25th May 2022

EU leaders to attend 'intellectual' summit

European leaders will meet with intellectuals and business leaders to discuss Europe’s core values in a high-level conference later this year.

EU heads of state and government will be invited to attend a special conference on European values at the beginning of December- an event organised at the personal initiative of the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende.

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It is hoped the conference - to be held in the Netherlands - will be the culmination of a half-year long EU-wide debate on the meaning and political relevance of the European idea, initiated by the upcoming Dutch presidency which takes office in July.

Writers, artists, policy-makers and business leaders from all over the world are set to be present at the public event, where up to 1000 people will be able to attend.

Mr Balkenende hopes the event will provide an ideological underpinning for Europe.

He recently remarked that embarking on a European discussion on values such as respect, freedom, integration and solidarity would give a "new dynamism" to the reunified Europe.

Mr Balkenende has reportedly stated that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is "very enthusiastic" about holding this special conference on European values.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin also support the idea, Mr Balkenende said.

What does it mean to be a European?

The conference in December will complete a series of three smaller expert meetings and will be organised by the Dutch in co-operation with the Dutch philosophical think-tank, Nexus.

Rob Riemen, the director of Nexus, told the EUobserver that Mr Balkenende wants the debate on values to play an "essential role in the Dutch EU presidency".

"Now that enlargement has taken place, Mr Balkenende thinks that it is high time to confront questions such as ‘what does it mean to be a European’ in a serious way. He understands that there is a great danger that the lack of legitimacy of the EU will eventually lead to unpleasant situations, such as the disintegration of the EU", Mr Riemen said.

Political consequences?

Mr Riemen added that the goal of the debate is to bring intellectuals and policy-makers together, in order to "draw political consequences from the intellectual debate".

However, the EU leaders will not sign any political document during the "Intellectual Summit" in December.

The values conference comes at a particularly sensitive time, as later in the same month, on 16-17 December, member states have to decide during the European Council meeting in Brussels whether or not to open accession talks with Turkey.

In the debate on Turkish EU membership, the question of whether this country shares "European values" plays an important role.

Mr Balkenende, who will personally kick off the values debate at an opening conference in The Hague on 7 September, is known in the Netherlands for his high interest in "values and norms". He is a Dutch Reformist protestant.

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