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Charlemagne Prize 2016 - Speech by the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz

Speeches
Internal Policies and EU Institutions
Rome
06-05-2016

Holy Father,
Honoured guests,

It is a great honour and a pleasure for me to address you here today in the Sala Regia in the Vatican on the occasion of the award of the Charlemagne Prize to His Holiness Pope Francis. The Charlemagne Prize is a citizens' prize awarded by the citizens of Aachen, a city situated in my home region, where Germany, Holland and Belgium meet. When the prize was first mooted, Europe lay in ruins and the scars of war had yet to heal. Undaunted, the citizens of Aachen decided to do what they could to foster the peaceful unification of Europe, and chose to establish the Charlemagne Prize. The fact that Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and myself, as the Presidents of the three main EU institutions and former laureates of the Charlemagne Prize, should be speaking to you together here today shows how committed we are to perpetuating the ideals which prompted the citizens of Aachen to take their decision.

Today, Europe is going through turbulent times, and faces what may be a decisive test of its unity. More than ever, we need courageous citizens who are prepared to stand up for the idea of European unity, we need people to shake us out of our apathy and remind us what is really important: peace, solidarity and mutual respect - the need to emphasise what unites us, not what divides us. It is because he has done just that - reminded us what is important - that Pope Francis is being awarded the Charlemagne Prize today. Your Holiness, please accept my heartfelt congratulations.

Francis, the Pope from Argentina, the son of Italian immigrants, whose modesty and warmth have enabled him to win over people irrespective of their beliefs or their faith, looks at Europe with the outsider's clear-sighted vision. When he says that 'a Europe which cares for, defends and protects every man and woman' is 'a precious point of reference for all humanity', His Holiness Pope Francis is reminding us Europeans of our European values and of what defines us as Europeans: our spirit of humanism.

We Europeans committed to human decency when we consciously turned our backs on totalitarianism which, in the first half of the 20th century, led people to subject their neighbours to unimaginable suffering, to burn down their houses and tear their families apart, to imprison, torture and kill. That commitment enabled us to put what was a nadir in human history behind us and, in the second half of the 20th century, initially in Western Europe, to develop our very own response: democracy, the rule of law, freedom of opinion and cooperation across borders and between peoples. Our European unity is founded on a simple insight: whenever we Europeans have been divided, the consequences for everyone have been disastrous; whenever we have stood together, it has brought better times for everyone.

Today, however, we are in danger of squandering this heritage. The forces unleashed by the crises we are facing are driving us apart, not bringing us closer together: national self-interest, renationalisation and particularism are gaining ground. There can be no doubt that the refugee crisis represents a defining challenge for Europe. At no time since the Second World War have so many people around the world been fleeing violence and terror. Unscrupulous populists, who have no solutions to offer, are taking advantage of the situation to prey on the fears of ordinary people. Fear may be understandable, but it is a bad policy-maker.

The people who, 25 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, want to put up new walls and fences in Europe and in so doing jeopardise one of Europe's greatest achievements, freedom of movement, have clearly learnt nothing from history. Surely nobody really believes that the people fleeing the brutal violence of Islamic State or the bombs of the Assad regime would be deterred by walls and barbed wire.

People who claim that nation states would do better to go it alone have lost touch with reality. Surely nobody really believes that, if our continent were to fragment, we Europeans, and our unique social model, could survive in an ever more globalised and interconnected world.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me be clear: Europe is going through a crisis of solidarity, our shared values are under attack.

And so I say this: it is now time to fight for Europe.

It is now time for all of us to stand up and be counted as Europeans.

Pope Francis gives us hope for the future when he says that 'our problems can become powerful forces for unity'. He showed all of us - and in particular those heads of government who are refusing to accept Muslim refugees on the grounds that their country is Christian - what solidarity means in practice, what it means to be human, when, following his visit to Lesbos, he gave shelter in the Vatican to three Syrian families. And when I see the tens, nay hundreds, of thousands of volunteers who, in Lesbos, Lampedusa, Munich and elsewhere, are distributing food and water, and clothes and blankets, to the men, women and children who have sought refuge from war here with us in Europe, when I see these people, I know that Europe's future is in good hands. I say that because these people are embodying the European values of justice, solidarity and respect for human dignity, they are showing the refugees and the world Europe's human face.

For further information:

europarl.president.press@europarl.europa.eu