You certainly know the words erroneously ascribed to Jean Monnet: "if I were to start anew, I would start from culture." These words are quoted more and more often to suggest that the fathers and founders admitted to themselves late in life that they had taken the wrong road. They are invoked as a denunciation of a materialist Europe, a Europe without soul, without flesh and without savour. This is the Europe of merchants, the Europe of grocers. One often hears such expressions.
The words of J. Monnet have led me to two conclusions. The first is that we should congratulate ourselves that the construction of Europe has started from culture: it is good we have started from economy in the construction of Europe, and it would have been presumptuous of us to have started with culture. It would have been presumptuous, for Europe and culture are not things merely to be invented. We had to wait until after the Second World War to lay the foundations of a single European culture. That culture exist as long as there are intellectuals, novelists, and artists. Let it suffice here to remind you that our culture has had two peak periods. I refer first to the Europe of medieval universities. No Parisian student of the 13th century would have been surprised at having a German supervisor, Albert the Great, or an Italian, Thomas Acquinas. I have in mind as well the Europe of the Enlightenment, that "immense republic of cultivated spirits" of which Voltaire spoke, of which the Prince of Ligne would have been an archetype. Closer to us, Stefan Zweig embodies that European culture which, after the dark ages, was the glory of Paris and Vienna.
Therefore it was necessary to reconstruct the European economy on a continent ruined by the war and hatred, and to teach people to speak once again to one another and to exchange. The latter itself was a means to find again the Europe of culture.
Summing up, we should not be surprised that the treaty of Rome was a bit verbose in the matters of culture; its authors were not barbarians, nor uncultured diplomats, and they should not be regarded as mere technocrats in love with the rate of growth and strong money. On the contrary, perhaps they were too well-versed in history to think that political authority carries any real weight in matters of culture. Rather, their almost complete silence regarding culture should not be seen as a sign of wisdom.
The phrase that legend now ascribes to J. Monnet expresses a conviction, but also raises a doubt, and this is my second conclusion. The premonitory conviction was only one stage in the European construction: the stage where it was a rather elitist venture, concerned with economics, with the prosaic task of economics, when what was necessary was to arouse enthusiasm, to mobilize all the resources of those who loved Europe. The conviction was that it was necessary to adopt a strategy of small steps towards a true political and culture project. The intention was not limited to adding a cultural section to the economical assembly, as people add sugar to diminish the bitterness of potion, or, if you prefer, as people put cherry on a cake.
As to the doubt, it depends on my understanding of the cultural influence of Europe. J. Monnet certainly knew what Paul Valéry said about the Europe of yesterday, in his famous phrase that I remember, "No other part of the world possesses that unique physical power: the most intense power of mission united with the most intense power to absorb. Everything has come to Europe and everything in it has come true".
We might wonder whether P. Valéry's remarks still hold true. Is Europe not afraid of issuing less than it absorbs? And if that is the case, is it not the vocation of one united Europe, a Europe which is rather rich, to be but the academy of an exhausted culture?
You tell me that I should rewrite history, and you, undoubtedly, will be right. Allow me to share a personal conviction: the Europe of culture must irrigate the Europe of politics, otherwise the latter will never become reality.
There are two essential reasons for this. The first is inasmuch as, with exchanges broadening to a world-wide level, the reconciliation of our type of life takes place in all the domains of the material life, inasmuch as the political and economical integration of Europe is made. It is in the territory of culture that we could better affirm, without any inferiority complex, our diversity and our pluralism. This diversity is the trademark of Europe, it is its major asset. The world of the cinema and the audiovisual forcefully remind us that it is the condition of our moral and cultural survival.
There is still today a great degree of cultural diversity. One may well see that the contrast reaches up to mentalities: the marked taste of the French for history, the Germans' passion for ecology, the Swedes' interest in psychology, and one could go and go.
It is not enough, however, to recognize Europe's cultural diversity as the asset which it is; that cultural diversity should be brought to life. I mentioned the doubt which insists itself as regards the capacity of the influence of our old continent. This diversity of cultures needs to be affirmed not merely in a nostalgic celebration of an inheritance, but above all in a dynamic manner, by creation.
There is another reason for the necessary encounter of the two worlds which have for two long been kept in distance: Europe will no longer be constructed without public debate, therefore it will not be constructed without the involvement of intellectuals and people of culture. With the European Council of Maastricht we have turned an important page. There we saw that the member nations have begun to take a new interest in the European construction, even though it is often criticized. This interest is not new and one cannot be surprised that there have sometimes been misunderstandings; this is the price to pay for the long years of insufficient information, pedagogy and debate. From now on, however, let me repeat, nothing will be as it was in the past, and it is very good.
The most important factor of change may be the implication of intellectuals in the European adventure. The intellectuals for too long have remained outside the European construction, with the notable exception of jurists who could not be uninterested in the unprecedented construction in the international relations. However, since the fall of the Berlin wall they seem to be making up for the lost time. There is a possible explication for this renewed interest: the reunion of the two Europes. With the fall of the Berlin wall, we were forced to ask ourselves questions. Our new duty was clear: to hold out one's hand, help, exchange, construct together. Let us quote Milan Kundera who has been reminding the Polish, Czech and Hungarian nations since 1983 that "the word Europe does not represent a geographical phenomenon, but is a spiritual notion". Moreover I note in passing that the Europe of culture prefigures an enlarged Europe; it includes the whole of Scandinavia and opens up to that central and eastern Europe without which it would be like a lonely widow. In any case, Europe is now a topic of discussion and reviews; it no longer appears as an exclusively political responsibility.
We regard this with satisfaction and great hope, for we need a debate without concession on the goals and means of the European construction. My reflection is that it is the intellectuals who can sustain that construction. The debate is open because the political Europe that is to be constructed cannot resemble anything that exists today: it is to be invented and for this we need you. And, believe me, these are not hollow words or flatteries. Since 1991 the European Commission has taken initiative to organize, several times a year, meetings with fifteen intellectuals, scientists, as well as people of the Church and religious. They all gather around one definite topic. Together we reflect on the perspectives of Europe, its responsibilities, its duties vis-a-vis the rest of the world.
It is my hope that they try other paths and that more and more the world of culture will enrich our reflections, enlarge our perspectives, that it will humanize us.
If the world of culture, as I think, has a duty to engage in the European construction, the Community also has obligations. I know that the whole world will not agree. Some state that the cultural diversity of Europe is alive, and conclude that the only option is to follow the natural course of exchanges and of the cooperation. Culture will not allow itself to be enclosed in a treaty, an organization or procedures. It is evident that treating culture merely as one department among others of the European construction would be both to betray culture and disappoint Europe. In short, to avoid any misunderstanding, the Europe of culture, still less than the other Europes, does not decree itself into existence. One who crosses national borders within Europe more than a hundred times a year is made acutely aware of the Europe of culture and the realities of cultural life.
And yet, let us say, this approach ignores the obstacles hindering the circulation of ideas, and the urgency that we must reinforce that common cultural consciousness without which Europe would be in danger of losing its identity and becoming nothing but a large, mundane marketplace. Therefore we need to find directions, concrete themes proper to speed up European culture and to carry the cooperation to a higher plane than that of spontaneous exchanges. They are very encouraging.
This is why the treaty on the European Union, concluded at Maastricht, admitted for the first time explicitly that the cultural dimension is determined to favour one veritable union among the citizens and to create the sentiment of common membership. The treaty assigns to the Community the objective of encouraging the exchanges, in the respect of diversity, but also in the principle of subsidiarity - and it is thought here above all the role of cities and regions which have long been cultural animators of great influence.
Culture should be defended for what it is, but also for what it is not, and it is not a piece of merchandise as other things are. The current debate on the electronic media is well-known; the identity of Europe is at stake. It is unacceptable that this form of culture should be belittled under the domination of the great multinational groups. It needs incentives and patronage.
I mentioned the public debate on Europe. The philosophy of Hannah Arendt described it in the following way: "The world has become inhuman as it has been carried away by a movement where no permanent species may subsist". Writing is, par excellence, the vehicle of memory, permanence, and the reflection on the quality. We must achieve, and it will be but to reassure what Milan Kundera, in an excess of pessimism, thus defined the European, "one who is filled with nostalgia for Europe". The opening up of cultures will give us, on the contrary, the desire for Europe.