UN secretary general receives prestigious Charlemagne prize

UN secretary general António Guterres has become the first Portuguese to receive the Charlemagne Prize, and as such the honour has been welcomed with pride and delight by political leaders.

Both president Marcelo and prime minister António Costa have given their take on what this distinction means for Portugal.

But what was possibly more to the point was the message to Europe that Guterres’ gave in his acceptance speech.

He said there is “no alternative” to the European Union, “as no country can meet current challenges alone”.

“If you want to avoid a new Cold War – the confrontation of two blocs probably in a slightly different composition than in the past – if you want to build a multilateral world order, we need a strong Europe,” he told his audience in the city of Aachen.

The Charlemagne Prize is awarded for work done in the service of European unification.

Presenting the ‘laudatio’ (eulogy), King Felipe of Spain said Guterres’ efforts in this regard “remind us that the European dream does not end at the European borders”.

It is “the same dream as that of millions of other people across the world”.

Guterres takes inspiration from three principles, said the king: “solidarity for the needy, the pursuit of closer and closer union among European peoples and states and the contribution of a united Europe to the just causes of humanity – first and foremost migration and climate”.

At home, president Marcelo said Guterres was a “symbol of the importance of the European model of a pluralistic, supportive society, committed to multilateral cooperation and based on values, principles and objectives for a future in the service of people”.

Guterres’ is an example and demonstration of “the best of Portugal”, he said.

In Aachen, prime minister Costa extolled on the political capital to be taken from the award.

First, it “reinforces how the European Union is fundamental to strengthening multilateralism” and how essential it is for a more supportive world “where there is respect for the principle of the rule of law, good coexistence between peoples” and a strong United Nations.

Stressing the “important political message” within Guterres’ honour, Costa referred to the “need” for countries ‘not to “close in” on themselves’.

As the spectre of Brexit hangs over all matters EU right now, Costa’s interpretation appeared to be larded with innuendo on how necessary change should be effected from within.

Called “Carlo Magno” in Portugal, the Charlemagne prize was first awarded in 1949 and is named after the medieval monarch who was crowned emperor of the Frankish empire – the largest post-Roman barbarian kingdom in Western Europe – in 768.

Former laureates (people who have received the honour) include French president Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Pope Francis and Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill.

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