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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Speech by President Barroso: "Tearing down walls – building bridges"
Third General Assembly on the New Narrative for Europe
Berlin, 1 March 2014
Chancellor Merkel, dear Angela,
Distinguished guests, dear friends of this great project,
It is a pleasure and an honour to be here with all of you today and also to have the opportunity to share this event with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
When arriving here at the Akademie der Künste, I have been watching as always with emotion the Brandenburg gate; the symbol of a reunified Germany, also the symbol of a reunified Europe.
So many images came to my mind. Images that now belong to our European collective memory.
Moments of intense joy and freedom here in Berlin: people coming together; dancing on the top of that hated wall; Rostropovich playing, as he put it, "the most joyous Bach suite for solo cello in order to celebrate the event."
But I was also remembering moments of intense joy and freedom some years before in my native Portugal: people coming together in the streets of Lisbon, celebrating the democratic revolution and freedom.
This same feeling of intense joy and freedom was experienced by several generations of Europeans in the 70ies of the last century in the south of Europe, and most recently in Central and Eastern Europe. Europeans have shown again and again that their choice for joining the same Union was a choice for freedom. Europe stands for that: freedom and peace.
I could not imagine a more emblematic place for today's event dedicated to a new narrative for Europe.
Indeed, tearing down walls and building bridges has been our European story over the last six decades.
We tore down the walls of mistrust, extreme nationalism, and hatred that led to two world wars and to the worst genocide in human history.
We tore down the walls of totalitarian regimes that kept families and friends apart for too long and that tried to supress the value of human dignity
We tore down the walls of dictatorship that tried to imprison the creative minds and silence the discordant voices.
And we built bridges. Working together we have forged a new type of Union.
A Union built on shared values:
A Union based on mutual consent and not on force.
A Union built on the principles of rule of law, solidarity and justice. A Union underpinned also by a culture of compromise.
A Union that knows that diversity can be a big strength. A union that also believes that every person counts, every person has to be given the possibilities to find fulfilment and well-being, every person has to be respected.
And we built our Union not against an "other", but open to the others, and with the others.
And that is precisely why I must tell you my sentiment about the recent events in Ukraine. We were yesterday struck by the reports of the violation of Ukraine's sovereignty. These are events that we would consider unthinkable in the 21st century in the European continent. The challenges of Crimea must be dealt with in the respect of Ukrainian unity and sovereignty. I hope that the international community will also stand with us in upholding these principles and guaranteeing regional and international peace.
The lesson we learned in the European Union in the last 60 years has been precisely this one. Diversity cannot be solved by separation or segregation. History has shown us that security does not come from building more walls or fences, but by embracing and integrating the differences. We need cooperation not confrontation; we need convergence, not more conflicts. This is what the European Union stands for. These are the values, Europe will defend.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today the European Union is a community of 28 democratic states committed to openness and respect for human rights.
A union, where the basic principle of freedom has its most concrete manifestations in the freedom to travel, to work, to study, to settle in another country.
It is the world's largest single market by value, it is also the most important trade block. Today, despite the economic downturn the European Union and its Member States are also the biggest aid provider with 54% of the world's Official Development Aid (ODA).
When faced with the worst crisis since the beginning of European integration, the financial crisis, the first crisis of this age of globalisation, we fought back together in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility.
Now our efforts are starting to pay off. For Europe's recovery is indeed on the way. But for too many Europeans, especially young Europeans and those unemployed, this recovery is still not felt in their daily lives. That is why we need to continue to work hard to achieve prosperity for all our citizens. That is why it is important to keep our social market economy and to fight for the sustainability of our European model. Of course we know that our European societies are not perfect societies and if there is something we learned in Europe the hard way then it is that arrogance is something we should not consider valid in today's world.
But I think we can say with some pride that our societies are among the most decent societies in the world, among the most human and free societies, open societies, but where there is a sentiment of cohesion and respect also for the others and respect for our environment, feeling responsibility towards our planet.
And this idea was also one of the ideas that we have seen recognised when the Nobel Committee awarded its prestigious Peace Prize to the European Union: for its contribution to promoting peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.
Of course our European Union is not a perfect Union. It is work in progress since the beginning. However, it is so far the best embodiment of an old European state of mind, the inspiration for European unity which is almost as old as Europe and has suffered many setbacks over the centuries.
But as Immanuel Kant put it: "out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made."
So Europe also has its difficulties. But that should not be a reason for the prevailing pessimism that we see today. Today our European Union in spite of all the challenges tells a powerful story: it shows that nothing worth having is easy to get. And it is always important to hold on to our dreams and ideals.
Today the "raison d'être" of our Union is also the same that was there sixty years ago: peace, democracy, to be freed from fears, mistrust and divisions, to share security, stability and prosperity.
But why do we speak about a new narrative? Ein neues Leitmotiv für Europa? Why a new? I believe that while keeping those values that were at the origin of the European integration immediately after the war, there is a new narrative, it is Europe in the globalisation. Europe is indispensable for us as countries and citizens to be able to defend our interests and promote our values in this world. Globalisation makes Europe more relevant than ever. Globalisation means interdependence and global interdependence is a reality. I do not think that it serves any purpose to be against globalisation, as you cannot be against the wind or against the rain. The important thing is how can we react to it and how can we try shape it with our values. This is what matters.
We Europeans together, we have the necessary clout and critical mass to play a leadership role with our partners in shaping globalisation.
Not trying to impose our solutions, but propose some of our ideas.
I think we can have a leadership role to shape this world into a fairer, safer, rule based and human rights abiding place and a more civilised world.
To guarantee open economies and fight protectionism;
To seek cooperative solutions for the problems facing the global commons, as we are doing with climate change;
To ensure that everywhere in the world the yearning for freedom and peace will always be stronger than walls and blind violence, and will overcome dictatorships and wars.
Globalisation means that we share the same world and we share the same responsibility to ensure the sustainability of this world.
It is precisely why I think that sustainability is important, because when you think about it you have immediately the image of the globe. This image that we are not alone on this planet and that we feel some kind of responsibility. This means that we have to come together, as we Europeans did over these last six decades. This means that to tear down walls and build bridges throughout the world is our European story for the years to come.
A French writer, Georges Bernanos once said that: "l'avenir est quelque chose qui se surmonte. On ne subit pas l'avenir, on le fait."
Translating freely: Future is something we can overcome, we are not suffering future, we are making it.
And I believe that our European culture offers an ideal platform for responding successfully to the challenges of the 21st century.
I am thinking of our commitment to creativity, to knowledge, to research, to innovation, and science. I think the future of Europe will be knowledge, art and science. I think these are very important contributions that our vision of the world can give also to some universal values.
However, too often we are faced with a confidence deficit: that deficit of confidence is sometimes worse than the deficit in our budgets. The lack of confidence in our own strengths and skills; lack of confidence in the future itself, probably it has to do with the demography of Europe. And I know it is very fashionable to be intellectually negative about Europe. This is why I think we need the voice of artists, creators and scientists like you to come out of the comfort zone and to win the ideological battle about Europe. Recognising honestly all the shortcomings, criticising what has to be criticised but at the same time having the courage to speak for Europe.
But the paradox is that while we Europeans very often are extremely critical we see around the world – not far from Europe - many thousands of people looking at us as a source of inspiration for their own future. For example in the Ukraine we have seen people waving the European flag in freezing temperatures, because they look at Europe as an inspiration for the way they want to live in the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Seven years ago, here in Berlin, we signed on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, a declaration. I had the honour to sign it together with Chancellor Angela Merkel, she was then President of the European Council, and Hans-Gert Pöttering then President of the European Parliament.
That Berlin declaration said a very simple thing: "We the citizens of the European Union have united for the better."
Yes, we the citizens; because this is what the European Union is fundamentally about: the citizens, the people.
And we, the citizens we have united because we know that together we are stronger to embrace the challenges of an ever-changing world while holding back some demons.
Populism, xenophobia, extreme nationalism, all these demons we have been fighting are now pushing back. And if you think about it there is something common: some of those movements are against foreigners, they are xenophobic, some are against trade, they are against globalisation, they want new walls, new protectionism, some are extreme nationalist. But if you look you see that all of them have one Leitmotiv in common: they are very strongly against the European Union. They see the need for destroying the European Union, precisely because they know that the European Union is a model of openness that is the opposite of extremism and extreme nationalism.
So if we look at these demons we should remember Mark Twain when he wrote about history: "history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."
The reality is that our success story has not been a natural development, and even today, we would take it for granted at our danger.
And we should never forget that with democracy comes citizens' responsibility.
People from the world of science and culture have precisely decided to assume their responsibilities, to mobilise for Europe, and make their voice heard like you today.
I cannot thank all of you, but I would like to thank especially the cultural committee. I believe that artists are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Your contribution can be extremely important for a better world.
Your declaration unveiled today is your act of faith in Europe. It does not say that our Europe is perfect. But it says that Europe is our future.
All of you who gathered today in this room, you have chosen not to turn your back to Europe but to engage, to be critical sometimes but to be constructive.
You are looking to make a difference in Europe and to contribute to driving positive change.
You are here to show that we hold our future in our hands and that we should all participate. As I have been saying very often - and I am happy to see it also in your declaration - Europe is "a moral and political responsibility, which must be carried, not just by institutions and politicians, but by each and every European." I have been saying that all over Europe during the last ten years: That Europe is not just Brussels or Luxembourg or Strasburg. Europe is shared responsibility. Of course we need the responsibility of politicians to stand together and defend their decisions and not put always the blame on Brussels for the decisions that have been taken collectively and afterwards have to be implemented. But we also need the active engagement of our citizens.
That is why I want to thank you all for your contributions, because I think you are expressing that idea that we need solidarity in Europe. But at the same time each of us needs to show responsibility towards Europe, not only seeing what Europe is giving us, but what we can give to Europe.
I congratulate all of you and I thank you for your commitment to this great project.