Mr Mayor, my friend Jürgen Linden,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today we are holding the first Council meeting under the German Presidency, and we have completed our first round of consultations.
Allow me, before we continue our consultations over lunch, to pause for just a moment. A fine tradition has developed over the years, whereby each Presidency tries during its six-month term to create a special resonance in this building where so many crucial decisions on Europe are made.
The German Presidency has opted for an exhibition on the International Charlemagne Prize, which has been awarded in Aachen every year since 1949. And we had a very good reason for this.
Europe, as we all know, is – once again – experiencing a momentous time. A time in which key decisions on the future of European integration will have to be made. A time with many new tasks which we will have to tackle together, with new challenges which we will have to master together.
In short, a time in which visions are needed. Visions on where we want to take the European Union, how we Europeans want to position ourselves in the face of ever tougher global competition.
And perhaps it helps a bit – at a time when we are looking for answers for the future – to recall the excellent example set by people and politicians who found such answers during their era.
This small exhibition consists of portraits of the winners of the International Charlemagne Prize during the last 57 years. Those honoured include the founding fathers of European integration: Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer. The prizewinners also included the great architects of today's Union, for example François Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl, Jacques Delors and Felipe González. Also honoured were politicians such as Gyula Horn or Vaclav Havel, who exemplify in a very special way the renaissance of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe.
These are just a few of the many prizewinners. They all have one thing in common: they courageously showed us how to turn Europe into the unique success story which it has become. It is thanks to their far-sightedness, their ability to look beyond day-to-day politics, that European integration has been successful, that we in Europe are living today in peace and prosperity following centuries of division and war, that we all have a chance to shape our future successfully.
Perhaps it is a little over the top to say that Charlemagne was the first European. At any rate, the International Charlemagne Prize which bears his name has long since become a symbol of Europeans' desire to integrate.
I would like to thank the city of Aachen – once home to Charlemagne's favourite palace and today the home of the International Charlemagne Prize – for helping to make this exhibition possible.
I hope we will be inspired when we look at the portraits on show. And that we will recall their courage, determination and visions and thus find renewed energy to tackle the tasks facing Europe today.