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Speech on the occasion of the official Europe-Anniversary reception at the city of Castrop-Rauxel (Germany)

Castrop-Rauxel (Germany), Saturday, 13 August 2022, 7 pm (City hall)

Mr Mayor,
Dear members of Parliament and the European Parliament,
Dear representatives of the twin cities,
Dear youth representatives,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour and a great pleasure for me to be with you today to celebrate the official Europe-Anniversary of your city.

It is an important day for Castrop-Rauxel. My heartfelt greetings to the Mayor of Castrop-Rauxel, Mr Rajko Kravanja, who is celebrating today 60 years of European activities and European commitment of his city.

Your consistent endeavours were rewarded. On 19 September 1962, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe decided to award the Flag of Honour to Castrop-Rauxel for its local European engagement.

This Flag of Honour which was awarded to your city is one of the awards of the Europe Prize, created by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 1955. The Flag of Honour is the second distinction of the Europe Prize, followed by the Plaque of Honour and finally the Europe Prize which is the highest distinction, awarded to municipalities for their active promotion of the European ideal.

Today, this Europe-Anniversary marks a culminating point in the history of your city. Today, we are honouring not only you, Mr Mayor, who has done so much for your town, but also your colleagues, your fellow citizens and your country, Germany.

First of all, I would like to say a few words about your city and its accomplishments.

This Europe anniversary is a natural consequence of the multiple dynamics permanently taking place in your city over the years, both in the public and the private spheres. It is largely based on European ideas and collaboration, mutual learning with other countries and cultures, respect for human and environmental rights, all within a framework of peace.

In 1949, the first European twinning of Castrop-Rauxel was concluded with Wakefield in England, followed by Vincennes in France, Kuopio in Finland, Zehdenick in Brandenburg, Nowa Ruda in Poland, Trikala in Greece and Zonguldak in Turkey. These twinnings are regular and rich in exchanges.

I congratulate you on your European accomplishments and activities over the last 60 years, to name but a few: exchanges and educational projects with the young people of the twin towns, regular twinning celebrations; cultural, university, sports and economic exchanges with the partner towns as well as celebration of Europe Day: the European idea is an integral part of associations, schools, culture, sport and the economy of your city.

Another important moment for your city: in 2021, it was awarded the label of the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia as an "active European city". It seems to me that this honorary title sums up your city well and deserves our admiration.

I am impressed by all your European actions and achievements since 1962, especially those for young people and all the activities foreseen which will continue throughout the year and into 2023.

All these events show that your city is very committed in promoting European values and is willing to pursue these initiatives.

That is why I encourage your municipality to continue to participate in the competition and apply as soon as possible for the next distinction of the Europe Prize: the Plaque of Honour of the Council of Europe. This award would be a further recognition of your European commitment and would allow your municipality to extend its contacts with other European cities even further and to share with them on topics of common interest.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about the organisation which conferred the Flag of Honour on you and which I have the honour of representing here today.

The Council of Europe - not to be confused with the European Union - is the oldest of the European institutions. Founded in 1949, it has 46 member states, making it the widest forum for European co-operation. It is the only European organisation covering almost the whole continent. It monitors its member States' compliance with their commitments in the fields of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, and it carries out that task fully and effectively.

In particular, the Council of Europe operates through the governments represented in the Committee of Ministers and the national parliaments represented in its Parliamentary Assembly. And it is this Parliamentary Assembly which I am representing today. It is therefore on behalf of the 46 Council of Europe member States with over 700 million inhabitants that I would like to extend my most sincere and warmest congratulations to you.

Dear Mr Kravanja, local and regional authorities are the very first point of contact for the public and they, therefore, have a key role in implementing democracy. The challenges our societies have to face today – consequences of the economic crises, erosion of social protection mechanisms, growing intolerance and violence, even war in Europe – are complex in their nature and require a comprehensive and joint response at national, regional, and local level. I strongly encourage you to further develop your European activities, especially for young people. Young people must be supported, encouraged, and even more particularly in these pandemic times.

Solidarity is also an important criterion in obtaining the Europe Prize: this is why I encourage your city to develop solidarity activities with its partner cities or other cities across Europe. Climate change, the health crisis, and recent conflicts in the world like Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine put populations in extreme precariousness, and European cities must show their support and provide help.

German cities have always been among the most active in the campaign for the Europe Prize, and I am sure that Castrop-Rauxel is one of the cities which could make progress towards winning the Europe Prize.

Mr Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for everything that you do to promote mutual understanding and friendship towards others.

LONG LIVE CASTROP-RAUXEL!

LONG LIVE OUR DEMOCRATIC, FREE AND UNITED EUROPE!

Thank you for your attention.