THE YEAR OF EUROPEAN RENEWAL

The Prime Minister’s Thoughts on the Hungarian EU Presidency

We have run out of Well-Worn Paths

From a broader perspective it is readily apparent that Europe now stands at a fateful juncture. For over twenty years I have been taking part in various European counsels and conferences, and at these gatherings one thing has been consistently clear: the participants have always agreed that there is a well-worn, time-tested path down which it is both worthwhile and indeed necessary to continue plodding. But over the course of the past year and a half the mood at these gatherings has changed fundamentally. Today all of Europe is compelled to face the unpleasant fact that we have run out of well-worn paths. At most the familiar paths will lead us back to the familiar past and its mistakes, setbacks, and failures. They will not lead us to new successes. Sentiment across Europe is increasingly shaped by the realization that anyone who hopes to attain any success in the rapidly changing world of today will only reach his goals if he is willing to venture down untrodden paths. We are all well aware that this will involve clearing brush, felling rotten trees, even dragging stones from the path, and challenges will arise that will oblige us to break ground in regions seemingly impenetrable, but we are equally aware that we must now blaze new trails.

Essentially we are now compelled to acknowledge that for Europe, and perhaps for the world, in the past few years the 20th century came to an end. It has ended, it will not return. Nothing will be as it was before, and nothing will function now as it functioned in the 20th century. We must face the fact that the past century has passed, and we hardly need lament this. Rather we should see its passing as an opportunity, the opportunity for complete renewal.

In the second half of the 20th century Europe responded successfully to the principal challenge of the times, the creation of enduring peace across the continent. On 18 April of this year we will celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community. Coming in the wake of two horrific world wars that left Europe in ruins, this historical step brought a measure of newfound calm for the vast majority of its peoples.

Following the fall of communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe again responded successfully to the challenges that had arisen as a consequence of its partition. The continent was reunited and Europe is today more unified than it has been for centuries.

At the same time, however, we have had to face the fundamental and increasingly pressing social problem that arose even as we accomplished tasks demanding extraordinary exertions, namely that over the course of the past ten or fifteen years the cohesion of our communities has palpably weakened. The citizens and societies of Europe have grown increasingly uncertain regarding the future of the Union and Europe itself. In the 21st century thoughts of enduring peace and unification are no longer enough to persuade the people of Europe to place their faith in the European Union. The reason for this lies in the fact that Europe now faces a challenge it has not had to address for centuries.

Competition of Civilizations

Today a competition of civilizations is taking place that is new to the West, for the hegemony of Western civilization has not been called into question for centuries. But this situation, a comfortable circumstance for Europe and the West, has come to an end.

Many social scientists avow that there are two principal resources necessary to the growth of all civilizations: human energies and consciousness of continuity. Human energies are the forces that find expression in the economy, released in some form of intellectual or physical work, in other words the creation of value. Consciousness of continuity is created by the universal values that enable us to decide what is good, what is bad, what is true, what is false, what is proper, what is wrong. The roots of the identity of a civilization lie in its cultural, religious and moral traditions, a source of strength on which its communities can always rely.

For some time now Europe has seemed to suffer a dearth of both resources.

Asia, on the other hand, seems to have both in abundance. In earlier times the countries of Asia seemed to focus more on consciousness of continuity, but today they rely at least as much on their economic resources. We will only be able to remain economically competitive if we face the fact that we are no longer indisputably wealthier in either and must now take up the gauntlet.

Trends and Tides of the 20th Century

One increasingly often has the feeling that we have pushed off from the solid ground of reality. In every sphere of life trends and tides have ruled in the West that have attempted to inscribe reality with Utopian fictions and delusions.

Thus speculation corrosive to values and injurious to others came to take the place of the labor essential to the creation of value. Genuine cultural traditions that constitute cultural continuity were replaced by ideologies founded on skepticism, positive action was supplanted by ideological debate, the state by the invisible hand of market self-regulation, real currency by virtual currencies, mutual trust by credit without collateral, and one could continue to cite examples from the spheres of child-rearing, culture, and even health services or food.

It hardly seems bold anymore to insist that any venture built on illusions, fictions, or visions of Utopias is inevitably doomed to failure. If this is the case, then does it not also logically follow that the reason we consider our civilization weaker and more precarious is that an undertaking doomed from the start to failure has sapped its vital resources?

This constitutes not merely a logical explanation, supported by historical fact, to our current predicament, but also a summons, for if European civilization is to thrive in the competitive world of tomorrow, then European civilization must seek renewal.

What Does Renewal Mean?

European renewal means a return to the original sources of our strength. Europe must remain Europe, but renewed, suitable for and suited to the 21st century.

In order to achieve this we must go beyond the exhausted tendencies of the 20th century. We must return to the intellectual and cultural riverheads that ensured our European identity and liberate our human energies.

It is hardly difficult to see that speculation and the “everything on credit” approach has led to dangerously large indebtedness, unemployment, and the financial and economic crisis we witness today. It is equally apparent that above a certain limit there is no such thing as good debt and bad debt, and visions of Utopia have proven mirages. Beyond a certain limit all debts are dangerous, whatever the mechanism of repayment.

The absurd delusion that it can be beneficial to an economy if some of the people who are able to work are nonetheless unemployed has also proven a mirage.

We have born witness to the fact that competitiveness and social cohesion can only be put in opposition to each other by Utopian thinking. In truth, they rely on and strengthen each other. And it has gradually become apparent to everyone that the rights of criminals cannot be more important than the rights of law-abiding citizens, the state can indeed be a responsible guardian of the public good if it is not allowed to be enmeshed in private interests, and we can only avoid financial crises and environmental disasters if we have a strong state capable of championing the common good in the face of private interest wherever and whenever necessary.

The sun has set on the ideologies and ideological debates of the 20th century, for they left our hands tied when we should have taken action. Utopias have vanished into thin air and speculation has left us all in peril. Given this, the direction of renewal must point to reality, because respect for reality can again liberate the sources of our strength.

The essence of every community lies in the fact that the community is more than the mere aggregate of its members. This is true in all senses. It is stronger than the sum of the strength of its members, wiser than its wisest sage.

If I can be permitted the expression, the knowledge of a community is a higher order of knowledge, its strength a higher order of strength than the knowledge or strength of any one member. This is why, in the end, the community can always give more to each of its members than any single member can give to the community.

This is true of the European community as well. If it can only offer as much as each individual nation can offer, and perhaps not even that, then why should its citizens think it worth anything? To use a fashionable expression, it should represent value added. Today the citizens of Europe do not sense that the Union offers any additional value, and so they are doubtful of its future.

The citizens of the countries of Europe expect palpable results from us and new answers to the challenges of today. First and foremost they expect economic growth, jobs, social security, order, and public safety.

It is also something of a commonplace by now that there can be no renewal until we master the grave economic hardships we have inherited. Of these, indebtedness seems to be our most serious concern, as well as the source of innumerable other griefs. It is increasingly apparent that the crisis delivered a serious blow to the countries where heavy debts were accumulated, resulting in serious political and social problems.

In other words today indebtedness is a weighty economic hobble that has hindered all of Europe in its attempts to seek renewal and find new, timely solutions to the challenges of the 21st century. The “anything’s possible on credit” approach has caused a global financial, economic crisis and as a mentality has led to a situation in which most of the countries of Europe, Hungary among them, find themselves trapped in debt.

We can only break free from this trap if we dare to break with the bad habits characteristic of the system based on credit and speculation and direct our energies to new solutions to job creation and economic growth sustainable from all perspectives.

Everyone Wants a Strong Europe

We Hungarians, looking at the situation of Europe at this historical moment of the early 21st century, have prepared ourselves for the presidency.

Prepared and ready to take action, Hungary boldly embarks on the sixth-month term of its presidency. As part of our preparations, we participated in a series of consultations within the framework of which we visited every member state and numerous states outside the Union, conferring with the leaders of each country. We familiarized ourselves with opinions concerning the future of Europe, the challenges we face, and naturally the program of the Hungarian presidency. Now as we assume the presidency, we Hungarians are listening to Europe.

Many people have differing opinions concerning the future of Europe, but one view persistently rose to the fore in each of our consultations. In each country the leaders emphasized, in different words and different tones, but with firm consistency, the need for a strong Europe. Everyone sees and senses that a strong Europe will offer strength and support to all of the nations, while a weak Europe will be little more than a burdensome yoke on their necks.

We Hungarians would also prefer a strong Europe. It is in our interests to be a member of a strong community of states. It is in our interests that Europe preserve its historical role in the shaping of the world’s future. In order to achieve this we will need over the course of the coming six months to take bold steps and make resolute decisions. We would like to make our presidency memorable not for keeping up appearances, but for the tasks undertaken and the problems solved. It is our aim that with the passing of the coming six months it become apparent to everyone that the notion of a strong Europe is not a Utopia, but rather a vision that together we can make a reality.

This year Hungary has taken a step in a new direction, and we feel that our aspirations and tasks coincide to a large extent with the aspirations and tasks of the Union. We therefore consider the coming year as the year of Hungary’s renewal, which happens by a stroke of good fortune to coincide with the term of the Hungarian presidency of the Union.

This Year Will Be the Most Difficult

At the same time we must concede that for the community of Europe this will be the most difficult year since the fall of communism. While the Union struggles at the moment with a sea of troubles caused by the international economic crisis, it is already apparent that once the crisis has been resolved Europe will have to compete on an entirely new global playing field according to entirely different rules. We must prepare not merely for a competition of alliances and continents, but civilizations and fundamental mentalities. Our new competitors are growing stronger at a dizzying speed. We must demonstrate that Europe is not the leisured, listless, decadent old man he is often claimed to be. During the tenure of the Hungarian presidency we must demonstrate to the world that Europe, the cradle of the market-economy, is able to devise new, innovative solutions when the old answers have become obsolete.

Time is also urging us onwards, for people have become uncertain as to Europe’s future and indeed their own futures in it. They clearly see the dangers, but not the alternatives. They expect solutions that will get the economy moving, help create new jobs and protect existing ones, address the problems of energy dependency, and offer answers to the numerous other practical questions we face.

We cannot allow the frustrations and doubts so palpable today, consequences first and foremost of the faltering economy, to continue to mount among the citizens of the Union.

We all sense that the measures we have adopted and the exertions we have made in our individual countries and the forums of the Union have consumed a great deal of our strength and energy. Our strenuous efforts notwithstanding many issues remain unresolved and new challenges have accumulated. In questions of crucial importance we have not managed to reach a turning point.

It is therefore hardly an exaggeration to state that we are now facing one of the most difficult years in the history of the Union.

Europe Can Count On Us

Hungary, then, must prepare for far more tasks than we ever imagined. We are hardy people, inured to crisis. Europe was always able to rely on Hungary when its civilization was faced with peril or had faltered in any way. Now too Europe can count on us.

Obstacles now tower before us which we must be strong, determined, and bold to overcome. The time for effective action is nigh. It is therefore significant that over the course of the coming year two Central European countries will hold the presidency that themselves are on the path to renewal.

One thing is certain, we Hungarians will do all we can during our tenure in order to make Europe strong and self-assured, working together both with the other member states and countries outside the Union.

At this very moment we face many tasks to be solved and hardships to be surmounted. First and foremost we will have a great deal to do in order to promote economic and financial cooperation among member states, which suffered as a consequence of the crisis. It is in the interests of a strong Europe that we stabilize the Euro for the long run and promote cooperation in questions of European economic management.

Hungary seeks, during its presidency, to formulate a clear program founded on determination and resolution to revitalize Europe’s faltering economy. Precisely for this reason, we will focus, in the course of implementing the Europe 2020 growth strategy, on job creation. We remain convinced that we must devote considerable attention to small and middle-sized enterprises, which are the motor of job creation.

One of the greatest challenges Europe faces is the creation of energy security and at the same time the reduction of the environmental costs of energy production. In the interests of promoting energy security we have the common goal of exploiting a diversity of forms of energy production and reducing the one-sidedness of the continent’s dependencies. We must therefore establish all the preconditions of better cooperation and coordination of our energy networks by ensuring necessary interconnections and creating links where they are missing, such as the north-south axis in Central Europe.

Europe’s strength lies in part in the breadth and openness of our cooperation.

We therefore consider the continued expansion of the Union and specifically the accession of Croatia important. The accession of our neighbour to the south will be an important sign to all of the western Balkans and will contribute substantially to the security and stability of the region.

In order to achieve genuine renewal and form a strong Europe, free movement across the borders is indispensable. European culture is founded on the idea that liberty makes communities stronger. In this spirit we must ensure the possibility of freedom of movement for all of the member states of the Union, both from the practical and the emotional perspective. One of our goals for the presidency is to help enable Romania and Bulgaria, upon fulfillment of the necessary preconditions, to join the Schengen Area so that the citizens of both countries will be able to enjoy the true openness of the Union as soon as possible.

The exclusion or omission of any social group from the processes of growth and the creation of value is entirely irreconcilable with the notion of a strong Europe. It is therefore particularly important to us to address the questions of the social and economic integration of the Gypsy or Roma communities into Europe. We expect a harmonized policy concerning these questions at the Union level on the basis of several agreements and common programs already under preparation, agreements and programs in connection with which the Hungarian presidency will have numerous tasks to which it must tend.

Hungary is prepared to undertake and complete the tasks that await us and to find solutions to the problems we have inherited. We realize that a heavy burden will fall on our shoulders from the outset, but we find confidence in the fact that here at home we have already addressed similarly difficult challenges during the first sixth months of the new political era in Hungary, and I remain confident that we will maintain our momentum.

We also know that the next sixth months may bring numerous unanticipated challenges. We have born witness to the turbulent ups and downs that have put attempts to restore, stabilize and secure economies to the test worldwide.

It will not be sufficient for us merely to go about our work according to feasible, carefully thought out programs. Rather we must also be prepared to respond with appropriate resolve to unexpected developments.

We must prepare for a term full of challenges, but all the conditions are there, among them our determination, to pass on to the citizens of Poland a stronger and more self-assured Europe when at the end of June 2011 they take the baton.

I myself am optimistic. I feel we recognized the nature of the problems and dangers we face in time, and we responded in time to the rapid changes taking place in the world. The upcoming year can therefore be a year of renewal for Hungary, my homeland, and Europe, my home.

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