Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools

Other available languages: none

European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Europe's cultural dimension 10 years on

Conference 'A Soul for Europe'

Berlin, 3 March 2014

Dear friends of 'A Soul for Europe' project,

Dear Ambassador Ischinger,

Dear members of the European Parliament, I will not mention them all. I'm not sure if Martin Schulz is here but I'm sure he will come,

Dear friends, I cannot mention you all,

Dear Jean-Claude,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Distinguished guests,

First of all me thank the Allianz Kulturstiftung for hosting us here in this great venue, so close to the Brandenburg Gate, at the heart of Berlin, at the heart of Europe. It feels good to be here again. I was here ten years ago. It was, in fact, the first official speech I made as President of the European Commission, so I have a very good memory of that occasion.

At the time, I said that 2004 would be remembered as 'a year of many beginnings', namely because of the historic enlargement of 2004. And that's where I want to start, before saying some words about European culture as a project.

In May 2004, ten countries joined the European Union.

They did so en bloc – it was the largest enlargement wave ever – but it would be wrong to consider them only as a group. These countries each have a different background, history and character. Their experiences since their accession have been very diverse. The one thing that united all of these countries in the run-up to 2004 was a sense of self-awareness; the conviction that they would be able to make their own destinies; a shared belief that they could do so through membership of the European Union; and only through membership of the European Union.

There was the sense of a 'common destiny' in a process based both on autonomy and on shared values, alongside the firm belief that Europe is united for the better.

Everywhere there was an outburst of the same feeling of solidarity as the one that started in the Gdansk shipyards in Poland; a wave of freedom that ended by overcoming oppression, liberating millions of people across Central and Eastern Europe from totalitarianism, and ultimately opening to the unification of Europe.

That sentiment in 2004 was the same that my generation had in 1974 in Portugal. At the same time, the South of Europe, Spain and Greece, became democratic again.

The same was true later for Romanians, Bulgarians and, more recently, Croatians.

The same goes for those who, today, dream of Europe in the Balkans.

And then we have Ukraine. We have seen, over the last months, people in Ukraine – and not only in Kiev – waving the European flag with a hope of a future in the European family of nations. They have shown that they belong culturally, emotionally but also politically to Europe. They want to be part of the European family, not only today but in the future. I think the minimum we can do today for Ukrainians is to support their sovereignty and also to continue offering them the perspectives of economic integration and political association with the European Union. To show them that there is a European perspective in their future.

European integration is, as it was already mentioned today, more than economic integration. There is a sense of belonging; there is the sense of perception of belonging to the same culture. And this is why the integration of different countries over the years was not so much about the economy. This was certainly one of their aspirations, but I can tell you that, for instance, in the 70s and 80s, when the countries of Southern Europe wanted to come back to Europe, it was not so much about the cohesion packages – which, by the way, didn't exist at that time. It was because they wanted to feel that they were at the same level with the same dignity than the other democratic countries in Europe.

Through economic cooperation and political coordination we have been building Europe.

Through open economies, Europe has opened – or reopened – people's minds and opportunities in countries where this was impossible before.

Culturally, all these countries had been part of Europe all along. Through European integration, we have corrected the historical mistakes in ever larger parts of the continent, restored the core values of democracy and pluralism, reinstalled a culture of freedom and have given their citizens a new chance to work truly along with the other nations of Europe, towards a united and better history.

This is what solidarity is about. And solidarity is indeed a crucial value, which lies at the very heart of the European consensus. However, and I will have to come back to that later, we have to recognise that European integration is facing the biggest stress test ever; ever since we started this process after the Second World War. There is today a risk of polarisation in Europe, a real risk of rejection of differences, whereas Europe is precisely built on the richness of our diversity.

Our strength, our prosperity and security come precisely from our openness to others and respect for others.

Faced with the resurgence of populism, extremism and xenophobic feelings, we have again to stand up clearly for this core value we believe in: freedom. And we have to reject all kinds of stereotypes and prejudices. Confronted with the challenge of a fast- changing globalised and interdependent world, we have to be emboldened by the daring of our founding fathers. A Europe which had been reconciled and unified and had defeated totalitarian regimes cannot turn into a fearful and worried Europe. We have to be true to our own values of peace, freedom and respect for human dignity.

In all of this, ladies and gentlemen, culture has a very important role to play.

It is an essential part of the foundations of the European project. It is an essential medium to shape our common future, to breathe life into political institutions, to give 'soul' to Europe.

Precisely at the same time 'A Soul for Europe' initiative was launched in 2004, with the first Berlin conference, I said that the 'European Union has reached a stage of its history where its cultural dimension can no longer be ignored'.

One thing is to speak about culture in Europe, that is more or less obvious, another thing is to accept that the European Union as such, with its institutions, also has a cultural meaning, something which is more than a market. And the European Union has also the right to intervene in the field of culture, respecting, certainly, the principle of subsidiarity, that Member States have their special role, sometimes even at sub-state level. But that Europe is not complete without the cultural dimension. This idea did not have consensus, and I am afraid to say there is still no consensus today. There are in Europe those who believe that Europe is a common market, with probably some common initiatives, and more or less a loose set of institutional arrangements, but that culture should be left only for the Member State level. Culture should be in the political sphere, if at all.

This is an important issue. What kind of Europe do we want for the future?

I will not give you now my secret wish that you asked to formulate for ourselves, but I can tell you that part of my wish was precisely to have a more cultural Europe. A Europe where the value of culture should probably be seen at a higher level than the value of politics. Because politics is instrumental, and we have seen the cost of political errors. But culture is a way of a person to fulfil his or her dreams, be it through arts, or through science, in the broad sense of culture. All parts of knowledge. So culture is existential, while politics is instrumental. And I think it is important that those of us who have the responsibility of politics or policy making have the humility to recognise that.

This is why we have defended these values during these last years.

This decade has made clear that now the European Union is ready to embed a cultural dimension in our policies and actions.

The promotion of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue became a central element after the adoption in 2005 of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and the Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, to which the EU is a party. A convention that was negotiated by the European Commission on behalf of the European Union. We have played a central role in this.

A new area of cooperation on cultural policy opened in 2007 with the adoption of the first ever European Agenda for Culture. We set a framework for real cooperation across Member States and entities. Besides, the intrinsic value of culture was considered key to foster social cohesion, economic growth, job creation, innovation and competitiveness.

This cultural dimension is also expressed in our external relations. Joint action plans have been signed with many of our partners, from Brazil to China, India and Mexico. And this is aimed at supporting the local cultural policies and structural capacities conducive to socio-economic development.

I strongly advocated a robust Creative Europe programme when we were discussing the new Multiannual budget for the European Union, the European funding programme for the cultural and creative sectors, which entered into force on 1 January of this year. I like to thank especially the members of the European Parliament who supported more ambition in this area. I'm not able to quote all of you, but I think a word is due to Doris Pack, who is with us today. In spite of the financial constraints in Europe today, it was good that we were able to increase the financial support to the creative sector in Europe, keeping some of the most symbolic programmes, and even updating them; like the Erasmus programme, now called Erasmus+; and also launching other innovative ways of supporting culture, apart from programmes such as Media.

Creative Europe can empower organisations and enterprises in the cultural, media and creative sector to look beyond borders, and to take a broader European and international perspective to increase access to our rich cultural diversity.

And I'm happy to see that, not only Soul for Europe, but other initiatives have become a reality.

Just two days ago, in front of this building, in the Akademie for Künste came a group of artists, cultural activists, intellectuals, artists. I cannot mention all of them, but people like Michelangelo Pistoletto, Olafur Eliasson, György Konrad. I would also like to mention the very important coordinating role of Paul Dujardin. They came to draft and to present what they have called a New Narrative for Europe. This was a response I've made some time ago in the European Parliament, an initiative that was launched in the European Parliament by our friend Lokkegaard, who is also today with us.

I think it is important to note that we now have, in Europe, in many areas, in this polycentric Europe many initiatives to highlight the responsibility of artists, intellectuals, scientists. I would like to invite you to read this very interesting manifesto or declaration, The Mind and Body or Europe, and I would like to make an appeal to all of you to try join to join forces as much as possible. Of course, keeping it decentralised is the only way we do things in Europe. We don't want a centralised Europe - this is one of the myths that some of the opponents of the European integration like to launch against us - but to make the point, as they say here, these artists, scientists and intellectuals, that it is a moral and a responsibility to defend Europe.

And I think here the key word is responsibility. Because one of the problems we have seen - if I may share this with you having led for 10 years the European Commission - one of the problems we have in Europe is that very often Europe is considered Brussels or Luxembourg or Strasbourg. Of course, these are very important parts of our Europe, namely the institutional part. But Europe is not them, Europe is us. As I have been saying over and over again, we cannot build a Europe that is only considered the responsibility of the European institutions, the most community oriented like the European Parliament and the European Commission. We have to make Europe a reality from the citizens' point of view.

For this we need responsibility; that responsibility is part of the political leaders' work. They should not blame Europe for all the mistakes that sometimes happen in their own countries. They should also be able to defend publicly the decisions that they have taken also at European level, be at Council or European Council level. And they should also have the courage to stand up for Europe at a moment when you see that, because of the crisis, the economic and social crisis, those demons of extremism, extreme nationalism or xenophobia are coming back again to Europe. That's why I welcome the political debate. That's why I think it is important to have a more political discussion now that we are going to have European elections. I believe in democracy. There was a time when European integration was considered something intuitive. There was an implicit consensus. Today it is important that the pro-European forces – from the centre left to the centre right – get out of their comfort zone and engage in a debate and understand that all this cannot be taken for granted. And I hope that the debate during the European elections will, of course, give a victory to those forces that are for Europe.

Of course, we cannot consider all those who criticise Europe as anti-Europeans. Sometimes they may have a point and we have to listen to them. We cannot pretend that everything we are doing at European level is correct. But we have to engage in a serious, and if possible, reasonable debate about Europe. To understand that it was not Europe that has created this crisis; that indeed this crisis was not created by the euro.

We have seen many countries that are not in the Eurozone or not even in the European Union also being affected by the financial crisis. And at the same time, we have seen that Europe, which was not prepared at that time for responding to this crisis was able to create some more instruments, more institutions, even more political instruments to fight against this unprecedented crisis.

Certainly many of us, including myself, would have liked to go further and faster but the European Union is a union of democracies with 28 countries today. And, by the way, we have one more country in the Euro area, Latvia; so 18 countries in the euro area as well.

So the speed of democracy is not the same as the speed of markets but I think it is fair to say that we have been able to resist. Probably not with a perfect response but we have still been able to resist. And it's important also to explain to people that the problems we had were not created by the Europe, but rather that Europe is part of the solution. Why do I say that? Because I think one of the problems we have today in Europe is that many of the pro-Europeans are disillusioned and are giving into pessimism. One thing is to be lucid about the reality. Another thing is to project an image of the declinisme, of the impuissance of Europe. This is simply not true. Today Europe is more respected in the world than 10, 20 or 50 years ago, I can tell you. Also because of its size and dimension.

Europe today is seen by our partners in the world, sometimes competitors to be honest, as a bigger force than it was before. I remember in 1992, when I was a young foreign minister in the European Council when we were 12 countries around the table.

Because sometimes today we speak about this with some kind of nostalgia but we forget that one of the biggest dreams we had then - and some that would not even dare to have such a dream - was to have a bigger Europe, a Europe on a continental scale.

So I am saying that because I think this, - what I have called the intellectual glamour of pessimism -, is extremely negative in today's Europe. Because we have the Eurosceptic and sometimes Europhobe forces that have, to a large extent, taken the lead in the debate about Europe; and on the other side the pro-European forces that have sometimes given up to this kind of esprit du temps, the negativism of Europe. That is why we need a new enthusiasm. I think this new enthusiasm should be, to a large extent, coming from society. Because this is not only the responsibility for the European institutions. This is the responsibility for the national institutions and for society and citizens. That is why I really believe that we have now to solve a paradox.

What is the paradox? The paradox is that the crisis has shown that - more than ever - we are interdependent. I think today everybody who follows the political and economic developments agrees with that. The crisis has shown that a difficult issue in one of our countries could affect not only the euro area, not only the European Union but, indeed, the markets in general and the world; the financial stability in the world. I remember in those G20 meetings - I have participated in all of them since the beginning - how our partners from the United States to China, to Brazil, to India, to Japan were asking Europe to do more for its integration. One of them asked: why do you still have 27 banks, you should only have one central bank? Because they have understood that for their own stability they need a stable, organised and structured Europe.

So this interdependence is now understood and felt. Now, in the coffee houses of Athens, people discuss the politics of Germany. In daily conversations around Germany, citizens frequently discuss the public debt of Greece. This is something new. With risks we know, with risks of prejudices, with risks of polarisation. But at the same time some steps in the creation of that famous idea of the European public space. So let's engage in that debate, because there is a growing awareness of interdependence. But the paradox is that there is not the same commitment to more common action, more cooperation and more integration. We have to solve this paradox of awareness, of interdependence and our willingness of integration through leadership and commitment.

This is the only way to fill that gap between those realities. And I believe it can be done. We have done it in the past and it should be done today. We have done in the past many more important and difficult things than the ones we are now facing today. Many of our predecessors in previous generations were facing much greater conflicts and difficulties and they were able to overcome them. Why shouldn't we be able to do that today?

I think this pride of being European should become a reality again. Not with arrogance. Because we have learned the hard way in Europe that arrogance does not pay off. But if we do it with some sense of modesty, that we have indeed built here one of the most important, if not the most important, experiment ever in terms of international relations - having countries united through peace and freedom - we should be proud of that as many of us felt proud when we were receiving the Nobel peace prize in Oslo some years ago.

To be proud of Europe without arrogance is something I think we need to instil in the debate. So that young people of Europe come out proud to say that we – in Europe- are the leading force combating climate change; that we are the leading force in the world combatting extreme poverty and underdevelopment; and that we can only solve that together. Of course with models to discuss; of course, we have some different points of view to discuss. Can we do it more centred inside the Euro area, or should we do it all together? There are many points to discuss and I am sure the European Parliament elections will also be a way to discuss these issues, whilst having in mind that we are getting stronger together.

That is why, when you asked to have this wish for ourselves, this is my dream. I can tell you my dream is very simple: a political union for Europe.

I thank you for your attention.

Side Bar