World leaders bid #HelmutKohl farewell, hailing a force behind united Europe

| July 1, 2017 | 0 Comments

Leaders from the United States, Russia and across Europe paid tribute to Helmut Kohl as the architect of German reunification and a driving force for European integration on Saturday (1 July), writes Francois Lenoir.

The former German Chancellor, who died on 16 June at 87, was remembered at a memorial ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg as a dedicated European who abhorred war by ex US President Bill Clinton, Russia Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and others.

“Helmut Kohl gave us the chance to be involved in something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our terms in office and bigger than our fleeting careers,” Clinton said of the man who was German chancellor from 1982 to 1998 and oversaw German reunification in 1990.

The two-hour memorial, in a city that has often changed hands and now lies in France symbolized the role Kohl played in reconciling the two erstwhile enemies France and Germany while driving European integration forward.

“He was the architect of the world order,” said Medvedev of Kohl, who skillfully negotiated reunification with communist East Germany with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. “In Russia, we’ll remember him as our friend — a wise and sincere person.”

Afterwards, Kohl’s casket was flown by helicopter across the Rhine to his hometown of Ludwigshafen, where his body was later carried in procession before being transported by riverboat to his final place of rest in Speyer.

The resting place of many rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, itself a Europe-spanning polity, Speyer Cathedral was seen by Kohl as a symbol of European unity — a place he showed to contemporary leaders including Gorbachev and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher.

“Helmut Kohl was a German patriot and a European patriot,” said Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister and close friend of Kohl who switched between German and French in his tribute. “We’ve lost a giant of the post-war era.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who served as a minister under Kohl in the 1990s but later had a falling out over his role in receiving $1 million in illegal campaign cash donations, remembered Kohl as an at-times controversial figure with numerous enemies.

“I could tell you stories as well,” she said. “But all that paled in comparison to his life’s achievements.”

Merkel said Kohl had changed the lives of millions across all of Europe.

“The lives of millions of people would have been a lot different without Helmut Kohl – including my own life,” the former East German said. “Dear Helmut Kohl, thanks to you I’m standing here today. Thanks for the chance that you made possible for me and many others.”

In the eulogy, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani called former Chancellor Kohl “a European giant, a courageous man, a protagonist for the reunification of our continent.”  President Tajani praised Dr. Kohl for having been the champion of a generation which dedicated its life to European unity, thereby bringing peace. “There is not a page in the history of modern European unification which does not have Helmut Kohl’s mark on it. He has left us a formidable legacy and many responsibilities as well”.

“Helmut Kohl was a German and a European patriot, because for him there was no contradiction between the two. For him, German and European unity went together”, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, adding that the then German Chancellor shaped his era when many others would have failed.

European Council President Donald Tusk praised Helmut Kohl for “laying the cornerstone of modern Europe” and warned that “today, the successors to this great hero of positive European history must, gathering around his coffin, examine their conscience”.

Former Prime Minister of Spain Felipe González said that he was honoured to have counted Helmut Kohl as a true friend; a friend with whom he  shared decisive moments in the history of Germany, Europe and the world. “What defined Helmut Kohl was his will – not for a German Europe, but for a European Germany”.

“They used to say Helmut Kohl’s ideas could not be achieved.  Today we say that things could not have been done otherwise”, Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev said, calling Dr Kohl “a person of the future”.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron asked those present at the ceremony to remember the friendship and passion for ideals that Helmut Kohl had brought to politics. “For those who say the EU construct is technocratic, that is because they have removed the dimensions of friendship and passion that so characterised Helmut Kohl”.

The ceremony concluded with the German national anthem and excerpts from Beethoven’s 9th symphony Ode to Joy, used as the anthem of the European Union.

The proposal to hold a European ceremony was enthusiastically advocated by Juncker, and by Kohl’s second wife Maike Kohl-Richter, who survives him.

His sons, however, will boycott the Cathedral’s funeral mass, since their father will not be laid to rest alongside Hannelore Kohl, his wife of decades.

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Category: EU, France, Frontpage, Germany

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