Citation of the Board of Directors of the Society for the Conferring of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen
in honour of the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany,
Dr. Angela Merkel
Europe has overcome its standstill, regained its ability to act, and found new common vigour!
Only last year the historic project of the European Union was in a manifest crisis. Fears of apparently unlimited enlargement and a "superstate" of Europe, worries about economic prosperity and social security, scepticism towards Brussels authorities – all this found expression in a confidence gap between the European institutions and the people.
Today we are experiencing something new and positive. The rigidity of shock has vanished. Important political issues have been resolved, and the dialogue between the people and the representatives of European politics and policy is back on the track. The climate of dialogue prevailing among the member states has changed as well: Partnership is in the forefront again, and this has significantly contributed to the resolving of difficult issues.
The course-settings in the direction of a new start of the European Union are crucially linked to the active, circumspect and integrative policy of the EU Council presidency conducted by the German Chancellor, Dr. Angela Merkel. In tribute to her outstanding contribution to overcoming the crisis of the EU and in recognition of decisions pointing the way to the advancement of the European unification process, she is awarded the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen for 2008. The Board of Directors of the Society for the Conferring of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen hereby honours a convinced European for her pioneering contribution to the European basic treaty, her negotiating style – integrative, accenting the human side, at the same time decisive and purposeful – her wise diplomacy and her active dedication to the deepening of European integration.
"I have spent my whole life in Europe. And yet I am still a youngster in the European Union. That is because I grew up in the former German Democratic Republic….[U]ntil the age of 35 I knew the European Union only from the outside, from the inside since 1990….Seen from the outside, the European Union is a historic success story without precedent….Yet from the inside, too, the European Union is a wonderful house. Experiencing it from the inside, I find it even more beautiful….I don't ever want to move out of this house." When Angela Merkel spoke these words in Strasbourg in January 2007 and appealed for the support of the European Parliament, she was very deliberately calling to mind her own life history: For the first time a woman who had spent a large part of her life in a former Warsaw Pact state took over the presidency of the European Council.
Angela Merkel was born on 17 July 1954 in Hamburg. Only a few weeks later her father, a Protestant minister, took a pastorate in Brandenburg where she grew up, finishing secondary school in 1973 in Templin with the Abitur. She went on to study physics at the University of Leipzig, graduating in 1978; after that she worked until 1990 at the Central Institute of Physical Chemistry at the East Berlin Academy of Sciences. In 1986 she earned her doctorate.
In the course of the Peaceful Revolution, Merkel joined the "Demokratischer Aufbruch" ("Democratic Awakening") at the end of 1989, shortly thereafter taking charge of its public relations work. After the March 1990 elections to the East German Parliament and the formation of a coalition government under Lothar de Maizière she became deputy government spokeswoman. In December 1990, having meanwhile joined the CDU, she was elected for the first time to the German Bundestag.
In January 1991 Helmut Kohl appointed the 36-year-old Merkel to his Cabinet as Minister for Women and Youth; some months later she also rose to become deputy chairwoman of the CDU. When at the end of 1994 she succeeded Klaus Töpfer as Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, she quickly acquired a distinct personal image, among other things as chairwoman of the UN climate summit in Berlin in March 1995.
After the government lost its majority, Angela Merkel became in 1998 general secretary of the CDU. In April 2000 she was elected chair of the CDU Germany, becoming the first chairwoman in the party's history; two and a half years later she also became the leader of the joint CDU-CSU parliamentary party.
After the Bundestag elections (which had been moved up to September 2005), the emergent Grand Coalition of CDU-CSU and SPD elected Merkel on 22 November 2005 as the first woman chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. In her government declaration she made the goal of German European policy in the coming years – notwithstanding the severe setbacks to "Project Europe" in the referendums in France and the Netherlands – unmistakeably clear: "Even though it seems partly illusory today, we want to make the constitutional treaty a success. Without a self-image of its own, Europe is not possible."
Only a few days later the Chancellor's constructive mediating role at the December 2005 EU summit, which after tough negotiations was able to agree on the community budget for the years 2007 to 2013, attracted widespread notice. Subsequently Merkel also had a crucial role in overcoming Project Europe's partial standstill. In the good tradition of earlier chancellors, she successfully positioned herself as mediator, making clear from the outset that Germany espoused the interests of the smaller countries and the new members from central and central-eastern Europe, taking them seriously, without neglecting the ties to Paris – the destination of her first trip abroad, verifying as it were the special Franco-German relationship – London, Rome or Madrid.
Correspondingly high, therefore, were the expectations attending the German chairmanship of the EU Council – joined for the first time in a "trio presidency" with the succeeding Portuguese and Slovenian presidencies. A special focus of Government attention – besides concrete political progress – was made clear in a joint Cabinet declaration on 5 November 2006: "Europe can thrive only if its citizens identify with the grand idea of European unification and with the historically unique European peace project. Only the people can give the European idea of unity in diversity its soul. The German Government aims to help create new trust in the European institutions, and to increase once more the people's approval of European integration."
Under the motto "Europe – succeeding together", the German EU Council presidency did in fact manage in the following months to regain the people's support for Project Europe and rekindle their enthusiasm. The change in the public mood was already broadly apparent in March 2007 during the Berlin celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome – which turned into a unique European festival. At the end of the German presidency, public approval of the EU was at a record ten-year high.
Significantly, the change of mood was concurrent with clearly perceptible political progress. At the Council meeting on 8-9 March 2007 the Chancellor already managed to achieve results appearing hardly conceivable a few months before: The heads of state and government of the EU member-countries agreed among other things on the further development of the Lisbon Strategy, drastic cuts in bureaucratic costs, the further development of renewable energy and binding targets for climate protection – which Angela Merkel successfully turned into a central concern of the G8 meeting in Heiligendamm. Thus already proceeding from the EU's spring summit under German presidency was an unmistakeable signal showing ability to act and the firm resolve to advance integration.
The declared aim had been to "make possible, by the end of the German presidency, the passage of a roadmap for the further process of the constitutional treaty"; but the results of the Council meeting of 21-22 June went far beyond a roadmap for the treaty process. With agreement on a very precise mandate for an intergovernmental conference and the basic outlines of a new reform treaty, a breakthrough in substance was also achieved: Although the term "constitution" was dropped, essentials of the draft constitution were largely preserved. The central agreements include the broadening of codecision procedure, the reform of the makeup of the Commission, the election of the president of the European Council, the strengthening of the common foreign and security policy, the legally binding character of the charter of fundamental rights, the introduction of the "double majority", and more involvement by the national parliaments and the citizens of the European Union.
By virtue of the decisions crucially owing to Angela Merkel's participation and responsibility, the road ahead is open to a Europe that is more democratic, more efficient and more able to act. The purpose of the reform treaty is to enable the EU to successfully meet current challenges – climate change and energy security, strengthening competitiveness and the social dimension of the EU, combating international terrorism and organized crime – and likewise to address such questions as immigration and possible future enlargement. It is also to enable the EU to vigorously carry out its international responsibilities, acting in the interests of the people and on the basis of the fundamental European values: respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
In the person of Dr. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Board of Directors of the Society for the Conferring of the International Prize of Aachen honours in the year 2008 a great European who with courage and energy, purposefulness and negotiating skill has rendered an outstanding contribution to advancing the integration and overcoming the crisis of the EU.
Charlemagne Prize 01 May 2008
Photo: Dr. Angela Merkel, Brussels, 22 June 2007 (c) by European Council