This article was written by Guido Westerwelle and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg to mark the 20th anniversary of Germany and Czechoslovakia signing their Good-Neighbourliness Treaty. It was printed in the Sächsische Zeitung on 6 March 2012.
Twenty years ago, Germany and the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic signed the Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness. That fresh start was only possible thanks to the peaceful revolutionaries who had torn down the Iron Curtain on Prague’s Wenceslas Square, in the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig, and in many other places besides. The treaty laid the foundations for a new trust and a shared objective: to transform the confrontation between our peoples into collaboration. Looking back on the twenty years since, we can say that it marked the beginning of a happy chapter in our shared history.
We have not forgotten the conflict that persisted for so long between the German and Czech peoples. We have not forgotten the Munich Agreement, occupation, war or expulsion. What we have done, for instance through the joint language of the German-Czech Declaration of 1997, is that we have turned our difficult past into an engine that will propel us into a better future together. New trust among neighbours has emerged. You can feel it in the border regions particularly, where the last traces of the Iron Curtain are disappearing from the landscape. What was once the frontline of the Cold War is now the scene of Czechs and Germans setting up joint emergency services and working together to protect the environment. Our trade has nearly doubled in the last decade alone. It has become an established feature of everyday politics that topics that will impact on our future, like energy supplies, are discussed harmoniously even when we don’t agree.
This trust doesn’t come from nothing. It has been brought about by the many people who have dedicated their efforts to bringing our societies together. The German-Czech Future Fund alone has sponsored more than six thousand voluntary initiatives in recent years and made a major contribution to a lively and harmonious coexistence and a vast network of cross-border ties. The challenges we need to meet for the future include arousing young people’s curiosity with respect to the people and language of their neighbouring countries. The Future Fund will remain indispensable to that task, as will the support of both Governments.
The Good-Neighbourliness Treaty also proved the first step on the Czech Republic’s and Slovakia’s way towards joining the European Union. Germany was a reliable partner to them all along the road, which led to membership in 2004. Today, our continent is divided no longer. For us in the middle of Europe, that is an invaluable achievement which goes far beyond the economic and financial advantages, the increased prosperity, that it has wrought. Within a united Europe, our neighbourly partnership is flourishing. As Václav Havel saw it, this Europe is finally home to our nations.
This Europe, united in diversity and built on subsidiary structures, is the answer both to our past and to our future. No European country can overcome the upheaval and challenges of globalization by going it alone. That applies not only in terms of energy policy but also when it comes to climate and security policy. Only together will we be able to stand up for our values and interests. It is as part of this bigger picture that we need to see the crisis of confidence currently afflicting Europe. If we turned our backs on the European project, we would be condemning ourselves to insignificance in tomorrow’s world. Our only chance of a bright future lies in a united Europe.
Europe is based on the principles of the rule of law being applied to everyone, including minorities. It is predicated on liberty and on the responsibility for democracy that liberty implies. These values are the solid foundations underpinning our shared European way of life. We will carry on defending them together – in the European Union, among its neighbours and around the world.
We can look to the future with confidence in one another and in our united Europe. It’s not as if we had never prevailed together in the face of historic challenges before. If we ever need a reminder of that, we need only look to the watershed that was the Good-Neighbourliness Treaty.