It is quite hard or even impossible going back twenty years to the foundation of our European Group, as well as mentioning all the committed European men and women, who have worked constantly and with great determination to achieve our goals, with so little time. I therefore ask you all to be indulgent with me.
Thus, I am going to concentrate on important events which have characterised these past 20 years, and ask you all to remember those who have left their mark on the life of our Group.
This year, we celebrate our 20th Euromeeting, but in fact, the European Group was founded in Brussels in June 1993, during the first General Assembly in which our group adopted the “European Charter for Pensioners”, presented by André Coutant, Founding Chairman of the French Federation, to different personalities of the European Commission. It was a few years before, in 1987, during the General Assembly of Pensioners and Retired people of Spain in Santiago de Compostela, when the process of creating an Association began. Further down the line, on 12th November 1988, thanks to Francisco Bernabeu Penalva, President of the Federation of Pensioners and Retired people of Spain, the “Declaration of Madrid”, one of the proposals for the founding document of the European Group, was adopted.
Spain, Portugal, France and Belgium ratified the agreement during a meeting in Zaragoza in July 1993. Our group was founded thanks to the will, intuition and perseverance of certain men, our founders. A special mention goes to our first presidents, Francisco Bernábeu Penalva and José Lidón Meseguer from Spain, Roger Miraglio and André Ségur from France, the secretary Rafael da Cruz Marques from Portugal and the treasurer Raoul Maelstaf from Belgium.
Soon after, our Group evolved under the impetus of two great presidents who, each with their own qualities, charisma and will to guide the Group to new horizons, left their mark on our future and destiny: Pepe Lidón and Pepe López.
José Lidón Meseguer became president in ISDABE during the 1998 Euromeeting. We saw in him, a man who gave shape to our Group to his own image; a craftsman of evolution who made us what we are today, a group which is recognised at European level. Because of his great perseverance, he knew how to be a craftsman of modern development for our association, whilst providing us with specific and efficient structures, enabling us to prepare for the future. In order to increase participation in meetings, which at that point were limited exclusively to the founding members, he created Euromeetings, a hard-working group, but at the time, a relaxed group. He is the motorman of the Euromeetings. He soon realised the importance of dialogue, so with the help of Diego Carrasco, Professor of Translation and Interpretation at the University of Alicante, and his students, the Euromeeting texts started to be translated. In 1999, during the Euromeeting which took place at the same time as the International Congress of UNESCO, the “Declaration of Alicante was promulgated by the Group, which clearly establishes that pensioners and the active population have exactly the same rights.
José Lidón’s humanism, his talent for negotiating and, most of all, his generosity, helped him make many friends among the European Pensioners. In April 2002, in Peniscola, he handed over his presidency to Roberto López and became the first Honourable President of the European Group. On the 9th October 2010, Pepe Lidón passed away, leaving behind the memory of a great president who managed to modernise our Group.
At that time, José Roberto López Martínez succeeded him, after being the treasurer between 2000 and 2001. In 2005, he became executive vice-president, in charge of the difficult tasks of conceptual and administrative management and accounting, as well as being in charge of the relationship sector. In 2008, he became President of the European Group. Pepe, which is what his friends call him, gave the European Group a fresh boost, and made it more based on rigour, research and controlled expenditure. He was always loyal to the past and to the founders’ objectives. He managed to guide our Group towards European objectives, and he shared with us his humanism, enthusiasm, convictions, as well as his concerns. It is thanks to him that our European Group was able to ensure a permanent membership in AGE, the European Platform for the elderly, which is in Brussels. Moreover, we also thank him for creating GET (Study and Work Group). He gave his body and soul to our Group; He never let his guard down, not even when he was in hospital and very weak because of the illness that, inevitably ended up taking him away.
At the beginning of 2011, Pepe López passed away, leaving us with his determination to build a social and human Europe, which benefits all citizens. He left behind his intention of an age-friendly European Union, which firmly defends the most disadvantaged people, and especially, the elderly. Through this inheritance, we need to prove that we have the will to continue with his hard work.
Likewise, I would also like to mention some other people who have left their mark on the life and evolution of our Group. For instance, I think of our Italian friend Franco Salza, who, along with Pepe López, assumed the presidency of the Group from 2005 to 2007. He did a thorough search on a voluntary basis on what our Group should be within Europe, something which he considered extremely important. Moreover, he had a special trait: his open mind, which fundamentally characterised his presidency. We would have loved to have had him here today to celebrate our Group’s twentieth anniversary.
There are other people who gave all their energy and skills for the benefit of our Group, and who have left their mark on its evolution: Vihhelm Lemchen from Sweden, Cyriel Vanden Ameele from Belgium, Barry Ingham from the United Kingdom, Antonio Serra from Portugal and Arline Easson from Scotland, as well as Antonio Orts, who was the secretary for many years. Each one of these individuals brought a much needed humanist trait to the Group. Our friend Barry deserves a special mention: he was a board member since 2006, and we remember him for the questions he would make, his interrogations, his criticism, his honest way of speaking and his particular opinions about problems thanks to his own past experience as a trade unionist. He accompanied and influenced our Group’s evolution, and we want him to know, when he reads this, how much we regret his absence from this Euromeeting.
Continuing with our Group’s historic reference, I would like to mention my dear French friend Jean Vauriot, who has always been close to our Group. He was vice-president from 1998 to 2004. Not only did he share with us his dynamism, competence and his opinions on problems which we had to face, but he also shared the many sides of his culture with us, in an intellectual way. In recent years, his presentations and conferences in the Euromeetings have enchanted us. We will always remember the time we spent with him, memories such as the Federico García Lorca evening, and out trip last year in France, in Collioure, as well as his evocation to the revolutionary Spanish poet, Machado.
In 2011 in Olbia, Sardinia, just as Pepe López had wished in his last moments of life, a few days after his death, and as requested by José Barberá Blesa and Diego Carrasco, I accepted the role as President of our Group after being Vice-president since 2005.
If I had to mention some of the strongest points of my presidency, it would have to the modification of the statutes which enabled the direct admission to the Group, a situation which, since the Spanish Federation left, after two years of negotiations, has since authorised the direct admission of Spanish regional banks. On the other hand, this modification of the statutes has also authorized the presence of delegates in the Assembly with advisory capacity, allowing our friends Ruth Rebert (Germany) invited member since 1996, Egidio Ramondetti (Italy) and Auyanet (Spain) to discuss matters freely. Another important modification was the creation of a rotating presidency, limiting the time of presidency to three years. Finally, we modernised our Euromeetings by introducing simultaneous interpretation in six languages in all of the meetings, as well as in the plenary assembly, enabling a dialogue/debate between the room and the different speakers. Moreover, we managed to stay in contact with the AGE Platform in Brussels. We also developed periodic information, and we took on a permanent secretary to help the associations and federations, a mission that I trusted Alicia with, our young secretary who has always delivered and still does, in a completely competent manner, showing total devotion to this important mission. Thank you ever so much Alicia for your hard work and involvement.
These structural changes should enable us to maintain the cohesion that we need now more than ever, in order to perfect and continue our Group’s hard work around the values which have formed the epicentre of our action for two decades.
In 2013, in Tossa de Mar, obeying the principal of rotating presidency, my friend Cândido Vintém took on his new role in the Group. We all know that we can rely on his goodwill, skills and dynamism to lead the Group toward new goals and new achievements
More than ever before, we need to participate as much as we can during our reunions, in order to define the Europe we want. An age-friendly Europe according to the principles of the founders of our Group.
The 2013 Nobel Prize which was given to the European Union is an element of recovery which seems to be telling us: Do not forget where you come from! We have to understand this as a support and a reminder for us Europeans. Even if we have to face everyday difficulties, the situation should not hide the journey on which we have already embarked. As the French writer Jean Monnet said in his memoir: “Europe will build itself in crisis. It will be constituted by the sum of solutions found to resolve each crisis.””.
In the French Federation Conference in Lille, I raised an important issue: in 2050, will Europe still be there, still able to defend and promote its values, ideas and interests? Or on the contrary, will it have resigned itself to becoming a regional power subcontracting the economy of all the other countries, making it, in the worst case scenario, a simple consumer of fabricated products or of products that have been designed for others? This question is extremely important! It is straight forward and direct, and it is aimed at us and the future generations. For our Group, member of the European Platform AGE, our message is clear: We need to build an age-friendly European Union. Acting with good judgement and pragmatically, our European Group can confirm today that national defence and interest can no longer just be national. The Union of Europeans is no longer an option; it is a vital necessity to be able to assess, to rely on, and for us protect ourselves and to be respected.
In conclusion, I invite you all to reflect a moment about our Group’s logo: a flying seagull, on top of Europe’s initial. Like this migratory bird which is loyal to his starting point, we need to open tomorrow’s door to other nations, saving banks and banks, giving Europe an image similar to the one described by the French poet Marcel Proust: “We gazed at the calm sea upon which, here and there, a few gulls floated like white petals”.
Jean Claude Chretien