Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Carlo-Schmid Prize ceremony for Jean-Marc Ayrault in Paris

14.05.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Sigmar Mosdorf,
Nils Schmid,
Ladies and gentlemen,
and last but by no means least, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault!

I think it was François Hollande who once called you a “Social Democrat of the German kind”.

I know that in France, many on the left still have their brows furrowed defining the term “social democrat” and that adding “of the German kind” to that doesn’t necessarily make their task any easier.

But the name is very fitting in the context of this award ceremony and its aim of paying tribute to your political work in aid of Franco-German relations.

When I was offered the chance to give a speech in your honour here today, I did not even hesitate for a second – because you are a great friend of Germany, because you are a great European and not least because we are connected by long-standing cooperation.

We have known each other for many years. We were in particularly close contact during our time as chairmen of parliamentary groups – you for the Socialist Party in the Assemblée nationale and I for the Social Democratic Party in the German Bundestag. Together, we brought many different projects to fruition. Time and again we encouraged our parliamentary groups to include our respective political friends on each side of the Rhine. This was based on common experience and a shared belief: in order for things in Europe to advance, it is vital for the French and Germans to work closely side by side.

Jean-Marc, today we honour a politician and a person who goes above and beyond the call of duty for the Franco-German friendship. Who does so not only out of a sense of responsibility, but out of passion. Not out of idle ritual but because it is the key to taking the European project forward. And this is exactly why I firmly believe that the Carlo Schmid Foundation could not have chosen a better recipient for this prize than yourself.

Your passion for Germany goes back a long way. Some of your friends may have shaken their heads when after your A-levels you opted for German studies. Not exactly the obvious choice for a young man from the depths of western France. But as it turned out, this was a felicitous and defining choice of subject. Especially during the time abroad that you spent in Würzburg – long before the days of Erasmus – you made friends and contacts which you still have today. This is where you began to act as a bridge builder, translating and explaining, between France and Germany.

And of course something else significant happened during these years of political awakening, dear Jean-Marc – you met your future wife, Brigitte. Since then you have been a team, both on a personal and a political level, which sticks together, offers each other advice and stands by each others’ sides, even when the tide is against you. It is therefore a particular pleasure, Brigitte, to be able to welcome you to Palais Beauharnais.

Jean-Marc, Carlo Schmid once wrote: “The reality of politics is something which can only be explained, understood and justified through human action.” For you too, politics is not and never was something abstract or theoretical. This is true as much for how you acted as mayor of Nantes as for your time at the head of the Socialist Party parliamentary group and not least as Prime Minister.

The city of Nantes truly flourished with you as mayor, through cultural and business initiatives which are still bearing fruit today. The town twinning with Saarbrücken is very important to you and up to today you still offer your support, as for example when it came to establishing the unique cross-border tram connection between Saarbrücken and Sarreguemines. That may be but one example, viewed from Paris or Berlin at least it may seem like small fry, but it is an example of how for you, politics must not remain an abstract concept but must make a difference. In this case it did for thousands of commuters between Germany and France, for this connection is a part of every day life in Europe.

As Prime Minister you were also always building bridges and translating between Germany and France. Your tact and diplomacy significantly helped our two countries to pull in the same direction during crucial moments of the eurozone crisis.

You know better than most how arduous that was at times. During this difficult phase, you tirelessly campaigned for Franco-German cooperation in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. You ensured that the trust we had built up was retained and indeed grew. You fought against stubborn clichés, against the caricature of the German reluctant to show solidarity as much as the Frenchman unwilling to reform. Time and again, you shone the spotlight on what connects us, in Germany as much as in France.

As a man from the Atlantic coast you are well accustomed to wind and weather – you don’t let anything sway you from your political beliefs. That is above all true when it comes to the Franco-German partnership. As Prime Minister you bolstered the Franco-German Youth Office by effecting the largest increase in its budget since it was set up in 1963. Despite pending deadlines, all German Minister-Presidents have been greeted by an open door and could count on you understanding their problems – not least because you were able to hold all of these talks in outstanding German, without an interpreter or diplomatic fanfare.

Jean-Marc, the closer Europe grows together, the more important people like you become. People for whom the European project and Franco-German friendship is not a chapter in a history book but something which they experience in their daily lives, and which offers prospects for the future. People who pass on the Franco-German spirit to the younger generations because they know that this spirit is more important than ever before to achieving progress in Europe.

You are receiving the Carlo Schmid Prize in a year which in hindsight may turn out to be a decisive year for Europe. We will have to find answers to a number of pressing issues: What can we do to create jobs and boost growth in Europe? How can we make people enthusiastic about the European project again? How can we ensure that at the European level our institutions and policies are fit to deal with the future? And, absolutely key: how can we prevent a new division of our continent when faced with the worst foreign-policy crisis since the end of the Cold War, as we are today with the crisis in Ukraine?

These tasks will demand a great deal from us in the coming months, in terms of drive, commitment and creativity. In order for us to get to grips with them there is a crucial addition that we need – the shared view that we can only provide credible answers to the major questions facing Europe if Germany and France work closely side by side.

Jean-Marc, as winner of the Carlo Schmid Prize you embody this view in a way that few others do. You stand alongside people who have achieved great things for the Franco-German friendship and the European project. Here, I’m speaking of only Jacques Delors, Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Helmut Schmidt.

I sincerely congratulate you on this highly deserved honour. I hope that it will spur you on to continue to build bridges and translate between France and Germany in your work as a member of the Assemblé as well as in your personal life. We are sure you will!

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