Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Speech made to the Assembly

Friday, 21 January 1972

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is, as you will understand, a deeply moving occasion for me, particularly after the eloquent words to which we have just listened.

I am greatly honoured to receive this award with all that it implies.

I must thank you, Herr Toepfer, for the splendid act of imagination and generosity by which you instituted this award.

“All of us always knew what would happen when Europe spoke at last with one voice. We knew the world would stop and listen. And it would hear a voice that spoke of today with the knowledge of many yesterdays.”

I must also thank the distinguished members of the Jury, present here with us today, whose deliberations have done me so much honour.

To you, Mr. President, and to Monsieur Bech, I am profoundly grateful for the distinction which your words have lent to this occasion.

And to all of you, and to the Council of Europe, I must convey my warm thanks for associating yourselves with the award, and for making this ceremony possible.

For me, today marks an end and a beginning.

It marks an ambition which has now been realised. But it also marks the beginning of a great new enterprise.

It is an enterprise which involves us all – perhaps the greatest enterprise to which we have ever set our hand.

I entered public life with several hopes. Tomorrow in Brussels one of them comes true – even though it comes true some ten years later than I would have wished.

It was my hope that when that first pattern of Europe was being designed, Britain would have had a place in the design.

By now we could have looked back over two decades and said “This we did together”. But, alas, it was not to be.

There is, however, some advantage to be seized from past disappointment. Today from a distance I can look upon the Europe many of you have built and say from my heart: “You have built well.”

I can pay tribute to the builders themselves – to you Monsieur Bech, to Professor Hallstein, to Jean Rey and to Jean Monnet himself, and to all the others who have played their part.

For the Europe that I see confirms the faith I have always held that when men of good will work as one, such things are possible.

A Europe coming together in growing amity – historians of all nations have dismissed it as fantasy for generations. Tomorrow sees it born as a fact.

What we have seen is the birth of a new Europe – a changed force in a changing world... A Europe that promises all of us new opportunities but makes new demands of us in return.

In honouring me today you are also honouring my country. It is perhaps timely to ask – what does the new Europe expect of Britain? And what has Britain to offer?

We can offer you patience and persistence in large measure. I think none will doubt us that.

Without those qualities our history might have been very different.

Without those same qualities shown by men of all political opinions, I should not be standing here before you today, for our efforts could not have succeeded.

But these are passive virtues.

We shall all need other, more positive virtues, in the years ahead. I believe my country has them to offer.

I believe we can promise you the imagination to see what should be done... the resolve to tackle it, the courage to see it through.

And when the way is hardest, we have made it a habit to be at our best.

These last few years the way has not been easy for any of us.

The patterns of power have shifted and the world has moved on.

Many of the precepts we grew up with have been challenged and changed. Perhaps we have grown up a little too.

Certainly, the Britain we bring into the new Europe is a new Britain, a Britain better suited for this great adventure than ever before. For while you have been building, we have not been idle.

We have tried to see ourselves and not with the eyes of the past.

Where we have seen difficulties we have tried to face them.

Where we have seen ignorance or prejudice or inhibition, we have done our best to correct it.

Today we come to you proud of what we have achieved, of our new strength and abilities. But we are humble too in the face of the tasks that now confront us all.

For tomorrow sees the true dawn of this new Europe of which I spoke.

And this new Europe will need new ways.

New ways to think.

New ways to speak.

And when it has thought and spoken – new ways to act.

We shall only feel the benefit of this new Europe if we remember that the sum is inevitably greater than the parts... if we take our decisions in the knowledge that we are a community only by choice... and in that lies our true strength.

There may be times when we shall question one another’s motives. That is the time to go on talking.

There may be times when we shall not agree with one another. That is the test of a real relationship. The new Europe must show that it can stand that kind of test.

In the years to come the new Europe will show itself to be many things.

It will be confident in what it can achieve because of what it has already achieved. For the new history of Europe will show that the old history was not empty words.

It will be strong in the councils of the world. For as the great powers polarise, who can ignore the voice that speaks for 250 million people?

But most of all the new Europe must be wise. It must learn to listen as well as to speak.

It must listen to the voices of countries that speak out of their own desperate needs, many of them for the first time.

Before it shapes its policies it must have their hopes and their needs in mind.

For is it not possible – is it not at least possible – that the task we have been given is even greater than we imagine?

That in seeking to strengthen the old world we may find the way to chart a new course for the whole world to follow?

There is not a nation represented here today that has not in the past thought things and said things that have helped shape the world we share.

The achievements of a Europe thus divided can be surpassed by those of a Europe now united.

The voices which spoke such sense in isolation will sound more persuasive when they speak as one.

All of us always knew what would happen when Europe spoke at last with one voice.

We knew the world stop and listen.

And it would hear a voice that spoke of today with the knowledge of many yesterdays.

It is now time for that voice to speak.

From the old world – a new voice.

May the things it says always be said with honesty, with wisdom and with truth.