Medal of Freedom as a tribute to Angela Merkel's life achievement
"The yearning for freedom cannot be contained by walls for long,” said Angela Merkel at the award ceremony. It was this yearning, she continued, that brought down the Iron Curtain that divided German and Europe, and indeed the world into two blocs.
America stood resolutely on the side of freedom. “It is to this resolve that we Germany owe the unity of our country in peace and freedom,” said the Chancellor.
Freedom is indivisible
Also today, the yearning for freedom may well make totalitarian regimes tremble and fall. Germany has been following with great interest and empathy the profound changes in North Africa and the Arab world. "Freedom is indivisible," underscored Angela Merkel. "Each and every one has the same right to freedom, be it is North Africa or Belarus, in Myanmar or Iran."
"Neither the chains of dictatorship nor the fetters of oppression can keep down the forces of freedom for long," declared the Chancellor with conviction. "This is my firm conviction that shall continue to guide me. In this, the Presidential Medal of Freedom shall serve to spur me on and to encourage me."
A tribute to a "remarkable career"
Before the ceremony, Barack Obama had told journalists that the Presidential Medal of Freedom was being awarded as a tribute to the Chancellor’s life achievement, "a remarkable career". Angela Merkel is not only, "an excellent steward of the German economy and the European project, but she represents the unification of Europe through her own life story and the capacity to overcome the past". In future too, he said, Angela Merkel’s leadership will play a very important part in overcoming the economic problems currently besetting the eurozone states.
This, the highest honour that can be bestowed on a civilian in the USA, was a tribute to the Chancellor’s tireless commitment to freedom and civil rights during reunification, and to her work to foster German-American friendship.
Two peoples bound by shared values
After talks with Angela Merkel, President Obama declared that Germany is one of the USA’s strongest allies, as reflected in the many common undertakings of the two nations. We are "two peoples, bound by common values," he said.
Referring to Germany’s relations with the USA, Angela Merkel declared that "a broad foundation (exists) on which we can build". The two countries have a joint responsibility to shape today’s world in line with these values and with the spirit of freedom, added the Chancellor.
The changes in North Africa are posing a major challenge. "The changes in North Africa are changes that are happening on our doorstep," said the Chancellor. In view of the flows of refugees Germany has a vested interest in helping the region back on its feet.
At this, their tenth meeting, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Libya and Iran. The Chancellor thanked President Obama for American cooperation in northern Afghanistan. "We share the opinion that in Afghanistan we need networked security, with a combined political and military approach." We went into Afghanistan together and we aim to come out together, she added, handing over responsibility to Afghanistan, without abandoning it.
Stability of the eurozone crucial for the global economy
Commercial relations between the two countries and the situation of the euro were another focus of talks. The economic crisis has made quite clear the mutual dependence that exists, underscored Angela Merkel.
The stability of the eurozone is an important factor in the stability of the global economy, she added. This means that it is very much in Germany’s own interest to assist any struggling eurozone state in order "to see to it that this common currency is not endangered".
Angela Merkel’s visit is the first official visit of a German head of government since Helmut Kohl was received at the White House in 1995. This was the sixth time the Chancellor has visited the USA since Barack Obama took office. Her most recent visit was to Washington D.C. in April 2010. The Chancellor was accompanied by the Cabinet ministers Guido Westerwelle, Philipp Rösler, Hans-Peter Friedrich, Thomas de Maizière and Wolfgang Schäuble.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded once a year to individuals who have made a particularly valuable contribution to the security or national interests of the USA, to world peace, or to major cultural or other important public or private projects. The Chancellor is the second German leader, after Helmut Kohl, to receive the award.