Speech at the Hessian Peace Prize award ceremony

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I would like to start by thanking you, Mr President [Mr Norbert Kartmann, President of the Hessian Parliament], Madam Minister [Ms Lucia Puttrich, Minister of European and Federal Affairs of the State of Hessen], all of you for your kind words, but most of all for this honour.

I am also very thankful that you have come to Brussels for this ceremony – as you have highlighted this is the first time that this happens and I am very much aware of the fact that it does is not only a courtesy to myself, which I appreciate, but I know that this is first and foremost a tribute to the European Union, as you said Madam Minister, as a force for peace in our very difficult times.

Two years after the deal with Iran [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] was signed, we see and we breathe a very different atmosphere in global affairs and in these days receiving this prize is quite significant. It is not always easy to find or to build the same spirit of collective responsibility that made the Iran deal possible.

The work to achieve win-win solutions requires patience, perseverance, as you said, sometimes even stubbornness and a lot, a lot of strength. Many are tempted in these times to seek unilateral action, shortcut. Everyone seems to want to show their strength, instead of showing their wisdom. As if they were not the same. As if wisdom was not the biggest strength you can show, the most difficult to achieve, the most difficult to preserve and also the most difficult to share. I believe we live in times of confusion.

Many believe that tough times – as ours – require tough men, strong men – it is always men – and by being strong means acting alone, being tough, being hard. Well, I believe the European way has shown us all that you can be strong and cooperative and that actually your strength lies in how much you manage to be cooperative. You might manage to be strong and soft, strong with a smile. Actually, I often see that a smile, a patient work to build solutions, cooperative solutions, require much more strength that you can imagine and that it gives you much more strength that you can imagine.

For those of us who took part in the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, it is absolutely clear that peace and security are first and foremost a collective cooperative commitment. We wouldn’t have reached a deal without everyone’s contribution – from the European Union to Iran and the six powers at the table. It is not out of modesty, it is a deep conviction: peace is a collective cooperative responsibility. There is no other way of building peace.

And this is how we, Europeans, understand peace and security. And I believe this is also how you understand peace, otherwise you have not expressed this strong political sign you are giving today with very wise words. This prize was often awarded to the mediators, to the negotiators who worked hard to make peace possible.

And I would like to mention the first person who received the prize back in 1994. It was right after the Oslo Accords, but the prize did not go to one of the famous men who shook hands on the White House lawn. If I am not wrong, the award went to Marianne Heiberg, a Norwegian researcher and diplomat who had been crucial in the talks leading to the accord.

Because peace requires the courage of leaders, true, like Rabin, Peres and Arafat in that case, but it also requires the courage, the patience and hard work of many “hidden figures” like Marianne Heiberg. Peace is always the result of a collective effort, of a team work.

And the story of our deal with Iran is also a collective story, a success story. The deal would have not happened without the wisdom, the political leadership and the courage, a lot of courage, of the ministers sitting around that table and the President, Prime Ministers and Chancellors. I would like to, if you allow me, to thank one of those ministers who was sitting around the table and that is today the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who showed wisdom, leadership and also a good dose of friendship which helps building trust in difficult times.

The outcome of that collective cooperative work was a good deal, a strong deal, made to stand the test of time. Because we know that we need a deal exactly when trust is not there. Otherwise you would not need to put words on paper. We were shaping the deal exactly to resist the test of time, and even of difficult times, and even of changing administrations. That deal would not have been possible without the teams that were accompanying the ministers and our team, the team of the European Union, without my predecessors Javier Solana and Catherine Ashton. It would not have happened without the hidden figures of our negotiating team, great professionals, most of them women starting from Helga Schmid [Secretary General of the European External Action Service]. A team – the European Union team – that has literally written the more than 100 pages full of very technical details that constitute an agreement that is made to last.

A deal based on verifications and not on goodwill. A deal where everyone – starting from Iran, but not only Iran – can be held accountable for any violations with a strong verification regime.

In just two days from now, on Friday, we will convene again in Vienna for our regular meeting of the Joint Commission I coordinate, which oversees the deal’s implementation in all its parts. And in these two years the International Atomic Energy Agency has certified six times – not once, six times – the full implementation of the deal’s provisions. So it is a strong deal and it is a deal that is there to stay.

There is also another reason why this collective process made the deal so strong. Because the deal with Iran doesn’t simply belong to the parties that worked on it and made it possible and for sure it does not belong to one or two countries alone. It belongs to the entire international community. It was endorsed by the UN Security Council and as you rightly pointed out, Madam Minister, the deal has made the region and the whole world more secure: it halted the risk of a new and more devastating conflict and opened new opportunities for cooperation in the region and beyond. The deal with Iran belongs to all those who are more secure thanks to its full implementation, it belongs to the entire international community, to the entire global population.

In Vienna we achieved security through cooperation. We built peace with multilateralism. And this is the real vocation of the European Union. We are a cooperative force for peace and security. We have a long history of violence that has taught us that our national interests are much better served through cooperation with our neighbours. This is the strength of the European Union experience. We know that making peace, making business together – economic cooperation was at the basis of the European Union beginning -, making peace, making business together is much more convenient for our citizens than making war. It is a very simply truth that many leaders a lot of times tend to forget.

We learnt in Europe that military might is sometimes necessary – and this is why we are working so hard in these months to strength the European Union capacity to act as a security provider, including through our defence pillar – but we also know that military might is never sufficient alone. We understood, thanks to our history, that cooperative, win-win solutions, may be difficult – actually are always difficult including inside our Union – sometimes are painful to achieve, but the outcome is always better, stronger and much more sustainable through time. This is the European way to peace and security and I think we can be proud of it.

And today’s world truly needs a cooperative force for peace. I would say that the European Union is more needed today than it has ever been in history. The problems we face are more complex than ever, the conflicts more intricate and the power struggles much more violent than before. Yet instead of investing in our multilateral institutions, some are talking about disinvesting, starting from the UN system which needs all our active support. Instead of building new opportunities for cooperation, some are questioning the international rules we have so hardly built together over the last century or over the last years.

But if we look at the main crises of our world, from Syria to North Korea, it is absolutely clear that there are no unilateral solutions, that there are no military solutions and that only international cooperation can bring peace and security to our citizens.

In over six years of Syrian war we should all have understood that peace will require an agreement that is national, regional and global at the same time. We have seen it before: when global powers negotiated a truce with no local support, the truce did not hold. And local ceasefires with no international backing were always short-lived.

Today we have the duty to turn the agreement on de-escalation zones in Syria into a national ceasefire and to turn this into the political conditions to advance the talks in Geneva, under the UN auspices. And this result can only be achieved if we all cooperatively join forces to support the work of the United Nations in Geneva. We can explore different initiatives, different formats, but what truly matters is that all initiatives, all formats, all photo opportunities provide a convergence towards the same objective.

This has always been the guiding light for our European Union, in our work for Syria and for Syrians. You are reminding us very kindly the work we have done on this. We are not only the main donor for the immediate needs of the Syrian people because we care about them inside Syria and outside Syria. But we have always put all our resources at the service of peace, of people – our diplomatic initiatives, our convening power of more than 80 nations and international organisations that gathered here in Brussels just to send a signal and to work together and also our commitment to the reconstruction of Syria when a political transition will be agreed and under way.

The path towards peace can be long, and frankly, the work can be very frustrating at times. But even in difficult times, there are reasons to be hopeful that peace is always possible. You were asking how are deals possible, how do you make that? I believe that first and foremost you have to accept the risks, take the risks. You can fail, but the biggest failure is giving up without even trying. That is for sure a way of failing. Second, identifying common interests and making them emerge. This is by the way the golden rule also within the European Union. There is always an added-value in finding an agreement and acting together, but then I believe the real key to achieving deals is believing it is always possible. If you do not believe yourself that a negotiation can have a result it is very difficult to achieve any kind of outcome and keeping this hope, keeping this awareness, that change even in the most difficult circumstances is possible and that these circumstances can change at a certain moment.

I believe it is the basis also for the nuclear deal we have achieved with Iran. Because, as you mentioned, we achieved the deal with Iran after some twelve years of difficult negotiations, sometimes bitter confrontation. I referred before to the possibility of being strong with a smile, sometimes we don’t really have a smile, but it happened after twelve years and we proved all the sceptics wrong. I remember very well in that year many were saying it is never going to happen and then we reached the deal, they were saying it is never going to be implemented, and then six months afterwards it was implemented, they were saying it is never going to hold. And now we are two years after with six-time certification of the full implementation of the agreement. So, yes, positive things can happen.

And this year we have other examples of positive change that can happen. Think of Colombia that after half a century of conflict is finding peace again – difficult but possible. Think of a place much closer to us: just a few months ago, I was in Mitrovica, in Kosovo, crossing a bridge that finally unites the two parts of the city and the Serb and Kosovar community.

In all these stories, and there are many others, these stories of building peace, step by step, brick by brick the European Union played a prominent role – as a mediator, as a facilitator, as cooperative force for peace.

Indeed, we all wish we could live in different times, more peaceful and more serene. Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose the kind of times we live in even if the generations before us lived in even more difficult times here in Europe and we should always remember that.

I am lucky enough to see the European Union from the outside, with the eyes of our partners in the world. I suffer so much when I see that others see the strength of Europe and sometimes our citizens forget. From Chile to Japan, to Addis Abeba, to Canada, people look at Europe and say: you are the first market in the world, you are the second largest economy in the world, you are the place where human rights, including social rights, are better protected, you are the most successful peace project of history, what is wrong with you? There are plenty of problems, plenty of problems, and here again change is possible. But I think sometimes we do not realise how lucky, but also how good we have been to build something so strong – looked from the outside you realise how good our European Union is.

Again, we have a lot to change to make it better. But for sure it is not easy times and the level of unpredictability, uncertainty, turmoil we are going through is quite unprecedented. But, again, as I said, we do not get to choose the kind of times we live in, but we can choose to act, to try and change the conditions in our times together with those who share our values, our principles, our approaches and our desire for peace.

And for this reason, I have decided to donate this prize today that you awarded to me to the Young Leaders’ Academy, YaLa. It is a group of young Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs who are trying to change our times, their times and to build peace together concretely through dialogue and cooperation in the region in their daily lives.

The first edition of this Peace Prize celebrated the Oslo Accords. So for me it is only natural to donate my award to these young people, men and women, who are trying to save Oslo by turning the promise of Oslo into reality.

President Peres used to say that, I quote, “the future requires believers”, because “the future is built not inherited.” We have not inherited a very peaceful world, but we can try and build a more peaceful one, together, as a cooperative force for peace with the courage and the strength of the European wisdom.

I thank you very much.