Your Excellency Madam President of the Hellenic Republic,
Esteemed distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I feel great joy as well as a sense of pride to be welcoming you all here, today, to the Award Ceremony for the second Empress Theophano Prize. The presence of such great personalities from every corner of Europe is a special honour for our effort, for the city of Thessaloniki and for my home country, Greece.
The Empress Theophano Prize aspires to promote, particularly in the eyes of the youth and in a way that is contemporary and fresh, our common European idea; the idea which brings close the East and the West, the North and the South of our continent, Europe. In these uncertain times where so much is changing, we are inspired by the path of Empress Theophano, who brought the Byzantine civilisation to the imperial court of Germany of the time, who built bridges of exchange and understanding and who was a pioneering European in her own right.
The Foundation’s Governing Committee, which I have the honour of presiding over, accepting the recommendation of our Advisory Committee, decided to award the prize to two unique people and leading scientists – Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci – the couple who, with self-sacrifice, placed themselves in the front line of the great battle that humanity gave and is still giving against an insidious and dangerous foe, which, in very little time, has upended the balance all over the planet, causing great human loss and great suffering, especially so in its poorest parts.
I look at them today with awe. Their work brings before us a series of important truths, the first being the critical role science plays in human wellbeing. The unfathomable power of the human spirit can and must serve the Common Good. The discovery of the coronavirus vaccine in record time was an astonishing achievement that saved millions of lives, possibly including the lives of many of us in this room. We must, of course, equally praise the role of the great pharmaceutical company Pfizer – whose chairman, our friend Albert Bourla from Thessaloniki, is here with us today – who made it possible to mass-produce the vaccine in a very short time and make it available throughout the world, allowing us to return, little by little, to our pre-pandemic normality.
Unfortunately, this example is not the case everywhere. Very often, political or economic interests, but also spitefulness, nationalisms and prejudices, impede the conquests of science. They reject them and fight them, causing unnecessary damage on a global scale. In the face of these sinister dangers that spring up everywhere and are very often unpredictable, our common homeland, Europe, the cradle of Civilisation and Democracy, must resolutely stand up. Its responsibility is particularly big.
Let us look around. We are all here today in this unique ancient monument – a monument that is Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Christian, and conceals within it the deepest roots of our common European identity – to honour two brilliant scientists who have provided an answer to a huge problem of today, allowing us to look at tomorrow with optimism. It is, I think, a momentous occasion.
The consolidation of a common European consciousness, particularly among the youth, who we ought to be looking at, I feel, despite the tensions, crises and problems of self-determination, is progressing and deepening, and this is a historic development if we consider the centuries-long blood-stained past of our continent.
In this area, initiatives such as the Empress Theophano Prize, which have historical memories as their starting point but their eyes set on the future and on the common confrontation of problems, challenges as well as opportunities that arise, are particularly significant.
Your Excellency Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your presence here today.
I feel that today and tomorrow, the heart of Europe is beating in Thessaloniki.