It is indeed a historic treat to be here at the University of Bologna – the first university in Europe and the oldest still operating university in the world. I congratulate all of you having the privilege to work and study in this beautiful and historical place.
Since its beginning in 1088, University of Bologna has seen many centuries pass. The perspective from the past is mind-boggling – for example: when the Enlightenment came to Europe, this university was already six hundred years old.
But what University of Bologna embodies – excellence in education and research – is not about history. Education and research is about the future. As we today find ourselves in a situation of financial crisis and uncertainty about our future, it is important to remember that education and research have always been the key to growth and prosperity.
On July 1, Sweden will take on the presidency of the European Union, for the second time since we joined in 1995. Our membership in the EU has brought Sweden and Italy even closer together, and allowed us to intensify our cooperation in many areas.
Higher education is one of these areas. Thanks to the Erasmus program over 150 000 European students and 20 000 researchers may do part of their programs or work in another European country. I'd like to take this opportunity to greet the Swedish students here in Bologna.
The last decade and a half has brought profound changes in Europe. Most of these changes have been positive: The fall of the Berlin wall; Western and most countries in Central- and Eastern Europe are now reunited as members of the EU.
Still, today's financial crisis shows us that the future will still bring challenges. To a large degree, we face these challenges together through the European Union.
We have here today two of the most prominent and experienced protagonists of the European Union. It will be very inspiring to listen to the views of former Prime Minister and former President of the Commission, Romano Prodi, and former Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
It feels highly satisfying to be here in Bologna and its splendid university, as we today conclude our official state visit to Italy, and it seems fitting to end it with what I am sure will be a most interesting discussion about the future of Europe.