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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Speech by President Barroso at the Opening of the Warsaw General Assembly
New Narrative for Europe General Assembly/Warsaw
11 July 2013
Dear Prime Minister,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by warmly thanking Prime Minister Donald Tusk for hosting this first General Assembly on "Forms of imagination and thinking for Europe". Let me also thank Paul Dujardin and the members of the Cultural Committee for their commitment to this project, which is, as you know, very close to my heart and follows upon the call I made during my State of the Union Speech in the European Parliament last September.
And thank you all for being here to exchange ideas on what could be the New Narrative for Europe that we need to breathe new life into the European spirit and create a genuine European public space.
We do not want a mediocre defensive Europe that tries to bury its head in the sand to avoid the realities of the 21st century. Only a self-confident and open Europe can be able to rise up to the challenges of today's globalised world.
As everything in life, globalisation comes with its dark and light sides. Only by working together European institutions, Member States and civil society, we will be able to reduce its risks and contain its threats while maximising its great opportunities.
I believe Europe has all of what it takes to succeed and move forward in this world, with pride but without arrogance, deserving the trust and support of citizens and especially of young people.
And it is indeed wonderful to be back to Warsaw to discuss such key issues for the future of our shared destiny.
I have at least three good reasons to be so pleased to be here today in Warsaw, all of them being directly relevant for our work on a New Narrative for Europe.
Firstly, it is a great pleasure for me to share this introductory panel with a good friend of mine, Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
In the second semester of 2011, under Donald Tusk's leadership, Poland held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in a very professional, committed and successful way.
The Presidency of the Council by Poland was a perfect illustration of Poland's deep commitment to the European Union cause, not just in clement weather but in the middle of the storm, not just in words but also in deeds.
It was a nice and efficient blend of passion for Europe and pragmatism in finding concrete solutions to move forward a strong, united open Europe.
Key decisions were taken on the strengthening of the European economic governance that laid the foundations on which further reforms are being built.
Europe's openness to and active engagement in the world were plainly viewed as parts and parcels of the response to the crisis. And as you may remember we then signed the Accession Treaty of our 28th Member, that is already now with us,, Croatia.
There could be no better way to show that Europe's drive, openness and attractiveness remain intact contrary to what some like to suggest.
I also vividly remember Donald Tusk's inspiring speech at the European Parliament at the start of the Presidency.
This was a powerful and passionate call to fight narrow national interests and egoisms and to move towards more European integration.
Indeed we still need to break down walls that are inside some minds, sometimes also inside some hearts.
Indeed we need to move confidently towards more Europe.
When I say more Europe, it does not mean more centralisation.
The European Union cannot do and should not do everything.
But whenever we are stronger and more sovereign in this globalised world by acting as one Union then we should do it, in that case, we, in fact, need more integration.
However, it is no secret that hope in the future is weakening and that public support of political institutions in general – not only in Europe, but certainly also in the European Union- public support is waning.
This New Narrative for Europe project is precisely an opportunity to recommit ourselves to reaching out to European citizens with our belief in the future; and to working together to meet the challenges of the 21st century and better preserve an effective European Union, which means also a social market economy, which also means our commitment to our social model.
This is also what we are doing through the Citizens' Dialogues such as the one that will be held in this place this afternoon and where we will discuss the biggest challenge we have now to confront, that is youth unemployment.
And one of your conversations this morning will be precisely an opportunity to exchange views on how the extraordinary resources of our cultural heritage and academic disciplines – in other words, what sometimes we call Europe's soft power, that is indeed extremely attractive – how can all this contribute to respond to the crisis and develop a new notion of European citizenship.
My second reason to be so pleased to be here today relates to the recent history of this country, Poland.
I also grew up under a dictatorship. I know by personal experience what it means to be denied a voice. And when I think of Europe, I think of it as an idea much more than a place. The European Union is about democracy, it is about freedom, it is about justice.
And let me confess that I am always moved to visit this country where started in the Gdansk shipyards a wave of freedom that ended up by overcoming oppression, liberating millions of people, not only here in Poland, but across Central and Eastern Europe and ultimately opening the way to the reunification of Europe.
I am sure you all remember one of the most powerful symbols, we are going to discuss symbols later today, one of the most powerful symbols of this movement – an artwork – the Jerzy Janiszewki's logo - written in red on a white background the word Solidarność. Thanks to the men and women who then stood up for it, today Poland stands as a vibrant member of the European Union.
Solidarity is indeed a crucial value, which lies at the very heart of the European consensus. However, we have to recognize that as European integration is facing the biggest stress test ever, since we started this process after the Second World War, there is today a real risk of polarization in Europe. Polarization between North and South, between centre and periphery; new dividing lines emerging, prejudices, national stereotypes re-emerging and risking leaving citizens split apart.
We have again to clearly stand up for this core value we believe in; we have to reject these stereotypes and these prejudices. We have to reaffirm the value of solidarity. All the countries have the same dignity and I count on Poland to defend this approach.
Let's be clear, more than ever in today's increasingly interconnected and fast-changing world for an individual as for a society or a nation to be only self-regarding can turn out to be self-defeating.
To turn inwards does not help to cope with changes and to recognize that ultimately change is what is real.
Europe is an old continent that has faced adversity more than once and has gone through so many and deep changes. Our long and rich history teaches us that capacity for change and renewal is in our DNA. And today, Europe can again adapt and thrive amidst new sweeping changes. We can and must embrace with confidence the challenges of a new world while holding back Europe's old demons.
A New Narrative for Europe project is also an opportunity to recommit ourselves to values championed over the centuries by millions of Europeans who have been fighting for peace, for human dignity, for freedom.
These values that are now enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, our Treaty, are the source of our strength; a prerequisite for an Union in which every single individual must have the opportunity to live up to her / his potential in an ever-changing world.
And I welcome that one of today's discussions will be dedicated to the values – past, present and future – values that make European integration such a unique and ever-dynamic process.
Finally, I do appreciate the choice of venue for today's meeting: the Copernicus Science Centre named after a great Polish, European man of science, a man of culture who developed indeed a new vision of the world.
The objective of the New Narrative for Europe project is precisely to come up with new thinking so as to develop a renewed sense of common purpose and a deeper sense of belonging to the same community.
It is about to understand and to take responsibility for - and I would also add to take ownership of - our shared European destiny.
And men and women of science and culture have a vital role to play here.
So in fact what I'm doing today is also a provocation, a small provocation. But what can you, what can men and women of culture, of science give also to the European Project?
Of course there is what Europe can do for science and culture, but also what can culture and science do for you? What ideas can you bring, what new narratives can you write what new images can you design so to inspire our young people across the country? So there is here, I think an acceptable element of provocation.
Indeed, I believe you have a vital role to play to deepen our understanding, to raise questions, critics, to mobilize our imagination and, sometimes from unconventional perspectives, lit the way towards creative solutions to new challenges.
I think you have a vital role to play to confront prejudices, to break down barriers, draw people together beyond borders and shape also our European Union image in the world.
You have a vital role to play to build bridges linking the past to the future as in this time of crisis we cannot allow us to be trapped in the kind of a zapping-type culture, a tabloid culture. We cannot let our present be deprived of any roots or any horizon.
Because each present was once an imagined future.
And our present is not different. And it is important to keep telling the story of our roots: a community born from the vision of men and women who wanted to build a peaceful, free and united Europe. This founding raison d'être for the European integration process I believe remains valid in the 21st Century. Our Union is still about a quest for peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights. As one of my favourite thinkers has said - , Leszek Kołakowski: "we learn history not in order to know how to behave or how to succeed but to know who we are."
But today Europe is very different of how it was in '57 or in 1989. It has gained a truly continental dimension and a global outreach in an increasingly interdependent world.
And as you said, Donald, when you mentioned some minutes ago, comparing in fact, the current moment in Europe with other moments; we may have enormous problems and challenges, but never, in the history of Europe, we were so peaceful and Europe was so united.
So let's put things in perspective, and let's build on this to solve the problems, including the most urgent social problems we are facing.
In this new environment, it is now our turn to go on imagining and shaping our future as our predecessors did in their time. Our future cannot be shaped only by uncontrolled events. We have to give a telos – a renewed sense of purpose - to European integration in the age of globalisation and to reflect on how we can fulfil it.
Not denying of course our values, that remain valid, but adapting, our vision, to the specific challenges of this globalized world
This is what we will be debating today and notably during the third discussion on "the image and the role of Europe in a global and interdependent world".
And I am looking forward to our final debate later this morning on the symbols, imaginaries and events that could give shape to Europe's New Narrative and indeed contribute to create a real and visible feeling of "togetherness". This will touch upon a crucial point. Indeed the idea of belonging to a community of values, culture and interests is fundamental.
So let me close my introductory remarks by thanking all of you again for giving your energy, your imagination, your thoughts to this project and ultimately to the future of our European Union. I thank you for your attention.