Laudation by Armin Laschet

Laudation by Armin Laschet

Dear First Minister Nicola Sturgeon,

Dear President of the Bundestag,

Dear Lord Mayor,

Dear members of the advisory board of the M100 Sanssouci Colloquium,

Ladies and gentlemen,


Thank you very much for the invitation, thank you very much, for providing the opportunity to hold the laudatory speech for the First Minister of Scotland.

This setting is, of course, the right one for reflecting on European public opinion. In the centuries before us, these royal courts were places of European public opinion.

I come from Aachen. Charlemagne met Alkuin from Great Britain, from York for example, in Parma in Italy, brought him to his court school, to his court. He advanced his education there and eventually became abbot at Tours in France. This was the European public that took place around royal courts. And the debates of Frederick the Great with Voltaire here in Potsdam, here in Sanssouci, are also a later example of how these courts created something like a public sphere, but of course only for the elites of that time.

And that is why the key question is: How do we create a European public sphere today without royal courts, one, as Wolfgang Schäuble has just mentioned, with a few examples that show us that it is beginning to emerge – Fridays for Future is not only a German, national movement, but it is everywhere, we will experience this on Friday on a massive scale – but we have not yet succeeded in using the technical possibilities we have to inform ourselves about the other countries.

I recalled that when the Aachen Treaty was signed, it says in the texts, between Germany and France: “We have to work more closely regarding the media”. When Adenauer and de Gaulle wrote it in 1963, if you were lucky, you could read the newspaper two days later at Le Monde or Le Figaro main station. Today you can read it on the Internet in the evening, but my thesis is that it is not read any more than it was at the time when it was hardly available at the station in 1963. And to produce this, to use the technical possibilities that we would have to inform ourselves about the other countries, in our everyday life, I believe, that is a task that the media face at this time.

Now Great Britain and Germany, including North Rhine-Westphalia, are closely linked. Our state of North Rhine-Westphalia was founded by the British. Before there was a Federal Republic of Germany, the state was there. That is our federal understanding. The states were there before they founded a federation at some point.


In Great Britain the way was the other way round. The power that had gone to Scotland was “given down” from the headquarters to Scotland, to Wales, to Northern Ireland and to England, because one knew that it was wiser not to control everything centrally, but to solve some problems decentrally. And the Scots made intensive use of it.

But this process, “Operation Marriage” it was called because Westphalia and the Rhineland had been brought together – some people said it was not a marriage, it was rather a forced marriage because it was not loved – but it was a British foundation that started with the media.

And let me remind you that the media were there before politics was there. The city of Aachen was liberated in October 1944. American troops came from the West. The city was liberated at a time when war was still raging in the rest of Germany and millions of people lost their lives. The bombing of Dresden was in February afterwards.

And democratic life began with newspapers. The license number 1 of a German newspaper was the Aachener Nachrichten, published in January 1945. There was still no city council, no state, no parliament, but the free press was there.

And that is why it is so fundamental for a state that there is a free press. And that is why what we are experiencing these days is so disturbing.

Now, in September we are celebrating 70 years of the Bundestag, 70 years of the Federal Republic of Germany, and we have thought that everything that has been fought for will eventually be viewed as self-evident. And suddenly we see that free press, that independence of the judiciary, that everything that one has stood for is suddenly questioned again everywhere in Europe, is questioned everywhere in the world. The fact that you can rule the greatest power in the world by declaring the country’s most important media to be fake news is a new situation in which we find ourselves.

Today is the 25th anniversary of the death of Sir Karl Popper. He wrote the book “The Open Society and Its Enemies” in 1945, when the world was rearranged here in Potsdam. He could publish that again tomorrow and we would have the enemies of this open society again, who would appear more aggressive and louder than we were used to in the last decades.

And that is why there is much that connects Germany, and the German countries, with Scotland, with Scotland’s efforts to uphold these European values, even in a time of populism.

And, in Germany, it has gone out of fashion to combine peace with the European project. People say, yes, that’s what your grandparents said, that used to be important between Germany and France, yes, we understood that, but it’s no longer a question of peace today, Europe. But ask the Irish and Northern Irish, and those who signed the Good Friday Agreement, what it would mean if the Irish border could become an EU external border. And, as we all say in every speech, we must protect the external borders. Can you imagine how this external border between Northern Ireland and Ireland would then be protected? It would be closed. And what could that mean for the peace process in Northern Ireland?

This small question alone, which I am sure is hardly a factor in Brexit, shows how important this European project is, irrespective of the economic issues, irrespective of the supply chains that link us all and irrespective of what Scotland has made of its special situation, which is to be a dynamic region in the middle of this United Kingdom, with all the opportunities offered by the European internal market.

We owe much to the Scots and the British, even after 1945. We remember that many Scottish soldiers fought in the British army and were stationed in Germany after the war. One from Glasgow at the 51st Highland Divisionsregemt gave birth to a son named David McAllister. He became Prime Minister in Germany and served in the German army afterwards. The idea that the son of an occupying officer at the beginning ended up in an army of German officers is a special sign of how closely the countries were connected and how we shaped this new situation after the Second World War.

Scottish Ingenuity sounds much more beautiful than German engineering and is something we could use more in Germany. The Scots have shaped our entire Western philosophy, art and culture much more than one would expect with a region of five million people.

Adam Smith as the father of the national economy, or David Hume as the philosopher of the Enlightenment, are familiar to us all. And few know that the term “common sense” is a concept from the Scottish Enlightenment. Sometimes, in these heated and polarizing debates of today, I would wish for more of this “common sense”, which the Scots have developed as a concept, in our debates as well.

And with these Scottish virtues, the Scotland of today has become a modern, technology-oriented region, looking forward above all, thanks in part to its energetic Head of Government. This can be seen, for example, in the high value that equality of opportunity in schools and universities and equality between men and women enjoy in Scotland. And you can see it in the large number of successful start-ups in Scotland. From very traditional universities such as St Andrews and Edinburgh the future is tapped today.

So it is no wonder that Nicola Sturgeon is the first minister in her country to champion Britain’s retention in the European Union with passion and very good arguments.

Dear Nicola, you are a friend of Europe and a reliable pro-European voice in Britain. And your’s has been a strong a voice for cooperation and reason in the whole debate about Britain leaving the European Union.

Therefore, I am happy that your advocacy for a united Europe is being honored with this year’s M100 Media Award. Congratulations.

And dear Mrs. Sturgeon, this was not an easy way: At the age of 16 you joined the Scottish National Party. National Party sounds to us like it’s more on the political right. It’s a left-wing party, David McAllister once explained to me, a party that sees itself as a people’s party. You joined at 16 to strengthen Scotland’s role.

After a successful law degree and first political steps at the university, there were again and again setbacks at elections. Sometimes it doesn’t help. I know that. Setbacks in elections can strengthen you.

But, dear Nicola, you did not let yourself be discouraged. You stuck to your convictions, to your commitment to the people in your constituency in the south of Glasgow and to a Scottish accent in politics. And now, for five years, you have been the First Minister of your country and are seen far beyond Scotland and the United Kingdom as a far-sighted and energetic politician.

There is no doubt about your values, about your intelligence and also about your objectivity in how you conduct politics, trying to argue against those who have a different political opinion.

And it is always the common sense, seeking the common, the counter-model of “My Land First”, but developing common solutions, that distinguishes them in particular. And it is not for nothing that, in a joint interview for Die Welt and La Republica, you point out that the polarisation we are currently seeing in the United Kingdom is partly inspired by the worldwide wave of populism. You say literally: “Much of it comes from Trump’s political handbook.”

Now we are all transatlantics. All close friends of the United States. I have just described how we in the West were liberated by the Americans. Many people still know that. How Berlin lived from the Airlift, from the solidarity of the Americans in difficult times. But that does not mean that we are satisfied with every step of the administration. And in such times it is worth looking into the regions. I met governors from the United States a few weeks ago. They say: we say yes to the Paris climate agreement.

The president has pulled out, the administration in Washington has pulled out, but California continues to work on the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Washington State continues to work on these goals. Our old friend Phil Murphy, governor of New Jersey, is committed to Paris’ climate change goals. And that is why we now have a cooperation between German states and American states to continue for the time when perhaps the administration will be a different one again.

And so I ask myself, no matter how the British decide now, no matter how the Scots define their path for themselves when it comes to Brexit: shouldn’t we try between the countries to shape cooperation with those who think pro-European also in the future? Should we not continue to try to transfer the acquis communautaire of the European Union, at least in the areas where we have competence, to the state possibilities, the constitutional possibilities, which Scotland has in the United Kingdom?

Germany, by the way, has an example. Until 1985, Berlin, West Berlin, was formally not in a congruent position with the German Bundestag. And yet West Berlin always adopted every federal law as a Berlin law, thus creating a similar legal area.

If Scotland can succeed in maintaining its European orientation in the future for the fields in which it is responsible, then I believe that this is a perspective that looks beyond the day.

And that is why I wish first of all to all those who are still endeavouring to find a good path for Great Britain close to Europe or in Europe, the decision will be taken in Great Britain, all of whom we wish much strength, much success, also much legal success – this week there may be important decisions pending before the Supreme Court.

We are doing everything we can, with town twinning, youth and student exchanges, scientific cooperation, and, and, and, to stay in close contact with Scotland and Britain.

And we especially thank you, dear Nicola Sturgeon, for your clear attitude, your tireless pro-European commitment.

The “M100 Media Award” is a sign of gratitude, a sign of encouragement, a sign of recognition for your commitment to Europe.

I would like to congratulate the 2019 awardee. Congratulations.