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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Address at the Hebrew University
"Embracing the Future"
Hebrew University – Doctorate Honoris Causa
Jerusalem , 8 June 2014
Mr President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ladies and gentlemen, let me start by on my own behalf and on behalf of my colleagues who had the distinctive honour to receive these Honorary Doctorates, and on behalf also of the distinguished recipient of the Samuel Rothberg Prize for Jewish Education, to express our deep and sincere thanks to the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Mr. Michael Federmann, to the President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, and to the Rector, Professor Asher Cohen, for the great honour which the distinguished Hebrew University has bestowed on us this evening.
This is one of the top universities in the world, the alma mater of no less than 8 Nobel and one Fields medal laureates, counting among its founders some of the most influential intellectuals of the beginning of the 20th century from the father of the world's most famous equation (E=MC2) Albert Einstein and the philosopher Martin Buber to the great poet Chaim Nahman Bialik and the founding father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud.
So it is really a huge honour to receive this honorary degree from such a prestigious university. I am deeply grateful for that. And I feel privileged to be in this wonderful city of Jerusalem especially as President Shimon Peres and President Mahmoud Abbas are meeting Pope Francis in Rome for an interfaith prayer for peace.
I am also delighted to recognize on this occasion the long history of fruitful cooperation in research and innovation between Israel and the European Union and in particular the dynamism of the Hebrew university, which ranks among the top winners of grants to young researchers from the European Research Council.
This demonstrates one of the key principles of the European policis and of its science policy in particular, its openness to the world and to international cooperation. No country or continent is an island and no one can thrive in isolation. Cooperation and collaboration is key: in politics, in economy, in science or in life.
The signature of the agreement on the Association of Israel to the new EU Horizon 2020 programme on research and innovation, which I have just witnessed together with Prime-Minister Netanyahu will allow us to build upon this momentum. This is an important milestone in our cooperation. In today's world it is indeed vital to be able to tackle complex scientific and socio-economic challenges together. Moreover research cooperation also contributes to enhancing dialogue among people.
And I would like to focus briefly on this specific aspect of knowledge: the role of science and culture in the shaping up of a better world.
Allow me to refer to a part of my acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the European Union in 2012 that was clearly one of the most memorable and deeply moving moments of my ten years as President of the European Commission.
I then highlighted that science and culture are key instruments for Peace and mutual understanding. This is also the reason why science and culture are at the core of the European project as a way of going beyond borders. Because you cannot really commit to this idea of a cosmopolitan culture without accepting that you have to go beyond borders. Culture offers us a unique insight into our diverse societies and shows us what can be achieved when people meet and inspire each other.
That said it is true that most of the work that went into the process of European integration has been devoted to our economies and to our markets. This was not wrong at all. European integration would have failed if it had not started with the creation of an economic interdependence.
It is true as well that most recently economies and markets have been again at the very heart of the discussions on the future of the European Union. We have been through the worst financial and economic crisis since the start of European integration. And that has clearly put our European model to the test. Many people even predicted that the Euro area would break-up. But we have proven them wrong. We stuck together and supported each other. And our efforts are starting to pay off.
The European resilience was in my opinion underestimated by many economic and market analysts that failed to understand precisely the degree of economic interdependence in Europe and the political determination of the European leaders to overcome the problems together. And it is my firm belief that the basis for this cohesion and determination was a sense of common identity and common destiny that culture and history helped to forge.
But when I refer to identity I don't mean a self-entrenched view of oneself, quite the contrary, we quickly reach the conclusion that we are a product of different influences, including from this very region the Christian and Jewish traditions. We should never forget that the richness of our unity precisely stems from the fact that it is achieved through a fruitful blending of differences, contrasts, and even tensions. The wealth of our culture lies in our openness to other societies, our openness to the world. And in this respect we are also tributary of the great secular Jewish thinkers - for which I have a profound admiration - which left a decisive imprint in the cosmopolitan thinking and modernity that are clearly some of Europe's main strengths.
But let me add that when Europe defends open societies and open economies it is not only because it is in our DNA, or because it is a matter of ethical concern. It is because this is - in a globalized world - a question of strategic intelligence.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Precisely one hundred years ago, European countries clashed in a terrible conflict. And the barbarity, which had started in Europe, then spread throughout the world. This was followed a few decades later by a Second World War and the absolute atrocity of the Shoah. And just a few years ago, at our door, thousands of people were killed during the wars in former-Yugoslavia.
Today the European Union has proven to be the best way to make war unimaginable among European countries.
What unites us is much stronger than what divides us. We know that we are better off together than apart. But we also know that peace, freedom and democracy cannot be taken for granted. They have to be fought for. Only recently the appalling attack in the Jewish Museum in Brussels which caused the dead of 4 people was a stark reminder that the old demons of xenophobia, anti-Semitism or nationalism have not been completely eradicated and that we need to remain very vigilant to protect our societies. We have a particular responsibility, given our history, to persevere in this endeavour; even beyond our borders.
The fact is that the very first words of the European Union birth certificate, the Schuman declaration, are not on "European peace" but "world peace". And Europe will always stand by those who, all over the world, are in pursuit of these universal values which are at the core of our Union.
Here in the Middle-East, the European Union has consistently been a supporter of a negotiated peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and of a two-state solution based on the principle of non-violence and the recognition of Israel's legitimate right to exist and Palestinians legitimate right to have their own State and for both to live side by side in peace.
I will not preach to you the merits and the benefits of peace. People in this region know them better than anyone else, for one can only give the right meaning to the sun when he has been in a dark room. And you don’t need incentives to reach this peace, for the stronger incentive is to be found in each Israeli and Palestinian and in their desire to see their children and grandchildren living a normal life.
But, once peace is reached, its dividends will go far beyond these borders, they will positively impact the wider region, Europe and the global community. This is why we will never give up on our efforts to support all those who seek to make a two State solution possible. This is a strategic interest and a moral imperative.
Therefore once peace is reached, the European Union is ready to offer both Israelis and Palestinians a Special Privileged Partnership, bringing our relationship into a new even higher level.
This would be a broad framework offering incentives for cooperation between Europe, Israel and Palestine on a wide-range of issues that are of mutual interest from trade and investment, infrastructure development, environmental protection and education, research and innovation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Martin Buber one of the founding members of this University said once that the real struggle is not between east and west or different ideologies, but between education and propaganda. In this regard schools and universities have the greatest responsibility of all: to educate, but also to sow the seeds of peace, respect for the other and mutual understanding.
This education for life is very important because knowledge has its limits and that is when humanism can make a difference. As Martin Buber also said, "the world may not be comprehensible, but it is embraceable, through embracing one of its beings".
I am confident we can make a way towards embracing peace, and that peace can pave the way to embracing the other. And unequivocally, education, science, universities and the academic world have a considerable role to play in this process.
I thank you for your attention.