French Minister Bruno Le Maire

Mr Bruno Le Maire, former Secretary General of Atomium-EISMD and current member of the Executive Board, French Minister for Agriculture and former French Minister for European Affaires, addresses some key advantages that Europe has to become a leading knowledge society. Listen to the speech (in French)


Thank you very much Mr President, dear friends. I am very pleased to see you all here for this launch event of Atomium Culture. I’d like to welcome all the participants in this meeting with a special mention of former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing who has agreed to be here today, which is a real source of pride to everybody who has been working on Atomium Culture for years. We are so glad to have an Honorary President who is somebody who was really at the origin of the most important institutional projects since the beginning of the European Union. So, thank you very much for being here.

While I’m here as the Minister of Food Agriculture and Fisheries, I have occupied other posts in the past, I have always had very strong European conviction and I feel that the best way in which we can implement this conviction is not only to become involved in politics and I have been not only satisfied by occupying European roles; I also want to provide my support and my participation in initiatives that have emerged from civil society. It think they are encouraging European construction and strengthening the links between the member states of Europe.

I think everybody here is aware of the fact that Europe today is at a turning point in its history: it has just acquired new institutions, it has just acquired a Foreign Minister, a President of the Council. People can always say that it’s not as far reaching as the original creators of Europe we would have wished, but it’s still an important stage in Europe’s history.

So, now that we have closed the institutional debate for a few years and I am going to echo what my neighbours said here, we have now a political project to prove and we must do so in a world which , as we all know, is rapidly redefining itself: new powers have emerged in the space of a few years; new powers want to take their rightful place at the table of international issues: China, Brazil, South Africa. All of these states wish to play full role on the international stage.

New issues are emerging on the international scene; they can only be resolved by a new world governance, which is not yet clearly defined. Will it be the G20, will it be the UN, will it be the IMF, the World Bank, will it be a mixture of these institutions? In this world governance there are several projects on the table and we are still hesitating about which to choose. But everybody agrees that all of these issues can only be addressed on a world scale by this new world governance.

Besides the strategic and military issues, the three most important are: climate, which will be dealt with in Copenhagen; financial and economic regulation –this has been dealt with for several months; and the issue which is particularly of interest to me: new regulations for the agricultural market throughout the world, because the issue of feeding the world is going to become a bigger issue in the years to come and essential for the stability of the planet.

So, what can Europe contribute to this new governance and in this new international landscape? It can obviously contribute its wealth – I remind you it’s one of the richest continents in the world today. If it wishes and if it has the will to do so, it can contribute its political power, to move in one direction or in another. But I think that what it can provide and that it would be most decisive, it’s its capacity for research, innovation, its knowledge and technology. In one word, what Europe can contribute to define the world tomorrow is its intelligence.

I was struck last week when I went to the FAO conference in Rome, I was there representing the President in that meeting. I saw what African countries and Asian countries with agricultural problems, problems of hunger, what they were expecting from Europe was not money, it was not subsidies, it was cooperation in technology. They wanted us to provide European intelligence at the service of the development of those states.

Mr Moreno said this very well earlier: in order to move towards this Europe of intelligence, a few years ago we set up the Lisbon Strategy. This provided us with disappointing results: ambitions were high, the results did not live up to those ambitions. At the time I was Minister of European Affairs and I suggested that, in order to move forward more quickly, we should set obligatory criteria in terms of public spending for research in each member state. There are obligatory criteria in terms of public spending restrictions, debt restrictions, inflation restrictions. Why shouldn’t we impose compulsory criteria in terms of investments in research: that would have the benefit of moving us more quickly towards the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy. I echo what you said Mr Moreno: the results haven not lived up to our expectations once again, so we now have to move forward more quickly.

This is why I think that Atomium Culture truly responds to something that Europe is lacking, which is having the sufficient political will power to move Europe towards a knowledge society, a Europe of intelligence. Politicians can do it, but civil society can also do it; private initiatives can do it and an initiative like Atomium Culture fits perfectly into that process.

I feel that this initiative brings together European qualities and what is particular about Europe today: what constitutes European identity today is this capacity to forge links between countries that have different histories and memories, by drawing these links we’ll move towards a more Europe; if we destroy these links, we’ll move back towards parochialism; by drawing links between universities and different member states, by creating links between those universities and major newspapers we are going back to an idea of European identity based on closer links between member states. This is not an idea that goes back 10 or 20 years, this is something that goes back hundreds of years and we all have the responsibility to maintain that.

The second essential European quality is diversity. I think that the initiative of trying to link such different universities as Madrid or Paris or an Italian university with universities in Central and Eastern Europe is a way of recognizing the strength of diversity in Europe. A European philosopher thought a great deal about a European identity, Rudolf Steiner: he said that Europe is the only continent where detail is so important. But I have to say, I am proud to be in a continent where detail is so important, because detail leads to diversity and while we are trying to move away from a sort of levelling out of culture, it’s important to remember the detail.

The third central European characteristic which is reflected in Atomium is audacity: we need to be bold to launch a major cultural project such as this. While there are institutions that deal with culture, education and knowledge in Europe, but, unlike the criticism that we often hear from American counterparts, Europe can be audacious, it does exist. Europe has not stopped being audacious. A few centuries ago, this was a given, we were conquering new territories, we were discovering new continents, the knowledge we were developing seemed to be infinite; we haven’t managed to sustain the same levels, but it’s still there. All these initiatives which go to encouraging intellectual audacity are going in the right direction. We will mark the world of tomorrow if Europe can show real intellectual audacity, we won’t close ourselves in.

Lastly, the last characteristic I would like to point out, which makes Atomium such an important project is that at the heart of Atomium is intelligence. The real European strength today is intelligence, knowledge, ability to research, it is its culture, the diversity of identities, its ability to understand the world, its knowledge in maths, chemistry, medicine, law. In all sectors we have a huge intellectual capacity. Unlike anywhere else we know how to spread this knowledge, using the media, such as those representatives of the media who are here today from daily newspapers and I really think we are doing something useful. Thank you very much.