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Helmut Kohl

Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation 1996

Your Majesty,

Your Royal Highness,


Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is both a great honour and joy for me to receive this high distinction in this city rich in traditions, and I am especially glad to receive it accompanied by Adolfo Suarez. I would also like to express my gratitude to you, ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, for the distinction you have conferred on us.

I view this award primarily as a personal incentive. It should equally act as a stimulus to all those dedicated to the European cause, the unity of our continent, and for which I would like to express deep gratitude to all of you. For, in an age when many think that pessimism has become a sort of philosophy, it is good to give and receive personal incentives.

At the same time, I would also like to thank Spain on behalf of the men and women of my country for supporting us with their loyal friendship in the process of reunification of Germany.

As a major European country, I know that Spain –with its great history, present and also great future to come– will play a decisive role in the evolution of our continent in the 21st century.

The names of Oviedo and Asturias evoke a European region that boasts an extraordinary history and culture. In the Middle Ages, one of the major arteries of our continent, the Pilgrims’ Road to Santiago, passed through this city.

It was trodden by countless pilgrims, many of them from my land, the Palatinate. They converged on Speyer, one of the great centres of that time, from where they began their long journey. It was not just a journey in the current sense of the word, insofar as it also supposed, above all, introspection.

The pilgrimage routes like the Way of St. James remind us that, however great the diversity of cultures may be, we Europeans have common roots.

Today's Europe is not only the magnificent project built over the past decades. The plans of the house of Europe that we are currently building go further back in time. The ideas, traditions and history behind this common house unite us all and constitute its pivotal foundations. We know that the economy is very important, as well as the social dimension and security, but we think that the core element is culture. And by saying so I mean not only the masterpieces of literature, music, painting or unique monuments. I am thinking especially of the spirit that pervades these works of art and which grants them their grandeur and beauty over time and across borders.

In this same spirit, the philosophy of classical Antiquity and humanism and the rationality of the Enlightenment and, of course, the invigorating mark of Christianity above all converge.

From the awareness of these common origins arose the ideal of a united Europe. This ideal also embraces a system of values of enduring validity with which we wish to build a humane future.

This value system is based on the uniqueness of human beings, respect for life, respect for human dignity and individual civil liberties.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last year in Europe we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. The century which we look back on today, four years before the change of the millennium, could not be more contradictory.

In two world wars, humans fought each other, causing suffering, destruction and death. Nazi barbarism originating from Germany inflicted immeasurable suffering on Europe.

However, something happened forty or fifty years ago that remains a miracle for more than one person, myself included. The enemies of old reached out and mortal hatred turned into understanding, cooperation and friendship.

There are many, plausible motives behind the construction of the house of Europe. For me, the bottom line is that we may live together in the coming 21st century in Europe in peace and freedom and that we may never fall back into the dark times of barbarism that we have left behind.

We want this house of Europe to be built solidly, to withstand the elements. A house that does not collapse in a storm or bad weather. A house in which those peoples who wish to do so may experience their own identity. Above all, a common home in which we have a common order, valid for one and all. This is the most important thing: a house in which we never again resort to the use of force to settle differences and discrepancies.

We shall not build a "fortress Europe". Let us not do away with internal borders, on the one hand, to then raise external walls. That is not the Europe that I personally desire. Europe has a prosperous future ahead if it continues open to the world. We wish to cooperate with our neighbours to the East and on the other shore of the Mediterranean. We wish to cooperate with other continents, and I am thinking in particular about Latin America, a region we feel very close to and which we are united to by very close ties.

The peoples of our old continent are very different. And therein lies the charm of Europe. Unity in diversity; therein lies our conception of Europe. The key to Europe’s strength lies precisely in these two factors.

Its cultural heritage and spiritual tradition constitute one of the cornerstones of human creativity and, therefore, of economic and political success.

Everything we have been doing up to the present time we have been doing, first and foremost, for the younger generations. What is at stake is their future; we wish to consummate the design of a united Europe precisely for the sake of young people. Because we all need that Europe to live permanently in peace and freedom.

Four hundred years ago, Lope de Vega wrote that “even the most distant goal is attainable for he who waits sensibly”.

Let us Europeans face this task. Let us never cease in our efforts towards a Europe united in freedom, for ourselves and for the generations to come.

Thank you.

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