Laudatory remarks by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö  at the occasion of President Gauck being awarded the Ewald-von-Kleist-Award during the Munich Security Conference, 18th February 2017

We are gathered here tonight to honour and celebrate the ground-breaking work of my dear friend, Joachim Gauck. I want to thank Ambassador Ischinger and the Munich Security Conference for this decision. It shows, once again, the wisdom and foresight of this well-respected forum. This award could not go to a more deserving person.

Dear Joachim, we had the honour to enter into office almost at the same time, just a few weeks apart in March 2012. It was a long road. In the late 1980s probably neither of us anticipated what was to come. I was just a freshly elected first-term Member of Parliament, mostly thinking how to get re-elected.

But in your case the route to the office was a particularly unlikely one. It all looks so simple on the map. It is less than 250 kilometres from your former church in Rostock to the Bellevue Castle in Berlin. But before a Protestant priest from the GDR could become the Federal President of a reunified Germany, walls needed to fall, the division of Europe needed to be overcome, an entire historical era needed to end.

It was people like you that brought about a change for the better. As you said in Maastricht last week, your dream was a united and free Europe. And as you have pointed out from the very beginning of your presidential term, past experiences of finding solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges should also encourage us in the present. History is not all doom and gloom, it also gives us hope as we look into the future.

German history has had more than its share of doom and gloom, but your country has also excelled in coming to terms with its difficult past. In the first decade following German reunification, you were the personal embodiment of this process. Under your guidance, the ”Gauck Office”, as the agency quickly became known, dealt with the toxic legacy of the Stasi system in a uniquely responsible manner. Opening the Stasi files opened the door for reconciliation. Justice prevailed, most wounds were healed.

Freedom has been a recurring theme of your professional life. The importance of seeing freedom and justice as two sides of the same coin, as the necessary preconditions for each other, has resonated strongly in your speeches throughout your presidency.

Speaking about freedom in this particular city also brings to mind the words Münchener Freiheit. The square carrying that name is not far away from here, serving as a valuable reminder of the resistance to National Socialism. On a lighter note, I have been told that it is also a name of a local pop group famous in the 1980s, its music representing the Neue Deutsche Welle.

I have to admit that I am a lot more familiar with an entirely different ”new German wave”, something you, Joachim, launched while opening this Conference three years ago.

”Are we doing what we could do to stabilise our neighbourhood in the East and in Africa? Are we doing what we have to do to counter the threat of terrorism?” These were some of the questions you posed to Germany three years ago. Those questions are even more valid today, and they can be addressed to all of us in Europe.

You sparked a lively debate on foreign and security policy not only in Germany but also in Europe. As a close European partner of Germany, Finland has been participating in this discussion with keen interest. In a time when our common European values, norms and principles are under attack from a number of directions, external and internal, we warmly welcome a more active Germany.

But it is not only security but the very future of Europe that is at stake. Over the years I have had the privilege of listening to your steadfast and pro-European interventions in the Arraiolos Group of EU heads of states. Let me take one example I will never forget. On that occasion many of our colleagues complained that their people are not at all satisfied with the Union. You listened patiently, and then noted: “But have you forgotten to tell your people how much your countries have benefited from the EU?”

You echoed those sentiments last week. And you also expanded your call, urging the citizens, particularly the young, to come to the defence of our common Europe.

We should all heed this call. The time to defend Europe is now. Never again should we force ourselves to lament how “we accuse ourselves for not standing to our beliefs more courageously, for not praying more faithfully, for not believing more joyously, and for not loving more ardently.”

Ladies and gentlemen, dear Joachim,

As you elegantly noted in your farewell speech a few weeks ago, democracy requires a sense of responsibility from all citizens. You yourself are a prime example of responding to the call of duty. Quite literally, since one February evening five years ago it was a phone call from the Chancellor that diverted your taxi route from the Berlin airport. Instead of having a shower at home (”Ich bin noch nicht einmal gewaschen”, you memorably said), you were brought directly into a press conference announcing your nomination and upcoming election as President.

Not every citizen will get a similar phone call, but there is plenty of work for us all in keeping our societies and our common Europe together. I believe and hope that we all will continue to benefit from your invaluable contributions to the defence of democracy as a private citizen in the years ahead. I know that your ability to defend individuals while sustaining a sense of community will continue to serve us well. I salute you, dear Joachim.