I have to start my introduction with a short piece of sad information regarding my home country, the Netherlands. In the city of Utrecht earlier today there was a shooting, which seems to be linked to terrorism. I am being very careful, we do not know. The shooter is still on the run. People were hurt. We do not know exactly how many. It was a shooting in a tram.
I am standing here in the city of Berlin, which for me is one of those focal points in the world's history. It is one of the most fascinating cities on this continent. Also my personal history has a certain role. I think there is some poetic element in the fact that I was born in the year that the Berlin wall was built. Our son Marc was born in the year the Berlin wall came down. Our son Max was born in the year 2004, when Europe became one and whole again by the enlargement with the Central and Eastern European countries.
I say this because for a global audience this perhaps seems to be just a bit of history, but for me it is my life. I was trained as a soldier to fight the very people I am now in one Union with. My children cannot even imagine that we would confront fellow Europeans in a hostile way ever again. This is what the European Union is about. It is not about a currency, not about a common market. These are instruments. I wish we had taken that in form of communication much more seriously over the last 30 years. Because we let some of our member states create the illusion that the European Union was just about the common market, and perhaps a common currency, whereas this is, in my view, the most successful peace project this continent has ever seen. That is my starting position today. And yes, of course the European Union has many challenges, but who doesn't?
The European Union is challenged from within and from the outside. We are at the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution, which will have an effect on every single human being on this planet. And like with any other industrial revolution everything is challenged. Like with any new technological revolution all institutions are challenged. And we either adapt, or become obsolete. And like with any other industrial revolution people are worried, afraid sometimes. People do not always immediately see what their position will be once the industrial revolution has changed our society. And we now have an opportunity, as a global community, to create the conditions so that the largest possible number of citizens on this earth understands that there is a world for them after or in the industrial revolution.
This is without any doubt the biggest challenge the global community has. And we have to rethink most of our institutions. We have to fight the notion that by doing nothing everything will stay the same. We have to drive home the point that if we continue to live like this in the western world and developing like this in the global community we will need three planets to meet the needs of humanity, and we certainly do not have more than one. And still I believe there is a story to tell, how the global community can face this challenge and come out winning. And still I believe there is a specific European story to tell, a story that starts with multilateralism.
We have learned through our history, sometimes through painful ways, that if you do not respect the rule of law, if you do not let yourself be guided by law, as a codification of our values, and also as an instrument that applies to everyone, whatever their power or position is, if you do not do that in a continent dominated by minorities, you create strife and conflict. I think this is extremely important, also as a lesson for the global community. Europe is a continent of minorities. Even the biggest minority in Europe, the Germans, are a minority on a European scale. And therefore, the way we organise our society should not start by the imposition of the will of the majority, but should start by how we protect minorities by deciding with majorities.
And this, sometimes, in the modern concept of democracy seems to be lost a bit. In this time of turmoil there is a reinterpretation of democracy, which says that if I win an election I get to decide everything, but already John Adams centuries ago said that democracy that is not tempered by law is the tyranny of the majority. I think if there is one threat I see to global democracy it is that. Through populism, through extremism we create the tyranny of the majority, at the expense of a minority. We see these phenomena in the global community, in many places; we also see them in Europe. One of the essential elements in democracy is the possibility of alternation, the possibility of being a majority and being in the opposition through democratic means. And if you take away the respect for the minorities and for the opposition, and you make democracy into a winner takes it all game, then you almost force people in the majority to do away with all the checks and balances, so that they prevent ever being the minority again.
And you see these phenomena in some European countries, but also globally. So the fact of having the feeling that losing an election is unacceptable then leads immediately to this thinking: "How can I lose an election? I can lose if the press turns against me. So what can I do about that? I can make sure the press never writes anything bad about me. How can I lose the election? I can lose if those who count the votes or those who adjudicate on this tell me that I cannot do what I am doing. An independent judiciary might then be a hindrance to me being elected, so I make sure to put the judiciary under my control. Who else could be against me? The business community could be against me. So I make sure that they understand that their likelihood depends on my good graces, and then I put them under control." I hope, just by giving you these generic examples, that you might think about where you see these phenomena, and understand that if these phenomena are not tackled, then at some point democracy is hollowed out from within. I think this is quite a challenge, for the western world, but not only for the western world.
I quote Primo Levi, a writer I hugely admire and a holocaust survivor: "The capacity to fear difference is a human condition." All of us can fear somebody else. All of us can also not like somebody who is different. Actually, that is human and it is not a problem if it occurs in incidents. It becomes a problem when it becomes part of a political ideology or a political system, because then it becomes an instrument to dehumanize who is different. And this is one aspect the global community will have to face with huge urgency. Because the justification the terrorist found in New Zealand is: "We will be replaced. So I need to remove from society those whom I fear will replace me."
This is an ideology that is so dangerous to the construction of diverse societies that all of us in this room have a huge responsibility to fight, not just by opposing it with repression, but also with anticipation in saying: "We will fight this in education. We will fight this in the media. We will show that this global community is capable of dealing with the challenges of diversity and that diversity is one of the best contributing factors to our global success in the future. The price you pay for closing off your culture from other differences, for closing off and hiding in the tribe is that there is no friction, no interaction with others, which is death of creativity.
And if you look at the way the world's economy is developing the strongest productive factor we have is our creativity. The strongest contribution Europe can give to the world's economy in the future is our creativity. And our creativity is born by the fact that people who meet have different backgrounds, different points of view. They meet, they clash, they discuss, and they learn. So if you isolate yourself from difference you isolate yourself from creativity and you isolate yourself from progress. This is an important point for the future of our economy.
Secondly, the European Union has a huge task in strongly promoting multilateralism. And I call upon all of you in this room who also believe in multilateralism as an instrument to help everybody progress to not forget about this. If we reduce international relations purely to transactional relations, then of course Europe stands to lose a lot. We are only 7% of the world's population. But if we do understand that international relations are not just about transactions, but also about sharing values, sharing opportunities, helping everyone to make steps forward, then I do understand size is less relevant, but the force of your values, your ideas, your creativity can make sure that you still play a global role.
And if I may, if there is one subject Europe has to pick up with great urgency in the global community it is to feel the core responsibility for the success of our sister continent, Africa. If Europe does not do that, who will? I say this, because we need to show this to Europeans. Europeans are said to be caught in a double challenge. They see their own demography as a threat, and they see Africa's demography as a threat. Isn't that paradoxical? We see our demography as a threat because we are shrinking, and we see Africa's demography as a threat because it is growing, whereas under the right conditions this incredible new generation of young Africans can be an incredible success for the global economy and society.
This can be so, under the right conditions, if we do have a discussion about the rule of law and the right investments in Africa, if we do help Africa to jump over a number of stages in the economic development so that they can go to a circular economy much quicker than we even can. These are opportunities of incredible scale. It will ask of Europe a huge investment, but it is in our own interest, because Africa is very close. I honestly believe that in Europe in 1945 Germany and France very soon after these horrible wars understood that crossing the Rhine was the only right thing to do for the destiny of their peoples, and that at the end of the 1980s we understood that crossing the Elbe was the only right thing to do for Europe as a whole. We should now understand that crossing the Mediterranean is a choice of this and next generations for the future of Europe.
I want to end by expressing my hope, my admiration and my commitment to Europe's youngest generation. Greta Thunberg and all the other young people going out on the streets, demanding that we do something about climate change, are an inspiration to us. A friend of mine, Shimon Peres, once said to me: "Human progress is the result of curiosity combined with dissatisfaction." And so the dissatisfaction of the young people should be seen as an inspiration, not as a threat. I see it in the generation of my children. They are full of idealism. No longer of ideology, that does not matter to them, but idealism drives them. But they have not found the instruments yet to translate that idealism into an activism that gets organised and takes over the institutions. But they are close, and for years I have been pestering them, as a professor, and saying: "You are the strongest, best connected, most European generation, and you have the best ideas. But you live in the illusion that putting your ideas on Facebook is enough. It is not. To change the world you need to get organised. To change the world you need to presume the leadership that you demand of us yourself as well."
I had an interaction with a student the other day in the Netherlands. I was talking about sustainability and the urgent need to make that change to a sustainable world. He said to me: "You are asking this of me, but are you living up to your own commitments?" I said: "Surely I do not. I do my best in everything I do, but I have shortcomings. I have to travel too much, sit in the car too much, but let's turn this around. Why would my behaviour influence your decisions? If you believe that we should be going to a sustainable society, it should not be my behaviour that decides whether you do it or not. If I behave badly in your view, is that then a justification to behave badly yourself? It should encourage you to behave better and to show me that you could do much better than I can." That is how I believe the next generation will take over. And I cannot wait for that to happen. And if they lead, I promise, I will follow.