Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues, old and young, thank you all for joining us.
We are meeting virtually. It’s not how we wanted it. But it is a small price to pay compared to the massive cost for so many all over the globe. We stand in solidarity with the victims of this pandemic and their families wherever they are, whatever creed they adhere to, whatever race religion, faith, political preference or sexual orientation they may have. This is a time to come together.
Today we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. And there is much to celebrate. Wars have been avoided, peace agreements signed and peace kept and built, millions of people have been kept alive through massive humanitarian efforts and many more millions have been lifted out of poverty, their human rights protected, education enabled and economic possibilities created.
The European Union, celebrating 70 years, is built on a similar vision of avoiding conflict and building trust among people. We have been supporting and collaborating with UN in achieving all this. And we stand behind the UN in making sure that it delivers even better for the future. No one has a higher stake in us getting our act together, than the youth.
Therefore today’s programme will be centred around youth and their expectations.
We will do it against a backdrop of the unifying force of culture.
I think you all agree that this is the time to step up our response. From access to public health and education, engrained inequalities, violations of basic human rights, to climate change and dangerous global tensions.
This is an opportunity to do better for the future and to act with the same sense of urgency that has made us adjust in the face of the pandemic.
The UN was created in San Francisco with the hindsight of two world wars, but also with a foresight of the need for countries to come together and international institutions to support them. Perhaps we should look at the current situation as a new San Francisco moment.
The UN system needs to be scrutinized and adjusted and reformed. But it should not be abandoned. As the very broad surveys interviewing the youth around the world show, there is large support across countries and regions for more international cooperation, not less, which gives me some comfort.
So there are plenty of things to celebrate today.
We just heard Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, the European anthem, and we celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, whose Ninth Symphony, is also a UNESCO “Memory of the World”. The symphony is more than just a beautiful piece of music, it is also a very powerful manifesto for people uniting.
And indeed, 2020 is also the 70th anniversary of the EU (EU70), counting the starting point as the 1950 Declaration of French foreign minister Robert Schuman to create a European Coal and Steel Community, which became the forerunner to today’s EU.
It is also the 10th anniversary of the European External Action Service which serves as the foreign service and to make the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy more effective and better coordinated in order for us to be a more serious and respected player in world affairs.
So here we are, a full and virtuous circle: the founding of the UN from the devastation of two world wars played out over the European continent, provided the climate and inspiration for the European construction, and that construction, in turn, evolved and developed foreign policy mechanisms designed not only to make the EU a more effective international actor, a force of reason and common sense I hope. Working in turn here in New York to assist the UN, making it better.
To complete the story of our future, we must add human agency. People can choose which direction they want to push themselves, their societies and their world. I'm a strong believer in the human capacity to overcome difficulties, even those we have created by and for ourselves. But I also believe that that requires a strong sense of responsibility for our own action and choices and an equally strong ability to be attentive to the needs of our neighbour.