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Speech by Federal Chancellor at the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Atlantik-Brücke in the German Historical Museum

Angela Merkel
Jul 02, 2012

Mr Chairman, Friedrich Merz,
The Warburg family,
Former Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt,
Members and friends of the Atlantik-Brücke,
Ladies and gentlemen,

In a letter written in March 1946 to the former SPD politician William Sollmann who had emigrated to the United States after the National Socialists came to power, Konrad Adenauer came to the conclusion “USA doesn’t know Europe”. These words express Adenauer’s serious concern that, at the end of the Second World War and National Socialism, the interest of the United States of America in Europe might wane. In his letter to William Sollmann, Konrad Adenauer went on to write “Why don’t you help to spread the belief in the United States that Europe can only be saved with the help of the United States and that saving Europe is crucial also for the United States.” In this one sentence, Konrad Adenauer epitomizes what has been essential for transatlantic relations since that day. It takes only four words: we need each other.

Thankfully, Adenauer’s fears were to be dispelled. The United States and Canada alike did not abandon war-torn Europe to its fate. On the contrary, they did all they could to help our devastated continent to secure a future in peace and freedom. This is a responsibility which they took on especially for Germany – a country which had wrought untold suffering on Europe and the world, a country which bore responsibility for the break with civilization defying all comprehension that was the Shoah. Thousands of US and Canadian soldiers lost their lives during the Second World War, standing shoulder to shoulder with their Allies to free the world of the barbarity of National Socialist Germany. Standing by Germany after these horrors, as it worked to rebuild, to make a new start in democracy, to find its way back to the international community rooted in freedom, was an act of unparalleled magnanimity and unprecedented foresight.

Very much struck by this, Konrad Adenauer said in his first policy statement in 1949 just after taking office as Federal Chancellor “I know that countless Americans helped us Germans in a touching way in our darkest hour driven by genuine fellow feeling and compassion. The German people must never forget what America did for it and never will.”

Today, more than 60 years on, immense gratitude goes hand in hand with a heartfelt need to keep alive the awareness of what an immeasurable gift it is to be able to live in peace, freedom, the rule of law and prosperity in Germany and Europe, a gift we must not take for granted. Germany’s reconstruction founded in democracy and the rule of law would not have been possible without the trust in our country’s forces for freedom, especially on the part of the United States.

To this day, trust is the foundation for political and economic cooperation which is a strong pillar of our prosperity and our security. Such trust stems from comprehension and understanding, from being open to one another and talking to, not about one another. America displayed this openness at the time when it was most needed. America stretched out its hand to bolster reconciliation and reconstruction. Assistance and support in times of need evolved into mutual trust – political, economic and social. One-time enemies at war ultimately became partners, even friends.

On this journey to build partnership and friendship across the Atlantic, the founding of the Atlantik-Brücke turned out to be a real boon. In the 60 years of its existence, its contribution to transatlantic relations has been practically unparalleled amongst non-governmental institutions in Germany. That is why I am happy to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your anniversary and to say a big thank you to all those who have played a part in the success of the Atlantik-Brücke over the last 60 years. I extend this thanks to all those who have worked on and supported the Atlantik-Brücke’s efforts to bring nations together.

I extend a special welcome to our friends from the United States and Canada who join us this evening in our celebrations and for whom the Ambassadors and Bob Kimmitt have spoken. A very warm welcome to you!

There is another guest of whom I would like to make special mention. Former Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, I am delighted that you are receiving the Eric M. Warburg Award. This is a great honour, as I see it for both sides: for you and for the Atlantik-Brücke. You have worked to further transatlantic dialogue for many years. The Federal Chancellor has not given a closing speech at my university, Ambassador, but he did at yours. I did however keenly follow his visit to Güstrow in the former GDR. What different times those were. Mr Schmidt, you have time and again lived and indeed breathed the German-American partnership. Of course, I don’t want to pre-empt the laudatory speech but I do want to express my sincere gratitude and warm congratulations to you as the recipient of the award in this the Atlantik-Brücke’s anniversary year.

This year, it is not just the 60th anniversary of the Atlantik-Brücke we are celebrating. We are also remembering the 65th anniversary of the proposal presented by the then US Secretary of State George Marshall to stabilize the economic and thus political situation in Germany and Europe. With the implementation of the Marshall Plan, trust in a forward-looking Germany took on concrete form. This year we also remember the magnificent, indeed visionary speech given by President Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate, not far from where we are this evening. “Mr Gorbachev, open this gate! […] Tear down this wall!“ His words uttered 25 years ago are just as engrained in our memory as President John F. Kennedy’s commitment to the freedom of Berlin almost 50 years ago.

And if I may ask: how many of you believed in 1987 that the Wall would fall? I was on the other side and I must admit I didn’t think it would happen. Right here, there was a museum of history which had very little to do with historical truth. But the fact that we can all be here together today shows us that the fall of the Wall is one of the miracles brought about by sheer strength of conviction. Many of you were there. For this, too, my heartfelt thanks.

All the figures I have mentioned illustrate that America was always firmly on the side of freedom and there it will always remain. For many who, like me, grew up in the part of Germany that was not free, America was always a focus of great yearning, the epitome of freedom. I have said before: my dream destination upon reaching retirement – for women in the GDR at the age of 60 – was abundantly clear. The first staging post was to be the Federal Republic where I would hand in my GDR ID card, get myself a Western passport and fly straight to the United States of America. But I didn’t have to wait that long.

It was America, and this I will never forget, that helped pave the way to unity, democracy and freedom for the whole of Germany. It may seem these days that the German-American partnership is something that many feel can go on autopilot, a partnership not requiring much attention. But every partnership, also the transatlantic partnership, needs constant tending so it continues to bear fruit. That is why there must be opportunities for exchange and encounters between students, figures from the world of politics, business, sport and the arts. Only through such personal encounters do we develop a sense of how close we are despite being so far apart geographically and a sense of what we need to talk about to understand one another better. This is the only way of strengthening the firm belief that we can achieve more together than we can apart or even against one another.

So it is just as important as ever that the transatlantic idea reaches hearts and minds also through the Atlantik-Brücke. So I would like to thank all those working today for the Atlantik-Brücke or on the other side for the American organization. I would like to thank all those who give of their time. After all, although we are all living longer, time seems to be the most scarce resource of all which we have to use carefully! So thank you to all those who are investing time in this friendship.

The unique partnership Germany and Europe have with the United States of America and Canada is today just as significant as it was when the Wall fell. It is today less rooted in the past, instead drawing life from the challenges we face together. And there’s certainly no lack of those. I’d like to mention just a few.

Let’s take Afghanistan. The job will not be over with the withdrawal of our troops by the end of 2014. Also when responsibility for security has been completely handed over, we will continue to support Afghanistan on its path of stabilization and economic development. After all, we know that threats to our freedom can also come from beyond our own borders. That is why we are in Afghanistan; and that is why we have a responsibility towards Afghanistan.

As transatlantic partners, we continue to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict triggered by Iran’s nuclear programme. This programme does not just threaten Israel. No, it threatens us and the free world as a whole. That is why we have to put a stop to this and do all we can to continue negotiations. We are greatly concerned by developments at this time in Syria. We are working together to put an end to the violence. I mention only a few crisis regions. I could go on with Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the DRC and many other regions of the world.

The American desire for improved burden-sharing, let me be plain, is something we understand. A strong European Union must be ready and able to take on security policy responsibility above all for the European continent and around. And as we can see, we have enough to be getting on with trying to solve the most recent problems – and there are many, whether in Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and elsewhere.

At the same time, European and Atlantic structures need to be dovetailed better. NATO interventions and European missions within the Common Security and Defence Policy need to be coordinated and effectively complement one another. This would be a way of creating more synergies from which we would all benefit. However, we need to be aware: Europe’s importance for North America may well ultimately depend on what role our continent assumes when it comes to tackling global challenges. That is the task facing our political generation in Europe.

The European Union and North America are built on the same fundamental values of freedom, democracy and human rights. If we consider that we have seven billion people living in the world today and that Europeans and Americans together don't even reach the one-billion mark yet produce almost 50 percent of global GDP, then we know it is good to stick together on many issues in the future and together represent these fundamental values. If we are to uphold these values and represent our interests in the 21st century with continued rapid population growth, then we need to promote them together. It is just like Bob Kimmitt said. We do of course have our own interests but we should also look for where we can together represent our shared values. It is crucial here that we coordinate more closely than ever also on eco¬nomic and finance policy. That we made plain once more at the G8 Summit at Camp David and the G20 Summit in Los Cabos.

Going back to Adenauer, I would like to say that from the American perspective, understanding the European Union and the eurozone is anything but simple. But here too I sense the will – and we too are playing our part – to understand one another. Especially in the midst of the crisis we have learnt to understand one another better. So also in the economic sphere we need to constantly revisit our cooperation in the face of globalization. After all, the rapid rise of economies such as China, India and Brazil – to name but a few – has an impact on transatlantic relations. I am happy to see how these emerging economies are learning from our blueprints for cooperation and are also forging alliances. That is another reason why transatlantic relations will remain so important.

When Germany held the EU Presidency in 2007, we created the Transatlantic Economic Council. I would like to thank all those working on it. Putting tariff barriers to trade to one side for a second, I am absolutely convinced that if we were to manage to work more closely on reducing non-tariff barriers, we would achieve a lot for our economies in a world where others are also gaining in strength. I am thinking here of common standards on electromobility, nanotechnology, renewable energies and much, much more.

So it is worth thinking about the ultimate purpose of some hurdles to investment and trade and, taking it further, to think about ways to bring about a comprehensive transatlantic free trade agreement. I am convinced this can only work if it is not just politicians talking about but also representatives from the economy and civil society making plain the benefits and the point of such a project. This project is in fact an old one, but we are now working with renewed vigour on it. So I would also ask the Atlantik-Brücke to play its part but of course also to continue to provide a forum in a world in which we need each other.

So, once more, thank you to the members and friends of the Atlantik-Brücke and a request from me: Please keep going so the transatlantic partnership and friendship can remain what they were and what they are: indispensable guarantors for peace, freedom, security and prosperity. Congratulations on your 60th anniversary and may you continue to work together with much drive, determination and enthusiasm.

Thank you very much.

Jul 12, 2012