José Barroso: 'Leaders of 200 years ago thought slavery was a necessity'

From a speech by the President of the European Commission, given to the European Institute of the London School of Economics
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The Independent Online

I am a European who wants to focus on Africa. Europeans must focus on, and act in, the wider world. That is the kind of Europe which I, as the President of the Commission, want.

I am a European who wants to focus on Africa. Europeans must focus on, and act in, the wider world. That is the kind of Europe which I, as the President of the Commission, want.

I met this week the Chairperson of the African Union's Commission. This was a conversation between people from two continental organisations. We agreed what a relief it was to be talking in these terms, without the colonial and post-colonial hang ups. European policy towards Africa should not be driven by guilt. But it should be underpinned by shared responsibility between African and European.

For me, there is also a personal element. Africa has been a thread running through my political life, from my anti-colonial protests as a student to my involvement in the Angola and Mozambique peace processes, to my time as Portuguese Prime Minister and now President of the Commission.

What is almost as awful as the facts of hunger, poverty and disease is that my generation has become so used to them. We are in danger of taking for granted the images of dying children; of letting them, to use a very inappropriate phrase, become "a fact of life".

We must fight this; and I mean "we"; all of us in Africa, in Europe and elsewhere. The fight against poverty, hunger and disease is perhaps the issue for my generation. We must follow the energy and dynamism of the younger generation, who are leading on this issue, ahead of governments and large organisations.

We have the resources. We have the strength of popular feeling, as the huge response to the tsunami showed. What we need now is political will and organisation to turn this into action.

Many leaders of 200 years ago thought slavery was an inevitable, if uncomfortable, necessity; a natural part of the order of things. They were wrong. So are those today who just accept poverty, hunger and disease. The challenge for my generation is to take up that fight, and win it. So that the next generations read about these things in the history books; just as we do about slavery.

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