A vision of European culture by José-Manuel Barroso


In Paris in 1940, the great writer and great European Stefan Zweig spoke of Vienna as ‘that classical city of music. Never was a city more blessed by the god of music than Vienna… And if for centuries not a year passed when Vienna did not see the birth of an immortal work of music, that was partly because musicians found in this city, at every level of society, a demanding and passionate public’…

Zweig was not just an ardent admirer of his native city and its cosmopolitan spirit; he was also a fervent advocate of the idea of European unity… A European Union of culture preceded and nurtured the economic and political European Union that we know today; culture always was, and still is, more than ever, the cement that binds Europe together.

Your think-tank of young people has helped to put the focus on this idea of ‘culture as the cement of Europe’ as one of the themes of your conference… If, over the last sixty years, we have succeeded in uniting our countries on solid foundations, it is because the Union was buttressed by the existence of an underlying fundamental unity; the cultural kinship shared by Europeans. In its essence, our Union is both a political and – let’s not be afraid to say it – a cultural project…

Edmund Husserl stressed here in Vienna in 1935: ‘No matter how hostile, the nations of Europe nevertheless share a special inner kinship of spirit that runs through them all, transcending their national differences. There is a kind of sibling bond that gives all of us within this circle a consciousness of homeland’…

It is this spirit that continues to thrive today, encouraged and sustained by the wide range of measures taken by the European Commission… What we want to defend is a Europe constantly developing new forms of cooperation founded on the exchange of ideas, innovation, and research.

The basis of our unity is a pluralist, multilingual culture that has assimilated the heritage of other cultures. The wealth of our culture lies in our openness to other societies, and to the world… European unity is not achieved through some sort of levelling process driving us to uniformity, but through a fruitful blending of differences, contrasts, and yes, even tensions… Denis de Rougemont said: ‘Culture demands a paradoxical pact: diversity must be the principle of unity, differences must be highlighted, not in order to divide but in order to enrich culture even further. Europe is a culture, or else it is nothing’... And in this sense opera is eminently European, an element that serves both to create and to bind together a Europe of unity in diversity. So if any journalist asks you, ‘Why is the European Commission President in a conference on opera?’ you can reply, ‘Because there is nothing more European than opera.’

Opera is the ‘summa artis’ where music, theatre, song and dance come together in one and the same production and also with new media… Opera knows no frontiers… Opera is the illustration par excellence of the long dialogue between European cultures across national boundaries, across centuries… Opera is the distilled expression of fundamental European values.

The Latin root of the word culture, colere, reminds us that the underlying idea is to look after, take care of, preserve. And never has the European Union needed culture, in this root sense of the term, more than at the present time of deep crisis we face today, with all the doubts and fundamental questioning it has brought.

Never has there been a greater need for us to take good care of our economy that we define as a social market economy, a model that we must modernise in order to better preserve it, to take care of it. That means also support for the cultural activities that generate new ideas, innovation and social cohesion. That is why the European Commission believes that, even at these difficult times of budget constraints, Europe must not hesitate to invest in culture, a growth sector for new jobs, jobs with a future. This is the spirit behind our new programme, ‘Creative Europe’…

Because the society we believe in is an inclusive society that should leave no one by the roadside, a society that gives everyone a chance. And first of all, that means education, the basic right of every individual and a key factor for any dynamic economy and society…

In our discussions with our Member States we are trying to protect culture, education, science and research in the national budgets. We believe it is important to make fiscal consolidation, but we always say smart fiscal consolidation. And we believe it is not smart to cut in culture, to cut in science, to cut in what can be the sources of growth in the future, in our young people.

The year 2013, the European Year of Citizenship, is the occasion to focus the debate about the future of Europe on civil society, including the world of culture. I am promoting an idea about the contribution that culture can give to Europe and also what Europe can give to culture. We are organising gatherings of intellectuals, artists, culture promoters to come not only with support, but also with criticism; what we can do to have this new narrative of Europe for the 21st century. Think about this, give us your ideas, participate in our launch of a process all over Europe.

An event like yours is an important occasion to discuss some of these issues, because you know by your experience every day and every night how important it is, the cement of culture, for these European values that we cherish.

‘The highest degree of art,’ said Zweig, ‘is attained wherever it is the passion of an entire people.’


José-Manuel Barroso
President of the European Commission


An abridged version of the address given on 4 April 2013

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