Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic Senate, Prague, 6 March 2012

06.03.2012 - Speech

--- Tranlation of advance text ---

Mr President of the Senate, Mr Štěch,
Mr President of Parliament, Mr Hrušovský,
Karel Schwarzenberg,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Foreign Minister Westerwelle delivering a speech in the Prague Senate Chamber
In the Prague Senate Chamber© Photothek/Imo

We are celebrating the anniversary of a key moment in Europe’s history. Twenty years ago, Helmut Kohl and Václav Havel concluded the Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness on behalf of Germany and the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. This momentous event was made possible by the courage of the peaceful revolutionaries in Prague and Bratislava, in Leipzig and Berlin. We owe it also to the far-sighted European vision of men such as Jiří Dienstbier and Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

I am very sorry that, for reasons of his health, Hans-Dietrich Genscher cannot be with us here today. He, more than almost anyone else, symbolizes reconciliation between Czechs, Slovaks and Germans in the united Europe. His appearance on the balcony of the German Embassy in Prague in the autumn of 1989 remains unforgotten.

The promise of freedom which Hans-Dietrich Genscher was able to give the Germans camping out in the Embassy garden reminds us that you, our neighbours, also played a part in smoothing the path for our country’s unity. For this we remain to this day profoundly grateful.

The Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness ushered in a happy chapter in our common history, a chapter of new trust between our peoples and of increasing unity in the divided Europe.

For centuries our neighbourly relations were marked by conflict. Occupation, war and displacement brought unspeakable suffering. This past has not been forgotten. But it no longer splits us. Rather, it has become an incentive for us to work together towards a prosperous future. The expellees share this view and aim. The foundations for this new co existence were laid not only by the Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness, but also by the German-Czech Declaration of 1997.

Since then, a new trust has grown up between neighbours. Twenty years ago, probably no one would have dared to dream this would ever be the case. That it is indeed so is the achievement of the many people who are so committed to bringing our societies closer together.

The Czech and German Governments have been supporting this valuable work since 1997 with a joint Future Fund. Since its launch, the Future Fund has supported thousands of voluntary initiatives designed to draw us closer together – from music festivals to youth exchanges.

We want to continue along this path towards each other. For this reason, the Future Fund remains indispensable. We must make even greater use of it in future in order to encourage young people in particular to want to learn about their neighbours. In doing so, we will be continuing the happy chapter in our relations which opened with the Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness.

The Treaty has also given German-Slovak relations a solid basis.

Since Slovakia gained independence, we have been linked by a close partnership. Our ideas are very similar, especially when it comes to the main issues of European policy.

The Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness was an important step on the way to the accession of the Czech Republic and of Slovakia to the European Union in 2004. Germany was a reliable partner along the way. Together we have overcome the division of our continent. For us in Central Europe, this is of immeasurable importance. Throughout history, this Central Europe always suffered when the continent was in conflict. We are particularly conscious of this here in Wallenstein Palace.

So we must be all the more worried by the fact that “project Europe” is going through its toughest ever crisis of confidence with the debt crisis. Prejudices which we believed were long since discarded have re emerged. Doubts have been voiced about the very idea of Europe. We must counter them.

We need to overcome the crisis and build new confidence in this Europe. That is the major task facing us in shaping Europe today.

If we are to succeed in it, we must assure ourselves anew of Europe’s value. We mustn’t forget that Europe has brought us unprecedented freedom, peace and prosperity. Above all, we must recognize that this Europe is, more than ever, a project for our future.

The global order is undergoing radical change. In the emerging economies, new centres of economic and political power are evolving. The relative influence of Europe’s individual countries is declining. At the same time, globalization brings with it unprecedented challenges for shaping our world that do not respect borders. This applies as much to the regulation of the financial markets as it does to combating climate change.

No European country can match up on its own to these challenges. We can only respond to them if we make Europe a truly global player.

In this context, Europe is more than just the single market and monetary union. We are also more than the product of our history. We share a common culture. We are a community of values which must and should assert itself in the globalized world.

That’s the big picture. And that’s what those people who advocate a re nationalization of policy in Europe in the light of the debt crisis are ignoring. They fail to admit what price we would pay for shutting ourselves off like that. To turn our backs on Europe would be to condemn ourselves to insignificance in tomorrow’s world. Either we assert our shared values and interests as Europeans, or not at all.

For some people, this is an idea that takes some getting used to. But it is an idea that should encourage us, not unsettle us. Václav Havel expressed the same thing in his last speech to the European Parliament when he called Europe the “homeland of our homelands”. This Europe is not a centralistic Leviathan. It doesn’t demand that we surrender our national identities. Quite the reverse. In the united Europe we can preserve our culture of diversity.

If new confidence is to grow in the European project, we need to overcome the debt crisis. We are on the right road with the three-pronged approach: solidarity, stability, growth.

By agreeing on the fiscal compact, we have laid the foundations for a new culture of budgetary stability in Europe. We respect the fact that the Czech Republic has not signed up to the compact. We know that our concepts of sustainable budgeting are very similar, despite this decision.

The Czech Republic is still invited to accompany us along the road towards the stability union. The doors are wide open.

Greece, Ireland and Portugal are working hard to get back on the path of stability. For this they deserve our respect and support. That is important, in the longer term too.

How we deal with each other today will have a lasting impact on Europe’s political culture. What happens now will determine for years how we see Europe, how our neighbours see us, and how the world sees Europe. We must use this defining phase to build new confidence.

That’s why Europe must and will help to stimulate new growth. That’s the major message from the most recent European Council meeting. Together we must quickly complete the common market. We take the same line on this important issue. We must orient the EU budget to innovation and technologies for the future. We must conclude new trade agreements to promote growth to help us get out of the crisis.

We will overcome the crisis and emerge from it stronger. This will create new confidence in Europe. This won’t happen overnight, but will require a lot of hard effort. Nevertheless, we have every reason to move forward with confidence in each other and in the united Europe.

Speaking of Europe, Jean Monnet once said: “If I had to do it all over again, I would begin with culture.” Globalization makes this sentence more apposite than ever. Europe is our community of shared culture. It is our community of values, our shared fate. That’s why we in Europe must stand firmer together than we ever have done before.

Related content


Top of page