"We have the honour of proposing annual presentation of an international prize for the most valuable contribution in the services of Western European understanding and work for the community, and in the services of humanity and world peace. This contribution may be in the field of literary, scientific, economic or political endeavour." When this proposal was put forward on 19 December 1949 by Dr. Kurt Pfeiffer to the Reading Group "Corona Legentium Aquensis" which he had founded, who would have ventured to predict that the "International Charlemagne Prize", proclaimed at Christmas 1949, was to become the most important and coveted award for services to European unification?
Referring explicitly to Charlemagne as the "Founder of Western Culture", under whose reign the City of Aachen was once the spiritual and political centre of the whole of what is now Western Europe, Dr. Pfeiffer also mentioned the right of the imperial city to "a special hearing, not least due to its natural responsibility as an old border city, seeking to mediate and transcend borders". It is apparent just from these few words that the ambitions of the founder of the Charlemagne Prize extended far beyond the region of Aachen. The symbolic content of the first political award presented in the Federal Republic of Germany, when it was still in its infancy, was intended to promote interest in and support for the process of integration not only among Germans, but also among their European neighbours.
Dr. Pfeiffer rapidly gained prominent supporters for his initiative. Together with the then officiating Mayor of Aachen Albert Maas, Bishop Johannes Joseph van der Velden, University Rector Wilhelm Müller, and eight more personalities from political, business and scientific circles, he set up the "Association for the Award of the International Charlemagne Prize" in March 1950, for conduct of all the activities involved in award of the prize. The founders themselves formed the first Board of Directors. The energy with which they set about their task was apparent from the fact that, just a few weeks later, on Ascension Day 1950, the first Charlemagne Prize was awarded to Richard Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, the founder of the Pan-European Movement.
The unanimous positive response to this, and to the following award to Professor Hendrik Brugmans, encouraged the Board of Directors to take even bolder steps in their contributions to building the common house of Europe. Presentation of the award to the Italian Prime Minister Alcide de Gasperi in 1952 was the real break-through. Since then, the International Charlemagne Prize of the City of Aachen has repeatedly sent messages and impulses going far beyond Germany and promoting the unity of Europe. The outstanding importance of the prize winners has earned the award particular political and moral weight in the course of time.
The distinguished list of Charlemagne Prize winners reflects the history of the European process of unification. It has been awarded to the founding fathers of the United Europe such as de Gasperi, Schuman, Monnet and Adenauer, and to those who have embodied hope for integration such as Edward Heath, Konstantin Karamanlis, and His Majesty Juan Carlos I. So the Charlemagne Prize is not only an expression of gratitude for lasting services for the unity of Europe, but also an encouragement and an expression of hopes and expectations directed towards the future. As Kurt Pfeiffer put it, "the Charlemagne Prize reaches into the future, and at the same time it embodies an obligation - an obligation of the highest ethical value. It is directed at a voluntary union of the European peoples without constraint, so that in their new found strength they may defend the highest earthly goods - freedom, humanity and peace - and safeguard the future of their children and children's children."
It was with great respect for this obligation that the original proclamation of the Charlemagne Prize was re-affirmed in 1990 by a joint declaration of the Council of the City of Aachen and the Association for Award of the Charlemagne Prize, and the idea of the founders was widened to include the aspects of closing the North-South divide and protecting natural resources worldwide. The Board of Directors of the Charlemagne Prize also expressed its conviction that "due to developments since 1989 in Germany and Eastern Europe… the movement towards a comprehensive union is no longer utopian". The democratic movement in Central and Eastern Europe was also reflected in the award of the prize to such distinguished personalities as Gyula Horn, Václav Havel, Bronislav Geremek and György Konrád.
After award of the 2002 prize to the euro, represented by the European Central Bank and its President Wim Duisenberg, the Board of Directors then chose the President of the European Convention, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (2003) and the President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox (2004), thus visibly putting the emphasis on deepening the integration process and strengthening the parliamentary, democratic aspects of the Union. Pat Cox will receive the International Charlemagne Prize of the City of Aachen on Ascension Day, 20 May 2004, in the Coronation Hall of the Aachen City Hall.
The Charlemagne Prize Board of Directors and Association are committed to continuing the work commenced by Kurt Pfeiffer more than five decades ago, firmly believing that European integration is the only way to create and safeguard peace, freedom and prosperity in Europe. The Board of Directors and the Association are supported by the "Foundation for the International Charlemagne Prize of the City of Aachen", created in 1997, and made up of European personalities from the areas of business, politics, the media and science. The purpose of the meetings of the Charlemagne Prize Foundation is to give new stimuli to the process of unification and to gain the hearts and minds of citizens and young people for Europe.
At the beginning of this new century, we are well aware that there is still a long way to go to achieve a united Europe. A further milestone on this route will be reached in just a few weeks. The accession of ten new member states to the European Union on 1 May 2004 marks the beginning of a new age in the European process of integration. That will finally close the post-war chapter in Europe’s history, which was characterised by the Cold War and the division of Europe.
Development towards this comprehensive union of the European family of nations is inseparably linked with the personality and life's work of His Holiness Pope John Paul II. His 25-year pontificate will go down in history as a period in which the foundations were laid for a lasting order of peace and liberty, and for stability and prosperity for future generations, throughout this continent.
To pay tribute to an outstanding life's work for European understanding and for the community, in the service of humanity and world peace, the Board of Directors of the Charlemagne Prize is honoured to present the extraordinary Charlemagne Prize to His Holiness Pope John Paul II. The award ceremony, scheduled for 24 March 2004, will be held in Rome, by way of exception and to mark this extraordinary occasion.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. h.c. mult. Dipl.-Wirt. Ing. Walter Eversheim
Spokesman of the Board of Directors of the Association
for Award of the International Charlemagne Prize of the City of Aachen