European ceremony to commemorate the life and work of Helmut Kohl
Your Majesties, Presidents, Prime Ministers,
Colleagues from the European Parliament and the national parliaments,
Mrs Kohl-Richter and family,
Today we are paying our last respects to Helmut Kohl, a great European, a great statesman, a political giant who combined the ability to listen to the concerns of ordinary people with a gift for articulating a vision for the future.
Helmut Kohl was, above all, a courageous man; a champion of freedom and democracy, a leading light in the reunification of our continent. He defended human dignity everywhere and in all circumstances, against walls, against the Iron Curtain and against totalitarianism in all its forms.
The values on which our Union is founded were his banner in a thousand battles. They were the same values which inspired the Treaty on European Union: peace, freedom, well-being, security, justice without borders.
His faith in these values, and his faith in people, were central to the far-reaching process of reconciliation among us Europeans which awakened deep-seated memories in us.
His legacy as a statesman
Helmut Kohl was the champion of a generation who dedicated their lives to a new European Renaissance.
They were the last generation to have experienced the nightmare of war at first hand. For them, the dream of a peaceful future for their own children came to fruition in the form of a united Europe which had succeeded in putting nationalist sentiments behind it.
Simone Veil, a great woman, was also part of this generation. Today we remember her in this Parliament which she was the first to preside after the elections with universal suffrage.
These politicians drew strength from their hope for a better future. It was the same hope which, years before, had given the founding fathers, Schuman, De Gasperi, Adenauer and Spaak, the determination to heal the deep wounds of war. Thanks to their work, Europe rose from the ashes of its buildings and its moral certainties, and we have rebuilt and reunified our continent, putting freedom and the dignity of the individual at the centre of that process.
Helmut Kohl certainly merits a place of honour in the European pantheon.
In 1983, addressing the European Parliament, he said the following: ‘Our aim should be to ensure that anyone who turns their gaze to Europe sees what a blessing friendship and cooperation can be’.
In that spirit, he worked tirelessly to deepen integration in our Union, to enlarge it to take in all the democracies on our continent and to strengthen the Atlantic alliance.
In his 16 years as Chancellor of Germany, Kohl was a key protagonist in every major event. There is not a page in the history of European integration which does not bear the mark of his courage. It is to that courage that we owe the strengthening of the role of the European Parliament, the establishment of a great area of civic, political and economic freedoms, the single currency and the solidarity reflected in our cohesion policies.
I met the Chancellor in 1994, when, as a young politician, I accompanied the Italian Prime Minister on an official visit to Bonn.
I was struck by his charisma and his clear-sightedness, but also by his ability to listen to others and grasp their point of view. It became clear to me, in the course of that visit, that for Helmut Kohl the reunification of Germany meant not a German Europe, but a European Germany.
Overcoming the division of Germany and overcoming the division of Europe were for him - as for Konrad Adenauer - two sides of the same coin.
Kohl’s Europe did not hesitate to reach out to the young democracies in Eastern Europe. We were a beacon of freedom for millions of Europeans emerging from the darkness of Soviet occupation. Our Union opened its doors to them, in a gesture of solidarity, and accompanied them on the path to the market economy, the rule of law and prosperity.
The Europe of Helmut Kohl had the courage to forge its own future.
The future of Europe
That, in a few brief words, is the immense legacy that Kohl has left us, and the enormous responsibility that goes with it. As the baton passes to us, his example should inspire us to build on that legacy.
During his life, Helmut Kohl received many tokens of recognition of his contribution to European integration; these included the Charlemagne Prize and the Prince of Asturias Award.
But his greatest accolade is the one which history will bestow on him.
More than ever, we should be guided by his example in continuing to build our future together, with the aim of bringing the European institutions closer to Europe’s peoples; with the aim of providing practical responses to their concerns about terrorism, immigration, unemployment and climate change.
Today more than ever, we should learn from Helmut Kohl and choose hope, not fear.
That is what our citizens expect of us. We must have the courage to be united, the courage to change. For it is not the difficulties and challenges we face that define the people of Europe: rather it is our ability to overcome them.
Like Kohl and the other leaders of his era, we must work together to give fresh meaning to the European ideal. We need a more effective Europe, one which is capable of protecting its citizens as they are buffeted by the rough seas of a globalised world.
When rights are breached, or when people suffer discrimination on account of their convictions, the world looks to Europe for hope and support.
That Europe, our Europe, must hold its head high and once again project the values it stands for all over the world. Europe should be a beacon of freedom and rights: it is the only continent where the death penalty has been abolished.
That is the Europe that Helmut Kohl wished to see: a Europe which is far more than a mere market or a single currency, but which has an identity built over centuries, as a common home, as an ideal of freedom, prosperity and peace.
In Rome, on 25 March this year, 60 years after the Treaties were signed, we committed ourselves to completing the work of Kohl and the other great Europeans.
As he showed us, we must look beyond our immediate interests. We must be guided by the moral value of European integration. German reunification was the clearest example of this. Another was the magnificent gesture of reconciliation with François Mitterrand at Verdun, on a battlefield where their two nations had once fought each other.
That is not the shortest or the easiest road to travel. Yet it is the only one we can choose if we are to instil in people a sense of belonging to this great project of ours; a project of hope and a commitment to progress for the sake of future generations.
For all these reasons, Kohl’s memory will live on in the hearts of everyone who – like all of us here today – loves Europe.
Danke Helmut Kohl, wir werden Ihre Idee Europas mit uns in die Zukunft tragen !
Thank you Helmut Kohl, we will carry your vision of Europe with us into the future.