Speech by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper at the presentation of the Polish-German Prize, 16 September 2011

16.09.2011 - Speech

Speech given in Warsaw on 16 September 2011 by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper at the presentation of the Polish-German Prize to Jerzy Buzek and Hans-Gert Pöttering

Translation of advance text


Foreign Minister Sikorski,
President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek,
Former President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering,

Family members and friends of the recipients of the prize,
Minister Wladislaw Bartoszewski,

Colleague Grazyna Bernatowicz, Professor Hornhues,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Szanowni Panstwo,

I am very happy that the German-Polish Prize, which is awarded for outstanding services to the development of German-Polish relations, is to be presented today. This year it was not easy for us all to gather in one place for this ceremony, but when I look around at the familiar faces of experts on Poland and Germany, I think the long wait was worthwhile.

I want to thank everyone in Berlin and Warsaw involved in preparing today’s ceremony. Above all, I want to say a special thanks to the co-chairs of the German-Polish jury, Minister Bartoszewski and Professor Hornhues, who, you could almost say, have made German-Polish relations, and so also the German-Polish Prize, their life’s work. A worthwhile life’s work, as I see it.

Let me also extend a warm welcome to the two recipients of the 2010 German-Polish Prize, the current President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, and his predecessor in that office, the current President of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Dr Hans-Gert Pöttering. Gentlemen, thank you very much for being so patient with the scheduling difficulties in spite of your own full schedules. This shows you to be truly prize-worthy and truly European!

This year, 2011, is a special year for Germany and Poland. We not only celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Treaty on Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation between Germany and Poland this June in Warsaw with our first joint cabinet meeting, adopting a forward-looking joint political declaration and a programme for cooperation containing almost 100 projects. Poland also assumed the EU Presidency for the second half of the year in challenging times for Europe and its citizens. We are also celebrating the 20th anniversary of the German-Polish Youth Office this year, and also 20 years of the Weimar Triangle. The “Weimar Triangle” – the cooperation between three nations, France, Germany, and Poland – is based not only on close political cooperation, but also on civil society exchanges and personal encounters. We therefore want to take the opportunity of the 20th anniversary to make even more exhaustive use of the Weimar Triangle’s possibilities. A “Weimar Triangle Agenda for Culture” is to strengthen cooperation in the areas of culture, youth, and education. It includes trilateral youth meetings, joint music projects and concerts, a media dialogue between the three countries, and giving some continuity to the three-nation film festival, which takes place in Cottbus this year starting on 1 November. Also in this context, I think that the younger generation is especially important. We need to create a common European mind-set and spirit – thus I suggest also producing a German-French-Polish history textbook to complement the existing German-French one and the planned German-Polish one. For young people’s awareness and acceptance of the idea of Europe and the elements of culture, politics, and society that bind us together are our capital for the future. It is the young people who will shape the way we live together here and will imbue the vision of Europe with life.

Thanks to all these events, the awards ceremony is also a welcome opportunity to reflect together on where Germany and Poland stand today. In talks with the German Federal Foreign Minister, you, Minister Sikorski said, “Our relations have never been as good as they are today.” We want to preserve these relations and build on them. Let me add a personal remark, if I may: I was fascinated by Poland early in life, already during my college days. This fascination has not let go of me now that I am Coordinator of German-Polish Intersocietal and Cross-Border Cooperation. My heart beats for German-Polish relations.

It will be like that for many of you. Reading his curriculum vitae, it would seem that Jerzy Buzek is fascinated by the idea of freedom realized in and through Europe. He has dedicated himself to that idea. Born in Śmiłowice in the middle of the war, he graduated from the Silesian University of Technology in Gliwice in 1963 with a degree in chemical engineering. He then turned to research as a professor of technical sciences at Opole University. Later he received honorary doctorates from the universities of Seoul and Dortmund. Jerzy Buzek is also a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences and has been Poland’s representative in the International Energy Agency. He found his political credo early in life. The emergence of the Solidarność union after the wave of strikes in the summer of 1980 moved him and millions of his fellow countrymen to enter politics. Already during the period of martial law in Poland, he founded a union group at his Institute of Chemical Engineering in Gliwice and was soon fighting against the communist dictatorship throughout the country. He remained involved in the Solidarność union, even becoming the chairman of the first Solidarność congress in 1981. From 1997 to 2001, Jerzy Buzek was Prime Minister of a conservative-liberal government. His political goal was to quickly lead Poland towards the European Union with courage and determination and despite internal political resistance. During his term as Prime Minister, Poland joined NATO and its regions were reorganized into 16 voivodships.

In the European elections in 2004, Jerzy Buzek was elected a Member the European Parliament and there was a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. He was reelected to the European Parliament in 2009 and has been its President since 14 July of that year. He is the first from a former East-Bloc country and he is the successor of Hans-Gert Pöttering, who will also be honoured today.

We were thus witnesses to a German-Polish switch that took place on the stage of the European Parliament. Every day we see how important and indispensable parliamentarism has become especially now and how robust it must remain in the interest of a strong Europe. The European Parliament, which you, dear honourees, know better than anyone here, has a special responsibility. It is the guarantor of democratic freedom and legitimation and the decisive institution when it comes to the ability of Europe to function now and be fit for the future. It is also the obligation to deal wisely and prudently with added responsibility and the decision making process. You made sure of that during your terms in office. That is what your names stand for.

Jerzy Buzek, like his predecessor, made human rights a priority during his term. Nobody understands the profound, freedom preserving meaning of human rights better than those whose own freedom was contemptuously kept behind walls and barbed wire. The peaceful, ineluctable revolution of 1989/90 brought down walls and borders in people’s minds. The peaceful revolution let us learn the freedoms – and I am speaking explicitly as a citizen from the “new Länder” – we had so long been hoping for. The freedoms to travel, to make new acquaintances, and to form new friendships became possible piece by piece.

Jerzy Buzek described this vividly during the ceremony in the German Bundestag commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. He said that the wall had been “a wall of shame” and “a symbol of the continent’s division into a Europe that was free and a Europe that was oppressed. But people’s dream of freedom was stronger than all the concrete walls.” He added in German: “The people on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain had only their large hearts to set against the tanks. But they were victorious.”

For Jerzy Buzek, and that is why we are honouring him here today, the victory of 1989 was European identity. For him, a foundational myth of a new Europe emerged in 1989 connecting East and West. Jerzy Buzek made it his task to see Europe grow together and he has dedicated himself to this tirelessly and passionately. Especially we Germans know what great good fortune it is that Germans and Polish can now meet in an atmosphere of openness and that they have learned to speak about the past without fear. Reconciliation with Poland was and is a central issue for German foreign policy. Our relationship to Poland will always be a special one. But, and this is demonstrated very clearly by the efforts of today’s honourees: German-Polish friendship is also in Europe’s interest. Many of you will have read the joint declaration and the programme for cooperation of 21 June 2011. There is much Germany and Poland in the two documents. But there is above all much Europe in them. For a free, peaceful, united, and prosperous Europe is in Germany’s and Poland’s interest.

Our shared point of view cannot be summarized more poignantly than Jerzy Buzek does on his European Parliament homepage: “Nie ma nas i was. Mozemy mocno powiedziec: to jest nasza wspolna Europa. (There is no ‘us’ and ‘you’. We can say loud and clear that this Europe belongs to us all.)” There is nothing to add.

Congratulations, President Buzek.

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