Speech by the Prince of Orange

Ljubljana, Slovenia, 3 October 2007

on the occasion of his official visit to the Republic of Slovenia, at the Faculty of Law, University of Ljubljana.

Europe: a gift of history, a promise for the future

Mr. Deputy-Dean, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Students!
It is a great privilege and a real pleasure for my wife and myself to be here today. We have been looking forward to our visit to Slovenia and especially to our meeting with you, sharing some thoughts and ideas on our future as fellow Europeans and world citizens.
It does not seem so long ago that we went to university ourselves, fretted over exams and did all the other things students usually do. It was the time that the Berlin wall came down and many Central and Eastern European countries liberated themselves, mostly through peaceful and democratic means. Larry Page had yet to make his first dollar after inventing Google, internet existed for defence purposes only and the euro was still a distant dream of few. The world around us was changing so rapidly; some people called it the acceleration of history. It was very difficult, if not impossible to tell where we were going. But it seemed clear to everybody that we would be able to cash in on the so-called peace dividend because the cold war had finally really cooled down. Little did we know!
Now, some 17 years later, we hardly recognize that period from the early 90's and in a sense that period seems light years behind us. The EU went from 12 to 27 members, globalization has taken hold, internet has revolutionised the media landscape and empowered hundreds of millions with access to information and a platform of expression, a former president of the Soviet-Union is filling a full page in an advertising campaign for Louis Vuitton, and the euro is the common currency in most European countries including yours.
Those 17 years saw very positive developments indeed, but we also witnessed some terrible tragedies that we thought could never happen again. Expressions of extreme nationalism in the Balkans provoked a war on our doorstep, causing hundred thousands of victims, wanton destruction and indescribable atrocities. 9/11 was a shock of immense proportions, revealing a hitherto unknown face of terrorism, changing profoundly the political landscape all over the world.
Old uncertainties, or challenges if you prefer, have been replaced by new ones. The cold war is far behind us, but the consequences of global warming and climate change form an ever increasing common threat, regardless of the discussion who or what is responsible for them. Energy security is a recurrent topic. So is the global fight against poverty and our joint commitment to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Global security considerations have resulted in the presence of our NATO-soldiers in Afghanistan.
The globalisation of the economy implies that an important event anywhere in the world can have a ripple effect all over the world.
Those are the new issues with which all of us are confronted and to which our citizens want answers. And one thing is clear, we cannot do it on our own, not even the mightiest nations, even if our reflex might be to pull back safely to our homely comfort zone.
For there is something fundamentally important about our European family. Something that got lost in the maelstrom of modernity. After tens of millions lost their lives in two horrific world wars and many other bloody conflicts, the European unity has achieved the longest period of peace ever seen on this continent, spinning an institutional web around states. We have started to cooperate with one another slowly but surely, extending liberty, the rule of law and human rights across Europe.
The recent enlargement is an astounding feat. The EU has peacefully almost doubled its size in the past three years, embracing formerly communist and socialist led societies into one strong liberal market democracy. The enlargement has given a new impetus to economic growth and has made Europe a global force to be reckoned with. And the way this came about is something completely new in the history of mankind. European states are integrating through voluntary attraction, not by subjugation.
Europe, with a population of 460 million and third to China and India, has one of the highest standards of living in the world. There is peace, prosperity and democracy on this continent. This is a project without precedent. A project we all can be proud of, because Europe is not some far away abstraction, it is real and it is here.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the gift from our parents and grandparents to us. And we have to treat this gift responsibly and perhaps with a bit more passion.
So yes, the world is very different from the period that I went to university, is changing now at an even greater pace and isn't any less uncertain than 17 years ago. On the contrary. So how do we handle that as fellow Europeans and what can your contribution be?
For Slovenia that occasion will present itself in the first half of next year when you will take centre stage and assume the presidency of the EU, the first new member state to do so. Your success will be our success and it will be a shining example for other countries aspiring to join, some of which are literally on your doorstep. Their future also lies in Europe. Some are already candidates for membership, others have concluded stability and association agreements. Fulfillment of their aspirations can only be achieved by them meeting the well-known criteria and conditions to the very last letter.
During your presidency you will no doubt also focus on developments in those countries. There are still issues to be solved , Kosovo being on all our minds, but we have come a long way from that terrible period of conflict and destruction. That can and should in no small measure be attributed to relentless efforts of the EU and the international community as a whole to forge stability and promote intra-regional cooperation between the countries concerned, the EU itself being an example of what reconciliation can ultimately achieve.
As engaged students and citizens of a nation aspiring admission to the EU and in May 2004 finally achieving this goal, you may have been stunned 2 years ago when the Dutch, being one of the founding fathers of the EU, voted 'no' in a referendum on the proposed Constitutional Treaty.
Some came to quick conclusions: that the people of the Netherlands had suddenly turned against the project of European integration. As a matter of fact, we have not. All opinion polls show that the Dutch continue to embrace the EU.
However, many felt that alien architects were constructing the European house without ever asking the inhabitants their opinion. And thus the fear of vague undemocratic institutions, referred to as "Brussels", imposing rules and regulations was, amongst others, prominently in the minds of many Dutch voters. Much criticism on the EU was most probably correct, and some less so. But it is abundantly clear that the EU has to adapt to the times and respond to its citizens wishes.
The referendum was a healthy wake up call. A reminder that the EU is here for the people, not the other way around. Now, the EU stands for new tests, to which we need to respond with better co-operation. Between the Union and its member states, each with their own responsibility. And by involving citizens more - by listening, being transparent with less bureaucracy and more democratic checks. The reform Treaty that is now on the table, will help Europe to become more effective and more democratic.
Neither Slovenia nor the Netherlands are the biggest countries in the EU. We cherish our identities. But what is this concept of identity, these terms of reference that make us feel Slovenian or Dutch? Art and culture? Language? Common history? Symbols? Some of you from Maribor will roll their eyes and exclaim: "Ljubljana is so different". When you go to Zagreb with your Ljubljana friends, you feel really Slovenian. And when you visit America or Asia, chances are that you might feel truly European.
Our identity changes depending on our perspective, and it evolves over time as well. My country now looks and feels different from the country I grew up in as a child. Change and evolution are natural events. They are usually for the better, but they can take getting used to. Like breaking in new shoes. They can look good, but they always need some walking.
The heralding of a European Constitution woke people up and led them to think about who they really were.
And as such it has led to a stronger local feeling of belonging. In my country suddenly many new books on Dutch history have appeared. The government requested that an independent committee form a national canon of historical highlights, also to engage a large number of Dutch of non-western heritage. So actually, European integration has strengthened our sense of identity, our search for belonging.
This becomes clearer if you couple it with the observation I made before: one feels European when travelling abroad so Europe is actually providing us with an additional dimension in our identity and an extra narrative, an enrichment we should cherish and nurture for future generations.
But for now, you are the future generation of Slovenia and Europe. You are the leaders of tomorrow. From now on, whatever you do matters. Choices you make have consequences. You have the energy, the talents to make this world a better place. And I trust you will!
Read and learn, travel abroad to look at yourself from a different vantage point. Nobody has the monopoly on virtue and wisdom and you can only witness that by meeting other people around the world.
Try to become, or remain, independent thinkers and forge an 'idealism without illusions'.
Good luck to you all and thank you.