The fact that his speech would be about Europe, was no surprise: the festivities as such, the honorary doctorate for Gauck, everything was organised around this theme. Even the UM's anniversary day party, normally at the beginning of January, was moved to the day when the Treaty of Maastricht was signed, 7 February. And for those who have followed the German president these past few years, the purport of his speech was not new. He referred to all the good things that Europe has brought and what is often omitted: free traffic, which enables us to live, work, and study where we want. The enormous internal market, which creates possibilities for producers as well as consumers. But what is probably more important, is the political values that Europa represents: democracy, the constitutional state, human rights, the division of powers, protection of minorities, equality of men and women.
That is the Europe, says Gauck, that needs to be defended against attacks from within and outside. The attacks from within are partly the result of failing policies of the political class, who for example refuse to adhere to the agreed budget regulations, or of politicians in Brussels who take decisions and then criticize them in their own country or even try to undermine them; for the Dutch part of the audience, this is a recognisable phenomenon in the person of prime minister Rutte. That kind of behaviour, says Gauck, is food for populism. As he has said often before, that can and must also be understood as a reaction to alienation between the elites and citizens, often representing a true desire for a home, a Heimat - he knows, in Germany this is a stigmatised notion - where people can feel secure. Because that is something that Europe has not been able to offer so far. But a revival of nationalism is not the answer, he emphasises.
The attacks from outside are of a different calibre. Terrorism, huge technological changes, ‘neighbours’ at war, migration pressure, a Russia that is trying to undermine Europe with cyber-attacks, fake news, and support of anti-European parties and governments. In addition, we have America's Donald Trump - Gauck didn't mention his name - who seems to welcome the disintegration of the European Union and who flouts the European core values; that the law stands above power, for example.
That is why it is time for a more self-conscious and independent Europe, which has for so long hidden safely under the American umbrella. And also a more self-conscious and independent Germany, Gauck feels; the German press would later immediately highlight this element in his speech. “We have an extraordinary responsibility for the stability of the international order. We must not abandon our European values. Europe is something for the people, it is our own business.”