Laudation by von Gerhard Schröder

Laudation by von Gerhard Schröder

Mr President, dear Bill,

Herr Bundespräsident,

Your Majesties,



Herr Ministerpräsident,

Mr Mayor,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

it is our honour and our privilege to welcome to Aachen today a great friend of both Germany and Europe - Bill Clinton, the President of the United States of America.

Bill, the warm reception extended to you by the people of Aachen shows in what high regard they hold you. And anyone who observed you knows that this affection is returned.

I am grateful that since taking up office I have been able to work together with an American President who is gifted with political vision, experience and warmth.

Bill Clinton can look back with pride on two terms of office which even in the success story that is the United States of America have been quite exceptional.

He has revitalized the American Dream for his, for our generation - with the constructive global leadership role which the United States has played in overcoming the East-West conflict and ever since, and by building an American society whose ability to rise to the challenges of the future is unparalleled. The fact that he has never forgotten his country's social woes is almost certainly due to his own journey through life which he never forgot on his way to his country's highest office.

Bill, we want to hear more from you, your ideas, your reforms and visions, at our conference on Progressive Governance for the 21st Century in Berlin tomorrow.

Today, however, we are gathered here, ladies and gentlemen, to honor Bill Clinton. He is being awarded the International Charlemagne Prize which, as is stated in the Prize's founding act, is awarded for outstanding service to Western unification.

We are pleased that several Charlemagne Prize laureates are present here today. Anyone who recalls the distinguished names of former laureates knows that this is an extremely important Prize for service to Europe.

Bill Clinton's close relations with Europe stretch back to his student days in Oxford. He is the latest in a line of American Presidents who have been fully committed to fostering a free, democratic and undivided Europe as a partner for the USA.

It was his own personal achievement that after the fall of the Iron Curtain the United States did not lose interest in Europe but, in his own words, "set out to do for the Eastern half of Europe what we helped to do for the Western half after World War II". The USA has made a vital contribution towards the development and integration of a Europe based on common values and shared responsibility.

His vision of a free and united Europe as a global partner for the USA, I would like to point out to my fellow Europeans by way of self-criticism, contrasts favourably with the hesitation and timidity that is sometimes displayed by the Europeans themselves.

Bill Clinton's foreign policy message to us Europeans is therefore that the United States and Europe need one another, that they belong together as global partners who are so determined and well suited to assuming joint responsibility and to shaping the future together because they are united by a fundamental conviction of the inalienable dignity and freedom of each individual. Because they stand for the right to personal fulfilment and bliss: In the American Declaration of Independence the "pursuit of happiness" is enshrined as an inalienable right of every person. Our constitution is committed to the integrity of "Menschenwürde", of each human being´s personal dignity. These are strong values that we share.

Bill, we have already met in places as diverse as a camp for Kosovo refugees and the summit meeting of the OSCE. Today we are guests of a city which is European in a very special way. In a lively and modern city which is, however, proud of its history.

Here, at the point where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet, the diminished importance of national borders is an everyday experience. These cross-border neighborly relations have a long tradition. European policies were being formulated in Aachen at a time when Berlin and Washington were still uncharted territory.

It was from here that Charlemagne, whom the Germans and the French, as well as many other nations, regard as "their" emperor, created a European empire. He lived in a belligerent age but he made sure that people of very different origins and cultural roots could live together in peace in his empire. The culture which still underpins our lives today thus developed from Roman, Germanic and Christian elements.

It is important to emphasize here that Charlemagne never cut his empire off from the rest of the world. On the contrary, he actively sought contact with other countries and cultures, because he knew about the importance of an exchange of ideas and experiences. This year marks the 1200th anniversary of his coronation as emperor in Rome. This act was both a return to an old tradition and a radical new beginning in Europe's history.

Ladies and gentlemen,

During the twelve centuries that have passed since Charlemagne's era, rival great powers have plunged Europe into war time and again. Numerous attempts to create lasting peace have failed. Aachen too was the venue for two peace congresses.

The last time that war in Europe reached a cruel climax was in the first half of the 20th century. The city of Aachen was badly hit, too. When American troops came to Aachen at the end of the Second World War, it was largely destroyed like many other European cities. Tens of thousands had lost their lives in the fighting around Aachen. And the Nazis' insane racism had almost completely wiped out Aachen's formerly flourishing Jewish community.

In this situation, committed Aachen citizens set out in quest of the intellectual foundations for a new Europe - and they found them in Charlemagne's ideas. Over many centuries people have linked their boldest political dream to his person: the dream of peace, unity, tolerance - the European dream.

This vision has left its mark on Europe's history. It was before the eyes of Charlemagne's successors crowned here in Aachen, as it was before the artists in the Middle Ages who painted German eagles and French lilies in the chancel of the cathedral. This vision still moves us today. No less than the reopened Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the throne of Charlemagne here in Aachen cathedral is a symbol of Germany and of its European vocation.

A prominent guest reminded us of this two years ago. He said then:

"For more than 1000 years, from the time of Charlemagne to the founding of the European Community, a unified Europe has captured this continent's imagination. Now, for the first time, the dream is within reach, and not through conquest, but through the decision of free people."

This guest was President Clinton and he was speaking in Berlin in May 1998 during his visit to Germany.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We Europeans can, I believe, be proud of what we have achieved during the last 50 years:

Following two world wars which cost the lives of millions, after the Nazi reign of terror, the states of Europe embarked upon the path of reconciliation. A united Europe is our peoples´ answer to the war.

They founded the European Community together and developed it further into a Political Union with a single currency. The close cooperation between Germany and France provided this process with important impetus.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain a decade ago, people in the then GDR and in the states of Central and Eastern Europe toppled their Communist dictatorships, thus creating the prerequisites for an undivided Europe.

Finally, the states of the European Union forged constructive and friendly relations with Russia, a partnership based on joint responsibility for the stability and security of the whole of Europe.

None of these developments would have been possible without the unambiguous and active support of our American friends. The United States has cooperated with us on the project of a united Europe from the outset as a strong and reliable partner.

For us Germans in the West, it was American assistance in the establishment of a democratic state based on the rule of law and a successful economy after the Second World War which made our active participation in European integration possible in the first place. Nor will we ever forget that it was first and foremost the USA which lent all Germans its unequivocal support when the opportunity for reunification arose. The German-American friendship which has grown over the decades will continue to be the engine of transatlantic cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In order to fully appreciate President Clinton's commitment to Europe we must bear in mind that there have always been many people in the USA who are not all too keen to see their country becoming actively involved outside its own borders. In his address in the White House last year during the NATO summit, President Clinton pointed out that since the time of George Washington the warning had been heeded that it was better not to become involved in what was then called "foreign entanglements".

On several occasions during the 20th century, the United States has had to grapple with the question whether it wants to risk such "entanglements":

Following the First World War, the USA not only withdrew from Europe but also from the League of Nations which President Wilson had conceived himself. The USA's economic and political isolationism resulted in a breakdown of the international system, which played into the hands of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.

In contrast, when the USA was faced with this question once more after the Second World War it decided under the leadership of President Truman to enter into an enduring partnership with Europe.

This far-sighted decision was a turning-point in the history of the 20th century. Without it, it would not have been possible for enemies to become partners, allies and friends in such a short time.

With the Marshall Plan and the establishment of NATO, the United States placed its partnership with Western Europe on a permanent footing. NATO stood, and still stands today, for our common values, for freedom, democracy and human rights.

However, the USA has also made it much easier for Europeans to build up a lasting partnership among themselves. It thus defined issues which are still on the agenda today: solidarity in order to defend peace, the safeguarding of democracy through economic development, prosperity through cooperation. George Marshall was the first American to be awarded the International Charlemagne Prize in 1959 for his outstanding personal contribution towards the reconstruction of Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In January 1993, when President Clinton took up office, the question of US involvement in Europe arose for a third time. With the end of the Cold War and the Communist threat to Western Europe, one rationale for the US presence in Europe had disappeared.

In this situation the Europeans found a partner in Bill Clinton who did not turn away but, on the contrary, who is convinced that it is only today, in a world no longer dominated by the confrontation between great powers, that the transatlantic partnership can unfold ist true effectiveness. Only together can Europe and the USA successfully master the challenges facing us:

We want to ensure that in the long term our world, in which six billion people already live, remains worth living in.

We want a world in which democracy and human rights prevail everywhere.

We want to extract the greatest possible benefit for all from the global integration of the world economy.

We want to prevent the further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

We want security from terrorism and organized crime.

We want a world in which democracy and human rights prevail everywhere.

President Clinton has made mastering these challenges the focus of American foreign policy.

Wherever European crises required him to make difficult decisions he has always opted, even in the face of domestic opposition, for transatlantic responsibility and thus for the joint path with Europe.

During the years of Bill Clinton's presidency we, both Europeans and Americans, have achieved much together. Germany, France and the other European partners have played their part.

Today many peoples in Central and Eastern Europe can be proud of their functioning democracies. The countries which have resolutely initiated reforms can now enjoy the first benefits of an economic upswing. The markets in Europe have opened up and economic integration between East and West is growing.

Today we are preparing to enlarge the European Union by admitting new member states. The accession negotiations between the European Union and twelve candidate countries have begun and the Intergovernmental Conference is working to reform the Union's institutions in the run-up to the accessions.

We are also well on our way to realizing a common European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). It will create the framework for swift and efficient action by the European Union in crises and thus represent an important contribution towards transatlantic burden-sharing. I am convinced that an enlarged European Union strengthened by the ESDP will be an even more attractive partner for the USA.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have also opened up the Atlantic Alliance to Central and Eastern European partners. At the Washington NATO summit a year ago we welcomed three new allies: Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. This was a historic step for the Atlantic Alliance and towards consolidation of the European security structure and, I would like to add, a moving moment for me personally, thinking that my generation has seen almost 50 years of confrontation and cold war. Bill Clinton played a key part in this. We agree with him that the indivisibility of security demands that the Alliance remain open for the accession of further candidates.

American deliberations on whether to develop a national missile defence system, if technically feasible, is the object of intensive debate within the Alliance at present. We spoke about this last night. Of course, it is the sovereign right of our American allies to make the decisions which they regard as necessary for their external security. However, as this issue could have an impact far beyond the USA, it is in the Alliance's interests to deal with it in a spirit of partnership.

You, Bill, have always sought to bring about progress in disarmament. For us Europeans, too, preserving the disarmament acquis and making further disarmament steps are of vital importance. It is therefore good that you have said that in making a decision, when the time comes, the relevant security and disarmament aspects in particular will be weighed. This includes considering the impact on other important states, as well as possible consequences for the cohesion of the Atlantic Alliance. Our overriding objective must remain to guarantee durable security and to carefully choose the best means to this end in any given situation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For the German Government, transatlantic cooperation continues to be crucial, also in order to prevent and contain regional crises and conflicts in Europe. President Clinton has always been particularly committed to this task. Acting in unison, we as European states and the USA and Canada were able to end the bloody conflicts and fighting in Bosnia and Kosovo.

In Bosnia, NATO, together with other partners, is seeing to it that the Dayton Agreement is implemented. The conclusion of this fundamentally important peace treaty will always be linked in history to the name of President Clinton. In the Kosovo conflict, NATO was compelled last year to use military force for the first time in its history. For everyone who had to take responsibility for this, also for me personally, this was an incomparably difficult decision. Ultimately, we had no choice if we wanted to safeguard the values on which the Alliance is based.

Freedom, democracy and human rights must not be denied any people by force. NATO showed that, only in extreme cases, it is prepared on the basis of international law to use its power to protect people who have been oppressed by an inhumane regime and driven out of their homes. I am particularly grateful to Bill Clinton for our close and trustful personal cooperation during those difficult months.

The Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe remains an indispensable building stone for safeguarding the region's economic future. Many of its elements were inspired by the development of Western Europe following the Second World War. This time Europe has assumed the leading role which the USA played then.

Bill, you were committed to the Stability Pact from the outset. We launched it last summer in Sarajevo together with 30 heads of state and government. I believe that the peoples of South-Eastern Europe understood the significance of our demonstration of solidarity: Sarajevo belongs to Europe.

In Bosnia and in Kosovo, as well as in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East, you brought your authority to bear, also by traveling personally to these places and by seeking direct contact with people.

Ladies and gentlemen,

President Clinton has always shown particular commitment to those issues closest to his heart, including, indeed particularly, Europe. For him politics is more than a matter of calculating interests and advantages, more than implementing principles and doctrines. For him it is a means of coming closer together with people, sharing their hopes, allaying their fears and showing them common roads to travel.

Bill, just like the many prominent Charlemagne Prize laureates during the last fifty years you too have been inspired by the European dream to accomplish great political achievements.

The citizens of Aachen, and we all, want to thank you with today's award

for preserving, strengthening and further developing the USA's partnership with Europe,

for working just as hard to enable peoples and religions in Europe to live together as to foster the diverse and creative community of the citizens of the United States of America,

and for encouraging Europeans to realize their dream, just as you are committed to the American dream.

One of your great predecessors, President Kennedy, once won the hearts of all Germans by professing to be a Berliner.

Bill, with your dedication you have become a European.

Photo William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton

William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton