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Luxembourg leader honored with Pitt doctorate

| Friday, April 11, 2008

Europe will take "center stage" in international debates, predicts Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker.

"It is time for Europe to return to center stage and to focus no longer on how to do, but on what to do," he told about 150 people Thursday at the University of Pittsburgh.

Juncker accepted an honorary doctorate in public and international affairs from Pitt, home to one of only 10 European Union Centers of Excellence in the United States.

He discussed the success and challenges of the European Union, a political and economic group of 27 nations formed in 1993.

"Europe is admired for its economic successes," Juncker said. "The single European market is today the single most important economic area of the world with more than 450 million consumers."

Europe also is facing difficulties.

"We have reached a level of inflation of 3.5 percent -- the highest in the last 16 years," Juncker said. Europe needs to reduce that rate because inflation hits poor people harder than it does the rich, he explained.

In assuming its role in international debates, Juncker said the European Union will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009, to reach an agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"I do sincerely hope," he said, "that the United States will join the European Union in this effort in response to a challenge that knows neither national nor continental borders."

Juncker, 53, the son of a steelworker, noted that his country and Pittsburgh share a similar history.

"I have grown up in Luxembourg in the shadows of the blast furnaces at a time when the steel industry was at its pinnacle," he said. The steel mills did not only dominate the landscape, they also set the rhythm of life for the people in the south of Luxembourg."

While Pittsburgh was reeling from the steel crisis of the 1970s and '80s, so too was Luxembourg.

"Both have also succeeded in emerging from the crisis stronger than they have every been," Juncker said. "They have embraced new ideas, new industries and new areas of development -- but without turning their back on their past."

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