I am deeply saddened by the news of the passing away of Helmut Kohl, the former federal German Chancellor. He was a true confidant and ally to Europe and to me personally, and for this he will be missed. He led the way and accompanied me personally on all European journeys.
Helmut Kohl filled the European house with life – not only by building bridges to the West and the East but also by never ceasing to propose ever better ways on how to take Europe forward. This enabled him to see historic meaning and the perspective that comes from that.
Without Helmut Kohl there would have been no euro. Right from the start, he understood the political and economic significance, the immeasurable value and the attraction of a single currency for our continent. For him, as for his closest partner, François Mitterrand, Europe was a peace project. Whatever the political issue the former Chancellor would take on, he never forgot how the European project saved our continent after the World Wars. He therefore saw it not only as a question of prosperity but above all as a duty to jointly assume responsibility for the future. When Helmut Kohl visited the battlefields at Verdun and showed through a poignant gesture his friendship for the French President, this was not gesture-politics but an expression of what he was aiming to achieve. Indeed, in his acceptance speech after receiving the Charlemagne Prize with François Mitterand, he emphasised that what the people of France and Germany had in common was a pre-requisite, a basis and a lasting stimulus for the process of European unification.
German unification, which we have him more than anyone to thank for, was invariably seen by Kohl as part of the European project. This also explains why, when faced with the choice between forging ahead as individual nations or proceeding in unison as a continent, he always sided with Europe, paying particularly close attention to the sensitivities and interests of smaller countries as he did so. This all reflected his attitude, which is also mine, namely that discussion and political balance are the unique assets and particular magic that embody Europe. The fact that Helmut Kohl took this stance when it was not a popular one should be a lesson to us all.
Helmut Kohl was a great European and a very good friend. The former is an objective observation, the latter a very personal one. He was someone who supported me, was kind and had an ability to see into other people's lives. Moreover, he could view the world in a non-partisan way. And he had a great deal of humour. As a politician he was able to bring politics closer to the people because he was also someone for whom words and political action were one and the same. I am proud to have known him. I wish us as much courage, patience and determination to take on the challenges facing Europe as unwaveringly as Helmut Kohl. Both of us were and will forever be united by our shared vision of Europe, a matter close to both our hearts. For me it is therefore as much a political as a personal wish to help his dream for Europe become a reality.
Only three people have been bestowed Honorary Citizenship of Europe: Jean Monnet, Jacques Delors and Helmut Kohl. For me, that says everything. But it also makes our loss that much greater, both politically and on a human level. In memory of Helmut Kohl, I have therefore requested that the European flag be flown at half-mast outside the European institutions.
My thoughts are with the people of Germany and, above all, with those who were closest to him.