Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s a great honour to be here with you today in the beautiful city of Salzburg and to receive this distinction.
I am from East Germany; and it’s been almost 15 years that I live in Barcelona. Over the last six years I have followed with a great interest the growing peaceful mobilization of the citizens of Catalonia. As you might know, more than a 75% of the Catalan people want to hold a binding referendum on their political future. Unfortunately, there is absolutely nobody on the other end of the table, willing even to listen.
I also observed that it seems very difficult to communicate the problems and hopes of those citizens in Catalonia outside their region, because there is no state behind them. For a long time the international news about this movement were very negative and far from the reality that one can observe in situ. Specially on occasions like the 11th of September, the national day of Catalonia, when more than one million people participate in huge demonstrations organized by civil organizations – not parties or the government – to express their wish to vote. And thus without breaking one single glass. I think that this should be really good news.
So this is why I decided to publish this book. Because at the bottom line it’s all about democracy, about mutual understanding and about dignity, which are basic values of the European project.
Catalonia has been an active participant of this European project even before Spain became a member of the EU, 30 years ago. They feel it is their natural home and want to support it with all their might. The fact is in the last 10 years Catalonia has become home to more than 1,5 million immigrants from all horizons, actually only 32% of the population in Catalonia is of Catalan origin. Only recently the Catalan government offered to take in 5000 refugees from Syria to help in this situation of great challenges that we are facing in the European Union. For me as a German it is also very remarkable that there is not one single representation of an extreme right party in the Catalan parliament.
Therefore, in these challenging moments for the European Union it seems very important, almost an opportunity, to give citizens in Catalonia their dignity back by letting them decide, freely and democratically, in such an important matter that will condition the future of their generations to come.
Yesterday, in the opening speeches, it was said that one of the aims of the European project was to build hope and to foster mutual understanding. That’s exactly what citizens work for in Catalonia. And that’s why I want to especially thank the Institute of European Regions because with this recognition, with this price, I think we made a little step more into the direction of the Europe we want to pass on to our children: the Europe of citizens, the Europe of Democracy. Thank you.