Toespraak van Prinses Laurentien bij de openingsavond van “Imagining Europe” in de Balie te Amsterdam

De toespraak is uitgesproken in het Engels.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to Imagining Europe….

Why would we need to imagine in the first place?
English playwright George Bernard Shaw calls imagination``.. the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.``

We've put together this four day journey about Europe to listen, debate and reflect… and to imagine, as a source of creative reflection and ultimately, concrete action. We hope it will be a cacophony of thought-provoking ideas, dreams and perspectives of leading artists and thinkers from within and outside Europe - entering into dialogue with you and those participating via digital channels. Thank you in particular, our distinguished guests from abroad, for lending us your precious time - and eyes. We need the eyes of others to (re)discover something we see - or fail to see - every day.

Others can help us see, but we need to live and shape Europe ourselves. I hope that over the coming days, each of us will hear or see something that makes us reflect about our own behaviour, mindset and thinking -about issues, neighbours, countries or fellow citizens. Ideally, I hope we all get taken out of our comfort zone... To me, that's the power of culture... to walk in with a grey jacket... experience thoughts and ideas in whatever shape or form - words, images, objects - and walk out in a purple jacket (or red or green...). Of course, this "fashion exchange" can only work if you allow it to happen... in other words, if your heart and mind are sufficiently open to be touched and altered, in one way or another.

Visualization and imagination is about connection. If I can visualize what needs to happen, I'm more confident and driven about what I need to do…So for people to connect and feel Europe's relevance to their lives, we need to visualize it; tell Europe's stories and call up images of what it was, what it is and what we want it to be. We need to be able to see, touch and feel what Europe is about in order to grasp it. Is Europe about grey suits lined up for 'the family photo' inside equally grey buildings, about procedures and summits? Or do we want it to be about students moving around and people getting married across borders and boundaries? Isn't Europe about entrepreneurial young people coming up with new solutions and exploiting their talents, and about the elderly connecting to the internet to speak with their grandchildren?

Clearly, each of us has a different image of what Europe means.

If I think about Europe, I see the place where I belong. It's my everyday reality in how I move around, how I live and work and what I buy. I don't grasp what 'being for or against Europe', means. Europe is my point of reference. I also see a shared living space of 500 million citizens with equal rights in 27 countries… having the right to get treated in hospitals, go to school and get a job in any of the 27 Member States....

But images are not static... I was in Portugal over the past two days and the discussions there sharpened my perspectives... By talking to people from across society - business, civil society and government - I got a glimpse of the mood and challenges they're facing. They need to deal with the now, while not losing sight of the longer term. They regard their efforts as being for their own sake as well as for Europe. They all talk about belonging to Europe, about solidarity... Not as an abstract, intellectual notion, but as a tangible wish for today and tomorrow. But underneath all this, I sensed an unsettling worry about the difference of one letter... will it be solidaire, or solitaire?

Solidarity goes to the very core of what Europe is and was intended to be: a union of interdependent states bound by a shared existence. Nearly 60 years ago, the founders of the European Cultural Foundation envisaged cultural expression to be a unifying force for Europe contributing to the shared existence.

Artists can help us reflect and visualise where we differ and what we have in common - for instance on issues of shared concern, from the economic downturn to freedom of speech and existential issues such as global warming. Cultural expressions stimulate fresh thinking about such dilemmas and thus possible solutions. Similarly, architects and designers directly contribute to our lives, with the designs and products we use, the buildings in which we live and work. As the US philosopher Richard Weaver said:Ideas have consequences.

Ideas have consequences…. One of Europe's major successes is that many of us - especially young people - take Europe and the values it stands for, for granted. But for it to last, we need to continue to invest in it and keep imagining what lies ahead of us. Nothing can be taken for granted … not even Europe's cornerstones such as solidarity, tolerance and inclusiveness. That said, we should realize that some of these developments are not solely European, but in fact part of broader global developments.

There is also a particular role for those leading the way to visualise where we need to go. "Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act," Albert Einstein said. To explain, for instance, what interdependency means - also to those for whom Europe seems a blurry image. But isn't our future too important to merely delegate to grey suits and summits? Europe is its citizens, and its citizens are Europe. Weallshare a responsibility in shaping the world we live in. We need to make Europe explicit. Dare to explain it in clear words and images that speak to everyone's imagination. Art and culture help do just that.

Welcome once again to these four days. We may not come up with concrete solutions to the real and urgent challenges we face across Europe. But the debates and reflections will hopefully feed our imagination. That in itself holds a value that we cannot take for granted. So enjoy the ride, but don't just sit back and relax. Challenge yourself to imagine the future - our shared future. Can you do it?

Now close your eyes for a moment... Think of yourself 5 years from now.... Call up the image of yourself at breakfast reading the news (on paper or on your Ipad). What headlines are you reading about Europe?

................Now think about what it takes to get there.

Thank you.