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Ladies and gentlemen,
What better day could we have chosen than today's World Press Freedom Day to pay tribute to a person who has always stood by the side of those who work for a free, liberal coexistence of people throughout his political life and still stands today. I would like to pretend that we planned this, but unfortunately it is pure coincidence that I am in Vienna today. What a pity!
But most of you here today know Harlem Désir in his current position in the OSCE as Representative on Freedom of the Media. He plays a central role in this organisation and he does so with his own clear vision, rooted in universal values and with great commitment.
Today, Harlem, we are here to honour your special and outstanding contribution to Franco-German relations. To “l’amitié franco-allemande”. And I will try to illustrate some examples of your engagement.
Today, relations between Paris and Berlin are shaped by two types of people: those who, like Obelix were lucky enough to fall into the magic potion of Franco-German friendship when they were little, and those – like you and me – who were not so fortunate and only discovered the huge potential for Europe and its citizens of deepening and renewing Franco-German relations in their professional lives.
I have fond memories of the three years when we were both Commissioners for Franco-German Cooperation. From day one, your commitment to the Franco-German friendship has been guided by social, liberal and humanistic values which, since the creation of SOS Racism in 1984, are dear to you. Or if I try to sum it up in French “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”.
Firm in your belief that more citizens should benefit from Franco-German relations, you brought new impetus to civil society dialogue in both our countries. You launched a new format with French and German think tanks focused on European issues, a format we know today as the “Think Tanks Tandem”.
Convinced that not only Erasmus students should benefit from the EU’s freedom of movement, you promoted exchanges between apprentices from France and Germany.
Youth mobility, vocational training, new forms of dialogue with citizens and civil society: you were the pioneer who put such key priorities on the Franco-German agenda!
I sometimes wonder if it was your mother from Alsace or your many years as a Socialist Member of the European Parliament, during which you enjoyed the hospitality of Strasbourg, which convinced you of the role model function, which cross-border cooperation in Europe could play.
I believe that it is in fact your desire to make Europe more concrete, to focus on the everyday life of the citizens living along the 450 km border between our two countries. The conference in Metz that you hosted in 2015 provided crucial impetus for regional cross-border cooperation.
Two years later, although you were part of an outgoing government, you insisted on participating in the third conference on regional cooperation in Hambach because you were determined to help shape the future of Franco-German cross-border cooperation.
The Franco-German relationship is also made up of symbols. It was your commitment to cross-border regions that played a decisive role in the decision to hold the first Franco-German Ministerial Conference in Metz rather than in the capitals in 2016.
You not only helped give more visibility to the regions along the Franco-German border, you also have played a decisive role in realising several concrete projects: let me just mention one of the highlights of our joint bilateral work on the ground – or, in fact, on the water:
in September 2015, we were both on the first and unique Franco-German fire-fighting boat in the middle of the river Rhine, contemplating the progress of work on the tram bridge between Strasbourg and Kehl. The tram has been up and running since April last year. And given its success, I hope we will develop similar projects to underpin the cross-border mobility you did so much to create.
You are a European led by the heart. You are committed to Franco-German cooperation because you know that France and Germany shoulder a special responsibility for Europe. The ultimate goal of deepening Franco-German relation is simply to make Europe better. We all know that a Franco-German compromise is often the first step to a European solution.
And so, you set new standards in cooperation within the EU when you presented for the first time ever a joint position of Germany and France to the General Affairs Council on 21 April 2015. This premiere did not go unnoticed as it was a clear signal of close Franco-German relations and was the start of a series. We have had several joint statements in the meantime.
“Le nationalisme, c’est la guerre”, as President Mitterrand once said in Strasbourg. You are a defender of democratic principles who is concerned by the rise of populism and intolerance. Therefore, you attached great importance to making the exemplary character of Franco-German reconciliation known in other parts of Europe. You were tireless in promoting the idea of a regional youth organisation for the Western Balkans: In June 2016, this regional institution was founded using the Franco-German Youth Office as its model and you visited it in December 2016.
You have time and again placed the high regard you enjoy as a French politician at the service of Europe and, in particular, at the service of Franco-German cooperation. I always admired your courage in breaking new ground and engaging so intensively on each new topic. Today, I have given but a few examples. But there can be no doubt: there is still more to come.
On behalf of our Federal President, I now have the honour to express our gratitude by presenting you with one of the highest awards conferred by Germany, namely the Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.