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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Speech by Commission President Jean Claude Juncker on the occasion of the 75th birthday of Wolfgang Schäuble

Offenburg, 18 September 2017

Dear Wolfgang, dear Ingeborg,

Dear family, dear Regional Chairman,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have been told that I have ten minutes for my speech. I would need that much time just to deliver the first half of my introduction as there is so much more to say about Wolfgang Schäuble than can be said in ten minutes.

Contrary to what you might think, it is actually not that easy for me to give a speech about Wolfgang Schäuble. I know him too well. You can think of much more to say when praising someone you don't know that well than when praising someone you have been with through thick and thin.

As things currently stand, we are a perfect couple in that when he receives an honour, I pay tribute to him, and when I receive an honour or award, he pays tribute to me. In fact, were you to read both of our tributes, you would find us confusingly similar when we talk about one other.

Today, it is me speaking about him again. I would like to bring together what the Federal Chancellor spoke of, namely Wolfgang Schäuble's achievements for German unity and his work for Europe. These are really two sides of the same coin. Because standing up for German unity, negotiating it – and sometimes forcing it through – goes hand in hand with working for Europe. I have always seen German reunification as a gift to European history. And I do not understand why people in Germany are subsequently no longer proud of the achievement of reunification – others would not have managed this.

Wolfgang Schäuble comes from a border region. Home for him is on the Alsace border, on the border with France. The Rhine – this dramatic European icon – after being for many centuries a body of water that divided central Europe, now ties the friendship between us.

People from border regions are patriots, but patriots in their own way, as their thoughts and feelings are always permeated by the music heard from the other side of the border that was. Coming from Luxembourg, I know this all too well. In Luxembourg, you are never too far from a border. This makes us experts in all border-related questions. I therefore know that borders enrich us when they are not used as borders but rather as links between peoples and nations.

I have worked together with Wolfgang Schäuble for many years. I am not actually sure how long we have known each other. It is certainly almost as long as you have known him. We have known each other for centuries. We have always worked very well together. That's because we are both lawyers. This connects us although, – and I will come back to this – lawyers often argue. Yet it also unites us as our thought patterns are similar. We have worked well together as we are both Christian Democrats.

This is a week in which matters. If it were up to me, I would see things continue as they have done, going well for Germany and for Europe. Furthermore, we were both – and he still is – Finance Ministers. And, as President of the Eurogroup – a previous side job of mine which was by no means subject to entertainment tax – I worked very well with Wolfgang Schäuble. There are more attributes I could add to the non-exhaustive list presented here by the Chancellor.

Wolfgang Schäuble sees the nuances. Yet he doesn't always express these in full since, in his view – which I have always admired – it is essential not to distract from the heart of a problem by making the sideshow sound attractive.

He is a man who is there on the square where the balls roll and the music plays. We have done a great deal together and have often argued – although not fiercely or aggressively – but have always told each other what we think. In Europe, this is not what normally happens. Many try to patch up their differences and end up with shaky compromises, but no solution. Wolfgang Schäuble is man of compromise, as compromise is part of democracy. Above all, however, he is a man of solutions. Europe therefore owes the German Finance Minister a great deal.

He is also very particular about the truth. When he was once particularly angry with me, he said to me ‘You are a Catholic, so you can confess. I am an evangelical Christian and have to tell the truth'. Ecumenism could therefore become a new topic for us. When I once asked him ‘What do you think of the new French Finance Minister; we have seen so many?', he replied, as is typical of him: ‘Whoever the French Finance Minister is, he is a friend'. I would therefore like to highlight, and this is often forgotten, Wolfgang Schäuble's tireless efforts and persistent fight to strengthen the Franco-German alliance. He is one of those Germans who, even in times of doubt, still has a good word to say for France. He is not one to speak badly of others but is someone who, despite widely different points of view, inches closer to others. If we do not do this in Europe, we will not succeed. Someone like Wolfgang Schäuble makes sure that we do not run past each other in Europe but move in the same direction.

Therefore, dear Wolfgang, you are someone who, on your 75th birthday, and after everything you have experienced and enabled others to experience, and after everything you have had to put up with, has made the world a better place – which is something that cannot be said of many people.

I wish you a Happy Birthday and may God bless you!


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