Quirinal Palace 24/06/2008

Speech by the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, at the ceremony to confer the honour of Knight Grand Cross on President Hans-Gert Pöttering


(Quirinal Palace, 24 June 2008)

Mr President of the Senate, Mr President of the Chamber of Deputies, Distinguished civil and religious authorities, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: I wish to thank you all most cordially for having accepted our invitation.

And as a former member of the European Parliament, I should like to extend my warm greetings to the large number of the Italian Members of the European Parliament who are committed there to offer their input into the debate on the Union's legislation and policies, ranging beyond the Italian domestic political dispute.

Our intention with the conferral of the title of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic on Hans-Gert Pöttering has been to honour a distinguished representative of the traditions and values of the European cause, and as a protagonist of the institutional life of the Union of States and peoples of which our two countries were among the leading advocates, in addition to being a sincere friend of Italy.

The European cause has been a formidable factor in creating cohesion and bringing closer the peoples belonging to a continent that had experienced antagonisms and lethal divisions, reversals and authoritarian aberrations, but which, in the depths of its being, had never lost that indestructible link with the common heritage of civilisation built up over the course of a long history.

Drawing on that heritage and in the light of the dramatic experiences of the 20th century, Europe embarked on a definitive peace-making and democratic unification process, which was inevitably limited to Europe's Western core initially, before subsequently expanding to become the great 27-member Union.

And Hans-Gert Pöttering has played an active part in this process, with the loftiest convictions and passion: his membership of the European family of People's Parties, and his intimate attachment to Christian values, set his commitment into a continuous relationship with bold and farsighted forebears who had patiently and insightfully built up the European Community: men like Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi, Giulio Andreotti, Emilio Colombo and Helmut Kohl.

But during the course of almost thirty years of intensive participation in the work of the European Parliament, he was one of the craftsmen of that climate of constructive debate and dialogue, and common dedication to the cause of European integration which has characterised the relations between his and the other European political families. He did this in particular when serving in the crucial post as President of the People's Party Group. It was in that capacity that I knew him and appreciated his qualities, after having met him for the first time in 1998 in Bonn, as the President of the Europa-Union Deutschland at an event dedicated to the birth of the euro.

Our friend Pöttering is aware of "my sense of belonging to the Parliamentary institution and to Europe", as I emphasised when addressing the Strasbourg Parliament at his invitation in February last year. I remain convinced that in the debate, as it stands at the present moment, on relations between European integration and our citizens, we must consider the increased value of the European Parliament and its enhanced powers, as the lynchpin of the democracy of the Union, to be central, and view organic and close cooperation between the European Parliament and the national parliaments as the high road to be followed.

This, moreover, has been the purpose behind the innovations enshrined in the constitutional Treaty - subsequently the Lisbon Treaty - whose vitality and fitness to meet today's strongly felt need to restore the confidence of our citizens in the European project we must therefore reaffirm, after the Irish referendum.

Italy and Germany are moving in this same direction, in total harmony, in a relationship of friendship and common understanding of which you, President Pöttering, are a witness and bearer.

Welcome among the ranks of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.