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Princess of Asturias Award for Concord 2017
Prime Minister, Mariano [Rajoy],
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am greatly moved and delighted to be here to receive the Princess of Asturias Award for Concord on behalf of the European Union. I wish to thank the Foundation. This award pays tribute to the merits and fundamental principles of the European Union, merits and principles that have enabled Europe to become a symbol of peace, democracy and freedom throughout the world today.
I am like Europe: I can progress with my Spanish and Europe can progress in all spheres.
This word ‘concord’ is a word that conjures up many things for me. It is a term that refers to the communion between hearts and minds. In this sense, the word ‘concord’ precisely reflects the nature of European integration, as the European Union is not only a matter of spirit, but above all, a matter of the heart.
This beautiful city of Oviedo also speaks to the heart and the spirit. This is the second time I have had the honour of visiting this city, but this time it is somewhat different: I see Spanish flags flying everywhere, something which is nice to see.
Yes, Europe, this old Europe, ever young, active, sometimes with a look of concern on its face, but often smiling, has helped us to leave behind the long and tragic nights of the past.
It is necessary to sometimes remember –to always remember, in fact– that peace, the continental peace that we now know after so many martyrs and so much heartbreak on our continent, is not something that is patent. The peace process is an everyday conquest, and very often –all too often– we forget the generation of our parents and grandparents, whose lives were momentarily, sometimes definitively, shattered and cut short.
In prisons and in concentration camps, on battlefields, in absolute misery and in the uttermost despair, our parents and grandparents always preserved the eternal dream of “never again” deep in their hearts.
They refused to accept the possibility–and it is their merit, not ours– that our generations might once more see war, division, dictatorships, the attitude of ‘every man for himself’, the rejection of the other.
With a great deal of imagination and a will that is renewed every day, our predecessors transformed this post-war dream, this post-war prayer –“never again a war”– into a political agenda with positive consequences reaching right up to the present day.
They confronted the absurd force of arms with the force of law –the force of law and law itself– which is a basic principle of a freely agreed-on European Union. The strength of our Union, its power, I would even say, its “soft power”, is based on compliance with the rule of law. It is the rule of law that offers us the setting that protects us, that enables us to live and work together. In effect, it is the rule of law that enables us to breathe together in harmonious coexistence and respect for our differences.
Spain has known all the different forms of suffering that have affected Europeans throughout the 20th century. Spain is a driving force in Europe. Moreover, Spain’s place is and will continue to be in the very heart of Europe. Without Spain, Europe would be much poorer.
The King Emeritus, Juan Carlos, Your Majesty’s father –You know the admiration I feel for Your father–, who united His destiny with the consolidation of democracy in Spain, made European integration the first of His priorities. In an ever-changing, uncertain, unpredictable world, You, Your Majesty, maintain the course set by Your father and uphold His legacy. Your various stages in the European Commission, first as a trainee and then as King, show Your matchless commitment to the cause of Europe, for which I thank You.
Yes, because our world is changing at an incredible, very often unstoppable and surprising speed. Although things are changing rapidly, we should not forget that which is essential and always remember that Europe remains the best defence against the dramatic events of our past. Europe offers us a shoulder to lean on. It also opens its arms wide to embrace all, without exception, and offer tranquillity and peace of mind.
Yes, I know that not everything is perfect in Europe. We are aware of its weaknesses and shortcomings, and its frequent failings; yet, at the same time, Europe is capable of the best, of achieving the best results when it comes together and Europeans walk side by side towards the same horizon.
We must not lose patience. We must understand that Europe needs patience and determination, the patience and determination that long journeys and great aspirations require.
Long live Spain! Long live Europe!
Translated by Paul Barnes.
Majestades, Premiados, Autoridades, Señoras y Señores
I am happy that thanks to the decision of the Princess of Asturias Foundation, I am receiving tonight the Concord Award for the European Union. And at the same time I am very proud that the same award - for Literature - is being received today also by a Pole, a great poet, Adam Zagajewski.
We met forty years ago, even if he doesn’t know about it. I was still a student when I read his brilliant poem about censorship, in the time of the Communist dictatorship in Poland. Together with my friends, we printed this poem in our illegal printing house in several hundred copies. With time, Zagajewski became for my generation a symbol of the freedom of speech, of the independence of thought, and of our longing for Europe - not in the geographical sense, but in political, intellectual and axiological ones.
We both participated in the mass “Solidarity” movement, together with millions of our compatriots. We were beaten, thrown to jail, forced to go on exile. But we never gave up on a few simple principles: that violence doesn’t solve anything, that dialogue is always better than conflict, that law should be respected by all the actors of the public life, and that harmony is better than chaos.
For all those years we both dreamt about a united Europe, where concord and truth prevail. And today we are in fact receiving the award of Concord, at the same time bearing in mind that there is no genuine concord without the truth.
In many parts of our world, people feel that they are surrounded
by lies, manipulation and fake news.
But I deeply believe that truth is invincible. And that this ceremony is also an expression of this invincibility.
In fact one of the most beautiful poems by Adam Zagajewski talks about the truth. Together with my friends we have translated a fragment into Spanish:
El territorio de la verdad es claramente reducido,
Estrecho como un sendero al borde de un precipicio
Eres capaz de no salirte de el?
Acaso ya lo has abandonado.
Your Royal Highnesses,
Ladies and Gentleman,
It is an honour for me to receive the Princess of Asturias Award for Concord, alongside the Presidents of the European Council and the Commission. My thoughts also go to the other institutions, bodies and agencies of the Union. This is an honour for all of the protagonists of European integration.
I would particularly like thank all Members of the European Parliament for their work; it is thanks to them, and on their behalf, that I am accepting this award today. This prestigious accolade coincides with the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. I would therefore also like to thank my predecessors for their work.
As President of the European Parliament, I appear before you with humility, emotion and admiration.
With humility because I am aware that, in a way, this award also honours Europe’s 500 million citizens. It is they who, in their everyday lives, make possible the peace, stability and prosperity that is the European Union.
With emotion because I know that very prestigious people and institutions have received this honour before me. My mentor in the world of journalism, Indro Montanelli, received the Communications and Humanities Award in 1996. It moves me to know that he once stood here.
Lastly, I receive this award with admiration for the Spanish people:
Their ability to overcome setbacks and their generosity of spirit;
Their love for freedom and democracy;
Their steadfast pro-Europeanism and solidarity.
All of these attributes, I believe, embody the Princess of Asturias Awards.
Your Royal Highnesses,
At a solemn moment such as this, I think we need to reflect upon what the European Union stands for.
The 60 years that have elapsed since the signing of the Treaty of Rome have been the longest period of peace, democracy and prosperity in our continent’s history.
This has been a titanic effort, which the founding fathers of the European Union, like those of the Spanish constitution, built upon a foundation of concord.
I am the son of a soldier. In the middle of the last century, armies were fighting one another in Europe. Today, our soldiers participate in peace-keeping and humanitarian missions across the globe.
When the Treaty of Rome was signed there were customs barriers, each Member State had its own currency and studying abroad or travelling by aeroplane was an unattainable luxury for many. Today we can see that the internal market has enabled extraordinary economic growth. The euro is the currency of most of the Union’s Member States. And the Erasmus generation and low-cost flights are now the rule rather than the exception.
But I would like to stress that the European Union means more than just banking or the euro. Above all it means the defence of our values: freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and safeguarding human rights, among others.
While some are sowing discord by deliberately ignoring laws, I think we need to remind ourselves of the importance of respecting the rule of law.
The European Union has been a success because it is the fruit of a community of law. Europeans no longer discuss matters at gunpoint: we do so around a table and negotiate according to rules agreed between all parties. We conduct dialogue within the bounds of the law. The European Union does not have a police force to enforce judicial decisions; there is no need. When the Court of Justice delivers a judgment, it is applied and that’s that.
Nobody in the EU would ever dream of flouting the rules that have been agreed by all. While, of course, the Treaties can be changed. The Treaty of Rome has been amended on several occasions. It was converted into the Lisbon Treaty. But, as long as the law remains the same, obeying it is not an option; it is an obligation.
The European Union’s Treaties and the Constitution form a single body of law and democracy that we are all duty-bound to observe.
The Union also stands for solidarity. There are net contributors in Europe as well. But prosperity for all also benefits those who provide the most.
This is worth remembering in these times in which narrow nationalist self-interests are bubbling to the surface. The value of consensus, both constitutional and European, is a public good in and of itself, and should not be jeopardised.
Your Royal Highnesses,
Concord entails always reaching out towards understanding, putting oneself in a position to reach agreement, searching for the common good, and realising that upholding our unity in diversity makes us stronger.
This is the European path. This is the path on which Spain embarked with the decisive step of the Constitution of 1978 and application for membership of the European Community.
This is modern Spain’s great adventure; its rendez-vous with history; its definitive conquest of freedom, democracy and a better life for all.
Your Royal Highnesses,
I would like to talk about the future.
The choice before us is not whether we want Europe or not, but rather the scale of the contribution we make to the future of the European Union.
I believe that everything should be based on three pillars:
First: let us not build borders between Europeans. All too often in the past the prospect of redrawing borders has been presented as a heavenly panacea that has resulted in a hellish mess.
Second: let us always defend European values. And let us do so without fear, both within and outside our borders. And let us not be afraid to denounce unacceptable situations such as what is currently happening in Venezuela.
Lastly: let us do much more to place citizens at the heart of all political action. The European Union is not a project for elites; quite the contrary. It was born and grew to ensure the well-being of all citizens.
We are emerging from one of the worst crises we have ever faced. We will perhaps see others. There are some in Europe, populists and nationalists, who are spending time and effort on dividing us. They would be better advised to work to achieve concord.
Your Royal Highnesses,
There are many Asturians here in the Campoamor theatre today. It is well known that I hold particular affection for this region, which is also my beloved fatherland. There is a street that bears my name in Gijón. An American multinational had decided to close a factory, dismissing all of its workers. We managed to persuade it to reopen. We saved several hundred jobs. This was a team effort between local, regional, national and European authorities. We should thus never underestimate the power of working in concord.
To conclude: my mother was a Latin and Greek teacher. She imparted upon me a love for the classics. A Roman dramatic poet, Publilius Syrus, said long ago that:
‘where there is concord there is always victory’.
Thank you very much.
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