[. .] ‘It could be said that people living in border areas are Europeans by instinct. For all of us who grew up after the war in this part of the world where Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium meet, in this microcosm of Europe, borders decisively shaped our outlook. For all of us, nearby borders, marked by wooden barriers, were a part of our everyday lives. Long queues formed at these borders when people wanted to cross over at the weekend to go shopping or visit relatives on the other side. Sometimes these borders were closed because of a football match. We all know how restricting borders can be and how liberating it can be when they are opened. To my mind, hardly anything so perfectly embodies the achievements of European unification as open borders. At the same time, we should remember that the lifting of the barriers which the borders represented was only the culmination of a lengthy process of overcoming other barriers - cultural, economic and linguistic.
We overcame what divided us in order to create something that unites us. That is Europe's message: overcome divisions in order to create unity. That is why I will vehemently oppose any attempt to take away this freedom! Those who try to reinstate borders, try to separate us again! [...]
Having said that, the idea on which Europe is founded - overcoming what divides us by means of cooperation between states and peoples across borders - is not in question. But fewer and fewer people associate it with ‘the EU’. The question now is: do we give up on the idea, or do we make the EU easier to understand and more effective? I firmly believe that we should make the EU easier to understand and more effective to develop this great idea of ours even further.
I have therefore made it my task, as President of the European Parliament, to throw open the doors and windows of the House of Europe so that people can look in and gain a better insight into what is happening inside: who does what, when, where and why. Only in this way can the trust we have lost be recovered.
This is the common goal I share with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, both of them former winners of the Charlemagne Prize.
Why do we share this goal? Because mistrust generates resentment, whilst trust generates optimism. [...]
Each generation inherits certain things from the previous one and bequeaths certain things to the next. My generation inherited the House of Europe from the courageous men and women who made up the founding generation. Those men and women decided, in the light of our tragic history, to bind our interests so inextricably together that war would be impossible and to create the sense of common purpose that would enable us to meet the challenges of the post-war era together. That we Europeans should have succeeded in this aim has been, in my eyes, the greatest achievement of our European civilisation since the Enlightenment. This bold decision has secured us 70 years of peace and democracy in Western Europe, and finally brought the same peace and democracy to the whole of Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.
What my generation must now do is make sure that we do not bequeath this great House of Europe to our children as a ruin. And that is the task with which we were entrusted by the founders of the Aachen Charlemagne Prize in the1950s, when the city itself lay in ruins. [...]
Ladies and gentlemen,
The farther you go away from Europe, the more you can feel the force of the European idea, the greater people’s enthusiasm is for European unification. On the Maidan, Ukrainians brandished our European flag. For people throughout the world, Europe stands for the defence of human dignity. Europe means hope for a better future.
I therefore want to send this message from Aachen today: let’s stop trampling on the European Union. We have achieved so much by working together, as we Germans in particular would do well to remember: enemies have become friends, dictatorships have given way to democracies, borders have been opened, the largest and most prosperous internal market in the world has been created. We have human rights and freedom of the press and we have abolished the death penalty and child labour. Why shouldn’t we be proud of our achievements?
In our European House many different families live, and some new ones have recently moved in. The atmosphere is lively, and sometimes even a bit rowdy, but never violent. We inherited this great House from our parents, and now it is starting to show its age. For that reason I say: let us renovate it, so that its true colours shine for everyone to see. I hope you feel as I do: I am grateful for the privilege of being a resident of this House.’ [...]