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Speech by President Barroso: Moving towards a conscience of Europe

European Commission - SPEECH/14/368   09/05/2014

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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Speech by President Barroso: Moving towards a conscience of Europe

College of Europe,

Natolin, 09 May 2014

Dear Rector of the College of Europe, Jörg Monar, Madame Vice rector of the College of Europe in Natolin, Ewa Ośniecka, Head of the European Commission Representation in Poland, Ewa Synowiec, President of the College of Europe Foundation, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, my dear colleague from the European Commission, Janusz Lewandowski. And now I apologise that I cannot mention all of you, all Authorities, Ministers, Members of Parliament, Representatives of the region, Excellencies, Ambassadors,

Dear Students, dear friends,

First. let me tell you that I am indeed very pleased to be back to Natolin. Usually. all my speeches start by saying: it is a pleasure to be with you. But this time it is really true.

It is wonderful to be back to the Natolin campus of the College of Europe, especially as we celebrate Europe day, Schuman day, but also because we are celebrating Poland and the accession of Poland to the European Union. We are celebrating this great movement of enlargement, of the reunification of Europe ten years ago. And we are celebrating also this great institution, the College of Europe. And to show to you how sincere I am about my pleasure, I brought you one thing. It was just two days ago that we have launched in Brussels a communication that shows what the European Commission, the second Commission I have been leading, has achieved. It is called "Europe – open, united and stronger". It is published in the 24 languages. Here I have the Portuguese version. And all of us contributed. And for instance, Janusz Lewandowski is here showing of course the importance of his personal contribution to this great historic agreement on the budget on the next 7 years. I also had to put some of my contributions at the beginning. And I have chosen, together with other beautiful photos, for instance the G8 summit in Camp David, also the meeting when I was receiving, with my colleagues, the Nobel Peace Prize for the European Union, I have chosen another photo, precisely of Natolin. And so it is myself in the middle of some of your students in 2011 – I hope now they have good jobs, serving the European Union. And the reason why I chose personally this photo is because I think that these students, their joyful, confident expressions are indeed a great inspiration for us in Europe.

And I am happy to be here in this College, because the history of the College of Europe and the history of European integration are indeed two sides of the same coin. And in many aspects we can even consider that the College of Europe is a frontrunner of the European Union, not only as we know it today, but as it might become tomorrow.

As early as the Hague Congress in May 1948, which was convened with the specific objective of promoting a united Europe; the Spanish writer, historian, and diplomat Salvador de Madariaga proposed the establishment of a college where university graduates from many different countries, some only a short while before at war with each other, could study and live together.

Just two years later, the College of Europe was opened in Bruges by the great intellectual Henri Brugmans, its first Rector. And four decades later, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the campus of Natolin was opened as early as 1992 that is 12 years before the EU's biggest enlargement.

This is, I think, a revealing illustration of the power of ideas and culture in the construction of European unity. The aspiration to European unity is indeed as old the history of Europe itself. It has suffered many setbacks but it proved to be indestructible. It has been tirelessly promoted by European intellectuals over the centuries. Ultimately the European integration process turned this intellectual aspiration into a political, economic and institutional reality.

I fully appreciate that the current promotion of the College of Europe has chosen to be named after the French philosopher Voltaire, who defended the vision of a European Respublica literaria where all European intellectuals could meet and exchange ideas on the ground of a shared belief in the values of the Enlightenment.

I very much appreciated that in 2011, when I came here the first time, the promotion was Marie Skłodowska-Curie, a great Polish and European figure that has shown the importance of science and knowledge on our continent. So these ideals of culture and science are something that we should keep alive. At a time when European fragmentation and the emergence of new dividing lines in Europe are widely discussed, you send a clear and powerful message on European unity. In fact, in September 2011, when I last visited this campus, the Bronisław Geremek European Civilisation Chair had just been inaugurated. And I remember that on this occasion I recalled that Professor Geremek, paraphrasing the Italian Massimo D’Azeglio, used to say, "We have made Europe, now we have to make Europeans." This is exactly what the College of Europe has been contributing to for more than half a century now.

Indeed the purpose of the College of Europe is not only for students from all over Europe to study together but also to live together.

To study together is key to promote excellence, to stimulate exchange of ideas. Besides the specific case of the College of Europe, programmes to promote transnational learning mobility, such as the Erasmus programme or the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowships, have proven to be a great success, helping people to acquire the new skills that will be needed for the jobs of tomorrow. It also helps to better grasp the manifold and interrelated challenges of today's globalised world. Just now, because I was in Florence this morning, I came here through Frankfurt. And when I was arriving here in Warsaw, two young men in their 30s came to me and said: "Thank you Mr Barroso, we are Polish, thank you for coming to Warsaw". I have never seen them before, of course. They said: "We were Erasmus students. And it is so important what the European Union has made for us and for this Erasmus generation ". I hope that this news has come and that they will see that I did not forget what they told me.

I think that this kind of institution can contribute to shaping a European identity based on unity in diversity, because our unity is not an idea of uniformisation. It helps to be true to Immanuel Kant's principle that the imperatives of morality be "universalized" so as to apply to all, or his own words: "Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only." This is at the core of the European values, of humanism, the idea that nothing is more important that the dignity of each human being – a man, a woman or a child.

And this contributes to forging a deep sense of togetherness and solidarity. And this is why the European Union is so important: the centrality of the individual, the human person, solidarity and shared destiny.

We all know that solidarity is word that has a special resonance here in Poland; the country where in the Gdansk shipyard, under the banner of Solidarność, started a wave of freedom that ended up by overcoming oppression, liberating millions of people, not only in Poland, but across Central and Eastern Europe and ultimately opening the way to the reunification of Europe.

And I am so pleased to be with you today as we also celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2004 EU enlargement. This was arguably the last and decisive step to wipe the scars of the Iron Curtain off the map of Europe. As Pope John Paul II said then, "Europe was able again to breathe with both lungs."

Enlargement to the Eastern and Central European countries has helped to correct grave historical injustice. And more generally the EU enlargement policy has proven to be one of the most important instruments for European security, extending the area of peace and security, liberty and democracy and naturally, prosperity. It has strengthened the European Union's position as a global economic and political player. Enlargement has made Europe more stable and stronger. And Poland is clearly a case in point.

The European Union has greatly benefited from Poland's accession. And let me stress in particular Poland's deep commitment to the European Union cause that has proved to be a powerful asset for the European Union as we had to face the worst financial, economic and social crisis since the start of European integration.

It was Jerzy Buzek who became first president of the European Parliament from the so called new Member States.

It was thanks to a very efficient blend of pragmatism and European enthusiasm, the 2011 Polish Presidency of the Council of the European Union which helped to find concrete solutions to move forward a stronger, more united and open Europe. Fundamental decisions were taken then on the strengthening of European economic governance that laid the foundations on which any further reforms will be built. Everything was done to defend the stability of the euro area while preserving the integrity of the European Union as a whole. And it was also under the Polish Presidency that we signed the Accession Treaty of our 28th Member State, Croatia.

Let me also highlight the very important role that Prime Minister Donald Tusk is having in the European Council and in general in the decisions of our Union.

Finally I cannot avoid saying publicly how grateful I am to Commissioner Lewandowski, whose commitment and skills were so important for the successful conclusion of one of the most challenging and crucial negotiations for our future: the European budget for 2014-2020.

But Poland has also greatly benefited from joining the European Union. The economy and the entire country has been changed and modernised beyond expectations.

Let me give you a few telling figures: Poland's GDP grew 48.7%, 2 million jobs have been created, the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion decreased by 7 million, 1.3 million were lifted out of poverty, 36,000 km of sewage treatment plants have been constructed and 673 km of motorways have been built, always with European solidarity. This very campus is also, with contributions of course from the Polish authorities, and we are very grateful for that, but as you know there was also a very important investment of the European Union in this great experience at Natolin.

The cohesion policy, a European solidarity policy par excellence, has played an instrumental role in speeding up the modernization of the country from the expansion of its infrastructures and the development of its agriculture sector to the setting up of thousands of new preschools and the creation of computer labs in over half of Polish schools. Between 2009 and 2011 the cohesion policy funded more than half of Poland's public investment. And since 2009 Poland has been the principal net beneficiary of the European Union budget.

This is far from being only a question of how much you receive this is also – and more importantly - a question of how you use what you receive. And I have to say that a vibrant and purposeful Poland has made full use of the transformative power of Europe to improve itself.

Finally let me add, and I think it is particularly important at this moment to remind ourselves of that, that in 1990 Ukraine was ahead of Poland in both overall GDP and GDP per capita. In 20 years, Poland's total GDP became three times bigger than that of Ukraine. Poland is now classified as a high-income economy, a remarkable achievement over two decades, which shows that the economic integration in the European Union over the past decade has been an effective mechanism in promoting convergence.

These were certainly some of the reasons why the Ukrainian people made the clear and legitimate choice of backing closer political association and economic integration with the European Union: because they wish to live a better and more decent life in a more democratic and freer country.

The paradox is that as thousands of people in our close neighbourhood and also far beyond are looking at us as a source of inspiration for their own future and we all have been seeing thousands and thousands of European flags waved all over Ukraine; we Europeans are now confronted with a confidence deficit. I would say that a confidence deficit is worse than any budget deficit, which is not a reason to not respect the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact. And in fact, this is something that we should analyse. Why is today in many parts of Europe this, what I have been calling intellectual glamour of pessimism, where people pretend to be more intelligent, showing how pessimist they are about Europe? Poland is one of the countries where the support for the European Union is bigger, and I congratulate you for that.

But I think that it is a mistake for Europeans to show this deficit of confidence in our own strengths and skills; deficit of confidence in the future itself. There is clearly a growing feeling of estrangement among European citizens, and we even see a growing disillusionment among pro-Europeans. But if we want to safeguard peace and prosperity for citizens we need a Europe that is much more aware and more willing to project its influence and power in the world.

It is not enough to say that we, Europeans, share a common destiny! A sense of belonging to Europe, to a community of values, culture and interests, is essential to forge that common destiny.

Today Europe is very different from what it was in 1950 when European integration was about safeguarding peace and prosperity in the free part of Europe; very different also from what it was in the late 1980s and even 1990s. I remember well, because I was a member of the Portuguese government and I participated in the Council of the European Union in the 1980s, where we were 12. I participated in the European Council in the early 1990s – '92, '93, '94 – with Mitterrand, Delors, Helmut Kohl or Felipe Gonzalez and the others. And the reality is that, contrary to what is sometimes assumed, Europe today counts much, much more than then. Then, Europe was a small part of this continent. We were 12. Now, we have a truly continental dimension. I can tell you from my own experience – at that time I was Foreign Minister – that the way the people in the world, from our American friends to China, to Russia, to other parts of the world look at us today is with much more respect and admiration, because of the fact that we have been able to create this very important project.

Europe has now a truly continental dimension and a global outreach, and the forces of globalisation have resulted in a new dimension of interdependence that affects every European country. Past and current global evolutions force us to adapt.

Over the last decade, as the forces of integration turned out to be stronger than the forces of disintegration, the European Union has also moved to a greater level of political and institutional maturity. But we cannot take what we have today for granted. What we have today needs consolidation if it is to endure. And this requires a clear sense of purpose, a clear idea of the need for Europe.

As Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki put it: "We can differ, we can disagree, but we can't hate each other." The next step for Europe to take has to start with and come from the people. Now, the consensus needs to be made explicit. Before, when it started after the war, it was kind of implicit. Now we need a Europe that not only makes the progress in terms of the institutions, but creates a new consensus all over Europe. A Europe that is not only Brussels or Strasbourg, the Commission or the European Parliament, but where the leaders at the national level feel the same ownership and where we can work together for that purpose.

The main challenges ahead should not be examined first from the legal or institutional point of view. I know that scholars and sometimes commentators like very much to debate about the institutions and treaty changes. I think the main challenge ahead should not be examined first from the point of view of a treaty change. Before we discuss technical or legal details of yet another treaty we must answer the fundamental question to know what kind of communality we do acknowledge as necessary. So we must discuss first the politics needed, then the policies and only third, the polity, the political institutional system needed to achieve the first two.

We must start from a common vision on what we want to do together and we also need a cooperative approach between institutions and governments. This is not a beauty contest between the different institutions or the different governments. This is not about nationalising successes and Europeanising failures. This should be seen as a collective endeavour with collective responsibility and collective gains.

Dear friends,

Let me conclude by stressing again that what is most needed today is leadership, and ownership for and of the European project. Foresight, political will and the power of persuasion still make the difference between shaping our future and letting it be shaped by others.

This is very important to state at this moment, because we are seeing in some of our countries the resurgence of aggressive nationalism, populism, sometimes even xenophobia. There is one thing that all those movements have in common: the narrow nationalism, the ultra-protectionism, the hate against migrants. There is one thing there is in common: they are all against the European Union. And I am not saying that all those that criticise the European Union profess those ideologies. But one thing is interesting: those who profess those ideologies, those negative values, are all against the European Union. This is one reason more to defend our European Union, our values. We have a common market, we have common policies, but it is more than economy. It is about values. And when I had the honour to represent the EU on the ceremony of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize some time ago, I made precisely that point. I quoted what you have done in Poland. I quoted John Paul II; I quoted how important this great reunification of Europe was. And we are a community of destiny and a community based on values.

That is why, instead of leaving the initiative of the debate to the anti-Europeans, Eurosceptic, or Europhobes, those who believe in the European project should leave their comfort zone. Come out and speak in favour of Europe. Lead the debate, as Salvador de Madariaga, that was with many other great intellectuals one of the inspiring figures for your College – I can also remember one of my masters, it was Denis de Rougemont, a man who said from the beginning that we needed a European University or a European Institute.

Salvador de Madariaga said: Europe "is already a body and a soul, not yet a conscience." It means that we have that spirit, but we have to be conscientious of that spirit – without arrogance, but with some pride. I feel proud of Europe. I know the shortcomings we have. I know the social challenges we have. I know the difficulties that we have in Europe. But when I compare Europe to the rest of the world, when I see that in Europe we have built some of the most decent societies, open economy but a commitment to social inclusion, respect of our environment, respect of the dignity, I think we have some reasons to be proud. And this is why I think our task remains for the years to come to create and reinforce a consciousness. This is a task for you, the students, the future leaders of Europe, who have the great privilege of being trained in the College of Europe, a task for all of us who are present here at various levels of responsibility and in what we may do, to give a contribution to a project that is certainly one of the most beautiful projects in the history of international relations and now is our shared home: the European Union.

I thank you very much for your attention.


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