Speech by Federal Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel at the ceremony awarding the International Charlemagne Prize to French President Emmanuel Macron in Aachen on 10 May 2018

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Mr President, Emmanuel Macron,

Mr Mayor,

Charlemagne Prize Laureates,

Esteemed Board of Directors,


Ladies and gentlemen,

When it awards the Charlemagne Prize each year, the city of Aachen sends a clear signal of support for a united Europe. Just as Europe deserves to be celebrated, people who not only believe in this Europe, but breathe life into it with their own actions, also deserve to be honoured.

The man after whom this prize is named, Charlemagne, who even during his own lifetime was referred to as the “father of Europe”, established Aachen as his principal palace at the end of the eighth century. It was here that he brought together scholars from all across Europe. The impetus for science and culture that emanated from Aachen at the time can still be felt today. Here at this Town Hall, not far from Aachen Cathedral, we sense these cultural roots at every turn. We also have a sense of the ups and downs of European history.

In 2018, we are marking the centenary of the end of the First World War. Today’s prizewinner, Emmanuel Macron, hails from Amiens, a city before whose gates an entire European generation once perished in the trenches. Anyone who visits the graves of those whose lives were ripped away from them because national narrow‑mindedness and delusion brought our continent to the abyss can appreciate the value of European integration – integration that has brought us peace and freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It is only European unity that safeguards these achievements for the future.

Glancing at the list of Charlemagne Prize Laureates since 1950 is like reading a brief account of recent European history. From the European Coal and Steel Community to the establishment of the European Union to the introduction of the euro and the major feat that was eastward enlargement, it was always prominent public figures, courageous women and men, who gave Europe a face, all of them united by their passion for the European idea.

It is true that Europe needs and thrives on passion – a passion with which today’s prizewinner, President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron, also goes about his work. He was born in 1977 and was 11 or 12 years old when the Cold War came to an end. With Emmanuel Macron, a young and dynamic politician has joined the European stage for whom European integration and the single currency are a matter of course. However, he is also a politician who senses that this poses the greatest risk to European integration and to the European model. Perhaps this is also because there are fewer and fewer people who, as eye‑witnesses, are able to tell us about the early days of Europe, about the courage and compromises that were needed.

Emmanuel Macron knows that today’s generation must continue to shape Europe with its own inspiration. He has understood – and stated repeatedly, most recently at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 17 April – that, in view of the different challenges facing the EU at home and abroad, today’s generation will play a crucial role. It is their historic responsibility to actively defend and strengthen European democracy, the European value system, the European social model and the dignity of each and every individual – in a nutshell, everything that constitutes European identity – and to place this on a new footing where necessary.

Emmanuel, today’s date, 10 May, serves as a warning to us. It was on this day in 1933 that National Socialists in Berlin and other German university cities burned books by numerous authors whom they couldn't abide, including works by Heinrich Heine, Sigmund Freud, Heinrich and Thomas Mann, Karl Marx and Kurt Tucholsky. Today, 85 years or an entire human life later, we must recall that liberal values are a fragile commodity that we must continue to protect and defend. What is important once again today – as you have said on repeated occasions – is to stand up to narrow‑minded, retrograde nationalisms and the temptation of authoritarianism. In Strasbourg, you talked about the authority of democracy, which must be stronger than the temptation of authoritarianism.

What is it that sets Emmanuel Macron apart and shows that he has deservedly won the Charlemagne Prize today, one year since taking office? Allow me to highlight three aspects. Firstly, Emmanuel Macron knows what holds Europe together at its core. Secondly, Emmanuel Macron has clear visions of where and how Europe should continue to develop. Thirdly, Emmanuel Macron brings his enthusiasm for Europe to the table.

This enthusiasm not only motivates those who are committed to Europe, but, above all, it has the capacity to win over those who are hesitant or faltering; and it is decisive when it comes to opposing those who are forever stuck in the past. Both in his election campaign and everyday political life, Emmanuel Macron has managed to embody this enthusiasm in everything that he does. This is the basis for the fresh start that was triggered by his election as French President.

Emmanuel Macron knows that only a self‑confident France can inject fresh impetus into the European idea. This is why he is not only consistently working to implement his reform agenda, but is also reviving the intellectual, philosophical and cultural roots of his home nation.

Time and again, Emmanuel Macron underscores the importance of preserving and strengthening European democracy – from his address in Athens, at the foot of the Acropolis, on 7 September last year to his speech at the European Parliament. A functioning democracy and functioning rule of law at national and European level are crucial if Europeans are to be able to develop, fundamental and human rights are to be respected and debates about the best solutions for our Community are to be held in a free and fair manner, even if this sometimes takes longer than some might like.

Moreover, Emmanuel Macron repeatedly talks about how our cultural and historical togetherness has grown over the centuries, in good times and bad. I recall in particular his speech in Frankfurt am Main at the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2017. In his speech, he set out his understanding of Europe’s cultural identity. It is important, at a time in which there is a greater focus on the final paragraphs of various directives and regulations, to keep this dimension in mind. All of the nations of Europe have exchanged ideas and enriched one another for centuries in philosophy, literature, our languages, music, painting and architecture. –I would like to thank you, Bishop, for your sermon, which reminded us once again of the dimension of religion and Christianity, which was the inspiration for all of this.

The fact that Emmanuel Macron gave his speech at the Sorbonne was no coincidence. The Europe of scholars, the Europe of science, pre‑dates the Treaties of Rome. Beyond the realm of scholars, traders, journeymen and pilgrims also played their part in a constant exchange on our continent. Were it not for these common foundations, European political and economic integration would have been impossible. Differences do not divide us, but bring us together time and again – out of curiosity for the other and in an attempt to deepen our understanding. Germans and French people in particular know this all too well. We have different political cultures and often approach European issues from different angles. We talk and listen to each other – and find common paths at the end of the day. These are the challenges and the magic of Europe that I, if I may say so myself, have been privileged to experience time and again, particularly, Emmanuel Macron, when working together with you this year.

Withdrawing to the national level is not the answer. We Europeans are united by more than merely the common market or single currency. Europe must always be more than its shared history, more than its triumph over past differences and wars on its territory. Europe is now the crucial project for our continent’s future. In his address on the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome, Pope Francis told us, the Heads of State and Government of the European Union, that Europe will find new hope when it is open to the future. He said this after likening Europe to a grandmother in a speech to the European Parliament. Although it is nice to be a grandmother, the fact that the Pope says we will find new hope if we are open to the future speaks volumes.

In view of the enormous global challenges, we Europeans can only make our influence felt if we join forces. Only by working together will we acquire or maintain our ability to act – our sovereignty, as Emmanuel Macron would say. One of the exciting aspects of Franco‑German discussion on sovereignty often involves the question of how much we need to protect this future Europe and how open we Europeans need to be. How do we find the right balance between these two things? This question affects all of our discussions, be they on trade, shaping the digital single market or drawing up a common foreign policy.

What is involved here? Europe needs to show that in a globalised world, it is not part of the problem, but rather part of the solution. That is the key question that led Emmanuel Macron to put European Union renewal at the heart of his policies through his speech at the Sorbonne. It is also why we in Germany put the chapter on further developing the European Union at the beginning of our coalition agreement. And it is the reason why we share France’s conviction that we need a new start in Europe.

We need to work together to provide very concrete answers at European level to the great questions of the present and the future. Allow me to mention four areas.

Firstly, there is the question of a European strategy on innovation and investment aimed at boosting the economy in an age of globalisation and digital transformation. Europe has always held the promise of prosperity. But in view of the huge challenges of technological transformation, it is no longer certain that we will be the ones to determine the course of the world. To be honest, we no longer do so in many areas. We must aim to catch up again here, be it in the field of artificial intelligence, in which Germany and France will work closely together, or as regards dealing with disruptive innovations. When we meet the Heads of State and Government of the European Union in Sofia next week, Germany and France will present a proposal on new institutional cooperation in Europe.

I support President Macron’s idea of creating European universities in order to foster the education and research scene in Europe. The signing of a joint declaration in Strasbourg on 12 April by those responsible in Land Baden‑Württemberg and the French region Grand Est is the first concrete step in this direction. The five regional universities in the Upper Rhine area will be merged into a single scientific region, which will serve as a role model. This is something we urgently need because we who were the first to produce cars in Europe, for example, now rely on batteries from Asia and digital technology from the United States. That cannot be our goal in the social market economy. We owe it to the people to be ahead in the game. That will only be possible if Europe makes a concerted effort.

Secondly, I would like to address European asylum and migration policy. Freedom of movement is the foundation of the single market. However, we can only maintain this freedom if we reform our asylum systems and make them into a common system, which must be based on the principle of solidarity, fair and able to withstand crises. In order to preserve freedom of movement, it is also essential that we protect Europe’s outer borders. But we know that walls will not help to solve the problem. What we really need is a common policy on Africa. Emmanuel Macron has been President for a year and in this time alone, we have already set up impressive joint projects, for example in the Sahel region, and achieved close Franco‑German cooperation, which we plan to continue.

Thirdly, ladies and gentlemen, we naturally need the economic and monetary union and to ensure that it is sustainable. Many discussions these days revolve around this very point. I can tell you that, yes, these are difficult discussions, which we are conducting from different cultural viewpoints. However, we will make progress on the banking union; we will make headway on the capital market union; and we will make the eurozone stronger and more competitive. We intend to present solutions on these issues by June. And we will do so.

Fourthly, there is the question of our common foreign and security policy. Europe’s role in fostering peace and stability depends on its ability to act in concert and to speak with one voice on the international stage. After decades of discussion, we recently managed to achieve permanent structured cooperation in defence policy. That is a huge step forward and one that took us a long time to achieve. But let’s be honest – Europe is still at the very start when it comes to a common foreign policy. However, this is what we will need for our own survival because the nature of conflicts has changed completely since the end of the Cold War. A great many global conflicts are taking place on Europe’s doorstep. And it is not the case that the United States of America will simply protect us. Instead, Europe must take its destiny in its own hands. That is our job for the future.

As a role model for what is happening on our doorstep, I would like to mention the countries of the Western Balkans and to thank Boyko Borisov, whose country holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union and who is here with us today, for being open to inviting the countries of the Western Balkans and the EU Heads of State and Government to Sofia next week. We have a duty here, one that will decide on war and peace in our continent, and we must live up to it.

Germany and France have taken an important step as regards the conflict in Ukraine. I am pleased that Petro Poroshenko is here with us today. Although we have not yet achieved our goals in the Normandy format, we know that staying power is often a prerequisite for resolving conflicts. We will continue to demonstrate this staying power in order to safeguard Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Together, we – and in particular the UK, France and Germany – have defended our stance on the nuclear agreement with Iran. We know that we are facing an extremely complex situation. The escalation of the past hours shows us that this is truly a matter of war and peace. I can only call on all those involved to show restraint.

We need a political settlement in the entire region on our doorstep. Syria is not just somewhere. It borders EU Member States such as Cyprus. That is why we will need to work far more intensively on this issue in the coming weeks and months – and that also goes for Germany, which needs to play a larger role – in order to find a political solution for everything that involves Syria. The many refugees who have come to Germany show us that we cannot simply look the other way. Instead, we need to work on fostering peace in this region.

Ladies and gentlemen, European development is certainly at a critical stage. Everyone senses that. The founding fathers created Europe in response to the terrible wars of the first half of the 20th century. Europe is and will remain a peace project. Our generation’s historic responsibility is to ensure that Europe is firmly established both as a positive project for the future of our continent and a part of the global order. To this end, all Heads of State and Government will continue to work hard with the European Commission. Each and every one of us will do our utmost, including today’s prizewinner, Emmanuel Macron, who will do so with the passion that is unique to him.

My dear Emmanuel, please accept my warmest congratulations. Your enthusiasm, dedication and courage are an inspiration to others. You bubble over with ideas and have breathed new life into the debate on Europe with your proposals. Today’s award does not only serve to confirm that you are on the right path, but also to encourage and motivate you to continue along it with confidence. I look forward to being able to work with you on this path.

Thank you very much and my warmest congratulations!