Twenty-five years of diplomatic recognition are a good reason for Croatia to celebrate. From the very beginning, Germany has been a close ally and friend of Croatia on its way to independence and accession to NATO and the European Union. No one was happier than we were when you finally became a member of the world’s most successful peace project four years ago.
Hans-Dietrich Genscher, one of the greatest champions of European integration, resolutely rejected claims by those who wanted to put obstacles in your country’s way. For Genscher, it was always clear that the EU peace project must be transformed into a pan-European peace project.
From your own history you know very well that peace in the region cannot be taken for granted. Croatia and other countries in the Western Balkans have a vivid memory of the terror that comes with war. EU enlargement is a unique success story. It has helped to define the European Union as we know it today – a peaceful, democratic and prosperous union of values. Within the EU, former enemies can reach a new level of mutual understanding and cooperation.
The division of Europe will not be overcome until all countries of the Western Balkans have joined the EU. Germany will continue to support the prospects of EU accession for all your neighbouring countries without prejudice. We need countries in our immediate neighbourhood that are stable, peaceful, democratic and oriented towards the EU.
Recent discussions by the Council of the European Union regarding EU enlargement have shown that the difficult legacies of the past still cast a shadow on today’s cooperation.
I would like to encourage Croatia to do its utmost to help fostering stabilisation and cooperation within the Western Balkan regions. Let us try to identify solutions rather than problems. And let us not create new obstacles, but rather remove existing ones.
As Croatia is already a member of the European club, you bear a special responsibility to lead by example.
Your support for Serbia and for Bosnia and Herzegovina is crucial for democratic transformation and socio-economic reform in these countries. More sustained efforts to foster reconciliation are what is needed to re-establish trust and regional cooperation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am not telling you anything new when I say that the EU is currently at a crossroads. Some people are calling for steps towards greater integration, while others want to give power back to the nation states.
To be frank, we are currently a long way from being a continent that stands together and acts in concert politically. Therefore, it is now up to us to get Europe back on the right track.
I am proud that Croatia is part of what is perhaps the greatest project of our time. How else could we prevent a resurgence of nationalism, divisions, jealousy and hatred? How else could we defend our values and embrace Europe as a genuine community of shared values?
Now in particular, we need committed Europeans to defend the EU against criticism and the trend towards erosion. We have to admit that no one is born a committed European in Europe’s democracies. Becoming and being a member of the European Union is a project for society as a whole! We need a strong and active civil society to make the European project a success.
So what Europe needs now are people who are prepared to roll up their sleeves rather than simply go with the flow, people who inspire others rather than run everything down.
The best way for us to honour Hans-Dietrich Genscher is to convince young people to support the united Europe. Our joint promise to the younger generation should be to tell them that we are working hard so that they will enjoy a bright future. We are working to bring about greater growth, better education and good jobs. Young people are our best and most important asset.