Honorabile President of Hungary Dr János Áder, President of the EU Court of Justice Prof. Dr Koen Lenaerts, and President of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany Prof. Dr Andreas Voßkuhle, Prof. László Trócsányi, Hungary’s Minister of Justice, esteemed Presidents, Vice presidents and Justices of the Constitutional Courts and Highest Courts, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen! We are happy to welcome you all at this special conference entitled „Constitutional Eudentity 2018” with a special focus on „Unity in Diversity and Common and Particular Values”.
Throughout the Member States of the European Union the past few years have witnessed momentous changes, among others the emergence and strengthening of ideas that are aiming to revaluate the significance of „the people versus the elite” paradox. This trend undoubtedly signifies that we are facing a crisis, which I would call the „crisis of European identity”. Across Europe the national elections have resulted in the resurgence of parties campaigning for the revision of the meaning of EU membership. What undoubtedly lies at the root of the phenomenon is globalization, or to be more exact, a universal crisis associated with globalization, which we can all experience in our daily lives.
What is the role of Europe in the globalized world? On the one hand, the mere existence of the European Union brings into focus certain issues related to the concept of identity which arise from the obvious tensions between the so-called open and closed societies. On the other hand, we have to admit that so far the European Union has been unable to a give clear answer as to what European identity means. The main ambition of this conference is to search for answers to fill this gap. If we, who believe in democracy, the rule of law and European dialogue fail to come up with a credible definition of European identity, the resulting political and ideological vacuum will be definitely exploited by extremist political forces.
What is the meaning of European identity today? It is not only the task of politicians to make a responsible decision, but we, constitutional justices are equally responsible and should share this burden. I genuinely hope that this conference will enable us to rise to this difficult task and will also bring us closer to finding a common platform.
The concept of Europe is comprised of geographical, historical and cultural factors, and each has contributed to the shaping of our European identity. Indisputably, common and shared historical experiences create the strongest bond between the nations and states of Europe. Ladies and gentlemen! The lives of the peoples of Europe are closely interwoven in spite of the bitter conflicts and devastating wars that once pitted us against one another. It depends solely on us whether the future of Europe and our common European identity will be shaped by conflicts or by a constructive dialogue.
The European Union and European identity are underpinned by common values formulated in the founding treaties: respect for human dignity, protection of fundamental rights, freedom, equality, democracy and the rule of law. Only those societies can provide an ideal platform for the enforcement of these values which are based on plurality, solidarity, tolerance and gender equality. The acceptance of these crucial values is a basic requirement for any country that wants to belong to Europe. Notably, the findings of reliable surveys of European values have revealed that the importance of these common values varies in different member states. The surveys have also shown that for Europeans „the nation state” has always been the primary point of reference in a political sense.
If we put the problem of identity into a historical context, it was only after the fall of the Roman Empire that Europe first emerged as a political concept on the world stage. Since then European history has been permeated by a strange kind of duality. Even though over the centuries Europe has always existed as a special cultural and spiritual unity, it has always been characterized by ethnic fragmentation and national particularism. As Montesquieu so aptly expressed this duality: „Europe is a kind of nation which consists of several smaller nations.” As before, „European identity is still determined by this seemingly irreconcilable conflict between European unity and a heightened awareness of national autonomy. Ladies and gentlemen! If we look round here and we are true to ourselves: is there anyone here among us who regards himself or herself as exclusively European, or on the contrary only German, Italian or Hungarian? I believe that we think of ourselves as both Germans and Europeans, Italians and Europeans, and Hungarians and Europeans at the same time.
Dear ladies and gentlemen! We must not despair over this intricate duality which is so deeply embedded in our history and identity, and which seems to thwart all our efforts to achieve unity. We have to realize that our European identity means that we have to act as architects who are building a bridge between EUdentity and national identity! Europe will remain Europe, only if we can preserve our national identity as Germans, Italians and Hungarians, and of course, if we can truly feel that we are also Europeans. If we lived in a kind of Europe which deprived us of our unique national characteristics, it would no longer be our Europe. In conclusion, European identity must be seen as a „go-between”, a point of convergence. As such, it could give a genuine European response to perhaps the greatest challenge of our times! As we have all experienced, one of the most intriguing and pressing problems for mankind today is how we can establish a reasonable balance between „global” and „local”. Our shared European experience and our role as an intermediary between European and national identity may also confer serious moral responsibilities on us towards the rest of the world. We, Europeans are obliged to set an example to the rest of the world by demonstrating how we can create a harmonious co-existence between “global” and “local” while showing respect for the welfare and freedom of individuals.
Ladies and gentlemen! I am convinced that my words will make you realize the gravity of the problem and understand that our future is at stake. Dear guests and participants! I would like to thank you for „thinking together” with us over the future of Europe. The future of Europe depends on whether we will be able to address the persistent problem of European identity in a reassuring manner. We who have gathered here today are all proud Europeans. Our presence here is a true testimony to our common belief that the most important feature of European identity is that this identity is based on mediation between different values. Nowadays, in addition to the economic, political and cultural spheres, law is bound to be one of the most appropriate instruments that can create a delicate balance between our diverse systems of values in a peaceful way. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to our keynote speakers and lecturers for their valuable contribution to our common goal. Dear guests and friends!
Let me wish all of you great success in your work and I hope you will enjoy our conference and your stay in Budapest.