Details from Aachen's medieval cathedral.

Society for the International Charlemagne Prize
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This archived article was published in the spring of 2004
Europe’s premier Parliamentarian
receives 2004 Charlemagne Prize
A report by Deutsche Welle

Pat Cox, the Irish-born European Parliament President who oversaw the enlargement of the European Union (EU) from 15 to 25 member states, has been awarded Germany's prestigious Charlemagne prize (Karlspreis) for his efforts to unite Europe - or what the Irishman describes as "the political cause of my life."

History of the Charlemagne Prize (Karlspreis) | Giscard d'Estaing, the 2003 winner | Aachen's 14th century City Hall |

The jury awarding the Charlemagne prize described Mr Cox as a “dynamic full-blooded European" and as one who stands for a democratic Europe unlike any other. The prize is awarded annually in recognition of personal contributions to European unity.

When the 51-year-old Irishman collected the distinguished Charlemagne prize in Germany's historic city of Aachen on 20 May 2004, he spoke of the crowning achievement that was EU enlargement on 1 May 2004. Now that the historic date has passed, he said it is up to all EU citizens to discover and realise Europe's potential. He also spoke of the need to adopt a strong, yet simple constitution for the EU.

Although Pat Cox has resigned from Presidency of the European Parliament, many EU observers expect that he'll return to European politics.

"Serving as an MEP for 15 years and as president for almost two and half years has been the great experience of my life," Mr Cox said during his emotional farewell from the European Parliament earlier this month.

Born in Dublin on 28 November 1952 as the son of a watchmaker, the young Pat Cox grew up in Limerick. He graduated with a degree in economics at Trinity College in Dublin and lectured in the subject at the University of Limerick.

Mr Cox switched to journalism and worked for Irish broadcaster RTE from 1982 to 1986, hosting current affairs programmess including the popular Today Tonight.

He began his political career in 1985 when he joined the Progressive Democrats in Ireland and became the party's general secretary. He gradually began to distance himself from Irish politics following differences with the party and began to focus on the EU instead after he joined the European Liberal Democrats in 1989 as a liberal MEP for Munster in southern Ireland.

He was elected President of the European Parliament in January 2002. He has since transformed the public image of the assembly with his media savvy and his catchy ‘sound bite’ presidential style that is attributed to his media background.

But his commitment to making the European Parliament more transparent suffered a serious setback in March 2004. Austrian MEP Hans-Peter Martin went to the press with fraud allegations, including accusations that hundreds of his colleagues were pocketing allowances for parliamentary sessions they had not attended.

Mr Cox promised an investigation to clear up the matter. Earlier this month he acknowledged that the most disappointing part of his presidency was failing to overhaul the parliament's pay and perks system, which he admitted continues to give the assembly a bad name.

Mr Cox, a passionate supporter of European expansion and unity, has listed the smooth expansion of the EU by ten new states as one of his major achievements during his term as president.

During the expansion celebrations in Dublin in early May, he defended his strong belief in a common European foreign and defence policy, saying it was vital to prevent bloody ethnic conflicts and massacres such as the one that took place in Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.

"Any person with a conscience who saw what happened and had neither the resolve nor the capacity to act when the hurricanes of hatred reaped 7,000 lives in Srebrenica knows that this shameful inability (to act) cannot go on," he said.

Giscard d’Estaing awarded
the 2003 Charlemagne prize
In recognition of the historic task of developing for Europe a constitution, the Society for the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen awarded the International Charlemagne Prize 2003 to the President of the European Convention and former President of the French Republic, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who for decades and in varying functions has advanced the process of European unification.

At present Mr Giscard d’Estaing heads the European Convention, a body charged by the EU member countries to give Europe a constitution. In April 2003, the Convention published the final draft for a European Constitution. Since 1950, the prize has been given annually to individuals who, in the opinion of the Aachen Charlemagne Society, have made outstanding contributions to European unity. In 2002 the prize was awarded to Europe’s new currency the euro.

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was born on 2 February 1926 in Koblenz, Germany, and grew up in upper middle class circumstances. The family came from the Auvergne. After going to school in Clermont-Ferrand and Paris, he began academic studies, which were interrupted by a year of wartime military service in Germany, at the École Polytechnique and the celebrated École Nationale d’Administration (E.N.A.), graduating with honours.

Following a brief period as a civil servant in the French finance ministry, Giscard d’Estaing began his parliamentary career on 2 January 1956 as Deputy to the National Assembly from the Départment of Puy-de-Dôme. Appointed state secretary ( = permanent secretary in the UK, under secretary in the US) in the finance ministry in January 1959, he was named to head the ministry three years later, in January 1962. The largely successful policy of financial stabilisation of that era is associated with his name. Due to different political opinions to the then French President General de Gaulle Giscard d’Estaing lost his post in the second Pompidou cabinet to Michel Debré in late 1965. Elected party leader of the Independent Republicans shortly afterwards, he rejoined the government on 24 June 1969 as Economics and Finance Minister. After the death of Georges Pompidou, Giscard d’Estaing was elected President of the French Republic on 19 May 1974.

In foreign and European policy, he together with the then German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, constantly stressed Franco-German friendship not only as an important bilateral link but also as an engine of European understanding and coordination. Like their predecessors Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer and their successors François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, Schmidt and Giscard set widely visible signals of close cooperation. During his Berlin visit in October 1979 - the first visit by a French President to West Berlin - Giscard demonstratively reaffirmed the French guarantee for the city’s security and freedom.

Above all, however, it was the European Monetary System, proposed by the French head of state and the German Federal Chancellor in July 1978 and launched in 1979, which created a zone of increasing stability and was thus a major breakthrough on the way to a common European currency. For the first time, fixed rates of exchange, alterable if need be, were agreed for the currencies in the EMS. As a marker for these fixed exchange rates, and as a unit of account in the EC, the ECU was created: a monetary basket with a weighted combination of the currencies of states belonging to the EU before 1995. Discontinued in the course of launching the EURO and assimilated into the EURO on a 1 to 1 conversion rate, the ECU was thus the legitimate predecessor of the currency which since the beginning of the new century has put its unique stamp on the image of our continent.

In domestic policy, Giscard came under sustained pressure, due in part to a continuing high rate of unemployment. In the presidential elections of 1981 he scored 48 per cent of the vote, losing by the narrowest of margins to his Socialist opponent François Mitterrand. At the end of his incumbency, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing initially retired from public life but returned in 1982 to active politics and successfully stood in March of the same year in the canton elections in Chamalières. In September 1984 in his constituency, Puy-de-Dôme, he regained a seat in the French National Assembly, becoming the chairman of its Foreign Affairs Committee.

Named new UDF president by acclamation in 1988, Giscard was elected in June 1989 to the European Parliament. He was back in the French National Assembly from March 1993 to 2002, again heading the Foreign Affairs Committee until 1997.

At the suggestion of the European Council, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing assumed the chairmanship of the Presidium of the European Convention, which in February 2002 began its work in Brussels with a phase of hearings that included the participation of the membership candidates.

History of the Charlemagne Prize
In the winter of 1949, the conditions for launching a European policy initiative could not have been better. West European integration efforts had been plunged into a deep crisis when the British in September 1948 abandoned their negotiations with the French government on a common customs union and in November 1949 stopped the development of the Council of Europe into a European institution. The Americans thereupon called on French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman to take the lead in integrating West Germany into a supranational Europe. To this pointed encouragement there was for a long time no response from the French a circumstance that left suitably fertile ground for European initiatives, especially as the advancing process of bloc-formation in Europe and the growing vehemence of the Cold War fuelled fears of a new military conflict on the old Continent.

The Aachen merchant Dr. Kurt Pfeiffer obviously perceived the unique opportunity and presented his idea of establishing an "Aachen Prize" for service in the cause of West European unification, world peace and humanity. After all, Aachen was once the centre of the first European empire under Charlemagne, the venue of a number of major European peace congresses, for a long time a royal spa, and well known in consequence of the pilgrimages taking place every seven years to view its sacred relics - reason enough to be proud. Pfeiffer himself proposed therefore to name the award the "Charlemagne Prize of the City of Aachen", thus building a bridge between European past and present.

Just three months after the Proclamation was issued, the "Society for the Conferring of the International Charlemagne Prize of the City of Aachen" was founded on 14 March 1950 and was responsible for all matters pertaining to the awarding of the Prize. Consisting of a certificate of honour, a medal and a cash award of 5,000 DM (now 5,000 EUR), the Prize was to be awarded annually to a person who had performed outstanding service for Europe.

The energy with which the founders got to work is shown by the fact that on Ascension Day in 1950, five months after the Proclamation was issued, the Prize was conferred on Dr. Richard Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, the founder of the Pan-European Movement and a pioneer in the cause of European unification.

The conferring of the Prize in 1952 on Italian Prime Minister Alcide de Gasperi was the international breakthrough for the award. The political leaders of the fifties - Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Winston Churchill and many more - followed the Italian and were honoured in Aachen for their outstanding service on behalf of European unification. Thus the Prize gained political influence and international prestige.

Since the presentation to de Gasperi, the Prize has developed more and more into a pre-eminently political award. Accordingly, political leaders dominate the long list of prize-winners, since it is the elected representatives of the state, ministers and presidents, who stand in the first rank of those who are actively engaged in the process of European unification and through whom, by means of the Charlemagne Prize, political influence can be brought to bear. On the other hand, the cultural and spiritual dimension of European unity also received its due emphasis, reflected in the choice of later awardees such as Don Salvador de Madariaga, Frere Roger and most recently György Konrad.

In the 70s and 80s, the awarding of the Prize to representatives of the emergent democracies in Greece and Spain was an important signal intended to strengthen the forces of democracy and to bring these states closer to the European Community. In 1981 Simone Veil, the first president of the European Parliament elected by the citizens of Europe, became the first woman to receive the award.

The awards of the 90s accordingly focused entirely on the idea of ‘comprehensively joining’ Europe together: they were conferred in particular on representatives of the countries of northern and central-eastern Europe. On all of these awardees, coming as they did from countries not yet belonging to the European Union, were pinned hopes for European unification with the broadest possible reach. The honours were intended to give a positive signal encouraging the awardees to lead their countries into the Union. At the same time the aim was to utilize the international repute of the Charlemagne Prize to strengthen the domestic position of the awardees and boost the standing of their countries.

The upheavals in central and eastern Europe and the events of 1989 culminating in German reunification occasioned a rethinking about the Prize, that eventually took the form of a declaration supplementing and updating the 1949 Proclamation. The joint ‘Declaration of the Aachen Town Council and the Society for the Conferring of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen’ of 14 November 1990 cited the historic importance of the year 1989 and called for "comprehensively joining" the European states together. Also emphasised was the importance of united Europe in the cause of reconciling North-South polarities and in safeguarding Europe’s natural resources - important new challenges which were not on the agenda in 1949 but which 40 years later were self-evident facts of life for politically active persons.

The awarding of the International Charlemagne Prize to U.S. President Bill Clinton in 2000, fifty years after the first presentation, paid tribute to the representative of a nation that throughout five decades has always been a reliable partner of the free nations of Europe.

In honouring an outstanding representative of European literature, the Hungarian writer and sociologist György Konrad, the Board of Directors focused attention in 2001 on the valuable contribution rendered by culture and by creative artists to the integration of our continent.

The small steps and the bigger stages of the European unification process are reflected by the Charlemagne Prize in its awardees. These include both the architects of integration and those on whom hopes of integration have rested, as well as those who have rendered outstanding service in the cause of peace and freedom in a unified Europe. In all of them are expressed the spirit, the vision, and the task and commission of the Charlemagne Prize.

In awarding the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen in 2002 to the euro, the Charlemagne Prize Board expressed the hope and expectation that the new currency would bring the people of Europe still closer together.
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