration and sometimes financial problems, but the real project of Europe is for peace and democracy as you rightly reminded us quoting Jean Monnet, one of the greatest founding fathers of European integration.
You were born, President Peres, in a Europe that was on the verge of one of the darkest periods in mankind’s history. Today, I had the occasion to visit the Yad Vashem and to pay my simple tribute to memory of all those that were the victims of one of the most, if not the most terrible moments of the World's history that Jewish people suffered in a very terrible manner.
That is why I think we can say that we are both convinced of the absolute necessity of transmitting these values to the next generation. As the Talmud tells us: “The one who teaches his son, teaches his son’s son”. And now I can say it because since one year and a half I have a grandson.
We hope the countries of this region will also increasingly enjoy governments based on these values. This is our hope, not only because these values are right in themselves – they are. But also, because addressing the major social and economic challenges of the region depends on democratic governance and respect for pluralism and human rights. I know that it is not going to be easy and that it is probably not for tomorrow, but I am confident in the future of democracy and freedom in the world. I believe that a man or a woman, if they are given the opportunity, they prefer to be free and not to be slaves to any ideology or to other men.
We are well aware of the risks that changes entail. And so are you. With the continuing slaughter in Syria, we are reminded that change will not be easy. Indeed, many are paying the ultimate price in their struggle for freedom.
That is why we will do everything we can to support the countries in transition. We will all be affected by these changes and we cannot afford to be bystanders. I know it is difficult, but we have to make a bet on democracy.
I am also persuaded that these times of change in the region make a negotiated solution for the Middle East Peace Process even more – not less - urgent and important. We believe that to end the conflict is very important for Israel, for the region and also for Europe.
As you, President Peres, have stated many times, "peace is a moral imperative". It is a pre-condition for security, but also for human dignity. So instead of speaking about pre-conditions for peace we should think exactly the other way around. Peace is a pre-condition for the fulfilment of mankind's goals.
Europe is ready and willing to support you in this process because we are truly attached to peace. European integration was from its very origins, a project of peace and reconciliation amongst countries that fought each other for decades.
That is why, in these times of economic turbulence, I continue to affirm my confidence that Europe will overcome the current situation. Precisely because the European project is much more than an economic or monetary construction. It is a political project with peace at its very core. I can tell you from the position I have today, the European Commission working hand in hand with all the 27 Member States of the European Union and very soon 28, because we are deepening and enlarging, and also with the 17 members of the Euro area that I see the determination in all our States to overcome the current difficulties. We are not complacent with those difficulties, they exist, but I believe we are going to overcome those difficulties. What unites the European Union is much stronger than difficulties that we know they exist. But we are living in democracy and we have to respect the democratic rhythm. It is not always the rhythm or the speed of the markets, but we are taking the decisions.
I also believe that a strong relationship between the European Union and Israel must continue to be a positive force not only in our interest, but also for the region as a whole. What you said, Mr. President in terms of technology and scientific cooperation is extremely important today. Together with the Prime Minister of Israel we have witnessed the signature of an important agreement precisely in the field of scientific cooperation.
We are therefore committed to continually strengthening the vital links between Europe and Israel – economic, social, cultural and scientific, and I reiterate the EU's fundamental commitment to Israel's security. That is precisely the reason why for instance we took such a principal position regarding the threat that Iran represents not only for Israel, but for the region and indeed for the world if Iran does not give up on its programme for nuclear military capabilities.
Besides our strong political links, the EU is also the leading trading partner for Israel and a direct contributor to its prosperity with total trade amounting to approximately €29 billion in 2011.
The EU is also the largest source of competitive public funding for scientific research in Israel, to give just one example. I pay tribute to the great scientific institutions and universities you have in Israel, maybe among the best in the world at least when it comes to competition with other institutions in Europe and from other parts of the world in our programmes for science.
I am committed to ensuring that this partnership will continue to go from strength to strength and I know you have the same vision.
Mr. President, Europe and Israel are both steeped in history. But, history belongs to those who advance it and not to those who hijack it. I know I can count on you, and the European Union has a great trust in you, to continue co-writing the history of this country, of this region and of our bilateral relations with multiple hands for the sake of healing, repairing and transforming the world.
Thank you again for hosting this great occasion tonight.