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Thank you Ursula [von der Leyen, Federal Minister of Defence of Germany],
Thank you Minister-President [of the State of Saxony-Anhalt, Dr. Reiner Haseloff], Lord Mayor [of Magdeburg, Dr. Lutz Trümper],
It is definitely the first time I happen to speak in a church. Thank you for the honour of this prize that has always celebrated one of the most important thing we have - as human beings, as citizens – the European unity.
In this city, it is clear that we share a common European history and identity. Magdeburg has been for centuries the centre of a European network of cities, spreading from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.
But we all know – and Ursula [von der Leyen] told us perfectly well – that our European history is a history of war and divisions. For centuries, we have commemorated the beginning or the end of wars. Today, we celebrate anniversaries of treaties among us.
Until not so long ago – and you know that better than I do – you could not travel freely from here to Hanover or West Berlin.
Europe was a divided continent and a continent in fear – fear that a new war might start at any time.
And it is exactly when we decided – as brave Europeans, because you need courage in this continent as well – to face this fear and to overcome it, that the idea of a European Union emerged. Since the very beginning, the European Union has been a peace project – a project to finally end all European wars.
Today, this is history: the Berlin wall has fallen, Germany is a unified country, and our Eastern European friends are part of our Union.
For my daughters’ generation, war inside the European Union is impossible to even imagine.
This is not a twist of fate, this is the result of difficult – sometimes unpopular – political decisions. Decisions that our founding fathers and mothers were brave enough and wise enough to take.
War and peace in Europe is now history. And yet, I believe we still need to be a peace project. Actually, we need it now more than ever.
Today it feels like international affairs are all about power-politics and real politik. This seems to be the spirit of our times. But not for us, not for Europe.
And not because we are naïve or weak. Or soft. Actually, let me say something that normally politicians do not say. I think you can be soft and strong at the same time. You do not necessarily need to be confrontational or tough to be strong. You can be strong with a smile. In fact, most of the time, you need more strength to smile than to shout, you need more strength to find a common solution than to fight. Sometimes, fighting or shouting too much is a sign of weakness.
We understand power politics. Actually we Europeans probably understand power politics more than everyone else - Machiavelli is my fellow compatriot. We are not afraid of it. We can deal with it. We can handle it. But we made a choice out of wisdom and self-interest.
Because we know that Europe is safe, Europeans are safe, Europe is strong, when our region is at peace. We know we are better off if our neighbours are "okay". We know that Europe is safe and strong, when international laws and agreements are respected. We know that we are safe and strong when a more cooperative world order prevails on global disorder. We know that rules are not something to limit each other, are not a boundary to overcome. Rules are the guarantee that all of us play by the same game.
Our history has shaped the European Union as a peace project, and not a geo-political game. We built our Union on win-win solutions, not on zero-sum games.
We understood, after World War Two, when [Alcide] De Gasperi pronounced those words, that making peace for us - and I believe also for others in the world – was much more convenient than making war. And actually we started from economic cooperation – making business together was better than killing each other. So, it was not because of good feelings, there was nothing naïve about that. It was for our own interest and sake – a collective interest. This applies to ourselves, inside our Union, and to our relations with others.
Our relationship with our neighbours has never, never been about spheres of influence; we have never asked to pick sides. Our goal, as a Union, has never been to expand our influence – it has been to expand peace, to expand partnership, to expand international cooperation and to strengthen rules.
This is true – I know it sounds strange to have an Italian speaking about rules in Germany but this happens, we are Europeans – first and foremost inside our continent, that is not yet unified.
I know Magdeburg is twinned with Sarajevo, and that you have contributed to rebuilding that beautiful, fascinating city after the war. A truly European city – with the history, also the burdens of history – the culture and the future, I believe, of other European cities.
And as Sarajevo also the rest of the Balkans are Europe. The people of the Balkans are Europeans. And our continent will only be united when the Balkans will finally become part of our Union. Remember that the choices that our founding fathers and mothers took sometimes were unpopular, but they were right. Sometimes we need to be brave and make the right step.
This is why I made it my personal commitment, by the end of my mandate – I still have a couple of years – to see all our partners in the Balkans take irreversible steps on their path towards the European Union. I believe this is possible, that is what they want, and that is what we need, for our continent, and for our security.
And this is also why we are working on a daily basis to move the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina to the next phase, which is normalising their relations.
Because the core business of our European Union is still to make any European war impossible and unthinkable. To be free from that fear all over our continent. And while my daughters cannot imagine a war within the European Union, I know that people of their age living in the Balkans are not completely free from that fear. It is our mission as a peace project to make that work accomplished.
But in our difficult, complex and small world, peace and security in Europe are connected to peace and security in our region and in the rest of the world.
So, the European Union has to be a global force for peace, because this is first and foremost our own interest. We will not be safe, we will not be secure, we will not be strong, our economy would not be prosperous, if the rest of our region and the rest of the world will not find a certain stability, security, prosperity and peace.
And preserving the nuclear deal with Iran is our own interest, as well as the world’s interest.
Two years ago, we have managed to find a win-win solution to one of the most complex and dangerous issues of our times.
We created an effective monitoring system, to make sure that Iran’s nuclear programme could only have peaceful purposes. In over two years, there have been no violations of any of the commitments taken by Iran, and the IAEA - the International Atomic Energy Agency - has verified eight times, with hundreds of inspections, that Iran is implementing, fully, the deal.
The agreement was endorsed unanimously by the UN Security Council, and so it belongs to the whole world, to the whole international community. No country can terminate it alone simply because no single country can terminate alone a UN Security Council Resolution.
With that agreement, we have achieved one major thing: we have avoided a nuclear arms race in the Middle East; imagine the Middle East today with the wars and the tensions that are crossing the entire region with, on top of that, the risk of a nuclear arms race in that region; close to us. So, it is our security, vital interest to preserve the deal.
I cannot forget – I think no one of us can forget – another thing we achieved on that day: the win-win. We celebrated an agreement that was making us safer. I will always remember the images of the Iranian people – young people but also elderly people – celebrating the deal in the streets of their cities.
We won and the Iranian people won – this is the kind of result that is only possible through diplomacy and mediation. When you chose the win-win over the confrontation. And this was possible because of us, of the European Union’s role as a mediator, of the European Union approach, knowing what wars mean and what peace needs.
As we were indispensable to reach the deal with Iran, we are and we will still be indispensable to preserve the deal in the difficult weeks and months ahead - in unity as we reaffirmed yesterday with the Foreign Ministers of the 28.
Because our unity and our strength is and will continue to be a point of reference for all those who understand that this is clearly not the time to dismantle a nuclear non-proliferation agreement. An agreement that is working and delivering. We will preserve the deal, and make sure it is implemented in full by all.
This is what the European Union has become: an indispensable partner for global peace and security.
We have become indispensable to preserve, strengthen and reform the UN system, because we Europeans know how crucial the United Nations and the UN agencies are.
The work of UNESCO, to protect cultural heritage – which means identity, and history, and memory – in a conflict.
The work of the World Food Program to prevent a humanitarian crisis. I was explaining in the recent months to many interlocutors that the entire refuges crisis started when the World Food Program was under-funded. We need to connect the dots and to think in advance of what are the consequences of actions or inactions.
The work of the UN Refugees Agency to save millions of displaced people.
All these are key contributions not just to the global multilateral architecture, which is something that sounds abstract. These are key contributions to our common daily security in Europe – it is not charity, as we Europeans know very well.
We are and we will continue to be the largest contributor to the UN budget, and proud of it. We invest more than the rest of the world combined in the humanitarian aid and this will not change. On the contrary, we are finding new ways to mobilise resources in the most fragile areas of the world, namely in certain areas of Africa, together with the private sector and with our international partners.
Because we know that the best way to build peace and security is to invest in people, in human rights, in decent living conditions, in social inclusion, in a sustainable environment, in the fight against climate change, in culture.
There is never an exclusive military way to security. This is the lesson we Europeans have learned after centuries of military action. Because peace and security need solid foundations. They are not just the absence of war. Peace is not just the absence of war.
Again we are not naïve: on top of being a civilian super-power, we have also become a global security provider and Ursula [von der Leyen] also said it very well. Let me say, we have done a lot of work in this last couple of years on this. I am really grateful to you not only for your kind words but also because if we are getting to be a European Union of defence and security it is also because of your leadership and the capacity to work together with others.
I believe we are showing that there is a European way to foreign and security policy, where hard power is an important tool – because again, we are not naive, we know we need it – but is never the only one. Our European forces, because we have men and women in European Union uniform serving peace around the world - our men and women are helping stabilise the most fragile parts of Africa, so that our African friends and partners can finally fulfil their potential for growth and human development. Because there is no development with a security threat.
We are training security forces in our partner countries, to help them fight terrorist groups and criminal networks. And doing that, taking the human rights angle always into account.
Our European men and women, today, are saving lives in the Mediterranean, and contrasting those who make money, putting the lives of desperate people at risk.
Two, three years ago, the European Union was not there. Today, it is the European Union flag at sea, saving lives and arresting traffickers. Our naval operation in the Mediterranean is called Operation Sophia. Just over two years ago a German military ship – serving as part of our European operation – rescued a pregnant woman, who was about to drown at sea. Sophia is her daughter, who was born aboard the ship. Her name is now the name of our naval operation for one simple reason: to remind us all, every single day, that we are at the service of what we have as most precious, which is life. Our military operations are at the service of life.
Our work for a European Union of security and defence has nothing to do with militarisation. Hard power always comes with diplomacy, and conflict prevention; with the work on reconciliation and reconstruction, which is something Europeans do better than others, because we have gone through this, here in Europe.
Our military staff works side by side with the police officers, the lawyers and the doctors, the aid workers and the human rights experts, the UN agencies and the civil society organisations, the engineers and the school teachers. And in most cases, all these people could not do their job on the ground without our military personnel.
We need a Union of security and defence, precisely because the European Union is a peace project and is a peace project at the service of life.
And the world needs a strong European Union more than ever now. The world – as Ursula [von der Leyen] was mentioning [Barack] Obama's speech last year – needs a strong supporter of multilateralism and the UN system. The world needs a superpower – because, yes, we are, sometimes we do not realise that we are – that sticks to its word, and to international law, and to the agreements it has signed.
The world needs a global force for peace – also a strong economy for peace, because whatever the Brexit process will bring, we will stay the second world economy and the largest market in the world. The world needs a global force for peace that is reliable, predictable, solid, consistent, cooperative, wise, strong and calm.
I would say strong and with a smile – like the monk I was shown here at the entrance of this wonderful building. The European Union is that force, for the world and for our European citizens. Because Europeans, all of them, no matter the nationality, are strong and safe only when our European Union is strong and safe.
I sometimes say, it is particularly relevant in Germany - we have two kinds of Member States: the small ones and the ones that have not yet realised they are small in the world of today.
We can be strong, relevant only as Europeans in the world of today, and we are doing that. There is a lot we will need to change; I think we are brave enough, strong enough to do it, but there is also a lot we can be proud of, not only our history, but also our present and the future we are building together.
So, I thank you for this prize, but most of all, I am thanking you for celebrating the power of a united Europe as a global force for peace. I thank you.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I145009