Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in honour of Dr Daniela De Ridder on being made a Knight of the Legion of Honour by France

29.09.2021 - Speech


Today you’re being made a Knight of the Legion of Honour – France’s highest accolade.

This is a truly great honour – and, by the way, one that has been given to very few Germans to date. Marlene Dietrich was one of them.

It is a demonstration of Franco-German friendship, a friendship that was anything but inevitable.

The sworn enemies of yesteryear have become close friends during the last seven decades.

And that is partly thanks to the courage and commitment of many dedicated politicians.

Politicians like you, Daniela.

The Franco-German friendship is also the engine of European integration – this, too, we’ve seen time and again in many areas during the past years. And your life is inextricably linked to this. Born in Kiel in 1962 to a German mother and a Belgian father, you grew up bilingual, multicultural. Your DNA is truly European.

When your family moved to Belgium in 1967 and you explored the streets of Brussels as a young child, the European Community was also still in its infancy. And Brussels was setting out to become the beating heart of European integration. What an interesting time that must have been!

Only those who cross borders create new ties: that could describe your entire life.

That’s Europe. That’s you. A European through and through.

And – perhaps that is part of being European – keen to cross borders – in the best possible sense. Crossing borders widens our horizons. And, as you’ve just told us, you were drawn to France at an early age.

Liberté, fraternité and, of course, égalité – our neighbours are pioneers when it comes to equality. Equal rights for all: you were guided by this principle while still at university, in your research and, time and again, as gender equality representative.

And also as a member of the Bundestag, I got to know you as a committed campaigner for equality and participation – especially in the sphere of foreign policy.

As deputy chairperson of the Franco-German Parliamentary Friendship Group and on the governing body of the Franco-German Youth Office, you’ve remained true to the “franco-allemand” spirit and have been especially dedicated to exchange and cooperation among young people and, of course, academics.

Driven by the conviction that Germany and France must continue to provide impetus for Europe, you’ve left your mark wherever you’ve worked.

We showed that we share your conviction with the signing of the Treaty of Aachen two and a half years ago. That was a very special moment in Franco-German relations. What I’ve experienced in Europe, particularly since the signing of the Treaty of Aachen, is that many other European countries have become distrustful. They’re distrustful because we set out our commitment to intensive cooperation in this treaty. And many were concerned that this is exclusive rather than inclusive. But, of course, the treaty is inclusive and an invitation to others to join us on this path.

We’ve been working even more closely together on the basis of the Treaty of Aachen since then – not only on the grander scheme of things, for instance in the United Nations or the European Union – but also when it comes to dismantling bureaucratic obstacles in border regions. In quite practical terms, we’re cooperating in areas which have an impact on people’s lives: for example, in the transport and energy supply spheres.

Furthermore, we’re providing the Franco-German Youth Office with additional funding so that young people in our two countries can get to know each other, also outside existing Franco-German networks. I believe that’s very important and I also believe that, especially after the prolonged pandemic, it will be very important to enable young people who want to travel and meet again to do just that with the help of the Franco-German Youth Office.

During the pandemic, Germany and France paved the way for a recovery programme which was not only a response to the crisis but also a quantum leap in European policy. Without the agreement between Germany and France, without this initiative, the conflicts on this issue between North and South and East and West couldn’t have been resolved. This is one area where the Franco-German friendship and Franco-German cooperation have benefited the entire European Union.

What you call strategic autonomy in Paris, and what we described as European sovereignty during our Presidency of the Council of the European Union, will most certainly play a major role during France’s Presidency. And whenever the opportunity arose, I made it clear to Jean-Yves Le Drian in New York last week that France may rest assured that we will stand by you on this issue, no matter who ends up forming the next government. We absolutely have to move in this direction and we’ll do everything we can to support you during the Presidency, not only on this issue.

Ladies and gentlemen,

After all, together France and Germany can also accomplish a great deal beyond Europe. And I’m very glad that Jean-Yves Le Drian and I managed to launch an initiative, the Alliance for Multilateralism. We did this at a time when multilateralism wasn’t in good shape but the Alliance now brings together more than 70 countries. We’ve organised a whole host of events during the last two years through this initiative. That shows that we really are working to cultivate this friendship – both in Europe and beyond.

Ladies and gentlemen,


I’ve read that your favourite song is Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys. And I have to say that I’m not surprised. For one line in the song goes: “She got both feet on the ground, and she’s burning it down.”

I’ve seen how single-minded you are about your work, that you have both feet on the ground. These qualities are the reason why we’re standing here today – for it seems that word has got around in France, too. But I’ve also seen that you are someone who crosses borders, which enables you to discover new things. That’s simply down to the fact that you have firm convictions and are passionate about them. We need individuals like you in politics, and also in society. And we also need individuals like you to ensure that the Franco-German friendship continues to evolve.

I hope, Daniela, for you and for us all, that you remain on fire!

Congratulations on this prestigious honour! And on a personal note, let me add that you thoroughly deserve it.


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