Speech by Princess Laurentien at Europe Day in Amsterdam
Exactly 10 years ago, I stood here in the same spot, asking the audience to close their eyes and imagine the future of Europe. I wonder how many people imagined today’s world we’re living in…
So I stand here with some trepidation… what do my words matter when only a few thousand kilometers away, war is destroying lives, cities and dreams…. What does Europe Day mean in 2022? In a year when war has returned to Europe?
And yet, today ís Europe Day. A day that traditionally celebrates peace and unity in Europe - here in Amsterdam and across the continent.
To understand why, let ‘s go back to the beginning.
Europe is a continent of thinkers, artists and inventors and of warriors and demagogues. We have great cultural heritage… and have fought the most terrible wars in world history. This duality is woven into the declaration that Robert Schuman published on 9 May 1950, exactly 72 years ago: “World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”
Schuman was convinced that concrete, visible and tangible achievements would over time create a sense of solidarity. He believed in the solidarity of production, of creation, of joint action. This 72-year-old vision also gives us useful clues to address Europe’s challenges of today: Be short and precise. Solve a real problem. Focus on the essence of power, interests and sovereignty. Make a plan that delivers achievements. Don’t just talk about solidarity but create solidarity through action. Start immediately.
The Schuman Declaration imagined lasting peace in Europe based on pooling resources and sovereignty. This sounds basic, but 72 years ago this idea was equivalent to a moon-shot. Because only ten years after the second World War, six countries - including Germany - voluntarily came together to share sovereignty in the production of coal, steel, and nuclear energy, thereby internationalising the hardware of war and creating the basis for sustainable peace, security and prosperity in Europe.
This was also a response to the external challenge from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact – which, nowadays, is rarely mentioned in the promotional story of the European project.
These six contries became the founding fathers of the European Uion. We seldom talk about politics as being creative. But this was truly creative and imaginative. The Schuman Declaration and the subsequent creation of the European Union was the most creative political project of the twentieth century. Schuman and his colleagues imagined it.…. and made it happen. An idea, a vision that delivered long lasting peace and prosperity, not only on paper but in real life.
Over the years, we took peace in Europe for granted. We were so used to living in peace that we could not imagine that there won’t be peace. Making us sceptical of voices warning us that polarisation could lead to war. And while some took peace for granted, others prepared for war.
In recent years, it became fashionable to wonder about the purpose and future of the European project. This underscores the need to express the narrative of the European Union of peace and solidarity. We should do so forcefully and in a way that young people will not only understand but embrace. We must defend our shared values, in realisation that we should not take them for granted.
Coming back to Europe Day. What is there to celebrate?
Of course, let’s be honest, the European Union is far from perfect. But it is still the best political, geopolitical, economic, social and cultural construct we ever invented.
The European Union is work in progress. In the best sense of the term. Yes, it’s difficult and it has never been easy. United in diversity, the European Union will show its strength.
We have achieved a lot. A dynamic and prosperous region, based on shared values.
So, let’s make time at least once a year to celebrate the European Union and the creative idea which brought us together. And let’s not give into the warmongering and into the people who want to turn back the wheel of history.
Let’s celebrate our Ukrainian friends who are currently defending their freedom and values with their own lives. And let’s commemorate all those who have given their lives….
Let’s remind ourselves today that European peace, cooperation and solidarity are as relevant today as they were 72 years ago. And that they cannot be taken for granted.
In fact, Europe Day 2022 is probably the most important Europe Day since its inception.
Let’s continue to imagine a better Europe.
What about the role of culture?
The European Cultural Foundation, based here in Amsterdam, was created in 1954 with the mission to grow a European sentiment through connecting local realities and initiatives with the European mission, through culture and education.
In the midst of the coronacrisis, we took stock of this mission. How much of a European sentiment is there across Europe, how far does it expand beyond the Brussels belt?
As part of this reflection, the European Cultural Foundation and the European Council on Foreign Relations conducted a study on the state of the European sentiment. We proudly present the results of this European Sentiment Compass today… And the good news is that it shows a growing European sentiment, also in The Netherlands.
The coronacrisis and the war in Ukraine clearly unite us. That is a strength, of course. But it also feels somewhat ironic - if it takes a pandemic and a war to make Europeans feel European. That is why the study points to the importance of shared values, shared cultures and a shared public and media space.
Robert Schuman, Prince Bernhard and the other founders of the European Cultural Foundation envisioned a Europe where citizens feel proudly European, a place where they can live, express themselves, work and dream freely, in diversity, inclusivity and harmony. They knew that it would not be enough to share the hardware of war, but that we also need to share the creative power of culture, the software of peace.
That begs the question: Are we up to the creative challenge Robert Schuman imagined?
Artists and cultural figures are drivers of change. They give hope in times of anxiety. They provide resistance against dictators and lies. They keep the connection across polarized lines. They imagine a better Europe beyond war, spheres of influence, polarization and simplistic talk of growth rates. They can help save Europe from nostalgia for 20th-century nationalism. Investing in arts and culture in times like these is an investment in our common futures.
Cultural actors and artists create spaces that push us to imagine new ideas and possibilities. They are well aware of the discomfort they create by challenging the status quo, to the point of being labelled naïve’, ‘irrelevant’, ‘political’ or worse, extremist. But it’s their independence of mind that drives them.
Culture can create European-wide experiences. Such shared experiences create a sense of belonging, a shared sense of purpose in Europe.
For the past 67 years, The European Cultural Foundation has been a firm advocate of a Europe grounded in culture. And it has supported those who, even in the most complex and difficult socio-political contexts, strive to express their own vision of Europe.
Artists, cultural workers and heritage professionals in Ukraine, elsewhere in Europe and even in Russia itself, were among the most forceful voices to warn against Putin’s aggression, condemn it, call for defiance and resistance, often at the risk of their own lives.
There has been much support to Ukraine - economically, on the military and humanitarian fronts. Culture can substantially add to these efforts, being inspirational and vital to our everyday lives. It provides hope, strength and resilience. We need to build on the capacity of culture to heal, bring communities together and imagine a way forward.
There is now clearly an urgency to support cultural initiatives that, in the midst of turmoil and crisis, reinforce European solidarity and provide hope and creativity for a shared future in peace.
In honour of former ECF President Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, the European Cultural Foundation hosted eleven successful editions of the Princess Margriet Award for Culture, the annual award for inspiring people and organisations who imagined new paths for Europe.
The Award has brought forth many important and esteemed laureates, two of them are participating in this Europe Day celebration today: Vasyl Cherepanyn of the Kyiv based Visual Cultural Research Centre and Charles Esche, director at van Abbe Museum who both in their own ways encourage critical thinking and radical imagination.
With the blessing of Princess Margriet as patron and namesake of the award, the European Cultural Foundation has developed the award into a fund that addresses the many challenges that Europe is now facing. This Culture of Solidarity Fund supports cultural solidarity in Europe in moments of turmoil and crisis and it addresses the urgencies of today with a focus on the power of culture to unite and mobilise.
Two days after the start of the war, the Culture of Solidarity Fund launched a Ukraine edition. The fund is supported by a coalition of over ten European foundations – and growing. Until now, with over 1 million Euro, more than 50 projects were supported, including evacuation of art collections, providing safe spaces for artists and countering misinformation and war propaganda.
But of course, this is a drop in the ocean of what is required, it needs much more.
Investing in arts and culture in times like these is an investment in our common future based on solidarity.
To end…. Culture is the software of building a better Europe. Europe Day 2022 is a day to appreciate what we can achieve if we work together creatively, with focus and urgency.
Europe Day should inspire us to be as imaginative as the founding fathers of the European Union were. And may we take inspiration from the late Polish leader Lech Walesa, who said: “The sole and basic source of our strength is the solidarity of people who seek to live in dignity, truth, and in harmony with their conscience.’"
Are we up to the challenge?
We’d better be.