Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende
Jan Peter Balkenende, former Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Europe’s history consists of Michelangelo and Montesquieu. But it also holds the guillotine and the gas chambers. The beautiful and the dark pages, they both bind us together. Europe isn’t just about markets and money. People need to know about the history of World War II and the division of our continent between East and West during the Cold War. That’s what has shaped the European mindset.

What we also need is an entrepreneurial spirit, a sense of innovation and of sustainability. We need to invest in research and development, we need more flexible labour markets, we need to look at the issues of migration and demography. But what we need most of all is a winning mentality. If Europe wants to survive, we must have much more dynamism. This is an age of fundamental change, and you must want to be the best. You must have the will to fight for that.

The good news is that we are in much better shape now than in 2012. Then, the sentiment was that it was only a matter of time until Greece would be forced to leave the Eurozone. There also was a real danger of the entire Eurozone breaking up.

The reason was that we had fixed very good rules for the common currency, but we weren’t sticking to them. And do you know who first decided that these rules were too strict? Chancellor Schröder of Germany and President Chirac of France.

The same was true for the remarkable Lisbon Strategy: in 2000, we set ourselves the goal of transforming Europe into the most dynamic economic space in the world. Did that happen? No. the Lisbon strategy wasn’t implemented, either, in any case in the first five years.

Now, we understand that we must have a rules-based system with sanctions. Europe is not a growth market – Asia and Africa are the growth markets. We need to rethink the role of our governments because we need sound financial policy. We need a new alliance between companies, governments and NGOs to shape a sustainable future. We really need to put our creativity to work.

Yet if we only talk about problems, if we only talk about Europe in terms of moaning about the bureaucracy, we will never get anywhere. We need to get out of this atmosphere of euro skepticism. Here, in Amsterdam, we should take heart from the example of the Netherlands, a great seafaring nation that was willing to take huge risks and ended up making enormous gains. We are, after all, living on a great continent.

 This statement is taken from a speech that Jan Peter Balkenende held at United Europe’s first Young Professionals Seminar in Amsterdam.

Jan Peter Balkenende, Former Dutch Prime Minister