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European Commission

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Speech by President Barroso: "Culture: the cement that binds Europe together"

Opera Europa - RESEO Spring Conference/Vienna

4 April 2013

Mr Chairman, thank you very much. Dear friends, some of whom I also met in other boxes in the operas across Europe. Thank you for your kind words of introduction.

First of all, I would like to extend my warmest thanks also to Opera Europa and RESEO for inviting me to join you at this conference.

And I also have a confession to make. I myself, as some of you know, am a passionate lover of music and opera. So it is a real pleasure for me to be here in Vienna. Where could be better than the Wiener Staatsoper to share with you some thoughts about the culture that binds Europe together.

In an address given in Paris in 1940, the great writer and the great European Stefan Zweig spoke warmly of his beloved native Vienna as “that classical city of music”. “Never,” said Zweig, “was a city more blessed by the god of music than Vienna in the 18th and 19th centuries.” I think he could agree, even in the 21st century.

Vienna was indeed the ideal soil for the flowering of a common European culture; so many paths crossed here over the years: Haydn came from Hungary, Gluck from Bohemia, Mozart from Salzburg, Beethoven from the Rhineland, Salieri from Italy, and Schubert, a son of Vienna itself, while Brahms came from Hamburg, Bruckner from Upper Austria; and then again there were Strauss and Lanner, Hugo Wolf, Gustav Mahler, and of course Anton von Webern, Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg, so many great names linked to this city, linked to the history of music and linked to the great European culture.

And if for centuries, as Zweig put it, “not a year passed when Vienna did not see the birth of an immortal work of music”, that was at least partly because musicians found in this city, at every level of society, a demanding and passionate public.

Zweig illustrates that passion with a charming anecdote about Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio – performed here only last night. And I want to thank the Director of the Opera for the invitation. I had with some of you the opportunity also to watch this beautiful performance.

Zweig recounts how, when Beethoven threatened to cancel a performance of Fidelio, a princess and a countess at once threw themselves at his feet in order to dissuade him.

To use Zweig’s own words, “This gesture by blue-blooded aristocrats before the son of a drunken Kapell-meister”, says more than any lengthy discourse on the extraordinary passion of the Viennese for music and opera, a passion that I have the pleasure to share with you today.

But Zweig, as you know, was not just an ardent admirer of his native city and its cosmopolitan spirit, he was also one of the most fervent advocates of the idea of European unity.

He did not want the “history of tomorrow”, the history taught to younger generations, to be devoted solely to the glorification of warrior heroes, he wanted it first and foremost to be the history of the heroes who advanced the European idea and its aspiration for unity. What Zweig called “this eternal desire for unity of feeling, will, thought and life”.

It is this desire that is at the very root of European culture. A desire that nothing has been able to halt. A desire that, across centuries, has always outlived war, nationalism and division, and that has finally found its most advanced political expression in the European Union.

And this is the train of thought I want to pursue here, given the undeniable truth that a European Union of culture preceded and nurtured the economic and political European Union that we know today; and given that culture always was, and still is, more than ever, the cement that binds Europe together.

And I am especially glad that your think-tank of young people has helped to put the focus on this idea of “culture as the cement of Europe” as one of the themes of your conference.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The aspiration for European unity is also the history of the Renaissance, which, with its rediscovery of Europe’s Greco-Roman heritage, laid the foundations for European cultural unity.

The peregrinatio academica – at that time an integral part of any scholarly education – marks the emergence of a sense of European identity.

It was literally a Europe on the move, with students and teachers frequently travelling across borders, seeking to enrich their knowledge at other European universities.

Erasmus of Rotterdam, for instance, journeyed the length and breadth of Europe, from Oxford, to Rome and Lyon, to name but a few.

There was an extraordinary ferment and flowering of intellectual activity, a “common market of ideas”, to use the words of Edgar Morin.

And then, in response to the explosion of technical and specialised knowledge, there was the incredible adventure of the Encyclopaedia, literally “all-round education”, about which Jules Michelet wrote in his History of France: “The Encyclopaedia was much more than a book. It was a collective enterprise… all Europe became involved.”

More than once, in the course of history, this “common market of ideas” had to confront nationalism and war. But the aspiration for unity is indestructible. It never weakened and was further reinforced in the 19th century, notably through Victor Hugo’s call for the creation of the United States of Europe.

And if finally, over the last sixty years, we have succeeded in uniting our countries on solid economic and institutional foundations, and if it happens, it is because the Union was buttressed by the existence of an underlying fundamental unity; the cultural kinship shared by Europeans. For, in its very essence, our Union is both a political and – let’s not be afraid to say it – a cultural project.

As Edmund Husserl stressed here in Vienna, in the Kulturbund in May 1935 in his famous lecture on Philosophy and the Crisis of the European Man, and I'm quoting: “No matter how hostile they may be towards one another, the nations of Europe nevertheless share a special inner kinship of spirit that runs through them all, transcending their national differences. There is a kind of sibling bond that gives all of us within this circle a consciousness of homeland.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is this kinship that has finally overcome hostility. And it is this spirit that continues to thrive today, encouraged and sustained by the wide range of measures taken by the European Union and in that case the European Commission, whether it be through the Erasmus programmes and the creation by 2014 of a European Research Area; or through the European capitals of culture, the promotion of multilingualism and intercultural dialogue, and not forgetting the European Community legislation to protect the rights of authors, producers and artists.

What we want to defend is a Europe constantly developing new forms of cooperation founded on the exchange of ideas, innovation, and research.

It is a Europe that accords a central place to the individual, to every human being, and to respect for human dignity. Science and culture are at the very heart of Europe’s openness precisely because they enrich us as individuals and create bonds that extend beyond frontiers.

When I had the great privilege and honour to represent the European Union receiving the Nobel Peace Prize 2012 in Oslo, I made a point about stressing that, precisely, culture and science are at the core of our European project, as a way of going beyond borders, beyond national frontiers. Because you cannot really commit to this idea of culture without accepting the idea that you have to go beyond borders.

What we want to sustain is a European Union whose great strength is that it has never excluded unity, but in full respect of diversity. Quite the reverse, our Europe has always been nurtured by differences.

The basis of our unity is a pluralist, multilingual culture that has been able to assimilate the heritage of other cultures. The wealth of our culture lies in our openness to other societies, our openness to the world.

European culture has always looked towards a broader universal horizon, far into the distance, true to the Greek origin of the word Europe – Europa, the woman with a wide-ranging gaze (eurus opsis). This is reflected in Goethe’s remark about literature when he said that “The age of national literature has passed and the age of world literature is at hand.”

European unity, then, is not achieved through some sort of levelling process driving us to uniformity, but through a fruitful blending of differences, contrasts, and yes, even tensions.

This was beautifully expressed by Denis de Rougemont, whom I had the great honour and good fortune to know when I was a young student in Geneva, and with whom I had the great honour to work on his Dictionnaire international du fédéralisme. As some of you may know, Denis de Rougemont was not just a great thinker and a great author and European federalist, the author of the beautiful book, "L'amour et l'Occident", but also the man behind the creation of the Association Européenne des Festivals de Musique that was created precisely in Geneva.

And Denis de Rougemont said: “Culture demands a paradoxical pact: diversity must be the principle of unity, differences must be highlighted, not in order to divide but in order to enrich culture even further. Europe is a culture, or else it is nothing.”

And in this sense opera is, without any doubt, eminently European, an element that serves both to create and to bind together a Europe of unity in diversity. So if any journalist asks you, "Why is the European Commission President in a conference on opera?" I think you can reply, "Because there is nothing more European than opera."

Opera is the ‘summa artis’ where music, theatre, song and dance come together in one and the same production and sometimes also with new media as you know well.

Opera knows no frontiers. It was Mozart from Salzburg, who, in collaboration with an Italian, Lorenzo Da Ponte, drew his inspiration for The Marriage of Figaro from a comedy by a Frenchman, Beaumarchais. I could give so many examples.

Opera is the illustration par excellence of the long dialogue between European cultures across national boundaries, across centuries. Opera is Verdi, whose bicentenary we celebrate this year, Verdi, drawing the inspiration for his libretti from Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Dumas, Schiller or the Duque de Rivas.

Opera is the distilled expression of fundamental European values. It is Beethoven’s Fidelio, for instance, giving us a matchless chorus of homage to liberty and fraternity and love.

Opera is also the playful Rossini and his librettist Ballochi, who in “Il Viaggio a Reims" offer us a wonderful gallery of European portraits and an admirable hymn to harmony between nations. Let me try my Italian:

Or che regna fra le genti

La più placida armonia

Della Europa sempre fia

Il destin felice appien.

Viva, viva la armonia

Che è sorgente d’ogni ben!

[Now the most peaceful harmony reigns between all the nations of Europe and happiness is assured for ever. Long live harmony, the source of all goodness.]

It could not have been expressed any better, the only discordant note being that nothing can be certain forever, including peace, freedom, tolerance; in other words the essential values on which our Union is built.

As you know, ladies and gentlemen,

The Latin root of the word culture, colere, reminds us that the underlying idea is to look after, take care of, preserve.

And never has the European Union needed culture, in this root sense of the term, more than at the present time of deep crisis we face today, with all the doubts and fundamental questioning it has brought.

Never has there been a greater need for us to take good care of our economy that we define as a social market economy, a model that we must modernise in order to better preserve it, to take care of it. And that means also support for the cultural activities that generate new ideas, innovation and social cohesion. That is why the European Commission believes that, even at these difficult times of budget constraints, Europe must not hesitate to invest in culture, a growth sector for new jobs, jobs with a future. This is precisely the spirit behind our new programme, “Creative Europe”.

And never has there been a greater need for us to look after the younger generations and to guarantee them prospects for the future. That is why education is at the heart of our strategy for growth and employment, what we call the Europe 2020 strategy, and at the heart of all the Commission’s action to combat the terrible scourge of youth unemployment. This is especially true of the guarantee for youth that we have proposed and was now agreed by the Member States. And beyond that, we need to offer the young people concerned additional training, an apprenticeship or a job.

Because the society we believe in is an inclusive society that should leave no one by the roadside, a society that gives everyone a chance. And first of all, that means education, the basic right of every individual and a key factor for any dynamic economy and society.

And this is a fundamental point at a time when there has never been a greater need for us to nurture our European project, to preserve what it has brought us over the past sixty years and to impart to it a new dynamic. That is why I want you to know that in our discussions with our Member States we are trying in the discussions to protect culture, education, science and research in the national budgets. We believe it is important to make fiscal consolidation, but we always say smart fiscal consolidation. And we believe it is not smart to cut in culture, to cut in science, to cut in what can be the sources of growth in the future, in our young people. And this is something important. This is why the debate about culture is also important for the debate about economy, even if I am one of those who believe that culture should never be just seen in terms of economic profit or instrumentalised for economic goals. But it is true that the cultural sector today in Europe has a growing role in the economy and we can see, and I have the privilege of travelling very often around all Europe, that there is a thriving European sector in Europe today. You go to all theatres, your theatres, opera theatres, but you go to many other manifestations of culture all over Europe and you see the curiosity. Sometimes I am even moved when I see long queues to try to enter a museum to look at the great masters of the past or the most contemporary art. And this is indeed a proof of the dynamism of our European society. It is in this society that we have to put our trust. This is why I think it is important to have this contribution for the European project.

Because, our quest for European unity is not the finished article; it is a work in progress that calls for constant care.

The truth is that the aspiration for European unity cannot be taken for granted; several times over the centuries it has foundered on rocks that were thought to have been left far behind.

We cannot let populism, scepticism or pessimism undermine the foundations of Europe, not to speak about new forms of nationalism that I believe are a very serious risk for the European values that we cherish.

The crisis has brought into sharp relief the extent of our economic interdependence. To best cope with this, we need a European Union that is based on the principles of solidarity and responsibility.

Day after day, globalisation shows that we are living in a world where size matters. In the 21st century, even the largest European countries may look relatively small compared with the global goliaths of this 21st century. That is why we need the European Union. Not to oppose to our national countries or our national identities, but on the contrary, to give them more leverage in this very competitive international scene.

And it is becoming clear that our European culture – in other words our world view, shaped by our heritage – offers an ideal platform for responding successfully to the challenges of this century. I am thinking here of our commitment to knowledge, research and innovation, but also environmental protection. But also to our vision of a world where we will always stand by those who fight for the universal values that are so dear to us and on which we have founded our Union.

In a word, more than ever, we must defend these principles of openness, but also of unity. I really believe it is a forward-looking project to which we must commit ourselves.

As one of the founding fathers of the European Union Jean Monnet said, “We are not forming a coalition of states, we are uniting peoples.”

That is all the more true in that closer European integration must go hand in hand with greater European democracy.

The year 2013, the European Year of Citizenship, is the occasion to focus the debate about the future of Europe on civil society, including the world of culture. That is why I am promoting at European level an idea. It is about the contribution that culture can give to Europe and also what Europe can give to culture. We are organising gatherings of intellectuals, artists, culture promoters to discuss these matters, to come not only with support, but also with criticism; what we can do to have this new narrative of Europe for the 21st century. I would like to invite you to think about this, to give us your ideas, to participate in what we are going to launch as a process all over Europe.

And I think that an event like today’s event of yours is an important occasion to discuss some of these issues, because in fact you know by your experience every day and every night how important it is, the cement of culture, for these European values that we cherish.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for your patience and let me end where I started, that is to say with Stefan Zweig’s reflections on the extraordinary creativity of Vienna.

“The highest degree of art,” said Zweig, “is attained wherever it is the passion of an entire people.”

I would simply add that the same applies to Europe. That is why we need this debate among citizens about our European challenges. That is why we need the contribution of the world of culture for that purpose.

I thank you very much for your attention.


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