Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Buna dimineata! Good morning!
It's a great pleasure for me to be here in beautiful Romania, and I would like to thank you for your warm welcome to this seminar.
We are here today to celebrate the past, to assess the present and to discuss the future. So let me start with the past.
Twenty years ago, in 1989, the political landscape of Europe was transformed, as if by an earthquake. The world watched, in amazement, as the old order - the Cold War between west and east, between capitalist democracy and Soviet Communism - was suddenly and dramatically swept away.
The present generation of young people must find it hard to imagine that old world order. Europe divided by an ideological barrier so strong and immovable that Winston Churchill named it the "iron curtain". Germany split in two by barbed wire fences and the Berlin Wall - patrolled by armed guards and their dogs. And-so many youngsters killed in their attempt to escape.
East of that Wall, a world of fear and repression. West of that Wall, a world of democracy and freedom, where countries were all reaching a better quality of life and well-being.
My generation grew up in that torn and divided political and economic landscape.
It had hardly changed since the Second World War, and it was so familiar we assumed it was permanent. Luckily, we were wrong! Twenty years ago the Iron Curtain first cracked and then fell. It was a defining moment in European history, and one of the most significant events of the 20th century.
It's hard to say exactly how or when the process began. Perhaps with the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, or with the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland in 1980. But 1989 was the year that finally changed everything.
In the west, we watched it happening and could hardly believe our eyes. Here in Romania, and in the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, you didn't watch: you made it happen!
In December 1989, six months after Hungary began dismantling the fences along its border with Austria, protests in Timisoara swiftly built and spread, with people singing "Desteapta-te romane" - "Awake, Romanian!" - and dancing the Hora unirii, the dance of unity. A mass rally in Bucharest turned into a mass revolt, and Nicolae Ceausecsu was forced to flee.
After 24 years of tyrannical rule by a hated dictator, Romania was free at last. To quote a famous Romanian slogan, "De Craciun, ne-am luat ratia de liberatate": "At Christmas we took our ration of liberty".
1989 had been an absolutely amazing year: an avalanche of revolutionary change that none of us expected to see in our lifetimes. Watching the events unfold on our TV screens, many of us in the rest of Europe literally wept for joy. And I think it is important for you to know that is what happened.
Twenty years on, let's take the opportunity to celebrate those events, and the extraordinary democratic and economic progress that followed them. This progress led to the twelve former Communist countries joining the European Union between 2004 and 2007.
But I said just now that we are also here to assess the present and to discuss the future. So I want to ask three questions:
-What does the fall of the Iron Curtain mean for us today?
-What has the 2004-2007 EU i enlargement done for Europe - and for Romania in particular?
-What lessons can we learn for the common future of all Europeans?
What does the fall of the Iron Curtain mean for us today?
To me, the fall of the Iron Curtain means, primarily, two things. First, it is an end to the artificial division of Europe. It means that European nations and peoples can at last re-discover the values, and the historical and cultural ties, that make us a family and bind us together.
We share values that transcend national boundaries. Values such as freedom and democracy; tolerance and respect; neighbourliness and solidarity; human rights and the rule of law; securing peace and building prosperity.
It also means freedom! Freedom to express our cultural diversity. Freedom to be who we are as individuals. Freedom to move, to travel, to spend our time as we wish. Freedom to express our opinions or practise our faith without fear of arrest, imprisonment, torture,…Freedom to choose, through democratic elections, who is to govern us.
So, if I had to find a slogan for the post-1989 era, it would be this: "Europe - whole and free". Let's treasure that wholeness, and that freedom, and never again let it be taken from us.
To former Communist countries in the 1990s, joining the family of democratic European countries and moving to a free market economy logically meant joining the European Union. EU membership gives countries the benefits of collective strength and solidarity without sacrificing national identity or cultural diversity. Indeed, the EU's motto is "United in diversity".
So we come to my second question: what has the 2004-2007 enlargement of the European Union done for Europe - and for Romania in particular?
To state the obvious, it has made the European Union larger and increased its political weight in the world. Its population increased by nearly 30%. The EU weighs more with 27 Member States in international fora and its capacity to influence the shaping of the world's governance is greater.
Enlargement has also made the European Union culturally more diverse. Diversity is a great asset. Whether in scientific research, in technological development or in devising business strategies, some of the best new ideas are sparked by bringing together people from different cultural backgrounds to work on a common project.
Enlargement has finally increased the size of the EU economy - and, even more importantly, it has boosted the EU's economic potential. The new Member States represent new markets and investment opportunities for European business as a whole, and the economies of the new Member States have been growing strongly over the past decade or so.
Here in Romania, gross domestic product per head of population has increased remarkably. In 2001 it was 24% of the EU average; in 2005 that figure had risen to 35%. Even in 2008, when the economic downturn had already begun, the Romanian economy grew by an estimated 7.8%.
This healthy economic growth in the countries of central and eastern Europe was achieved partly thanks to EU assistance and partly thanks to reforms undertaken by the candidate countries in order to meet the conditions for EU membership.
These conditions were not only economic but also political. They obliged the then candidate countries to have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for (and protection of) minorities.
Last but not least, EU membership has given citizens of the new Member States the right to study, live and work anywhere in the European Union - subject to temporary restrictions in some countries. Hundreds of thousands of Romanian citizens have already taken advantage of these new opportunities.
But the sunny landscape I have just painted is currently being overshadowed by some storm clouds. Europe, along with the rest of the world, is facing some very serious challenges - not least the global economic downturn, the impacts of climate change and our need to become less dependent on fossil fuels, especially when they have to be imported, from Russia or elsewhere.
People across Europe are naturally worried. What are our future prospects? What lessons for our common future can we learn from 1989 - and from the experience of EU enlargement? This is my third and final question for today.
I want to give three brief and encouraging answers.
First, EU membership is about facing the challenges together. The solidarity and support we give each other puts us in a much better position to deal successfully with these challenges, makes us less vulnerable, makes us stronger.
Last November, for example, the Commission announced a comprehensive recovery plan for the EU economy, combining coordinated national action with EU policy initiatives to boost purchasing power, generate growth and jobs and move Europe towards becoming a low carbon economy.
The plan, agreed last month by the EU's political leaders meeting in Brussels, will inject 400 billion euros into the EU economy. Countries that are particularly vulnerable are already being given urgent assistance, and negotiations have been taking place between the Romanian Government, the Commission and other financial institutions on a loan of some 18 to 20 billion euros for Romania.
The point is simple: there is strength in unity, and concerted collective action is much more effective than ad hoc measures taken by individual countries.
My second answer is that each Member State must play its part in tackling the challenges and must deliver on its commitments. This is essential for every EU Member State. Romania is no exception. This country has set out along the path of reform - tackling issues of justice and human rights and committing itself to fight corruption. Romania needs to keep up the momentum of those reforms. Current economic difficulties must not be used as an excuse to slow down social progress.
Finally, our future is in our own hands. Each and every EU citizen has the right and the responsibility to shape the future not only of his or her own country but also of the European Union as a whole.
How? By finding out about the issues facing Europe and discussing them together - in schools and universities; in the media and on the internet. Next, by making our voices heard in town halls and regional councils, in dialogue with the public authorities and with our Members of Parliament. By being positive and pro-active, thus contributing to the enrichment of the European Union. Lastly, by voting in democratic elections.
In June this year there will be elections for the next European Parliament. Are you planning to vote? I sincerely hope so! The European Parliament has a key role in passing EU legislation and shaping EU policy: so make sure you find out what the different political parties are proposing.
I appeal especially to the young people of Romania. Get involved in politics! Don't be passive! Don't let the older generation take the important European decisions that will affect your future!
I appeal also to the women of Romania. Make your voices heard loud and clear! If you want Europe to tackle the issues that concern you as a woman, don't let the men set the agenda! There are not enough women politicians either in this country or in the European Parliament - so, if at all possible, vote for a good woman candidate in the June elections!
To all Romanians, I want to say this: you know from bitter experience the value of democracy; help us bring democracy truly alive in Europe - first by voting in these European elections, and then by getting involved in the political process right here in Romania. Shape the future, week by week, month by month, year by year.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
EU enlargement in 2004 - 2007 has delivered positive benefits to old and new Member States alike. Prosperity and democracy have flourished and Europe has been made stronger and more dynamic. The same was true of earlier enlargements, as the people of Ireland, Spain and Portugal can testify. And the same will be true of future enlargements - at last embracing Turkey and the Balkan States within the progressive, democratic European family of nations.
If the events of 1989 have one lesson to teach us is surely that people can change things when they act courageously together. Romanians heeded the call of "Desteapta-te romane" and brought about their revolution.
Twenty years on, we need not another revolution but an ongoing commitment to build a strong, dynamic and sustainable Europe that can act in unison and be a force for good in the world.