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Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by quoting former Federal President Richard von Weizäcker, who said that our culture has grown like a strong and diverse forest that makes its contribution to fresh air which is essential for life.
It is a great pleasure for me to speak to you here at today’s event to launch the “Culture” strand of the EU’s Baltic Sea Strategy.
The EU Baltic Sea Strategy has created new connections in the region in the most diverse fields, ranging from business and tourism to transport and the environment. All those who have followed the developments with interest understand that the cultural aspect has remained a white spot, a gaping hole so to speak, within the continuously progressing connections of the EU Baltic Sea Strategy. This hole urgently needs to be filled. For this reason, I am very grateful to the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein as well as our Polish friends for taking the initiative in order to make cultural collaboration a new priority and thereby give it the attention it deserves.
Schleswig-Holstein’s significant role clearly illustrates the importance of the federal states within the Baltic Sea Strategy. The Foreign Office’s representatives have strongly supported and encouraged the initiative taken by Schleswig-Holstein in this area.
I am especially pleased about Poland’s commitment for I have felt a close affinity to Poland for years. I have been Coordinator for the German-Polish Intersocietal and Cross-Border Cooperation for almost four years and have visited Poland numerous times in that capacity. Poland and Germany’s cultural links constitute more than the large number of contacts between them. It is not without reason that Poland has the largest number of people learning German worldwide – a total of two million. Poland is also an important partner in our cultural relations and education policy and demonstrates a considerably full range of initiatives, from German Schools to invitations for visits to Germany, youth exchanges and other encounters – not to mention collaboration for the conservation of monuments, the promotion of minorities and educational cooperation. That is why I personally have taken great interest in calling for the intensification of youth exchange programmes in the Baltic Area.
There is no better field than culture to foster ever-closer links and exchange between partners who, as none of us should forget, are living in a region that was still divided by concrete and barbed wire 25 years ago. Culture in the widest sense of the word is not only a personal enrichment but can build bridges between people from different countries, and it is also an increasingly important economic factor.
The Baltic Area possesses a large and fascinating cultural richness, starting with its archaeological and monumental cultural heritage, which is incredibly diverse and yet displays remarkable commonalities, right through to the modern fields of computer graphics, computer games and software. The area is also rich in multifaceted and lively traditions such as choral singing and unmatched examples of high culture, in architecture, literature, great numbers of opera houses and collections of art.
It is vital that we intensify and improve cooperation now without creating new institutions. There is no shortage of boards and institutions for cooperation in the Baltic Area. Intelligently combining our new cooperative tasks within the existing structures will enable us to greatly advance our interconnectedness without increasing the burden on the taxpayer. I am delighted to hear that Ars Baltica in Rendsburg, which has displayed great commitment to cultural cooperation in the Baltic Area for years, has met with your support.
I wish the Priority Culture, which is formally launched today with this opening event, all the best and every success.