Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values

23 April 2015, ALLEA 16th General Assembly

Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation

Check Against Delivery

President Aires-Barros, Professor Stock, Dame Helen, Delegates, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a true delight to be here among such distinguished Europeans this evening. Among the intellectuals who make up the European Union of ideas that Professor Stock mentioned earlier. A European Union that I'm sure Madame de Staël would have been interested to appraise at length in her famous salon.

Where would we be today, without women like her? No earthly power could restrain her intellect. Not even Napoleon himself. Her sharp critiques, practiced wisdom and eye for poetic reasoning were all well ahead of her time − pre-empting the works of Sir Walter Scot and even Lord Byron.

In my eyes, Professor Dame Hellen Wallace, has forged a career that is equally ahead of her time: carving out the very foundations of European Union studies; and providing the gold standard in an entirely new sphere of intellectual analysis.

Her academic works are clutched tightly by students in countless countries, on the way to their lectures in politics, economics, law, history and public administration and Dame Helen's work is equally as revered by politicians, policymakers and public servants.

Should you take a moment to search for the latest edition of 'Policy-making in the European Union,' in the Commission's central library, you will be frustrated to find that each and every copy is on loan!

I recently had the pleasure of having dinner with Dame Helen and many revered fellows of the Royal Academies of London. Their openness and readiness around the table − to council, to reflect and to challenge − provided me with new considerations for my political priorities in the course of a single evening.

Perhaps I have spent too much time among the ranks of politicians, but one never expects the humility with which such invaluable, heartfelt advice can be delivered.

Humility is a noble virtue that finds itself personified in Dame Helen, along with a charismatic combination of genius and total clarity of vision. Indeed Madame de Staël once said: "Genius is essentially creative; it bears the stamp of the individual who possesses it". I imagine that truly unique stamp, that rare genius, is what has made you so wonderfully persuasive and effective, Dame Helen.

Effective in bringing your peers together to analyse European integration so intensely. Effective in influencing the very processes of European integration, as a highly respected advisor, so cogently. As a policymaker, I can only envy your profound understanding of the history and evolution of the European institutions.

And I'm sure we all agree, Dame Helen has rendered an invaluable service to Europe, educating its politicians, public servants and even two of the prime ministers who serve this great continent. And her work is always constructively informing, without bias, the critics who rightfully keep us in check.

From the very start of her academic work, Dame Helen understood European integration as an exceptional and complex phenomenon: as a political system that can be dissected in a multitude of ways, one of them being academic scrutiny. Her invaluable analysis of the European Union's achievements and shortcomings − of its functional substance and institutional methodology – has long held up a mirror to a unique democratic project, that is forever redefining itself.

There is of course a great need to bring Europe closer to its citizens, a need for people to regain ownership of the European project once  more. A need to reignite European confidence in this "remarkable, ongoing experiment in the collective governance of a multinational continent." A need for talented individuals to revive "thoughtful and skilful deliberations on the process of European construction".

Europe must beat in the hearts of every citizen. Citizens ignited by the power of their influence. Citizens heard by the institutions tasked with serving them. Citizens freely informed by both the political and academic communities.

Among its 10 priorities, the new Commission has undertaken to make the EU more democratic. In my view, part of that undertaking will be to ensure that Europe's finest academics can be called upon to offer impartial advice. We cannot even begin to tackle democratic failures, violent radicalisation, or rising intolerance and extremism, without the collective learning, wisdom and foresight of the academic community.

The academies have traditionally played an important role in many member states, gladly providing expert opinion to governments as necessary and academies will certainly find themselves playing a more and more significant role at European level: as EU policymakers increasingly wish to base their proposals on the best possible evidence; as EU policy comes under more rigorous public scrutiny; and as EU policy reaches new emerging sectors and technologies.

I was therefore very pleased to learn of the understanding recently reached by 5 academy organisations at European level, including ALLEA, to join forces and coordinate scientific input to policy debates at the European level.

As many of you will know, President Juncker has asked me to propose a new, ambitious scheme to provide the European Commission with independent scientific advice this summer. It is my opinion that we, as politicians, can no longer afford to let knowledge pass us by. We cannot allow ourselves to make decisions in the dark, when the path to illumination is so near at hand.

It is luminaries like Madam de Staël, like Dame Helen, who give flight to new ideas, who elevate the public discourse and make it easier for every citizen to come to their own conclusions about the politics they wish to follow.

Dame Helen, Ladies and gentlemen,

I applaud ALLEA for valuing excellent work with this already prestigious prize "for eminent scholars who contribute to the cultural and intellectual values of Europe and to the idea of European integration". I also wish to thank the Stiftung Mercator for generously co-sponsoring the Madame de Staël Prize prize.

Dame Helen, put simply, you have helped us better understand the European Union.

You have clearly demonstrated that education and the social sciences are as vital to the evolution of democracy as universal suffrage. For without better understanding our democratic processes, what hope do we have for safeguarding and improving them?

Rather than chisel away at the cracks, Dame Helen has offered insight that has helped to sculpt Europe. Insight that inspires us all to do better. Madame de Staël once said:

"Sow good services; [and] sweet remembrances will grow."

Today is our opportunity to offer sweet remembrances, to pay tribute to a scholar that has spent her entire career sowing good services. Dame Helen, today we offer you our heartfelt gratitude, our sincerest appreciation and our profound admiration!

It is my great honour to award you with the 2015 ALLEA Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values!