Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Honorary President of Atomium-EISMD

Mr Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Honorary President of Atomium-EISMD, Former President of the French Republic and Former President of the European Convention returns to the European Parliament for the public launch of the Permanent Platform for European Excellence of Atomium-EISMD. Listen to his speech.


Thank you very much. I hope you don’t mind if I speak in French, because we have interpreters and otherwise some of you might actually think that what I am actually saying is incorrect. I’d like to thank those of you who have already spoken today, the President of Atomium Culture Mr Baracchi Bonvicini.

I’d like to start by thinking about why it’s called Atomium Culture: the President said that the point of it is that is just a word, it has to do with culture, it’s not something we should see as something connected with nuclear issues or so, it is something which everybody could relate to. I’d like to thank him for his invitation, I would also like to thank Mr. Bruno Le Maire, who is the French Minister for Agriculture, for coming, he’s also been Secretary of State for European Affaires.

I think it’s interesting sometimes, that when we look at the state of Europe, a certain sense of melancholy can set in because we do not seem to have the eminent figures who are up to the current job in hand, as we did perhaps in the ’40 and ’50, when we had people with real drive, who were able to take up the challenges of the time, and sometimes now seem to be looking for them, and I think, when seeing Mr Le Maire here that I can safely say we’re going to see this figures rise again. There will be a whole generation of people, who are now in their thirties and forties, that are developing within Europe, gaining experience, they are shaping their own personal thoughts and their commitment to building a strong European continent.

I would also like to say that it was a real pleasure to hear Javier Moreno speak, the Editor-in-Chief of El Pais. The reason of this is of course that we need the printed press, because we need the printed word, we need writing and I think that in the future of Atomium Culture it will be important for you to remember the importance of the written word.

This is quite an emotional moment for me to be here because this was the room where the work, over a period of two years, for the European Convention took place. It was an extremely high quality effort, for two years, 105 key-thinkers from different cultural, social and political tendencies came together. They were from different political tendencies – as I said – you could see Joschka Fischer sitting next to Gianfranco Fini, and they came together in order to develop a kind of vision for what the European institution could be in the future. So to be here again, again in this room, and to be sitting on this podium, is something which is quite moving.

It is quite likely that the European Union is entering into a transitional phase. There are certain points, back in its origins perhaps when the first European parliament was elected in 1979 or perhaps when the euro came in, there were stages which were very dynamic when European construction took great leaps forward. In a few days, weeks time, we will see the Lisbon treaty really coming into force, but we don’t really feel this European dynamism anymore. The media gives only a passing attention to this. I’ve been listening to the radio for example and on the French radio recently we would hear three or four, in brief, human interest stories often before the European union was actually given some attention. So I feel we’re going into a transitional stage or phase in the European Union, I think that will last till 2014, about five years. Why 2014? Because that’s when the new voting rules will come into force.

So we find ourselves de facto in a transitional phase, and if we look at the coming five years we will have an election under the Lisbon Treaty rules and we’ll have a genuine election for the President of the European Council because the word in the treaty is not longer appointment, it is election, and European society will be called upon to take part in that election. So we are in a period of transition and I think that the whole process will last until at least 2020 when we’ll see the full implementation of the Lisbon Treaty and the new posts taken up and fully exercised, and then Europe can be in the position to look at the future and see exactly where it is going.

The usefulness of Atomium Culture, if you will allow me to perhaps tread a little in your waters, one of the key aspects for the Atomium Culture project or platform is associated with the fact that there is no European people at the moment. We can talk about an American people, because of their collected histories, we can talk about a Chinese people, but it is difficult to talk about an European people. You can say of course that’s the subject of our history, the fragmentation of the continent, which is been riven with divisions for many years in the past, but Mr Le Maire you shouldn’t think that this motto, unity trough diversity, or even that this diversity will stop the European people from existing, it will come about but it will be a different people. In the United States you have a strong sense of unity even if there are different languages, and different cultural trends and roots among those people. And I think that in the European Union we need to channel our efforts through the vector of intelligence.

We were talking about culture, and perhaps we will be discussing that later, and that is an interesting concept but European intelligence, I feel, could be at the very root of the identity of the European people, because among all over shortcomings: imperialism, religious wars, I think that running through European history, there is the prime importance of intelligence. Intelligence knows no borders, it knows no limits, it moves easily. If you look at the great European thinkers they were not concerned by borders, they moved around from the Netherlands or from Great Britain or Northern Italy, France, Poland and if you look at what they left, at what they wrote, they don’t talk about the borders, they talk about things which they found interesting or the troubles they encountered at the time. And when we think about the future of Europe, when we think about institutions, there is a tendency to think about a hierarchy, like pyramids, but in fact horizontal links are of prime importance. If we develop these horizontal links, which is at the basis of the Atomium Culture platform, I think that we can see that the partners in this project are not going to be member states, they are going to be universities, businesses and the primary exponents of the printed press.

This brings me on to my next point, and that is that European intelligence, which is something we ought to promote and develop, is something we are trying to develop at a time of transformation and the way that we see society. One of the major changes of course in the European society was the development of printed word and then the dissemination of documents, literature and so on. Of course this caused some problems in terms of religious wars but what we can say is that towards the end of the XV century we have been living in a civilization of the printed word.

I think that is beginning to change now: we have the internet and audio-visual communication, we’ve a digital society and so on…so it’s a different kind of intelligence which is becoming important and I think that Atomium Culture represents an area, a space that needs to be explored by the European people.

Through the concept of knowledge we rediscover the wealth of cultural and philosophical thoughts from the Greeks and the Romans. In the XVIII century when we discovered a new form of social or political philosophy we saw the birth of the Enlightenment and that was a cross-border development and something which spread across the European continent. So we need to think about this field before us – for us to explore – and thinking about how the internet and digital technology is going to change the way that we interact. It is something that, I think, doesn’t receive enough attention at the moment in universities -perhaps a little in the United States- but I think that the European Union should take up this point as an avenue to explore. And this is why Atomium Culture is important.

Throughout European history there have been some major programs or phenomena which have been crosscutting. A key example of this is the Erasmus program, I admire those who have put it together, and those who have promoted it, there are now 1,5 million students who have carried some part of their course at a foreign university and I think that this creates a certain fabric for us to build on. You talk about research and innovation, what I would say is that there are three things are important: research, innovation and intelligence, it’s not a technical project, technology of course will play an important role, but this is a project which needs to bring European intelligence on board as well. So it’s a new European project about European knowledge.

Too often there is a tendency for us to think in national terms and the projects to do with intelligence and research are too often bound by national boundaries. So what we need to do is try to draw on our collective intelligence in Europe and Mr Le Maire you said we need to be bold, this is quite interesting because boldness or audacity is something which troubles easily. A huge amount of boldness was required for Robert Shuman to give his speech in the 1950s, this was just five years after the Allied destruction of Dresden, it required somebody to be exceptionally bold to launch the idea of the European Union – as it did for somebody to launch the idea of European currency – because in Germany there was a very strong attachment to the Deutsch Mark, and of course you need to be daring to turn around to a country like Germany –the most populous country in Europe- and say “well, you give up your Deutsch Mark because now we have an European currency now”, so that required courage as well. I think that with this European platform there is once again a courageous approach in forging the links between the most eminent universities, with their research faculties, with European businesses, which are involved in developing research products, and then there is the printed press.

Each of these three components is essential: the universities because they are the seats of research and learning – the major intellectual discoveries of the last hundred years came about in universities -; businesses are important because they spend on research and development, and I am sure Mr Le Maire will tell you that they spend too little. If we look at the total spending for a particular subjects it is often equal to or greater than the spending of the United States, and if we take all of the European military budget it’s similar to the budget for the United States, it’s something to bear in mind. So that is why businesses are important. The third point is the communication with the public large. Publications and the printed press, commentators and experts, of course there are also publications of the sector but I think that the reliability of the printed press is of key important.

So as part of this series of meetings which are going to take place you have said that the objective is to identify and promote the quality of research in universities and in businesses. You also want allow young researchers to have his voices heard, these are those who have been involved the most brilliant projects. Sometimes, of course, in the European Union given financial restrictions, is not always easy to give them an opportunity, but is something that we need to try to do more. There has to be more interaction between different European structures which do not go through member states, there has to be an opportunity for discussion, of course we should not overlook the existence of the member states but everything should not pass through the national structures before interaction at European level. I think the important thing to remember is that the scenario or the landscape that we see is not one which is divided by borders, that is not the European vision, I think the image that we saw shows that there are certainly some brilliant flashes of inspiration out there.

The key for our continent is going to be to exploit our research and intelligence, as has been mentioned the Lisbon Treaty is a very edifying construction. When we talked about the Lisbon strategy we thought that 2010 was a long way off, but it is just round the corner, and we thought that in the years that would come Europe would draw closer together and we would be able to compete with the major centres of research like the United States, Japan, India and so on. We have managed to travel a very short distance on the path. Perhaps some of the fault for this lays within the European institutions because the rotating presidency meant that sometimes there was a tendency to forget about commitments that had been made by previous presidencies. Perhaps there was not enough contact between universities, researchers and the media.

I feel that in the coming years we are going to see a transformation for Europe and what we need to try and do is to develop a Europe of Intelligence, a Europe of Knowledge. If we can do that then this will reassure our citizens and we will have the result of making Europe a major cultural influence on the world.