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Speech by the Hon. Minister – Conference “Italy, Europe and Helmu Kohl”

Senate, Palazzo Giustiniani, 4 July 2017


(The authentic text is only the speech that was actually delivered)


Thank you, President Casini, for the opportunity given me to participate in this commemoration.

Mr. President Emeritus Napolitano, Mr. President of the Senate Grasso, Mr. President Monti and dear participants, especially the Ambassador of Germany:

You are all here to commemorate a great man, a statesman, a great German and a great European.

I think that very rarely, in commemorating someone, we find ourselves before such a vast biography capable of being summarised with a few enormously relevant images. Helmut Kohl’s biography is a falling Wall; Helmut Kohl’s biography is the bliss and joy of the youths who climb on top of that wall while it falls; Helmut Kohl’s biography is a photo taken of his back, while he leaves behind World War II, the crimes of that war, with a handshake, like the one he exchanges at the Verdun Cemetery with another Statesman, François Mitterrand. Three snapshots that narrate the idea of Europe, an idea of peace, an idea of prosperity, an idea of liberty.

My generation has a debt with history, because we have only known peace, prosperity, democracy and liberty. It is enough to think back to the generation of my father – I was born in 1970 and my father in 1936 – to find that the generation just before mine includes people who were children when they had the experience of war. That was the generation of Helmut Kohl, the generation that experienced the war as children or teenagers. In Italy, my father’s generation came into contact with war when they witnessed the landing of American soldiers in Sicily while those of Helmut Kohl’s generation came into contact with war in Germany and since every one of us bears in their souls the experiences witnessed as children, I have always been convinced that Kohl’s biography was strongly characterised by an adolescence lived as a German in a Germany that he probably did not want. And, there is no doubt that, throughout his life, he tried to restore Germany’s rightful place in history.

At the end of his life when, in Strasbourg, at Europe’s first State funeral, the leaders of the whole world came to commemorate him, some of the fundamental things that are etched in fire in my heart came out. The first: he left behind a better world. Allow me a little digression: every one of the men and women working in institutions and who, when they were young, heeded the call of a vocation and passion for public service, certainly pursued the mission of leaving behind a better world, but how many of them can show, through a couple of pictures, that they actually did? Helmut Kohl belongs to the very restricted ‘numerus clausus’ of people who can actually say they have left a better world than they found because they were the ones who actually made that world better.    

The second consideration is that Kohl had a passion for building that better world and, when he died, he left his Germany – his Country – united, a good neighbour for bordering countries and a great friend for the rest of the world. Germany was certainly not all that when he took office.

For me personally, Helmut Kohl has a very special standing because my date of birth places me in a generation – to which I referred to previously – which is not the one immediately following the war. I do not have the privilege of having known him, of having studied him on my school books, because for me, in my school days, Kohl was Germany: he became Chancellor when I was in 7th grade and stepped down from office when I had already pocketed a university degree in law and was a practicing lawyer and pursued a research doctorate. This is the timeframe in which he governed Germany, which means that for me and my generation, Helmut Kohl was Germany, period.

But what did Kohl represent even more deeply than Germany? You see, the generation that has always known peace bears with it a sense of indebtedness because it hasn’t fought for freedom, because someone else died to give us liberty, it hasn’t fought for peace because someone else died to give us peace, it hasn’t fought for wellbeing because it just found it, while it was immediately ushered into Italy’s industrial and economic boom. When we stop questioning ourselves what we are grateful for – we are grateful for peace, as we said, for liberty, for prosperity, for democracy and to those who died to give it to us – and we instead start asking to whom are we grateful, then our history, the history of our Motherland – Motherland Italy and Motherland Europe – tells us and explains that we must be grateful to De Gasperi, Adenauer, and Shumann; to the men who had the vision and the strength to build peace. Those men, in turn, left a debt, an outstanding matter, the matter of a checkpoint called Charlie; they left a debt, a wall, because they obviously didn’t make it, because at that time and at that point in history, it was impossible to do more. Well, Helmut Kohl settled that debt with history and stands as the first great Statesman among the leaders of the post-war generation, not the first generation but the intermediate one: the generation chronologically between the Europe of today and that of the period immediately following WW II, the one that made peace progress.       

The ethical message of peace lies in its being not only “absence of war” but, in essence, the building of a common destiny. If at the time, the post-war generation of great European Statesmen, of whom we are all proud, built peace by doing away with war and sowing a seed for a harvest that would come later, the other seed was planted and also in part harvested decades later – a privilege only given to a few in history – precisely by Helmut Kohl. Firstly, because he believed in the fact that Germany needed to be staunchly European, and secondly because he believed in something that is typical of a great Christian Democrat, namely the idea of a free market that is not a solution to all problems because it leaves some in poverty, and those poor cannot be neglected in the mission of a policy-maker because, as long as there is poverty, there is a mission for a Christian politician. Indeed, this is the idea that founded social market economy as the development model of a modern Europe. An idea that Europe, to some extent, later left out of the integration process and that became the reason why the Rome Declaration rediscovered the vocation of a social Europe that cannot lose the social dimension of its unity, because when Europe loses its social dimension, it loses millions of unemployed European youths, it loses the idea of a common destiny and it leaves room for the risk assailing our time: the resurging of nationalisms that were definitively defeated with the fall of that Wall that represented the mission and the historic memory of Helmut Kohl.   

This is why this new generation of European leaders, which includes the new French President, is laden with an enormous responsibility because it is the responsibility of Kohl’s legacy and, if everything we’ve said is true, this generation is called on to shoulder Kohl’s legacy and cannot only take what, in that legacy, is beneficial but must also take on the enormous responsibility of providing for contemporary needs that arises from history’s first major threat to the European unification process, namely to Europe having had for decades “a queue at its door” of Countries wanting to join the Union while now one wants, or rather, has decided to leave it. While we engage in a painful negotiation over Brexit, we have standing behind another door the Western Balkans Countries that want to enter the Union and this is a challenge that, once again, as in the mission of the Founding Fathers De Gasperi, Shumann and Adenauer, aims at an integration process that combines peace and prosperity. This is our mission today because peace without prosperity, a peace that creates unemployment, risks creating that germ of nationalism that is the absolute threat of our time. Kohl had understood this well when, in years not so remote, he said: “The evil spirits of the past have not been definitely banned from Europe: it is up to each generation to take up again and again the task of preventing their return and to overcome the new evils and prejudice and to drop suspicions.”

I think that today Europe has several prejudices to defeat and to overcome and I also think that Helmut Kohl’s great lesson is inclusiveness: if you want to overcome prejudice and drop suspicions, be friends with your neighbours, englobe them in the process, have them share your same faith, never give them the impression that, in the common project, some always win and some always lose.

I continue to think that the legacy of this European Union is an heirloom of passion and strategic vision, a passion and vision that are useful to today’s Europe just as they were useful to post-war Europe and to Germany during the years of the fall of the Berlin Wall. By tearing down that wall, Germany paid a service to all of Europe, a service paid with the passion and vision of statesmanship. I believe that our task is to treasure that passion and vision.

Thank you.