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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Address at the Jagiellonian University
Let reason prevail over force
Jagiellonian University – Conferral of the Plus Ratio Quam Vis Gold Medal
Mr President of the Republic,
Mr Rector of the Jagiellonian University,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking Rector Wojciech Nowak, Professor Karol Musioł and the Jagiellonian University. I am deeply grateful to receive this honour, the Plus Ratio Quam Vis, from such a prestigious University; one of the oldest Universities in Europe, on the occasion of its 650th anniversary.
It is with real emotion that I participate in this commemoration of a Polish university where among others have studied such great Polish, European and world figures like Nicolaus Copernicus and Karol Józef Wojtyła who later became Pope Jean Paul II.
This morning I could visit the Collegium Maius and learn more about your proud tradition.
The history of your university bears witness of the extraordinary resilience of the women and men of Poland. Throughout a very turbulent history marked by so many changes, more than once your determination and your courage have prevailed over wars and invasions, partitions and deportations, deprivation and totalitarism. Thanks to you and your ancestors today Poland stands as a strong democracy and a vibrant member of our European Union.
Both you and your predecessors have shown as Czesław Miłosz put it: "The passionless cannot change history."
The history of your university is also the history of the extraordinary resilience of an ideal: the aspiration to European unity. Over the centuries this enduring ideal has always outlived war, nationalism and division. It went through a stormy journey, from our common Christian roots, the Renaissance and the rediscovery of Europe’s Greco-Roman heritage, the early days of the European communities and then the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall; from the peregrinatio academica to the European Commission's Erasmus programmes and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowships.
The history of your university sends to all of us a powerful message: how important it is to hold on to our ideals. Nothing worth having is easy to get. We will suffer setbacks. We will be confronted with doubts and even fears. But if we hold firm on what we believe in, if we stick to our goals and uphold our values; then we can look forward with confidence to a brighter future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Plus Ratio Quam Vis is the motto of your University and to receive the Plus Ratio Quam Vis gold medal has a very special meaning for me, personally of course, but also as President of the European Commission.
"Let reason prevail over force" or "Let wisdom prevail over power" could have been indeed the motto of the European Union. A Union built on shared values: peace, democracy, respect of human dignity, and I mean the respect of every man, woman and child, tolerance and justice. It has been since the very beginning the guiding principle of the European integration process. A process built on free consent. No country has been forced to join or stay against the collective will of its citizens.
Let reason prevail over wars has been the founding narrative of our Union born on the ashes of two devastating World Wars. And it still remains our fundamental "raison d'être". Peace is not a given once and for all. How could we forget it as the crisis in Ukraine is showing the fragility of peace in Europe and challenging the core values on which our Union is built?
Let reason prevail over oppression and division has been the dream of millions of Europeans from the streets of Lisbon and Athens in 1974 to the Gdansk shipyards in 1980 and then Berlin in 1989. And for each of us, our accession to the European Union has contributed to anchor democracy in our countries and to support our economic progress.
Enlargement, or what I prefer to call it: reunification of Europe, has been a key element of the project of a united, free, democratic continent at peace. It also makes Europe more prosperous. It has indeed made Europe more stable and stronger. In this fast-changing globalised world, size and integrity matter more than ever.
That is why our European firm commitment must be now to let reason prevail over the reawakening of the old demons – the demons of populism, protectionism, extreme nationalism, xenophobia. We need to move toward a more perfect political union to strengthen our capacity while upholding our values and defending our interests and model of society.
Today two leading intellectuals – Professor Robert Huber and Professor Witold Kieżun – will be conferred Honoris causa degrees from the Jagiellonian University and let me extend my warmest congratulations to both of them.
People of the worlds of science and culture can play a vital role to confront prejudices, to break down barriers, and to draw people together beyond borders. They can deepen our understanding, raise questions, mobilise our imagination and, also sometimes from unconventional perspectives, light the way towards creative solutions to new challenges. As Marie Skłodowska-Curie, once said and I quote "nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood."
And when I had the great honour on behalf of the European Union to make the acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize attributed precisely to the European Union, I not only quoted that great Polish and European figure that was John Paul II but I also mentioned that at the core of the European Union and at the core of our civilization is the idea of science and culture. And I believe, more than ever, that the role of universities and I want also to extend my admiration to the community of universities across Poland is so important in this very turbulent and unpredictable beginning of the 21st Century.
And the European leaders of this 21st century should nurture these words of Marie Skłodowska-Curie since we do have now to make decisions that will determine for many years whether Europe remains an area of stability, shared prosperity and freedom.
Europe is now at a turning point where we do need to come to a clear political understanding of what we want and need to do together and to display an unwavering commitment to the democratic power of deliberation and to forge a new consensus for a united, open and stronger Europe.
The fundamental question we must answer is what kind of communality do we recognise as necessary; and the fundamental approach we must embrace is a cooperative one between the European Union, its institutions and all its the Member States.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me conclude by stressing that as imperfect as our Union might be we should never forget that millions outside our borders want what we take for granted, millions outside our borders some of them close to Poland like Ukraine in fact are aspiring to our standards of living, to the fundamental civil and political freedoms, to the rule of law, to free and fair elections and to the respect of their sovereignty.
But the fact is that our European success story has never been a natural development and we would take it for granted at our peril. It has always been a process – based on reform and not revolution - requiring at each step clear vision, steady determination and hard work.
And today more than ever it requires collective political vision and leadership as well as explicit national ownership. Europe is not just Brussels or Strasbourg, it is not just European institutions, Europe is all of us, Europe is also here at the centre of Europe, at the centre of Poland, it is here in Krakow. It is now our responsibility to continue making the path as we walk. Having that in mind, as another great former student of your university Wisława Szymborska's said: "The only roads are those that offer access." [Nie ma dróg innych oprócz drogi dojścia].