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You are here : Home > News > Speeches > May 2005 > Speech delivered by Jean-Claude Juncker at the Plenary session of the European Parliament, on "Europe 60 years after the end of the Second World War"
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Speech delivered by Jean-Claude Juncker at the Plenary session of the European Parliament, on "Europe 60 years after the end of the Second World War"

Date of Speech : 11-05-2005

Place : Strasbourg

Speaker : Jean-Claude Juncker

Policy area : General Affairs and External Relations

Event : European Parliament plenary session

Mr President,

Mr President of the Commission,


Sixty years have passed since the end of the Second World War. We are under an burning obligation to commemorate the memory of 8 May 1945, the date of the capitulation of the Third Reich. I should like to thank the European Parliament for having fulfilled that obligation.

We are under an burning obligation to commemorate that memory which, I believe, is particularly in the memories of those who were born after the Second World War, the men and women of my generation. And when we remember 8 May 1945, the surrender of German democracy in 1933 and the terrible period that separates those two dates, we, the younger generation, must exercise considerable restraint towards that generation.

Those who, like me, were born after the Second World War, in 1954, 1955 and later, must remember with restraint because we were not direct witnesses to the tragedy that befell the European continent.

Unlike those before us, we have not seen the concentration camps and prisons where men and women were tortured and humiliated to reduce them to total degradation.

Unlike them, we have not seen the battlefields and we did not have to cross them with death in our souls, in so many cases facing death itself.

We did not have to watch, as they did, the long rows of prisoners of all nationalities crossing Europe, merging into one single  continental funeral cortege.

Those of us who were born after the Second World War have not had to face dramatic choices, whether individual or collective.

We did not have to say yes or no - we were free to bask in the post-war sun. We were spared all those dramatic choices.

Remembering the 8 May 1945 is an act that feeds our collective memories.

It is very important, at a time when direct memories and the actual experience of war or its immediate aftermath - real life with its entire range of personal experiences and noble emotions - are being transformed into history, with the distance and so-called objective references that history entails.

Today, those who were direct witnesses to that terrible time in the history of our continent are diminishing in number. So moving, those Russian veterans in their lorries in Red Square; so moving the long ranks of those who fought in the war for them and for us and who, today, can no longer walk, while we all know towards what destination they are moving. We have an burning obligation to commemorate that memory.

For the men and women of my generation, remembering means not only exercising restraint, but also showing a great deal of gratitude. First of all, for our parents’ and grandparents’ generation who, after returning from the battlefields, emerging from the concentration camps and being freed from the prisons, had many reasons to give up, to do nothing, to bemoan their fate. But they rebuilt Europe and made Europe into the finest of continents. Let us be grateful for the extraordinary achievement of the generation of those who were forced to make war, but wanted peace!


When we remember, when we feel that burning obligation to remember, we must also tell the truth. The 8 May 1945 was a day of liberation for Europe.

* (original in german, cf. infra) The 8 May 1945 was also a day of defeat. It was however the defeat of Fascism, the defeat of National Socialism and the end of the Democrats’ capitulation in the face of the horrific events that had occurred since 1933. It was, above all, a day of liberation for Germany!


* (original in german, cf. infra) I should like to say to the elected representatives of the German people in this house: the Germans have never been such good neighbours to us as they are today!


To tell the truth, on 8, 9 and 10 May, we must also show our gratitude to those who harnessed their forces and energy to the forces and energy of Europe to liberate that continent. Sixty years on, though not too late, I should like to say how grateful we Europeans must be to those young American and Canadian soldiers who came from across the seas to free Europe, although they were ignorant of the very existence of some of the countries to whose liberation they contributed. We should never forget them.


My remarks are addressed to the soldiers of the Red Army. Such losses! Such an excessive number of interrupted lives among the Russians, who gave 27 million lives to free Europe! You do not have to be smitten by a great love for the broad mass of the Russian people and for Mother Russia herself - although indeed I am - to acknowledge that Russia has deserved well of Europe.


I should like to pay special tribute to a European people who said a clear "no", although, too often, others were tempted by a muted "yes". Today, I should like to pay tribute to the British people, who said "no", and without whose contribution nothing would have been possible.


But the freedom recovered in May 1945 was not the same for everybody. After the Second World War, those of us living comfortably in our old democracies in Western Europe were able to take full advantage of our newly recovered freedom - although we were well aware of the price paid for it. But those who lived in Central and Eastern Europe did not experience that freedom for 50 years.


They lay beneath the yoke of another. The Baltic countries, whose arrival in Europe I applaud and to whom I should like to say how proud we are to have them with us, were incorporated by force into a body that was alien to them. They were subject not to the "pax libertatis", but to the "pax sovietica", which was not of their asking. These peoples, these nations sank deeper and deeper into misfortune and suffered far more than any other Europeans.


The other countries of Central and Eastern Europe did not have that extraordinary degree of self-determination that we have had in our region of Europe. Freedom was not theirs. They were forced to live under the ideological system imposed upon them. I feel great sadness when I listen to all the detrimental comments that are being made about enlargement. But today, now that the Second World War has finally ended, I say - long live enlargement!


This post-War Europe, which, without the war could never have become the Europe that we know today, this Europe, born out of the ashes of war, would never have seen the light of day had it not been for those whom we call the founding fathers of Europe. I am of course referring to the Schumans, the Bechs, the Adenauers, the de Gasperis and others who, from that post-War phrase "No more War", created a hope, a prayer and a programme for the first time in the history of our continent. Today, we must remember, with emotion and gratitude, those who had the courage to say "yes" after having said "no".

They could not have done so if they had not felt themselves carried away by the deep and elevated feelings of their peoples. Nothing great can emerge against the will of the people. We were able to create the Europe that we did after the Second World War because the European peoples never intended to relive the tragedy they had experienced twice in the 20th century.

There are the founding fathers of Europe, who are well known. There are the peoples behind the scenes, who share these elevated feelings. Then there are the philosophers, the thinkers and the politicians whom, all too often, we do not remember: Léon Blum, who dreamt of Europe in a French prison, the great Spinelli incarcerated on an island in Italy by the Italian Fascists and others, who remain nameless, but to whom we owe a great deal. I should like to welcome those who, forgotten or unknown, made possible all that was done after the Second World War.


There was the free Europe and there was the part that was paralysed by that disastrous verdict of history, Yalta, which decreed that Europe should be forever divided into two sides - two sides that were often reduced to casting murderous glances at each other across the divide, so that we were often incapable of bridging the gap.

The Cold War - the euphemistic term used to describe that other tragic period in European history - paralysed the greatest minds in Europe; it prevented major European talents from expressing the valued ideas they could have expressed had we allowed them to do so.

I trust you will allow me this digression. I was born in December 1954, but I prefer to say that I was born in 1955. I was, from the outset, brought up to respect the achievements of my father’s generation, which found itself in a terrible double bind, in that Luxembourgers born between 1920 and 1927 were forced to join the Wehrmacht and to wear a uniform that was not their own, a uniform that served ambitions that were not theirs. To be forced to wear the uniform of your enemy is indeed a terrible fate. The same situation applied to the populations of Alsace and Lorraine, to whom I pay tribute.

I grew up in the atmosphere of the Cold War when, it is said, the world was easier to understand. There were those who were with us and those who were against us. We did not know why we loved those who were with us, but we knew that we had to hate those who were not. We knew that the threat came from the other side, and that those on the other side thought that the threat came from us. So many wasted possibilities! So much time lost in Europe due to those stupid assessments in the immediate post-War period.

Today, we must rejoice that we no longer need to refer to the implacable logic of the Cold War and can make peace between the two parts of Europe.


I often think - no doubt because I am not one - of the wise men of Europe, Winston Churchill for example. In 1947, he attended the first Congress of the European Movement at The Hague, when the idea of creating the Council of Europe first saw the light of day. As a result of the Soviet Union’s refusal to allow the other Central and Eastern European countries to participate in the Marshall Plan, and in setting up the Council of Europe, the great Mr Churchill declared with his famous gift of prophecy: "Today in the West we are beginning what we shall one day finish in the East". Ladies and Gentlemen, let us be proud of having succeeded.


I recall that, in 1849, Victor Hugo wrote "One day, in Europe, the only battlefield will be the opening of the markets to ideas; one day in Europe the ballot paper will replace the bullet and the bomb". Let us be proud of having succeeded.

Let us be proud to say so to the European Parliament, the elected representative of the peoples of Europe, whose members are the heirs of those who said "no" when they needed to say "no", the heirs of those who said "yes" when "yes" was the only remaining option.

Let us be grateful to those who said "no" when it was necessary to say "no" and let us be proud of those who, today, say "yes" to the enlarged Europe, to the Europe that has seen its history and geography reconciled".

Let us be proud of those who do not want Europe to be transformed into a free trade zone and of those who, like us and millions of others, believe that Europe is a complex continent that deserves more than a free trade zone.

Let us be proud of the Europe built by those who were here before us and let us be worthy of the legacy they have left us.

(The Parliament gives the orator a standing ovation)

* German original:

Der 8. Mai 1945 war auch ein Tag der Niederlage. Aber es war die Niederlage des Faschismus, die Niederlage des Nationalsozialismus, die Niederlage der Kapitulation der Demokraten vor dem Schrecklichen, das seit 1933 passiert war. Aber es war für Deutschland auch und vor allem ein Tag der Befreiung!


Ich möchte den gewählten Vertretern des deutschen Volkes in diesem Hause sagen: Noch nie waren die Deutschen uns so gute Nachbarn wie heute!

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