Toespraak minister Koenders tijdens staatsbezoek Portugal

Toespraak door minister Koenders van Buitenlandse Zaken op de Universiteit van Lissabon, op 11 oktober 2017 tijdens het staatsbezoek aan Portugal.

De toespraak is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Professor António Cruz Serra, rector of the Universidade de Lisboa,

Distinguished professors,

Your Excellency, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Portugal,

[Professor] Augusto Santos Silva,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Bom dia, tenho muita honra em falar aqui hoje. Gostaria de ter um velho filósofo que vive até hoje.

Many  years ago, an exceptional boy was born in Amsterdam. His mother was from Lisbon, his father from Beja. Named 'Baruch'in Hebrew and 'Bento' in Portuguese, he was blessed with an exceptional intellect. Despite setbacks in his personal life, he grew to be a man far ahead of his time.

Today, renowned as the 'prince of philosphers', his statue stands tall in front of Amsterdam City Hall. Our much admired mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard Van Der Laan, who unfortunately passed away last week, often cited him as his inspiration.

Do any of you know which philosopher I am talking about?

Yes: It’s Spinoza.

Why am I starting my talk in 2017 with this man from the 17th century?

2 reasons.

Firstly, his life story can be an inspiration for us all today. In a way, it is a plea for tolerance. A clear rejection of religious extremism and narrow-mindedness.

[For those who do not know about his life….

His parents were forced to flee the Spanish Inquisition and convert to Catholicism. But in Amsterdam, where they could finally profess their Jewish faith, their son Bento started developing ideas of his own…. on God, religion and scripture – not to the liking of the leading rabbis in Amsterdam.  The Jewish community banished him for it.

He was forced to leave Amsterdam. A painful experience, but Spinoza remained a man of principle, declining a prestigious teaching position to live a simple life as a lens grinder close to Leiden.]

But of course, I mention Spinoza mainly because of the enduring power, lucidity and relevance of his ideas. Today, almost 350 years after his magnum opus was published, his ideas on freedom, democracy and religious tolerance seem to have been written just for us. For our times of confusion and fake news, of climate change deniers and terrible tweets. Our times when the illiberal order seems on the rise, and political parties do not hesitate to exploit fears, painting pictures of some glorious nationalistic future based on a past that is long gone. Our times when, even in the EU, countries descend on the dangerous path of controlling judges, curtailing NGO’s, weakening the free press…

In these times, it is useful to remind ourselves of 3 aspects of Spinoza’s philosophy:

First, his conviction that state power should never reside in 1 person alone. Spinoza was an early unconditional supporter of the balance of power, rule of law, freedom of opinion and religion. Concepts we have incorporated in our European Community of values. To take them for granted would be a grave mistake.

Second, Spinoza underlined the importance of respect for nature – to which all human beings are subordinate. Which should give us pause, at a time when nature is demonstrating both its vulnerability and its destructive power.

Third, Spinoza understood that the true task of statesmanship is to find the balance between individual ambitions and collective needs. A rather free translation to the world of today might be: we need a functioning global social contract and an inclusive economy.

I’d like to use the rest of my speech to elaborate on these 3 basic ideas and see what they mean today. We might find that, incredibly!, when we talk about the big issues of our time – we can still trace our thinking to Spinoza’s philosophy.

Let me do so by focusing on the challenges of the EU, on climate change, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

Ladies and gentlemen,

Most of you grew up in a free country. A country that Spinoza might have envisioned. A country where the rule of law, a free press and civil liberties are guaranteed by law, and may seem self-evident.

Yet, living in an open society full of liberty and civic space is not self-evident. Portugal knows this all too well. The scars of dictatorship and colonial wars were still fresh when this country joined the European Community.

I remember Portugal’s accession very well. I was impressed by the rapid transition and by the absence of violence on Portugal’s path to consolidated democracy, freedom and EEC membership – all under the leadership of a 'modern day Spinoza' – Mário Soares. At the time, my party had smuggled funds to him to help sustain his democratic vision. Later, my country assisted in the transition.

Portugal benefitted greatly from European unification - and Europe benefitted from Portugal’s joining. Today, 80% of the Portuguese feel both European and Portuguese. Of course - it’s not all sweetness and light right now on our old continent. We have seen many crises the last couple of years - involving the economy, migration and, perhaps most importantly, questions around our common and individual identity.

Big questions have arisen. Who are we, as Europeans? Are we a group of nation states linked together in a community of trade? Are we a Federation? Do we open or close our borders,or something in between? What is Europe, and what is our place in a rapidly changing world, where the balance of power is unmistakably shifting towards other continents, to our South and East?

In the last few years, Euroscepticism has been on the rise, including in my own country. In spite of recent European election results, I believe this is a factor which is ‘here to stay’. We have to deal with it wisely.

For too many, liberal values like openness and open borders have become equivalent to inequality and social injustice. Racism and xenophobia then risk becoming part of the answer.

But they cannot. They never can be.

The only answer is a new European contract, which includes all Europeans, young and old, from north, south, east and west. And the realization that openness to the rest of the world also requires a working domestic social contract.

Yes, we need a new narrative. For the younger generations, the European rallying cry of ‘no more wa’’ is clearly no longer persuasive. And ‘no more roaming charges’ isn’t good enough to replace it.

But a ‘new narrative’ offers no magic wand. A story can only have real power if it has concrete solutions to offer for the big issues of our time. What we need are, as your state secretary for European Affairs Ms. Zacarias recently said in a beautiful speech: 'heartbeats and gigabits'.

I couldn’t agree more. This is what we have to keep in mind, as we continue our discussion on the future of Europe. And as we continue this discussion, we need to - as your Prime Minister Antonio Costa wisely said in Tallinn - reject 4 powerful temptations:

First, the temptation to revise the treaty;

Second, the temptation to get lost in institutional debates;

Third, the temptation not to respect the plurality of national visions;

And fourth, the temptation to create new missions and goals without first consolidating our earlier achievements.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to add a fifth temptation. We need to urgently reject the temptation to think that our European Spring has arrived. That we can all lean back waiting for summer.

Because so much work still has to be done, if we want to achieve our goal: a Europe that is small on the small things and big on the big things. A Europe which offers inclusive economic growth and jobs for all. A Union that, without the UK, remains a factor of significance and a trusted partner in the world. A Union that can credibly take care of its own security. A Union that finds credible answers to modern threats like terrorism, and keeps cyberspace safe.

A Union that succeeds in finding concrete and tangible answers for our citizens on issues like migration. In all these areas, important steps have been made in the last couple of years, when I was minister. But we are not there yet.

First and foremost, we must deliver on the promises made in Bratislava. Implement the Strategic Agenda, not expand it endlessly. Nothing more, nothing less.

Let me just say here, that I’m grateful that several leaders dared to set out their vision for the future of the EU. Like Juncker did, like Macron did, like your Prime Minister did. Putting their vision out there, in an effort to start the discussion and jointly find a way forward - Spinoza would have been proud.

But after this 'month of speeches' we must now go back to work. Undoubtedly, there is a renewed energy in Europe. But we have to be careful. We need to urgently reform, protect and perform – it may be our last chance to get it right. We may hear birds singing, but spring has not arrived yet.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In Portugal, support for the EU is high. But I am well aware that Portugal has made significant sacrifices in the recent past. The time of cutbacks was not an easy one. Austerity programmes were painful for many people in many sectors, and above all for those who were already vulnerable.

But the Portuguese economy is now enjoying considerable growth, for which my country has great admiration. We have all had to endure reforms, including in my own country. And despite the pain we must all continue on this path, not for the sake of reform per se, but to help us remain competitive in a globalised world.

Having said that, one thing is for sure: economic growth without job growth is worthless. As a social democrat I believe we need a Europe that offers tangible results for its citizens and that protects and supports working people. A social Europe, with equal pay for the same job in the same country. So that for all Europeans, the EU will remain to be synonymous with fairness, democracy and the rule of law.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You have grown up in a world of global warming. The last 3 years – 2014, 2015 and 2016 – were the hottest measured in human history. In the last 2 months alone, we’ve seen hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria cause widespread devastation. Temperatures are clearly rising. Denying it – and human influence on it – is downright irresponsible. We have to step up our efforts – all of us.

Fortunately, there’s also good news.

Just look at Portugal: this country has become a European leader on renewable energy. Its rise culminated in a period of no less than 107 hours when the whole country functioned on renewable energy alone. You have already reached the EU target in the 2015 Clean Energy Package, well before the deadline. In short: there’s a lot we can learn from you.

And of course, we have the Paris Agreement. Negotiating the agreement was a big achievement.

But now, it comes down to putting it into practice, keeping our promises, and taking action. We have to. We only have 1 planet. We can do it – after all, didn’t we succeed in reversing the growing hole in the ozone layer?

Yes, we did, and that should give us hope. But all governments have to play their part. We need to work at every level, as do NGOs and businesses and the public, both as consumers and as citizens. And this, of course, includes you – young people who will inherit our planet.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You grew up in an ever more connected world. A world in which we are all 'in it together'. Not only economically and technologically, but also politically. A valuable recognition of this interdependence is the ambitious agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In August 2015, 193 countries agreed on a global agenda for peace, development, eradicating  poverty and promoting employment for the coming decade. I believe they are a remarkable achievement. This is the blueprint for the future. It applies to all 193 countries, to all institutions. In contrast with today’s fashionable cynicism, I see the goals as a cause for hope: we’re working to improve access to justice, champion the rule of law, promote equal pay for equal work, and combat female genital mutilation and violence against women. Not just for the few, but for the many.

The good thing is, the SDGs are very political. And that helps us avoid a North-South divide: a dynamic in which some countries make efforts while others stand by and watch, or simply wait for assistance.

This time, all countries have united around an agenda of preventing conflict, fostering sustainability and promoting legitimacy. It’s an agenda for tomorrow, and for future generations. By 2030, when you are all at work and hopefully in positions of power or influence, we should have achieved these goals.

And Portugal can be rightly proud to have one of its finest sons, António Guterres, at the helm of this endeavor. His task is daunting, his plate is full: implementing the SDG’s but also: reforming the UN. It takes a modern day Spinoza to get it done… and we support him wholeheartedly - also when we become member of the Security Council next year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I mentioned earlier that there will shortly be a new government in my country. People ask me if this makes me sad. Well, I do love this job, but this is politics and democracy.

In this last speech as Minister of Foreign Affairs, I would like to finish by offering a few final words of advice to the younger generation in front of me. Because I believe we should all strive to be a bit more like Spinoza. A true vivant-voyant. Living for your principles and willing to accept the consequences.

Your national history offers some beautiful examples of such men. And maybe, one day, one of you – man or woman - will join their ranks.

So let me finish here with the following 3 points.

  1. You are citizens above all else. You are responsible for ensuring freedom in your city, in your country, in your continent. Sometimes that takes courage. If good people aren’t willing to protect it and fight the good fight, then our open society could all too easily be eroded.
  2. You are citizens before you are consumers. Together, we are responsible for the future of this planet. That includes me and you – let’s do our fair share.
  3. Politics in the 21st century still starts at the local level, but is also regional, transnational, global. We have to work on all these levels if we are to achieve the inclusiveagenda of the Sustainable Development Goals. Wherever your future job will land you – you can make a contribution. It is complex task, but it can be done. Because, as Spinoza’s early followers knew – Nil volentibus arduum – 'To those who are determined, nothing is too difficult.'

Obrigado. Thank you. Dank u wel.