Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure and honour to welcome you to Brussels.
The opening of the Europalia arts festival is an opportunity to consolidate our bilateral relations and I was glad to hear from you, Mr. President, how fruitful your discussions have been yesterday with the Prime Minister, the Presidents of the House and of the Senate, and the Minister-Presidents.
The Europalia arts festival is what brings us together today. This festival, spread over a period of 3 months, provides an opportunity - in the capital of Europe - to approach the mysteries of another culture.
I am particularly grateful, Mr. President, that you have made the trip all the way from India to underline together with me the importance of this initiative. Having the possibility this year to dedicate Europalia to India - and opening this major arts festival in your presence - is an enormous privilege.
Europalia is all about dialogue between cultures.
You yourself stand as a symbol of dialogue. You are known as a consensus builder in a country, as big as a continent, composed of 28 states and 7 union territories, and where 22 languages are recognized by the Constitution. Despite all these variations, there is what Amartya Sen calls "the wholeness of India", the "constructive search for an overarching unity, combined with a firm acknowledgement of plurality".
Belgium is at the heart of the European Union, which is also composed of 28 member states and has 24 official languages. We too are working - every day - on an overarching unity. We were amongst the six founding members of the European Community back in 1957 and we of course still strongly believe in the added value of this cooperation. We continue to take an active part in the European integration process. Bringing men and women of different cultures together in a spirit of openness participates to this endeavor.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We know that culture can be a marker of distinctiveness. But we also know that, as soon as different cultures enter into a respectful dialogue, new ideas arise and new horizons open. Rabindranath Tagore's call to "open your doors" is still appealing today. Culture grows through reflection, openness and creativity. We have become what we are thanks to this openness.
I myself have been to your beautiful country a number of times. I have led four economic missions to India. In earlier years, like many youngsters, I stayed in India and in your beloved Bengal, as a backpacker eager to discover your rich culture. Each visit was an invigorating experience. What I remember the most is the depth in the eyes of your fellow citizens.
Europalia will only showcase a fraction of your vast cultural heritage. To each visitor it will come as an invitation to go "beyond the eyes" and discover further the treasures of your secular civilization.
Mr. President, Ladies and gentlemen,
Our countries have a long history of partnerships and cooperation in numerous fields. Belgium wants to continue to build on this basis. My sister Princess Astrid will represent me on a new economic mission to India next month. Our companies and our universities are eager to participate in the various projects you are developing for the well-being of your people.
Mr. President, in your home region West Bengal and in many other parts of India people are now preparing for the Durga Puja, the worship of the power of Good which always wins over bad. May this power of Good help us in our search for unity of purpose and in taking up the many challenges of our times.
Ladies and gentlemen, please stand and join me in raising our glasses to the President of India.
I thank you.