Helmut Kohl: World leaders pay tribute as coffin of German reunification leader draped in EU flag

Bill Clinton among heads of state past and present at emotional European Parliament ceremony

Lizzie Dearden
Saturday 01 July 2017 15:24
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Clinton at Kohl's ceremony: 'Thank you for giving us a chance to be part of something bigger'

World leaders have gathered to pay tribute to the “architect of the world order” Helmut Kohl at the first ever memorial of its kind for a European politician.

Draped in an EU flag, the former German Chancellor’s coffin sat in the centre of the European Parliament as more than 800 dignitaries including Bill Clinton, Dmitry Medvedev and Angela Merkel paid emotional tributes.

“Helmut Kohl gave us the chance to be involved in something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our terms in office and bigger than our fleeting careers,” Mr Clinton said, fondly remembering their frequent visits to each other during his time as US President.

“He wanted to create a world where nobody dominated over anybody else.

Bill Clinton salutes towards the coffin of late former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl after speaking at a memorial at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on 1 July 2017

“You did well to achieve that during your lifetime and those of us who experienced it love you for it.”

Mr Kohl, who served as Chancellor from 1982 to 1998, oversaw the end of the Cold War and is widely regarded as the mastermind of German reunification.

He skillfully negotiated the dissolution communist East Germany with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and relocated the capital to Berlin.

Together with French counterpart Francois Mitterand, he was the architect of the 1992 Maastrict Treaty, which established the euro and EU, which he ardently supported.

Medvedev, the Russian Prime Minister, described Mr Kohl as the “the architect of the world order”, adding: “In Russia, we'll remember him as our friend – a wise and sincere person.”

German soldiers carry the coffin of late former Chancellor Helmut Kohl during of a memorial ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 1 July

“Helmut Kohl was a German patriot and a European patriot,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, a close friend. “We've lost a giant of the post-war era.”

Ms Merkel, who served as a minister under Mr Kohl in the 1990s but later had a falling out over his role in receiving $1 million in illegal campaign cash donations, remembered her predecessor as a sometimes controversial figure with numerous enemies.

“I could tell you stories as well,” she said. “But all that paled in comparison to his life's achievements.”

Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, said Mr Kohl deserved “a place of honour in the European pantheon” for unhesitatingly extending the hand of friendship to fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Iron Curtain.

The two-hour ceremony was attended by leaders including Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Donald Tusk and Petro Poroshenko, in a show of unity amid continuing divisions over Brexit and the Ukrainian war.

Theresa May signing the book of condolences at the European Parliament as world leaders gather for a memorial to late German chancellor Helmut Kohl in Strasbourg, France, on 1 July

It concluded with the German national anthem and excerpts from Beethoven's 9th symphony “Ode to Joy”, which is used as the EU anthem.

Mr Kohl, who died on 16 June at the age of 87, was to be buried at a funeral in Germany later on Saturday.

His coffin had been transported from the home he shared with his second wife Maike in Oggersheim to Strasbourg for the memorial service.

It was taken by helicopter on to his birthplace in Ludwigshafen, being carried in a procession and then transported to Speyer Cathedral along the Rhine for a Catholic requiem to be attended by 1,500 mourners.

The resting place of many rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, the cathedral was seen by Mr Kohl as a symbol of European unity – a place he showed to contemporary leaders including Mr Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher.

But the mass will be boycotted by Mr Kohl’s sons, since their father will not be laid to rest alongside his first wife and their mother, Hannelore Kohl.

Additional reporting by agencies

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