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State Banqet in honour of the royal couple of Sweden

Federal President Joachim Gauck holds a speech at the state banquet in honour of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden Schloss Bellevue, 5 October 2016 Federal President Joachim Gauck holds a speech at the state banquet in honour of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden © Steffen Kugler

It is a great delight for me to welcome you to your first state visit to Germany for 23 years and your first visit to Schloss Bellevue. The very fact that you are here today is a wonderful expression of the Swedish-German friendship. Both of you have deep and also personal ties with Germany. During your visit you will no doubt see the great respect in which you and your country are held by German citizens.

I myself have always felt close to Sweden, not just since my first visit to Stockholm as Federal President in 2012. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, your country was a country of my dreams – as it was for many East Germans. In the years of Europe’s division, countless people have stood at the Baltic Sea coast in Mecklenburg and Pomerania, at the place where everything ended for us East Germans. We looked out to the horizon. Somewhere on the other side of the ocean, there had to be Sweden, the country which had what we could only dream of: freedom, democracy and real social justice. Today we can say that Sweden and the happily reunified Germany share the conviction that free societies work better if they aspire to creating opportunities and participation for all. This is a thought that inspires people not just in our two countries but around the world.

For many Germans, Sweden has remained a country for which we yearn, a country that fascinates and inspires. In his day, Kurt Tucholsky noted, "There is no normal German brain that has anything but pleasant, friendly and positive thoughts when it thinks about Sweden." Today we perhaps think of Nobel Prizes, children’s books and thrillers, pop music and design, but also of innovative businesses and prosperity, of tolerance and a culture based on consensus.

Another Swedish quality that we find particularly attractive is the tireless work of Swedish politics and civil society alike for the respect of human rights worldwide and the support of human rights defenders. Not to forget of course, that your country has experienced uninterrupted peace for two centuries. What an achievement in a Europe that has been plagued by so much war! Swedish institutions, I am thinking here of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, are helping us to understand crises and conflicts better and resolve them faster. What is more, it is with gratitude that I remember that your country has been a safe haven for refugees from all over the world, as it was for many Germans in the time of the National Socialist dictatorship.

But, perhaps I may also mention, that Germany has had an impact on Sweden as well. Next year, we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The Petri brothers brought it to Sweden, thus changing their country forever. And thus our shared Protestant heritage also forms a stable bridge across the Baltic Sea.

Today we are living in turbulent times. Against the backdrop of international crises, close relations built on trust are indispensable. Only together can we successfully tackle the challenges currently facing us in Europe and the world.

In terms of foreign policy thinking and action, Sweden and Germany have an essential bond: trust in international cooperation and in multilateralism. Together we want to maintain global structures, strengthen the United Nations Security Council and uphold the cohesion of the European Union. This spirit also shapes our regional cooperation, for example as close partners in the Council of the Baltic Sea States. Sweden can rely on Germany’s support when it assumes the Presidency in mid-2017.

When it comes to global engagement for human rights and development, we see Sweden as a close partner who shares our views as to what needs to be done for people in need. I am therefore especially delighted that Sweden’s candidacy for the United Nations Security Council was successful.

The refugee crisis showed us how urgently we need more international cooperation. After all, in this crisis, Sweden and Germany have been shouldering the main burden with only a few partners. In 2015, Sweden took in the most refugees per capita of all European countries. Our people and our Governments know that Sweden and Germany are not going to be able to manage in the long term unless burdens are shared and migration is steered. For this reason, a long-term solution is only possible at European level.

The key domestic challenge for our countries is to integrate all the new arrivals. I am convinced we can learn a lot from each other here. The Berlin integration initiative set up by two Swedes that you will visit is an excellent example. By visiting refugee accommodation and by showing social engagement, you have, Your Majesties, time and again helped ensure people in need are given attention and assistance.

Our commitment to democracy based on freedom and to a fair deal for all, our common cultural heritage and the values we share – these are the cornerstones of our relations. This is what we want to build on in the future so that we can perform the tasks that lie before us.

Let me invite you now to join me in a toast to Their Majesties King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and Queen Silvia of Sweden, to the Swedish people and to Swedish-German cooperation and friendship.