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Merkel at presentation of Charlemagne Prize

The Pope's encouragement and charge

The Chancellor commended the Pope’s words at the presentation of the Charlemagne Prize as both encouragement and a call to action. Angela Merkel was present at the ceremony in the Vatican. Before that she had the opportunity for a brief meeting with the Pope.

Chancellor Merkel congratulating Pope Francis after he is awarded the Charlemagne Prize Chancellor Merkel congratulates Pope Francis on being awarded the International Charlemagne Prize Foto: Bundesregierung/Güngör

Chancellor Merkel was visibly impressed by what the Pope had to say on the occasion of the presentation of the award in the Vatican. “He called on us to be mindful of three things: the capacity for dialogue, the capacity to integrate and the capacity to generate,” she said. “I believe that, since the founding fathers of Europe created so much, the capacity to generate is a call for us to act and to hold Europe together. Be that our common currency, be that when it comes to protecting our external borders, and above all to not forgetting Europe’s humanity and its humanitarian mandate,” Merkel said after the Pope was awarded the Charlemagne Prize in Rome.

Merkel attends private audience

Pope Francis and Chancellor Merkel during their meeting in the Vatican on 6 May 2016 Bild vergrößern The Chancellor had the opportunity to meet with Pope Francis while in Rome Foto: Bundesregierung/Güngör

Shortly before the award ceremony began Pope Francis welcomed the Chancellor to the Vatican for a private audience. “Of course, we spoke about peace and how peace can be brought about in Syria and elsewhere. We discussed the fact that Europe, a rich continent, is charged with providing help and assistance. It was very important for me to be able to have this meeting,” Merkel emphasised.

After the private audience Pope Francis presented Angela Merkel with an angel of peace. The Chancellor thanked him, saying: “That’s what we need in Europe.” It was the third time the Chancellor had had a private meeting with the head of the Catholic Church. The last time Merkel attended a private audience in Rome was in February 2015.

Praise for the Pope's compelling messages

Jürgen Linden, Chair of the Charlemagne Prize Board of Directors, said at the award ceremony in the Sala Regia in the Apostolic Palace that Pope Francis gave “courage and confidence to again make Europe that dream which we have dared to dream for more than 60 years”.

This year the Board of Directors was honoured, he said, to be able to present the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen to His Holiness Pope Francis in recognition of the compelling messages and signals which his pontificate was sending in regard to peace and understanding, compassion, tolerance, solidarity and the integrity of creation.

The International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen has been awarded annually since 1950 to people and institutions who have distinguished themselves in the service of European unity. Previous laureates include former US President Bill Clinton, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Chancellor Merkel (2008). Pope John Paul II was awarded the prize in 2004, and so this year sees the international award being made for the second time to the head of the Catholic Church as a great European.

"The voice of conscience"

The Mayor of Aachen, Marcel Philipp, said it was our “great fortune” that Pope Francis did not see the continent which is distorted by contradictions through a “veil of prosperity”. The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, declared that Europe was in the midst of a crisis of solidarity and was in danger of squandering its legacy of democracy, rule of law, freedom of opinion and cross-border cooperation.

Schulz accused those who, 25 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, wanted to once more put up walls and fences across Europe of forgetting history and denying reality. By doing so they were jeopardising one of Europe’s biggest achievements, namely freedom of movement, he said. Our shared values were being undermined, the President of the European Parliament said. “It is time to fight for Europe,” Schulz added.

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, reminded those attending the ceremony of the 12 refugees from Lesbos whom Pope Francis had given refuge in the Vatican. He called on those in government in Europe to find the same courage their predecessors had shown.

"I dream of a Europe that is young"

In his acceptance speech Pope Francis said that we would do well to remember the founding fathers of Europe and their ideals. “Not only did they boldly conceive the idea of Europe, but they dared to change radically the models that had led only to violence and destruction,” he said. The plans of the founding fathers, the heralds of peace and prophets of the future, were not outdated, he said. Today more than ever, the Pope emphasised, their vision inspired us to build bridges and to tear down walls.

I dream of a Europe that is young, still capable of being a mother: a mother who has life because she respects life and offers hope for life. I dream of a Europe that cares for children, that offers fraternal help to the poor and those newcomers seeking acceptance because they have lost everything and need shelter. I dream of a Europe that is attentive to and concerned for the infirm and the elderly, lest they be simply set aside as useless,” Pope Francis said.

And he went on: “I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being. I dream of a Europe where young people breathe the pure air of honesty, where they love the beauty of a culture and a simple life undefiled by the insatiable needs of consumerism, where getting married and having children is a responsibility and a great joy, not a problem due to the lack of stable employment.”

Meeting with Prime Minister Renzi

On Thursday Angela Merkel had met with Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Rome. The EU must work together to protect its external borders and defend the Schengen Agreement to keep visa-free cross-border travel, otherwise there was a risk of us falling back into nationalism, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Rome. Europe was going through a very fragile phase, she warned. “But Europe is our future.” Merkel said that she did not believe that closing Europe’s internal borders was the solution to the refugee crisis.

Cooperating fairly within Europe

Angela Merkel paid tribute to what Italy was doing in terms of registering refugees and setting up so-called hotspots. But Europe had to show solidarity, she said. This was a European issue, not one where each country could be left to fend for itself, Merkel added. You could say that the Schengen Area stretched from the Mediterranean to the North Pole. “Either we defend our external borders and learn to protect them together, or we will fall back into nationalism.”

What was important, Merkel went on, was tackling the causes of displacement in Africa and sharing the burdens across Europe. “We cannot leave each other in the lurch. We cannot simply close some borders which are not external borders, we must cooperate fairly,” the Chancellor stressed. These efforts needed to be stepped up. Matteo Renzi also emphasised the importance of international assistance on the ground.

The German Chancellor and her Italian counterpart last met in Hannover on 25 April. Together with US President Barack Obama, French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron they had already discussed international issues linked to implementation of the EU-Turkey Agreement, illegal migration and the situation in Libya.

Freitag, 6. Mai 2016