Speech on the occasion of awarding the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to Ambassador Luís de Almeida Sampaio

Brussels, 19 September 2016

My dear Luís, my dear Salome, Commissioner, Ministers, Ambassadors, Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to all of you and thank you so much for coming tonight and for joining me on this joyous occasion. This is a very special German-Portuguese celebration: Luís, you are going to be awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany – the “Bundesverdienstkreuz”, as we call it.

From April 2012 to September 2015, for more than three years, you served as your country’s ambassador to Germany. It was not always an easy time. Europe and Portugal were going through a deep financial and economic crisis. That crisis, its consequences for our societies and the efforts to overcome it – these topics also dominated your agenda as the Portuguese Ambassador to Germany.

Tumultuous times like these, when the fates of peoples and economies are at stake, easily lend themselves to stereotypes and misconceptions which can overshadow or even tarnish relations between countries. Unfortunately the domestic German debate on the financial crisis was not entirely free from such misconceptions.

In such times, diplomats have a particular responsibility to work against ill-founded stereotypes. That is why the main job of a bilateral ambassador today is quite often not so much about behind-closed-doors diplomacy, but more about public diplomacy and reaching out.

You, Luís, were pretty good at that. Through your intensive contacts in Germany’s political class and in German society at large, you managed to help make Germany aware of the challenges Portugal was facing and the immense efforts you were undertaking. At the same time, it was through you that, back in Lisbon, German positions on key issues were better understood. You worked very efficiently as an interpreter in both directions.

It is in large part due to your intensive StratCom – to use one of our NATO terms – and your promotion of mutual understanding that, in both Portugal and Germany, people developed a much more differentiated view of each other. Without that understanding, without that interest in each other’s positions, there can be no rational debate on any of the current pressing issues – and without that, there will be no good decisions.

When you took up your job in Germany, Portugal was one of the countries that had been hit very hard by the crisis. Today your country is in a much better shape. The enormous reform efforts that have been undertaken in recent years to get this far have been a huge success.

You made sure that this success story received the attention it deserved from the German public. You achieved this through the public diplomacy activities of your embassy, by organising high-level events such as a public debate with both our finance ministers in Berlin, Prime Minister Passos Coelho’s visit to Berlin in 2014, the state visit of Federal President Gauck to Portugal the same year, Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s visit to Lisbon in May 2015 and the 3rd German-Portuguese Forum, which was held in the context of that visit.

The eurozone and the European institutions have lost a lot of public trust during the last few years. Yet, looking at the Eurobarometer polls, I find it remarkable that, in both our countries, positive perceptions of the EU still remain comparatively high.

 

Luís, your time in Berlin was marked by difficult circumstances. But nonetheless, relations between our countries thrived – despite the huge geographical distance which separates us. We owe this development in large part to the commitment of people like you.

The German-Portuguese Forum I mentioned earlier was established back in 2013. You played an important role in setting it up and making it an important place for vibrant civil society dialogue. Since then, the forum has taken place on an annual basis in either Berlin or Lisbon. And the next one is scheduled to be held in Berlin in November.

You have also been very active when it comes to strengthening our bilateral trade relations. To be more precise, you were not just active but also successful. Being awarded the “diplomacia económica” of your foreign ministry in 2015 is impressive proof of that.

In fact, the development of exports from Portugal to Germany is remarkable, and the amount has constantly increased during the last few years. You have significantly contributed to this by organising road shows of the foreign trade agency AICEP all over Germany and by participating in several trade fairs, for instance in February 2015, when Portugal was the official partner country of the “Fruit Logistica” in Berlin.

Last but not least, you always had an eye on cultural and scientific relations. More than a million Germans go to Portugal every year, and 150,000 Portuguese tourists visit Germany – both numbers are continuously growing. Also, several thousands of our young people are studying at universities in each other’s countries.

 A couple of days ago, Eve and I had the privilege to be invited to a dinner at your residence, where leading representatives of the renowned University of Coimbra informed Professor Ganten, the President of the World Health Summit and former President of the Charité teaching hospital in Berlin, that he would be awarded an honorary doctorate by that venerable academic institution. And it is no secret that you, Luís, have been a driving force to this end.

My dear Luís, my dear Salome,

Since you left Germany, the financial crisis in Europe may have softened and Portugal certainly is in a better place. However, the Euro-Atlantic community continues to be under stress. The European Union is going through what may be the deepest crisis in its history – and the North Atlantic Alliance is facing unprecedented simultaneous challenges in the East and the South. Germany and Portugal are separated by roughly 2500km. They may also look from different angles at the EU and NATO, with Portugal being a western and southern country with strong ties to Africa and Latin America, Germany being situated in the centre of Europe. But we are united by common values, by shared commitment and by joint responsibility. Living up to that responsibility takes people like you, Luís: people who know what is at stake. People who work with their hearts and minds for a peacefully united Europe and a strong North Atlantic Alliance. During your time in Germany, you demonstrated that outstanding commitment and leadership more than once.

Last but not least, talking to you and Salome about your Berlin times, I had the impression that you had a good time there and that you maybe even fell a little bit in love with Germany and the German people. All these are good reasons why this evening is also a good occasion to say “obrigado” or “Danke” to both of you. And that is why Federal President Gauck has decided to award you, Luís, with the “Bundesverdienstkreuz”.

My dear Luís, my dear Salome, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege and a great honour for me, on behalf of Federal President Joachim Gauck, to award the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to Ambassador Caetano Luís Pequito de Almeida Sampaio for his extraordinary contributions to German-Portuguese relations.

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