Austrian Academy of Science, Dr. Ignaz Seipel-Platz 2, 1010 Vienna, 20.45h
President, Ladies and Gentlemen
I am very pleased and honoured to spend the evening with you and to participate in today's ceremony.
And it is not just because the event itself is happening in my hometown, Vienna – that is a nice side effect. It is rather because I highly appreciate the science community and its contribution to the enriching experience I had in my different capacities throughout my professional career.
So, today's event is for my like coming home! Therefore, I would like to thank the organisers for their kind invitation.
I. Science is the one-to-one laboratory of society
I am convinced that science is the spearhead of societal development. It is, in a way, the one-to-one laboratory for society.
This does not necessarily mean that every societal development or change starts with science. It is rather because science is able to articulate trends and is – even in the case of humanities – more and more internationalised.
The fact that ALLEA is active in over 40 countries very much supports this suggestion.
For this activity I am very grateful, as we are not only facing enormous societal challenges: high unemployment (high youth unemployment), brain drain, a huge public sector, and global challenges like migration pressure, but also a growing lack of confidence in institutions.
Today I would like to talk less about the European Neighbourhood but rather about Europe as such. I was struck by a quote of Professor Günther Stock about today's laureate. He said “Rémi Brague uses his extensive historical, philosophical and theological expertise to study the question what makes Europe a distinct cultural entity”. This made me think: Is Europe actually a distinct cultural entity?
In the recent crisis it has become clear that Europe is very diverse. That is obviously not a big discovery.
However, the recognition of this fact also has consequences on how Europe or parts of Europe deal with crises and are affected by crises.
Take for example the financial and economic crisis. People in Ireland have accepted cuts in social welfare just to keep a low corporate tax regime to an extent which I think would be impossible in Austria or Germany. This is mainly because people linked the features of the "celtic tiger" to a low corporate tax.
In Latvia, people have accepted huge cuts in their public administration and temporary cuts of salaries (up to 30%).
Today, both countries are back on a growth path. In the case of Latvia, already after one year.
Thus, national history and experience play an important role in politics and in particular European politics.
III. Europe's diversity is a source of inspiration
I always say the biggest achievement of the European Union is its peaceful reunification – which is by the way not finished.
Before the enlargement in 2004 the EU was rather a homogeneous entity. Today the EU 28 is much more heterogeneous. I always say that such a merger in the private sector, bringing together so many different cultures and languages, would most probably end up in bankruptcy.
However, the European Union has done rather a good job. Of course, there are moments when Europe is struggling to find solutions. But, in fact every crisis has made Europe stronger and has led to the understanding that "either we swim together or we sink separately".
Against this background it is clear that the challenge of Europe or the European Union is constantly to manage its heterogeneity. Which is also true for science. Just take the historical role of universities in Western and Eastern Europe. While in Western Europe universities have always had the task to do science and research, universities in Eastern Europe mainly had educational tasks.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When saying this I don't mean that cultural diversity is a weakness. I think the diversity is Europe's strength and a source of inspiration.
This I have particularly learned in my capacity as Commissioner for Regional Policy when we were identifying USPs of each of the 274 regions within Europe. I can tell you, each part of Europe has its charm but also its strength, sometimes it just needed to be explored. Like the Azores as a hub to serve Transocean ships. Energy production thanks to the tidal currents and huge waves, for example in Scotland.
Or the modernisation of a centuries-old marble and stone industry thanks to innovation in Andalusia.
Every region, and therefore, every culture has its strength and contributes to the strength of Europe.
A very good example is also la Palma as very advantageous location for a Telescope to observe the universe.
IV. What needs to be harmonized and what not
The task therefore is to assess what needs to be harmonised and what not. The Juncker Commission took up its job under the slogan "Europe needs to be big on big things and small on small things".
I believe this is an important task to strengthen our motto "united in diversity".
Here, also humanities can and need to contribute. European values of fundamental rights, rule of law and democracy are shared values.
However, sometimes they are lived differently in Europe and beyond.
We need to be clearer about what our fundamentals in Europe are and finally what our common European interest is?
In this regard we need more and better education about Europe, European cultures and European history.
Not through the lens of a country but rather through the lens of Europe, with a bird's eye view of Europe.
Then it would also become clearer how small Europe and its alleged big countries are compared to the world. Or to put it in the words of a true European, Paul Henri Spaak: "All countries in Europe are small. Some just don't know it yet."
We need more mutual understanding in Europe and of its different regions. An important project in this regard could be to work on a common European history book.
V. Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values gives Europe a bird's eye view!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is why the Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values is so important, not only for humanities but for the European Union.
The prize gives humanities a new framework – a true European framework and helps establish a distinct European cultural identity!
Let me conclude by congratulating today's laureate Rémi Brague for his distinct contribution and ALLEA for the tireless effort of working on a better Europe.