Vision for Europe Award

1997-09-17 - Helmut Kohl


Dear Mr Prime Minister,
Dear Mr Marquenie,
Dear Mr Lussi,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
and above all, Dear Mr Israel,

I am glad to be here again in this wonderful town in the heart of Europe. I am pleased by the warmth of your welcoming words.

I would very much like to thank the Foundation, and particularly Mr Israel, for the 'Vision for Europe' Award, which is a source very great encouragement to me. To me it represents the encouragement to continue to fight for our common cause, the unity of our continent.

Amongst those member states that have contributed to the success story of European integration, Luxembourg is very important. It confirms Winston Churchill’s prediction in his Zurich speech in 1946: 'The small nations will count as much as the big ones and will be equally honoured for their contributions to the common cause'. Even today, Luxembourg remains a key driving force in shaping the future of Europe.

I am happy that in the second half-year of 1997 the role of the European presidency has been taken by our friend Mr Jean-Claude Junker. In the coming months we have to face big challenges; for example the special summit in November and the meeting of the Council of Europe where the main themes are to be the widening of the European Union and 'Agenda 2000'. I am convinced that Mr Juncker will be an effective leader of the Union during the coming months.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are standing on the threshold of the 21st century. In just a few years, the new millennium will begin. The number 2000 symbolises, above all, hope for the future. We look back on a century of extreme contrasts: war with reconstruction, conflict with our neighbours with European unification.

Countless people died in the two world wars. Millions were forced into exile as fugitives and displaced people. It was a time of totalitarian ideologies: The Nazi regime brought untold misery to Europe and the world. And, only ten years ago, the peoples of eastern Europe were still living under the communist yoke.

You, dear Mr Israel, are a witness of these events and times. You had to leave your home in May 1940 at the age of 16. This was followed by hard years. Many lost their hope for a better future. But, after 1945 something happened that is still considered by many to be a miracle. Yesterday’s enemies buried the axe and, most importantly, many men and women resolved to make a new start. Mr Israel belongs also to this formidable founding generation.

Their own sad experience had shown them that in the long run peace and freedom for all the people of Europe could only be guaranteed on the basis of democracy and the respect of human rights.

In 1951 Mr Konrad Adenauer, when he was standing before of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe said 'It is a fundamental wish of the European peoples to build the political future together.' European unification is 'a creative impulse that befits the magnitude of the European tradition.'

It is due to such spirit and power of conviction that in the free part of Europe the human desire for peace made possible a true togetherness. The creation of and the experience of working together in common institutions has led to understanding, trust and lasting friendship. The vision of the founding fathers, Robert Schuman, Alcide de Gasperi, and Konrad Adenauer among others, has become reality: The unification of Europe has created a place of permanent peace.

They all knew that it would be a long and difficult road from the vision of a united Europe to the reality. Nevertheless, they persisted in their goal. They, and not those who were the doubters, have proved that the dream could become reality. What shape would Europe have today if the 'founding' ('the first hour') statesmen had not the will to push forward their ideas against all, often substantial, opposition in their struggle for the realisation of the European ideal?. In the pursuit of their vision, they showed courage, foresight and patience. These were the decisive qualities essential for the ultimate success of European integration.

This is also true when we look to the future: When it comes to building the Europe of the future, it is essential that we have a clear goals and the stamina to achieve them. Those who are only interested in short-term success and whose political aims are based on everyday public opinion will not be able to influence the future direction and shape of unified Europe.

Certainly, there are many difficult questions and problems that remain to be solved. European integration is not a theoretical game for dreamers who want to make a better world, but requires hard, sustained, daily work. The effort is worth it, though: Europe gives us peace and freedom, it makes our economies more competitive and helps us to solve many tasks more efficiently. Those who do not accept this for reasons of political expedience or indifference are committing a disservice to the futures of our children and their children.

The idea of peace is and will remain the principle that governs the momentum towards European integration. Its critics are the main reason why we should not lose sight of this supreme goal. The hideous images from the former Yugoslavia teach us that even after the end of the conflict between the East and the West, we must not surrender to the illusion that the evil spirits of the past have been expurgated forever.

We all need a united Europe because we do not wish to return to the 19th century idea of isolated nation states. In a world of ever increasing economic interdependence, it is no longer possible for a European nation to be successful all on its own. It is impossible to protect the environment without general cooperation or to defend ourselves against international crime, the drug trade or the threat of terrorism.

Only together are we able to make the unified Europe a good place for all who live there. It gives them the chance to live in peace and freedom, in wealth and social security. Today we have to take important decisions concerning the future of Europe. By signing the Amsterdam Treaty we are making good progress on our road to European unification.

The expansion of the European Union towards the East is now on the agenda. This is of particular importance to Germany. People in the young democracies of the central, eastern and south-eastern Europe are correct to believe that a united Europe, together with the Atlantic Alliance, is their guarantee for peace, safety and well-being on this continent. They are helping us to see with new eyes what for a long time many of us have taken for granted as normal and therefore do not appreciate its importance as greatly as before. It would be a betrayal of the European ideal if we did not open up our borders and justify the hopes of our eastern neighbours.

Therefore, I contradict all those who say that the time for expansion has not yet come. It is not sheer coincidence that the opening texts of the Maastricht Treaty mention 'an ever closer union between the peoples of Europe'. For me it is, for example, unthinkable that the western border of Poland will remain the eastern border of the European Union for ever. We must, therefore push for the widening of the European Union with decisiveness, at the same time and in addition to all the challenges that we have still to resolve within the existing union.

One of the key projects on the way to a united Europe is the realisation of economic and monetary union. It constitutes the logical and necessary supplement to the European Internal Market with its population of more than 370 million. Only with the single currency will we be able to enjoy all the benefits of growth and employment that the Internal Market offers. The completion of European monetary union will strengthen the European market in a time of globalisation.

For me, it is of the utmost importance that we fulfill the Maastricht criteria and complete the agenda for the introduction of the common European currency. These are historical opportunities, which once missed, will not return quickly.

Therefore European monetary union must begin on time on the January 1st, 1999.

Preparation for the euro has already stimulated some remarkable developments. Even before the euro actually comes into existence, it is acting as a positive influence on the economic stability of Europe. For example, the substantial fall in inflation rates and interest rates across Europe is a noteworthy success that we all should mention more often!

The European Union is already growing in the direction of a community with economic stability. Monetary union will play an important economic role in the future, but it is foremost an eminently political project. Due to the euro, the European Union, as a haven of peace and freedom for the 21st century, will grow even stronger.

Europe should not only be credible as a political as well an economic organisation, but it should also appeal to the hearts and souls of its inhabitants. This will happen once the people feel that this Europe is being built for them. Our motto for Europe should read 'unity in diversity'. This Europe will abound with regional and national identities. The people of Europe will still be Luxembourgish, Italian or German, but they will all be European as well. Our regional, national, and European cultures will form the triple identities of the future citizens of Europe.

The study of common European history and culture can help us particularly in shaping a clear and coherent future. The cultural achievements of our old continent have survived all the divisions, terrible disasters and wars that run through our history. They stand out in establishing Europe's position and image in the world.

Our culture above all gives every single individual the opportunity to enrich their lives and personalities. The cultural dimension within European unification must not therefore take second place when seen against economic and monetary union, the common foreign and security policy, or any other important issues. We want not only a prosperous economic zone, capable of surviving in a world of global competition, but we want a Europe that belongs to its citizens.

It is therefore important that we safeguard our centuries-old cultural legacy. To me it is above all the spirit, the inspiration, which have inspired these works of art and which give them their magnitude and beauty over time and frontiers. This spirit incorporates the philosophy of the antiquity and humanism as well as the rationality of the enlightenment and the power of christianity.

The European idea stems from the awareness of our common historical and spiritual origins. This includes a system of eternal values which permits us to shape a humane future. It is based on the uniqueness of man, on the respect for life, on the respect for human dignity and the personal right of freedom.

There are big differences between the peoples of our continent. We should not interpret these differences as separating contrasts, but rather as a richness for all of us. Here lies the secret of Europe's strength. From this situation of tension we can and we are decided to create a Europe where we can live together in peace and freedom.

This must be our aim - our vision for Europe. It is a vision of an ever-closer togetherness, of permanent peace and freedom on our continent. Let us all work together to achieve this aim. I do not know any task which is more important and promising.