Welcome address by Barbara-Maria Monheim, Initiator, Founder and President of the BELA Foundation


Please allow me, first of all, to say a few personal words about why I initiated this project since the foundation of BELA is closely linked to my own story, the story of someone with a dream of a united Europe. It is nothing special. It could be the story of any one of thousands of Eastern Europeans but for me it WAS special because it helped to shape the person I have become. In 1943 my parents who had lived so happily for so long in Galicia, a most wonderful melting pot in Eastern Europe, were forced to flee and went to Pomerania.

In 1956 they once again lost everything, this time to the Polish Communists. They never again found happiness, but lived in the past, in the world of their memories, memories which for me were like a fairy story telling of the peaceful coexistence of many ethnic groups and different cultures. As I grew up I slowly became aware of all the restrictions in our lives, which were the result of the fact that I had been born on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. I began to wish that my parents' fairy story could become reality again.

When Poland became a member of the EU in 2004 I was overwhelmed. I thought that my dream had finally come true. At the same time, however, I realized that many people, especially in the West where I had already been living for many years, did not share my enthusiasm for the idea of a new united Europe. In my opinion, if this dream is not to be shattered, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Now is the time for projects like this one. I am half West European/half East European and a whole European. I understand both ways of thinking and know what unites us and what separates us. My conclusion is that we are compatible, so let us get to work!

I believe we would have achieved much more in Europe today, if more people had identified more closely with Europe and made it one of their top priorities. The crisis surrounding the European Union Constitution is not the result of its contents but is due to a certain prevailing state of mind. Europe needs more young people with commitment and inspiration. It has become little more than a formal union of nations, lacking any sense of community or civic spirit. Since so many decisions are taken in Brussels large sections of the community cannot identify with the development of the EU. Moreover, many people have lost the courage to say what they think. We need dedicated young leaders.

I felt the strong need to do something about this situation. In June 2004 I made a plan and designed a project for a  broader  European leadership agenda. And what does a new project need? Kindred spirits, of course. And there I was lucky. I had many, and the very best too. Let me just name a few of the first ones: Wolfgang Ischinger, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff and Robert Czajkowski. It is a great feeling for me to be able to launch the BELA Foundation here today. 
BELA - these four letters stand for Broader European Leadership Agenda. 

BELA Foundation is about the fulfillment of a personal dream. It is about contributing to integration within Europe in the area where we feel it is needed most - about helping the younger generation to show the leadership and vision that Europe needs to meet the challenges of the future.

In concrete terms: our foundation aims to bring together the future leaders of Europe and help them to make an impact on the course of events on the Continent. Our first task will be to help the 12 new Eastern and Southern countries to become equal members and fully integrated in the Union. This must be realized at the level of political and social interaction. We often take the historic enlargement for granted and think Europe will grow together by itself. This is not the case. Europe is whatever we make it. We need to help it to use its potential for the greatest benefit of all its citizens.

There is no shortage of such projects, but what is special about BELA is that it will be a meeting place where young professionals will be able to talk about themselves, their cultures, and their hopes and fears for the future. What motivates a young Estonian, Spaniard, Bulgarian or Norwegian today? What do they all want to contribute to this new united Europe? At BELA young historians, politicians, sociologists, economists, writers, actors, artists etc. will all talk about their countries and what makes them special and different from each other.

Our motto, "Diversity in Unity" has also been the guiding principle of the European Union for many years. We are now more diverse than ever before but in a world of global competition, we need to create a strong cohesive community. Otherwise we will not be able to keep up with other world leaders.

We are convinced that the new EUropeans are a great asset to Europe. They should sometimes be allowed to take the helm; it will be to the benefit of all of us. 

I am very proud too of our Advisory Board which brings together some of the most committed personalities of European political, business and cultural life. We want to take advantage of their expertise and good will to make BELA a trademark for vision and leadership. I very much hope that with their guidance we will be able to make an important contribution to helping young leaders change Europe for the better.



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