Address of welcome by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the participants of the project “Practicing Europe” in the Federal Foreign Office
Members of the Robert Bosch Foundation,
It is a pleasure to welcome you all to the Federal Foreign Office here in Berlin. I hope our young guests in particular have already gained some first-hand impressions of Berlin, its culture and heritage.
You have come to Berlin from Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro. Countries that are all part of the European family. In Germany and the European Union we have a vision of a brighter, peaceful future for the whole region based on the rule of law and good neighbourly relations.
Your countries share a concrete and tangible perspective for EU membership. This was reaffirmed at the Thessaloniki summit in 2003, subsequent European Council meetings and most recently with the Brdo Statement of the Slovene EU Presidency “New focus on the Western Balkans”.
Today the whole of South Eastern Europe is participating in the Stabilization and Association Process with the European Union. The Stabilization and Association Agreements are key milestones on the path to future EU membership. To move closer to the Union, it is essential these Agreements are fully implemented. That's why the sometimes difficult reforms required in your countries are so important and worth every effort. These reforms will need also your advocacy and support.
I've always been a firm believer in young people from your countries coming here and seeing the EU with their own eyes. There's nothing better than first-hand experience of the Union and more direct, face-to-face contacts to get the European idea across.
I still remember my own travelling across Europe almost 30 years ago, when there was a passport needed to cross even the border to the Netherlands or to France. That's why, as from 1 January this year, Schengen countries have reduced visa fees for citizens of your countries. And that's why, in May 2008, I proposed together with the French foreign minister an initiative to issue visas free of charge to all applicants from Western Balkan countries for whom that is possible according to the Schengen acquis.
This has already been implemented. The European Commission, moreover, has launched a dialogue on full visa liberalization with the countries of your region. The aim is to abolish visa requirements completely once the necessary conditions have been met. I hope, that your countries are able to meet these conditions as soon as possible.
I'm delighted you're so open and enthusiastic about experiencing Europe. This programme gives you the chance to learn more about other European cultures and peoples. It gives all of us an opportunity to foster greater dialogue between our societies. Unity in diversity, tolerance and understanding – these are important aspects of European identity as we understand it.
Your generation will play a key role in leading your own countries towards a peaceful, more prosperous, European future. You and your generation are the foundation on which your countries' future will be built. This is a fantastic opportunity but also a tremendous challenge. A challenge that calls for responsibility for and ownership of the reforms required to pave the way towards the European Union.
Let's turn to the important business at hand! You have just spent two hours exploring Berlin and answering questions on its past, present and future. Your efforts have not been in vain. The best teams are now to receive a small token of appreciation.
The first prize goes to the group that was most creative and successful in our team game. Congratulations to you all!
The efforts of the second best team also deserve a reward. Congratulations!
Last but not least, congratulations to the team in third place.
I hope Berlin has given you all some valuable insights and enjoyable moments. This is only the start of your tour across Europe. The team spirit and creative ability you've shown are exactly what European intercultural dialogue is all about. In your teams you demonstrated how well you can cooperate with your neighbours and “co-Europeans”. What you succeeded in doing in your teams is now the big challenge facing your countries over the years ahead.
All the best for the next leg of your trip and enjoy your time in Germany!