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Opening of the House of European History

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Today I should like to speak to you about an adventure. That adventure began roughly a decade ago, and was originally the brainchild of Antoinette Spaak and supported by Charles Piqué, former Minister-President of the Brussels Capital Region.

The actual proposal to create a House of European History was made by Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament in 2007, who engaged ever since to make it reality.

The House is the product of 10 years of teamwork, and now, at last, it is ready for you to enjoy.

A large and very committed team has worked tirelessly on this project. And they have proven that they are not bureaucrats, but women and men working seven days a week, staying until one in the morning and starting at the crack of dawn. They have done a fantastic job in seeing this adventure through, and in bringing the House of European History to life.

Inside, on 4 000 m2 spread across 7 floors, you will be able to trace the history of Europe – from its very beginnings right up until the present day – in 24 languages. There are films galore and a whole host of activities to explore. The items on display come from over 30 museums in Europe, of course, but also in America, Australia and New Zealand.

The museological design is the work of Taja Vovk van Gaal and Professor Włodzimierz Borodziej. It is no coincidence that they are both from eastern Europe. It was a conscious decision to emphasise that Europe is not just about the West: it is also about Eastern Europe and Central Europe, a Europe in which we all live together.

The park in which we are standing is, it seems, about to embark upon its third incarnation. Its first was as a zoo in the 19th century. Behind me you can still see the buildings that housed the ticket offices. Its second incarnation was as a science park in the 20th century: the buildings around you are a testament to that part of its history.

Its third incarnation will, I hope, be a European one. Europeans will come here to remind themselves of what they have in common, rather than of their previous divisions.

We have a European identity in addition to a national identity, a regional identity and a local identity. And that European identity is vital because it forms the basis of a solidarity that transcends borders.

Criticism has, of course, been levelled against this project – indeed, some people are still criticising it. Some complain that it is too expensive, others question the focus on European history. But those comments are being made by people who did not want a common history and do not want a common future.

One object in particular caught my eye in the House of European History. It is an object from 1914: the Sarajevo pistol. It is very small, and yet its impact on Europe was enormous. It had a devastating effect on the continent and on its people. So many people died, not only during the First World War, but afterwards as well.

It shows just how fragile peace is; how easily peace can be destroyed. And when peace is lost, it is always gone for a long time.

The House of European History is the only project of its kind in the world. This is the first time that History has been presented as something we European all have in common.

I hope you enjoy your visit.


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