European Parliament President Martin Schulz’s father was a policeman regularly assigned to protect dignitaries at the award ceremony of the International Charlemagne Prize in Aachen. The officer’s son was awarded one yesterday (14 May).
In his acceptance speech, Schulz, a native of Würselen, a town in the district of Aachen, North Rhine-Westphalia, recalled his roots and paid tribute to his parents.
He said that as a child he kept asking his mother where his father was and what he was doing. She took him to the Aachen Town Hall, where the ceremony of awarding one of the most prestigious European prizes has taken place since 1950.
He said that standing next to his mother in the marketplace and seeing the Danish Prime Minister Jens Otto Krag who was awarded the prize in 1966 or Dutchman Joseph Luns who was Secretary General of NATO and awarded the prize in 1967, waving from the town hall steps, he never dreamed that one day he would too be awarded the Charlemagne Prize.
“I am deeply touched, humbled and, yes, proud, as a child of this region, to be given this prestigious award by the citizens of Aachen,” Schulz said.
The Charlemagne Prize is awarded annually on Ascension Day by the city of Aachen, where Charlemagne, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, was buried. The City of Aachen refers to Charlemagne as the “founder of western culture”, and asserts that under his reign, Aachen was the spiritual and political centre of the whole of what is now western Europe.
Among the latest recipients are the current Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in his former capacity of Prime Minister of Luxembourg (2006), former NATO secretary General and EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana (2007), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (2008), Council President Donald Tusk in his former capacity of Polish Prime Minister (2010) and former Council President Herman Van Rompuy (2014).
Former Commission President José Manuel Barroso never got the Charlemagne Prize.
“Many of the Charlemagne Prize winners who have spoken here before me were architects of European integration. They built the House of Europe. As a child of the post-war era, I have had the good fortune to grow up and live in that House,” said Schulz.
He said that for many years, when he was Mayor of Aachen’s neighbouring town of Würselen, he had “the enormous privilege of experiencing Europe as a daily reality”.
“At that time, the firm conviction grew in me that political decisions must always be taken as close to the people as possible, that politics needs a human face, that politics must be both relevant to people’s lives and readily understandable,” he said.
Schulz, who joined the SDP, the Social Democratic Party of Germany at the age of 19, was elected in 1987 as mayor of Würselen, when he was 31, becoming the youngest mayor in Northern Rhine-Westphalia at that time. He is a self-made man, without university education, just as former Commission President Jacques Delors was, but an avid reader. Besides German, he is fluent in English and French and understands Italian and Dutch.
He was elected to the European Parliament in 1994. There, he became famous after criticising the then Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi for his domestic policy.
Berlusconi replied that he knew a movie producer in Italy to whom he would recommend Schulz for the role of supervisor in a Nazi concentration camp. The incident caused outrage against Berlusconi, while Schulz’s authority as European socialist leader has only grown since.
In January 2012 Schulz was elected President of the European Parliament. On November 2013, Schulz was nominated as “candidate designate” by the Party of European Socialists for the job of Commission President. Although the EPP candidate won, his campaign was considered as excellent and reportedly it impressed even German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I have […] made it my task, as president of the European Parliament, to throw open the doors and windows of the House of Europe so that people can look in and gain a better insight into what is happening inside: who does what, when, where and why. Only in this way can the trust we have lost be recovered,” said Schulz.
According to insiders, Schulz remains the unofficial highest authority of the Socialist and Democrats group.