"Europe Entering The 21st Century:
Inventing The Future"

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt at the Invitation of JIIA
Tokyo, February 23, 2001

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, let me thank you, Mr. President, for giving me the opportunity to speak here this afternoon. I feel very honoured to be allowed to address such an outstanding audience on a topic that is at the core of the international developments to come in this 21st century.

I feel particularly honoured indeed to be in a position to do so here, with the precious collaboration of the Japan Institute of International Affairs. Its research activities are internationally recognized and highly praised for their soundness and objective approach to international affairs. This is certainly your merit, Mr. President. Should I need to remind that before taking up your high duties you were the Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, that you are also a Professor of the great Waseda University and an Advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan ?

I appreciate very much that the Japan Institute of International Affairs has decided to give a new impetus to its European studies under your guidance. This comes at the very right time, at a time when the European Union and Japan work closely together for the adoption of an EU-Japan Action Plan together with a Political Declaration, renewing the Partnership launched in 1991. It seems that time is ripe now for Europe and Japan to shape the new " Millenium Partnership " that the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, Mr. Kono, so brilliantly advocated in Paris on January 13th last year.

I would like to emphasize that the Action Plan expected to be adopted by the next EU-Japan Summit is to be composed of specific actions related to vital policy areas of cooperation. In this respect, I want to reiterate here the full commitment of Belgium as upcoming presidency of the European Union constantly in touch with the current Swedish presidency to a successful completion of the whole process. That Belgium is to take the Union presidency in the second half of this year indeed will enhance still further the excellence of our already close bilateral relations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For Europeans 1989, not 1945, was the most important year of the 20th century. Indeed, 1945 marked the end of the Second World War. But particularly for Europe this terrible Warm War was followed by a long Cold War, dividing my continent from the Baltic area to the Adriatic sea into opposing blocs and incompatible political regimes. For about fifty years Germany, the greatest European nation, was occupied or defended by the military forces of opposing alliances. In Berlin, the German capital, this division took the shape of a huge wall, dividing the heart of Europe and pilling up quantities of nuclear weapons constantly threatening Europe with mutual assured destruction.

I must emphasize these tantalizing years in order to make clear what happened in 1989. Within a few months the unexpected fall of the Berlin Wall was followed by the liberation of Eastern Europa and the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Even more important than this sudden collapse of the postwar division, was its nonviolent character. With the exception of former Yugoslavia this major shift in European politics happened without firing one shot. Never before, as far as I know, a superpower imploded in such a peaceful and democratic way. It explains the feeling of European euphoria in the early years following 1989. For the first time in recorded history nearly all European nations woke up without opposing blocs or alliances. Twohundred years after the French Revolution, European nations finally were to be reunited for a democratic, peaceful and tolerant common future.

As a matter of fact West-European nations did not await 1989 for changing the guard and preparing the future. Since the early 1950s particularly France and the German Federal Republic learned the lessons of three major wars in one lifetime and joined forces for a peaceful realignment of Europe. Allying with Italy and the three Benelux-countries - Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg - they paved the way for the European Economic Community. From the 1960s to the 1990s this Community was gradually enlarged to nine, ten, twelve and actually fifteen memberstates. At the same time most of these nations were members of Nato, the western and North-Atlantic alliance led by the United States in order to guarantee their political and military security.

But as long as Europe was divided by an Iron Curtain, Europeans did not master their own destiny, jeopardized by the global rivalry between East and West, the United States and the Soviet Union, Nato and Warsaw Pact. This unchangeable and unmovable pattern of postwar European relations was finally shattered by the events of 1989. This year changed all that could be changed on European soil. For Europe the 20th century ended in 1989. For European nations the 21st century started that year.

Since 1989 Europe is shaken by two major developments mutually strengthening one another. On the one hand the memberstates of the European Economic Community gradually moved to form a European Union, both based on an economic and monetary union and a political union. The basis of this major shift - the treaty of Maastricht - was formed in 1992, so close to the European upheaval of the preceding years. Five years later, in 1997, Maastricht was followed by the treaty of Amsterdam. As a result of these treaties the economic and monetary union has been firmly established. At the end of this year twelve memberstates will have a common European currency, the euro, under the aegis of a European Central Bank. This move has no precedent in modern history. I don't doubt it will have political consequences, providing the political union with a similar strength.

On the other hand 1989 was followed by the democratization of the liberated states in Central and Eastern Europe, and by their growing demand to join the European Union as soon as possible. Actually twelve states are engaged in negotiations to join the Union. There can be no doubt. Within a few years, the European Union will grow from 15 to 25 or even more memberstates. At that moment the European Union will nearly embrace all European nations. Never before in European history we find a union as numerous and diverse, covering member-states from Finland to Portugal and from the Sea of Ireland to the Black Sea.

Ladies and gentlemen, enlarging and deepening the European Union are closely related phenomena. The European Union can not be the same for 15 or 27 memberstates. On the one hand the enlargement of the Union thus prompts us to review the European institutions, to adapt our rules and to clarify our objectives. On the other hand we can not do this without enlarging the Union for nations sharing a common European history, fed by the same values and virtues and adopting similar institutions and political perspectives.

That's why last year, at the European Summit in the French city of Nice, we already adapted the European Institutions - the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament - for the coming enlargement. Any newcomer already knows how many seats he may have in these institutions, what the procedures are of political decision-making and what the objective conditions imply for joining the Union.

By doing so, the work is not finished. Nice was an important step in shaping the Union, but it was not a final step. Many issues are still open for discussion. First of all the political union is still far behind the economic and monetary union. We yet did not agree on a common foreign and defence policy. We still do not have one European framework for police and justice, nor did we find a common approach for the many asylum seekers, migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe. A "social" Europe, providing full employment and social security on a European scale, is far from accepted. And yet, there is no agreement on the final objectives and ultimate goals of European "unionism". It's clear we are not willing to make a European "super-state". Existing national states will not disappear. But there is a growing awareness that Union decision-making has to be enhanced and that European institutions can go further than what we attained in Nice.

It is the manifest intention of the Belgian presidency, presiding the European Union for the second half of this year, to clear these questions and to bring the Union closer to its objectives. Therefore we prepare a Declaration of Laeken, the Brussels site of a European Summit in December this year, to clarify these objectives and to fix the way the Union will go in the following decades. At the same time I am actually visiting all the capitals of the candidate-memberstates willing to join the Union, in order to make clear that enlargement is an absolute priority for the Union. As a matter of fact the windows of opportunity, opened by the miracle years 1989-1991 may not be open for ever. We must use the given opportunities to enlarge the Union now. Tomorrow may be too late. A similar opportunity does not come back in the foreseeable future.

A failure would be particularly harmful for the candidate-states. Economic development in this part of Europe in many cases is far behind western standards. But the Union can not afford to be a rich-men's club. These nations deserve help and cooperation. They have suffered the heaviest burden of the 20th century, many years in-between nazi-Germany and Soviet-Russia, while never abandoning their European roots nor their European dreams. Although many of them are Slav and orthodox, having only loose contacts with the Latin and Germanic West for centuries, they have contributed to the same flowering of European culture and deserve our warmest feelings of togetherness, cooperation and partnership.

Ladies and gentleman, the European Union is a most amazing international organization, both in its "ongoing founding" and in its supranational authority, superseding but not abolishing the sovereignty of member-states. To start with this last point, in many aspects the European Union is the only real supranational authority in the world today. Nato is not, neither is the United Nations Organization. The European Union is a unique example, without any precedent, of free nations coming together and accepting a higher authority, making rules as binding as their own laws and decrees. This is world history in a nutshell, particularly for Europe itself, having found the only way - in its two millennia of recorded history - to prosperity and peace.

Time is ripe, I feel, to go on further and to bring Europe to an higher level of cooperation, building-up a political union as strong as our economic and monetary union and including the many, not only the few. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the liberation of Eastern Europe, the reunification of Germany and the fall and disintegration of the former Soviet-Union, for the first time since 1914 Europe is back on the map. On this map the European Union is the best placed actor to take the lead and to forge a peaceful and an open but also a thriving and a challenging Europe.

Our European schemes, Ladies and gentlemen, do not separate us from the outer world and certainly not from our North Atlantic allies and our partners in Asia and anywhere in the world. On the contrary, we feel born-again Europe to be in a pole position for even more world economic cooperation, prosperity and growth. Along with our American allies and our Japanese friends, we see a great responsibility for global economics to be balanced by global politics, so we can make a better living for all. In fact, the European Union, the United States and Japan stand for the biggest part of world economics, world trade and world finance. Whatever we do or refrain to do, world economy first of all depends on what happens into this global triangle. Let's face this challenge, without any precedent in world history. Let's take up our responsibilities by going futher, not by sitting down.

In this respect Europeans and Japanese have a major asset in common. For about twohundred years Americans could invent economic liberalism and political democracy in a new world, not hindered by ages of authoritarian rule. Europeans and Japanese had to reinvent modern politics in a very different political and social environment, deeply hostile to any idea of revolution or break. While Americans in 1776 embarked for a future based on an unbroken democracy, the French Revolution of 1789 was followed by a hundred years of European turmoil, leading to the two World Wars based on inter-European warfare and dramatized by a Cold War that shook the world but first of all the European continent, up to 1989.

For Japan political and economic change even took a more radical way. After the first Portuguese sailors in their quest for China set foot in Kyushu in 1542 and after initially fruitful economic, cultural and trade contacts, Japan in the late 16th century closed down its frontiers. For about three hundred years, your "shoguns" withstood nearly all foreign contacts and chose for the most radical isolation of your country, even forbidding fire-arms that were instrumental in their rise to power.

Only in the late 19th century, Europe and Japan in so different parts of the world were moving into the same direction. Compared with the American frontier, we both had to invent political democracy and economic liberalism in an already existing world, taking into account the best of our cultural and social traditions. That's why traditions both in Europe and in Japan are not to be underestimated. Sometimes they may cross our political and economical plans or refrain our resolve to move faster. But in other aspects I feel that tradition makes democracy richer, not poorer, permitting us wisely to move faster, not slower, making us stronger, not weaker.

The time is ripe that Americans, Japanese and Europeans, should unite in a new trilateral effort and in a new spirit, standing together but turned to the outside world, as we know that not all states and peoples enjoy the benefits of living in the same global world. Recovered from the wounds of the 20th century and close to one another, Americans, Japanese and Europeans together can do more to save and guarantee freedom and prosperity on a global scale. For me, this is our greatest common challenge for the ongoing century, fostering us all to find or enlarge paths to global politics, next to economical and commercial globalism.

Economical, technological and commercial globalism is with us to stay. I do not believe this can be changed in the foreseeable future. What can be changed and must be changed, I believe, is politics, so we can find political solutions for the many problems uprooted by social and economical change. As the great Peruvian political writer and novelist Vargas Llosa repeated last month. "Liberalism is also a question of fairness". As I understand him, he meant to say that liberalism is also a question of politics. Of course we will not be the only ones to make global politics work. Given our economic and financial strength and our political resolve, I feel, however, the European Union, the USA and Japan to be the most paramount political forces in the world today.

Ladies and gentlemen, European and intercontinental matters never lowered our ambition - as Belgians - to start in Belgium, and first of all to renew our country in the way we want Europeans and Americans to renew. That's why my government last year embarked on an ambitious journey to revitalize its political, social and economic tissue and to modernize public services by combining the most advanced information- and communication technology with the most dynamic ideas of creative and performing management.

This effort is both broad and deep. It covers the most sensitive public areas, as the department of Justice and the modernization of police forces, the way public services function inside and outside and the introduction of e-government. But in the same time we focus on all citizens and on global society, willing to "activate" any citizen, creating jobs and reducing unemployment, lowering taxes and social costs and fostering a knowledge-based economy.

By doing so we are determined to turn Belgium and the European Union into the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by the year 2010, come closer to full-employment than ever before in European history and fight poverty more effectively than any other region in the world. Already ten years ago Harvard-professor Samuel Huntington noticed that the European Community - as it was named then - has the population, resources, economic wealth, technological, and even actual and potential military strength "to be the preeminent power of the twenty-first century" on one condition, that the Community - now the Union - "were to become politically cohesive". Ten years later, I can tell Professor Huntington that our political cohesiveness is growing every day. Europe is back. Thank you for listening.

© Copyright 2001 by the Japan Institute of International Affairs