The German president Joachim Gauck spoke today on the German National Holiday „German Unity Day“ about Europe (full speech in English here). While in the first half he more or less reitarates how important Europe is and how it came to pass, he really made some good points from minute 30 onwards – beginning with an address to Great Britain, my personal favorite quote:
I would now like to turn to Britain. I listened with interest to the Prime Minister’s comments and dual message: the “yes” to British traditions and to British interests which is not intended to be a “no” to Europe. Of course, it is up to the British to decide on their own future, but perhaps they are at least prepared to listen to an appeal from Schloss Bellevue: My appeal is:
Dear people of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, dear new citizens of Britain! We would like you to stay with us! We need your experience as the oldest parliamentary democracy, we value your traditions but we also need your pragmatism and your courage! During the Second World War, your efforts helped to save our Europe – and it is also your Europe. Let us continue to engage in discussion on how to move towards the European res publica, and perhaps even argue about it, for we will only be able to master future challenges if we work together. More Europe cannot mean a Europe without you!
It is the first time in the speech someone starts applauding and the whole mass is following up. Then he goes on about Germany’s role in Europe, stressing the point that it doesn’t want to rule the continent but help creating it (more on this later), and then goes on about about a European Public Sphere and imagines a television network for Europe, which kinda sounds like a better equipped Euronews. Then he gives some advice. The first one I’d like to quote:
First, do not be indifferent! Brussels may be far away, but the issues which are negotiated and decided there concern all of us. We cannot be indifferent to how the EU influences norms which subsequently have an impact in our children’s bedrooms or on our tables. We cannot be indifferent to the yardsticks by which we measure the foreign, security, environment and development policies implemented on our behalf. We cannot be indifferent to how the EU deals with people who have to leave their countries for political reasons.
In this, the little eurocritic in Gauck surfaces by using examples like „in our children’s bedrooms“ and the phrase „on our behalf“. He even turns to our asylum policies which currently keeps others away from the freedom we in Europe hold up so high. The next two advices are about voting in the European elections and to do something on your own to make Europe a better place. I like this order: He puts being critical twoards the EU above voting for the EU. This matches with another quote of him, saying that „even noted pro-Europeans wonder whether all the regulations from Brussels to date really do have to come from there“. He doesn’t say it, but at least I would describe Gauck as a „noted pro-European“.
He then ends with this:
After all, it was from our country that the attempts to destroy everything European, all universal values were unleashed. Despite everything that happened, the Allies granted our country support and solidarity straight after the war. We were spared what could so easily have followed our hubris: an existence as a disowned outcast outside the family of nations.
Instead, we were invited, received and welcomed – something which seems especially unexpected and wonderful from today’s viewpoint. We became partners!
We had the fortunate experience of learning to respect ourselves and being respected by others when we wanted to be “not above and not below other peoples”. We have committed ourselves to Europe. Indeed, we have pledged ourselves to Europe.
Today we renew this pledge.
Actually, there is one more paragraph following up, but I like this ending better, since it does a really good job in making a point he said earlier:
It is my heartfelt conviction that in Germany more Europe does not mean a German Europe. For us, more Europe means a European Germany!
I know this may be hard to believe for some people living maybe in Greece or in unemployment haunted Spain, but honestly: After messing things up so badly in World War II, we Germans are the last people in the world who would even consider ruling above others. Especially our older generation – which is basically in power – still carries so much guilt for what our forefathers have done that today we would rather build 100 new monuments in commemoration of the cruelty of WWII before even using the word „to rule“, or even „to lead“ (in German „führen“ is tainted since it stems from „Führer“).
With addressing the British, reminding the citizens on being critical and by renewing Germany’s pledge, this speech for the „German Unity Day“ was in fact a speech to the people of Europe. It takes some balls using a National Holiday to address an international community. But I would have licked these balls if Gauck had held the speech in English.
But I guess this would have been too much of Europe. At least, for now.