“The dignity of the human being must be our greatest principle, then there is freedom, democracy, and rule of law as well.”
These are the words of Dr Hans-Gert Pöttering, former President of the European Parliament and chairman of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, who has lived an extraordinary life and whose political influence in Europe spans decades.
Dr Pöttering has now told his story in his autobiography United for the Better - My European Way, which he launched at Regent’s University London on 13 December in a joint event with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
Originally from Germany, at the book launch Dr Pöttering shared personal anecdotes of how his father was killed in World War II just months before he was born, and of how he grew up in a household in West Berlin during the Cold War that would light candles at Christmas time in support of East Berlin.
As President of the European Parliament from 2007-09 and a member from 1979-2014, Dr Pöttering commented on the organisation’s growth, saying: “the European Parliament has developed in an extraordinary way. It is a really important institution in the EU.”
Now chairman of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, he also spoke of the German first post-war Chancellor’s political influence on him and that he recently met one of his daughters, who is in her 90s.
Given the launch was held in London, he also commented on Brexit, saying he was saddened by the UK’s decision to leave and that there is perhaps an even increased need for the UK and EU to communicate and work together now.
“It is a disappointment that Great Britain has decided to leave the European Union,” he said.
“You may not remain in the European Union but you will still be a European country.
“Once there is an agreement, we should have the closest cooperation in security and self-defence. If we don’t have close cooperation we cannot solve the problem of security in the world.”
Dr Pöttering said he believes the EU may now need to look at how it can improve, but that it also needs to remain confident.
“We should be self-confident on one side and modest on the other side. If you are not a believer in what you are doing – you are losing,” he said.
“What we have achieved with the EU is far from what we believed in 1945 … The European Union is a community of values. Our system is the rule of law and this is something very extraordinary and I think we need to defend it.
“The EU is not a paradise, but other parts of the world do see in the EU something good.”
The book launch event followed the format of a panel discussion, with Dr Pöttering asked questions by Quentin Peel, Associate Fellow with the Europe Programme at Chatham House and former correspondent of The Financial Times in Brussels and Berlin. The panel was chaired by Regent’s Chancellor Professor John Drew.
“Regent’s University London, in conjunction with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, welcomed Dr Pöttering’s discussion around European culture and European values, both of which are relevant to our staff and students who come from many different countries and cultures across Europe and the world,” Professor Drew said.
“Dr Pöttering’s views on Europe are wider than the current EU economic and migration issues that dominate discussions in the UK, and provide a clear vision of what sort of Europe we seek for the health, wealth, security and wellbeing of all its citizens.”
The event was well attended by Regent’s staff and students along with Dr Pöttering’s colleagues including Lords and MPs.
“Thank you Regent’s University London for giving us a chance to be here together tonight,” Dr Pöttering said.