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Meetings Calendar 2006
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Speeches, Interviews

27.01.2006

Opening statement by Vice-President of the European Commission Margot Wallström at the conference "The Sound of Europe" in Salzburg.


 

Mr Fischer, Mr Schüssel, Prime Ministers, President of the European Parliament

Ladies and gentlemen

What is the sound of Europe today - is it the sweet music of players in perfect harmony or is it the discordant noise of uncoordinated instruments? Would Mozart like it if he were here? He surely would like its high-speed frontier-free travel. Mozart was a great traveller. In fact he spent nearly one third of his life on tour. It is the best way to meet and learn from other creative people and get inspired. So he would surely applaud the Erasmus programme through which the European Union has enabled more than two million young Europeans to study abroad. Therefore I appeal directly to the President of the European Council: let us not take funding away from citizens’ programmes which let young Europeans study, learn and live the European spirit.

Mozart also travelled in search of secure employment. It was hard to find even in his time. He would sympathize with the many young Europeans in the same position today. They have the right to seek work anywhere in the European Union and to get their qualifications recognised. But there are two obstacles: a brighter future for the Europeans depends on whether we are able to break the vicious circle of reforms that are well designed but never delivered. Higher quality universities, research institutes, life-long learning instruments; there is no better way to orchestrate a sustainable future for the Union in economic and social terms. The ability and determination to reform, to use best practice, learn from others must become an intrinsic part of what the modern European Union is.

Now we have a European Union strategy for growth and jobs. It provides a common tool to adapt European economies to the challenges of globalisation. And at the same time it ensures social cohesion and solidarity. But what does it mean to be European? What kind of Europe do its people want? Here is what some of them said to our street camera recently in five different countries:

They said Europe should be more self-confident, keep its cultural diversity and develop a stronger sense of identity, fight hunger and discrimination, say no to fundamentalism, yes to tolerance, tackle unemployment and terrorism, help others in other countries, go beyond economics and ensure peace and look after the environment. So, in short, European values are: prosperity, security, solidarity, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.

Chancellor Schüssel, on your recent visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg you urged us to promote the European way of life based on those values. Thank your for that timely message. I would like to add one thing. Our values are not exclusively European, they are inclusive and universal. Yet today the trust in democracy in Europe between the people and their elected politicians seems to be fading. Political party membership is shrinking, fewer people are voting in elections and many feel that their voice is not heard.

This applies to the European as well as to the national and even regional level. And the rejection of the European constitution by the people of France and the Netherlands was a wake-up call for us politicians. To get back to constitutional issues will only be possible if we now engage in the debate on concrete issues, how to get more jobs, how to modernise the social Europe, how to shape the borders of the European Union.

The European Union is a political project that has developed very rapidly. But the citizens must be free to decide its future. This is not a lip-service. This is a sine qua non condition if we want to create a bond among nations and people which is stronger than that of the current European Union. And let us learn one important lesson from the referenda. To gain and keep confidence and understanding, the Union, its leaders and politicians must be truly honest and fair about European issues. Trust is not won over night and the Europe-bashing for short-term political scores leaves damaging traces in the public perception of the European Union. I am not saying you should not criticise Brussels and justify everything, as each story has two sides and people are capable to understand them and hear what is false.

Ladies and gentlemen

Having created the internal market, the Euro, borderless travel, we now must fill the European idea with more democracy, genuine debate and active citizenry. This is the idea of a European public sphere. Citizens need a forum in which they can meet, physical meeting places such as schools and town halls of course, virtual meeting places such as internet web sides and interactive television programmes, and we need to create space for European debates in the media as well as places in our school curricula. The European Union is next week publishing a White Paper on this important subject, inviting European institutions, national governments, civil society and the media to explore the issue together and come up with a plan of action. The Commission also welcomes the citizens' summits and citizens' panels organized by civil society organisations.

Ladies and gentlemen

Our values need to be defended. Europe has not always been free, democratic and tolerant. Just 61 years ago today, allied troops liberated the Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz Birkenau. Today Holocaust Memorial Day is a solemn reminder that horrendous racism and victimisation has happened and can happen in Europe. We must never forget that and we must keep working to ensure that such atrocities never happen again. Such was the birthplace of the democracies in the European Union. Particularly against this background let me conclude: democracy is not a spectator sport. It requires leadership and active participation. And the truth is, the symphony of European integration will be a success only if the people are involved in writing the script.

 

Date: 02.02.2006