STRASBOURG (France) • European leaders yesterday joined former US president Bill Clinton in an emotional tribute in Strasbourg to former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, the father of German reunification and a founder of modern- day Europe.
"A giant of the post-war period has left us," European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said in an oration in French and German.
"Helmut Kohl was not just the architect of Germany unity. He contributed substantially, more than others, to the reconciliation between European history and European geography," said Mr Juncker.
Mr Juncker is the only current leader in Europe to have worked alongside the former chancellor.
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Mr Kohl, who was chancellor from 1982 to 1998, died on June 16 at age 87. On his watch, the pro-Western and pro-Soviet states of West and East Germany reunified after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, becoming one of the most stable and prosperous democracies in the world.
With former French president Francois Mitterrand, Mr Kohl also drove the expansion and integration of the European Union. They helped to open up its membership to fledgling democracies of the former Soviet bloc, created the euro single currency and ripped away internal border controls.
PASSING OF A HISTORICAL FIGURE
A giant of the post-war period has left us.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION CHIEF JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER
AGENT OF CHANGE
The lives of millions of people would have been a lot different without Helmut Kohl - including my own life.
GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, a former East German.
FRIEND OF FRANCE
Helmut Kohl was a privileged partner for France, an essential ally, but he was also more than that, he was a friend.
FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON
BIGGER THAN LIFE
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.
FORMER US PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON
The EU flag, of 12 gold stars on a blue background, draped Mr Kohl's coffin, which was placed in the chamber of the European Parliament by a phalanx of eight German servicemen. It is the first time the Parliament has paid tribute to a leader in such a way.
Three wreaths were placed in front of the casket - one in the colours of the Federal Republic of Germany, another in the name of the EU, and the third in the name of Mr Kohl's wife Maike Kohl-Richter.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was a minister under Mr Kohl in the 1990s, said he was an at-times controversial figure. "I could tell you stories... But all that paled in comparison to his life's achievements."
Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sam Tan represented Singapore at the ceremony.
A Foreign Ministry statement noted that Mr Kohl was a good and old friend of Singapore.
The choice of Strasbourg for the ceremony carried symbolic weight. A French city on the Rhine border with Germany, Strasbourg is in a region once contested by France and Germany. Its location, along with Brussels, as the seat of the European Parliament is an emblem of the post-war reconciliation between the two former enemies.
Mr Kohl's coffin was to be flown to Ludwigshafen and then taken by boat down the Rhine to the southwest town of Speyer for his funeral service later yesterday.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS