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Ladies and Gentlemen,
The year 2014 brings back very painful memories which still have an impact on the shape of Europe and the European Union today. One hundred years ago, just a hundred metres from here, a young man killed the Austro-Hungarian Archduke. This shot marked the history of our continent by unleashing one of the biggest tragedies of the then beginning 20th century.
I will not give you a history lesson as you are here in Sarajevo to explore all the history together.
By looking at this history you will understand much more about the present and gain an awareness of how to shape the future. Only a few weeks ago I opened an exhibition in my Ministry: “Remembering for the Future”. Common remembrance may still be difficult, it may be painful, but you will understand each other better. At the end, I am sure, you will have made friends, and each of you will feel enriched: enriched by a deeper understanding of why some people with different backgrounds might think differently. You may not agree, but you do need to understand. That’s the best way to overcome conflicts and prejudices.
You may have heard of the Australian historian Christopher Clark. He explains in his book how, in his view, European politicians, military leaders and diplomats stumbled like “sleepwalkers” into an avoidable war. He thus describes what happens when diplomacy fails, when dialogue is not pursued.
What is still going on in Ukraine is the greatest test for diplomacy since the end of the Cold War. But we keep looking for windows of opportunity enabling dialogue, which leads to de-escalation. The European Union speaks with one single voice even though we have different experiences and different perceptions of the latest events.
So where do we stand today? Well, I am standing here with my French colleague Harlem Désir. I am very glad we can contribute together to the events in Sarajevo. Who would have believed it only some decades ago? This should never be taken for granted as the mass graves remind us of our bloody and hostile common past. We used to fight on battlefields. Many bridges had to be built, many doors had to be opened and many steps had to be taken before the Franco-German friendship became the unique relationship it is today.
One may be bored sometimes by the negotiation marathons in Brussels; they may be tough and you may not agree 100 per cent with the results, but they lead to political compromises which allow the incorporation of several national positions.
This might be one reason why the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize, reminding us of the great success of European integration as a peace process. It helps to see things through others’ eyes: The European integration has a great deal of power extending far beyond the EU’s borders. Indeed, a crisis such as the one that occurred in 1914 is probably almost unimaginable.
Looking at people risking their lives to get to Europe, be it from North Africa or other parts of the world, looking at people fighting for freedom and democracy on Taksim or Maidan shows us how fascinating the EU as a union of values still is and how much hope it is capable of transporting. That should not scare us but make us stronger all together.
These values, such as freedom, democracy, rule of law, freedom of the press, minority rights etc. are the key and the guarantee for our European model.
And being here in Sarajevo I would like to say this: just a decade ago in Central and Eastern Europe, in the Western Balkans, we also witnessed the enormous transformative power emanating from the European perspective. We often describe the enlargement process as a catalyst for reforms.
With regard to the Western Balkans, we must not forget the effects of the enlargement process on stability and conflict resolution. Only 15 years ago, we still thought of the region as an area of war, expulsion and destruction.
Germany remains committed to the invitation that the European heads of state and government extended to all countries of the Western Balkans in Thessaloniki. The division of Europe will not be truly overcome until the countries of the former Yugoslavia and also Albania have concluded their path towards the EU.
However, becoming an EU member state is not smooth sailing, or a pleasure cruise. It takes a lot of hard work. This is not only a matter of law-making or adapting internal market rules. European integration needs above all a vivid civil society and supporters with passion.
That is why I also would like to mention the student programme “Latin Bridge” at this point, whose name is derived from the bridge where Gavrilo Princip shot the Archduke in June 1914. Thanks to this programme, implemented with the support of the German NGO “Schüler helfen Leben”, the name “Latin Bridge” will not stand for war and desolation anymore, but for peace and cooperation. It is exactly this ambition and this courage Europe needs. Europe needs you.