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Berlin Wall

Volume 756: debated on Thursday 6 November 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 2014.

My Lords, on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, plans are in place for the Prime Minister to send a message to the German people. Commemorations will have a civic and social focus, reflecting the manner in which the wall came down. There will be UK participation in these events. Commemorative messages will be placed along the route of the wall, including one from the Mayor of London.

My Lords, it is difficult to believe that until a short 25 years ago our continent and peoples were divided. I am sure that the noble Baroness would agree that it is thanks to the European Union that peace, stability and prosperity have been consolidated in countries that used to live on both sides of the wall. Would she further agree that, for all its imperfections, the European Union is where our present and our future lie, and that in a world full of challenges and danger it is foolish to make foes of our most valuable friends? Does she look forward, as I do, to celebrating the 30th anniversary in 2020 as part of that same union?

My Lords, of course I celebrate and commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall. It demonstrated a remarkably peaceful revolution and change. I felt that I was part of that as I was active in the politics of the time, working with some of the German political parties. Peace takes more than one country and more than one organisation. We reflect upon the work done by our country over the years, not just in conjunction with the countries across Europe but with NATO and our allies around the Commonwealth: with all of them we should strive to maintain peace.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that it is thanks to the efforts of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in facing down CND and deploying cruise missiles that the peoples of eastern Europe were freed from the yoke of communism?

My Lords, is it not a remarkable fact that an East German woman is now the Chancellor of a united Germany? She is a remarkable leader—the main leader in Europe. Surely we should now do our best not to alienate this remarkable woman and go to the point of no return in our relations with the European Union that she has warned us against.

Noble Lords may laugh, but I do not laugh at the Chancellor at all; I would not consider doing so. I understand that there is much agreement over some of the issues recently discussed. For example, in Germany at the moment the Bundestag itself is currently considering proposals to tighten access to benefits with regard to the free movement of workers across Europe, because Germany is considering whether to ban re-entry for migrants abusing welfare. Chancellor Merkel has clearly made the point that we must not have abuse of the system. She has joined us in calling for reform in the way that the EU works.

My Lords, I declare my interest as an officer of the British-German Association. I thank the Minister for those details of the commemoration and support that we are giving. Does she not agree, though, that the picture is larger? Germany as a democratic country has become an example to us all in Europe, after the war as well as after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I am very glad to hear that the Government are sending messages. Does she agree that this example gives us a basis on which all countries in the EU should work peacefully together, because it is a model country?

My Lords, I agree with what my noble friend says. Our bilateral relationship with Germany is a strong one. Since 2000 the number of ministerial and senior official visits has trebled and our trade links are strong. Trade can be the base of peace and prosperity in our relationships with other countries and he is right to propose that we should use our relationship with Germany as a model and an example of working well with other countries.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that part of the reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union—and we found this out afterwards from their intelligence documents—was the military strength that we managed to maintain in the West? Does she agree that we are in great danger now of cutting back on that strength when there are real risks to our security around the world, including in the Ukraine et cetera?

My Lords, as always I pay tribute to our Armed Forces and all those who work in supporting them. Also, as we sit here with memories of two world wars, we recall the support work done by women in factories throughout the conflicts. Our Armed Forces are absolutely crucial in everything we do with regard to negotiations and the maintenance of peace, but so also is the work done in civic society more generally, and that makes us a strong nation.

Having been on camera with other noble Lords scrabbling for fragments of that dreadful wall, does my noble friend agree that the demise of that wall was a triumph for freedom and for the German people? Further, should we associate ourselves with them as they mark this outstanding, momentous day in their nation’s history?

My Lords, I entirely agree. I should add that the 25th anniversary is a civic commemoration. In Germany, every 10 years is considered more important, so the 30th anniversary—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred—will be more of a state occasion. I entirely agree with my noble friend.

Does my noble friend accept that there is now no conflict between our membership of NATO and our membership of the European Union and that together these guarantee the freedom and future of Europe? Does she accept that Britain ought to be a full, active and determined member of both, and that at the moment we are not speaking up enough about the benefits of our membership of the European Union?

My Lords, the Prime Minister is the first to speak up about the benefits that can be obtained from a European Union that is reformed, and he has support around the European Union to achieve those reforms. We are, of course, strong supporters of NATO—and remain so—but also of the United Nations and all the work that it does.