Dear speech-fans and -friends,

This past month has been extremely rich, with the European elections campaign inviting European leaders to translate their ideas into words and their platforms into speeches: several speakers came up with vibrant definitions of political debate and poignant pleas for democracy.

But May is also a special month in the European annual calendar: a month of commemoration (from the end of the Second World War to the Schuman declaration on May 9) and a month of celebration (from the State of the Union in the European University Institute in Florence to the International Charlemagne Prize for the Unity of Europe, in Aachen). These occasions compelled several European leaders to express what Europe - and the European way - is about.

Find out the best quotes, recurring themes, and rhetorical devices below. 

We will all need this inspiration at the dawn of a new five-year mandate. 

Best wishes,

Great speeches,



Speeches to comemorate – aka epideictic speeches 

The beginning of the month of May is also metaphorically the time of year when we start to reflect. 1 May is Labour Day, when we remember that in 1890 we fought for the eight-hour working day. On 2 May, we remember the victims of the Holocaust, and on 4 May, we remember the victims of war in the Netherlands. On 5 May, we celebrate the Liberation. On 9 May, we celebrate European unification, which, for me, remains the most successful response to the tendency toward self-destruction which we Europeans have often displayed.

It is always difficult to keep these commemorations fresh. This today is one of the most inspiring initiatives – for which I thank you – which challenge us to reflect and discuss, not merely to engage in sterile commemoration. So much seems self-evident today. It is our responsibility to keep commemorations fresh in order to pass on the message and promise to our children and grandchildren too.

Read the full speech here: Frans Timmermans, Annual reflection on the eve of 4 May, the National Day of Remembrance in the Netherlands, 3 May 2019


Today workers enjoy working conditions which our grandparents could not have imagined. They fought hard for this. We have known almost 75 years of peace and freedom. Many people gave their lives for this. And we have lived for more than 60 years in a union with our neighbours, ensuring that it are diplomats who are fighting at the negotiation tables instead of soldiers fighting each other in the trenches.

Rhetorical question :

We take [our European and national achievements] completely for granted. So much so, in fact, that it is clear that it is becoming ever harder to get people to resist when these achievements come under pressure. Because “well we have already paid for it, haven’t we? So why should we pay again?”


But, freedom, gender equality, peace, prosperity, democracy, the rule of law, solidarity, and human rights 

(More) contrast 

are values; they are not verbs. 

They do not flourish all by themselves. They require fostering, nurturing and protecting.


My generation has grown up with the idea that tomorrow will always be better, simply because that is what we saw and experienced 

the inevitability of the global wave of democracy; 

the inevitability of further economic growth; 

the inevitability of increasing freedom. 

Everything humans have achieved, humans can destroy again.

And contrast, again

Nevertheless, my generation now doubts whether our children will also have it so good. I believe the fear of decline is, at this time, in many countries, stronger than the expectation of progress.

Words, power, and responsability

Words have a charge, a meaning, an effect. The use of words by authority figures – whether they gained that authority by being admired or securing political support – these words, by definition, have impact. It is a form of exercise of power. And, in a democratic society, influence, power and responsibility go hand in hand. 

Read the full speech here: Frans Timmermans, Annual reflection on the eve of 4 May, the National Day of Remembrance in the Netherlands, 3 May 2019


Greeting different members of the audience in their respective languages

In Spanish, to King Felipe VI

Su Majestad, Señoras y Señores, 

En primer lugar, quiero dar las gracias a Su Majestad el Rey Felipe VI de España por su presencia aquí hoy y sus amables palabras; significan mucho para mí.

No hay mejor manifestación del destino compartido por España y Portugal que el hecho de ser ambos miembros de la Unión Europea

Nuestros destinos han discurrido por sendas paralelas y se han cruzado en altamar.

En los años setenta, España y Portugal adoptaron los valores democráticos y pluralistas de Europa y se sumaron juntos a la Comunidad Económica Europea.

Lo que fue una rivalidad entre hermanos se ha convertido desde entonces en una asociación duradera, que beneficia a Europa en su conjunto.”

In German, to the hosts

Meine sehr verehrten Damen und Herren,

Den Karlspreis 2019  zu erhalten, ist eine einzigartige Ehre.

Ich bin der Stadt Aachen, die unsere europäische Geschichte und unser europäisches Erbe symbolisiert, sehr dankbar für diese Auszeichnung.


In English, to everyone

As a committed European and Secretary General of the United Nations, this prize is especially meaningful to me.

But I know that you are paying through me tribute to the commitment, service and sacrifice of the women and men of the United Nations.

Building a bridge with the audience, from ‘I’ and ‘you’ to ‘we’

By also encouraging the consolidation of the two greatest peace projects of our times - the United Nations and the European Union, your society showed great foresight.

(NB : French and Portuguese to come towards the end).

Defining Europe

The European Union has developed an exemplary partnership with the United Nations.

But I would be blindsided not to acknowledge some setbacks, let alone a sweeping anxiety.

This should probe our European conscience, reflected in its distinctive approach to science, freedom and history.

After all, both the United Nations and the European Union are a legacy of the values of the Enlightenment, in my opinion, the most important European contribution to World Civilization.

Whom do you quote to build a bridge with your audience? 

On peace, in Germany, who else ?

Politicians should always heed philosophers.

It took two world conflicts at the heart of Europe to put the words of Immanuel Kant into acts.

Enjoyment of freedom and human rights could only be preserved in an international rules-based order on the long journey to “Ewigen Frieden”.  

Soon, the Rome Treaty followed suit on the Charter of the United Nations to bind European countries and peoples.


Europe was the name of a crisis.

It became at long last a construction.

If there is one thing you want the audience to remember

As Secretary General of the United Nations now, I never felt so clearly the need of a strong and united Europe and this is my main message to you.

If you want to avoid a new Cold War, 

if you want to avoid the confrontation of two blocks, probably with a slightly different composition than in the past, 

if you want to build a true multilateral order, 

we absolutely need a united and strong Europe as the fundamental pillar of a multilateral order based on the rule of law.


First: climate change is the defining issue of our time (…) I just visited the Pacific Islands some weeks ago.

For people living on those islands, climate change is not an academic discussion about the future. 

It is a matter of life and death today.


And the speech comes full circle

Ladies and Gentlemen,

History tells that inability to write was Charlemagne’s frustration of a lifetime.

In his old age, the “Father of Europe” would practice in his bed during his free time the formation of letters on books and wax tablets he hid under his pillow.

Some have said that like Charlemagne, Europe had to learn from Jerusalem, Athens, Rome and so many other cultures.

And at this moment I cannot but remember all those refugee children that I saw determined to keep learning in UNHCR or UNWRA schools.

They were the same faces lit up in the poor neighborhoods of Lisbon when I was working there as a student volunteer. The work that led me to assume a political vocation.

Words, power, and responsability

All of them, and those yearning to learn, are a part of this “honorable choice” described by Albert Camus in the same text of 1946, “Vers le Dialogue”:

“ Tenir obstinément ce formidable pari qui décidera enfin si les paroles sont plus fortes que les balles.”

From ‘I’ and ‘you’ to ‘we’

Como Secretário-Geral das Nações Unidas, não tenho outros poderes senão a persuasão e o apelo à razão.

Posso assegurar-vos que darei sempre o meu melhor na defesa apaixonada dos valores do pluralismo, da tolerância, do diálogo e do respeito mútuo para construir um mundo de paz, justiça e dignidade humana.


Read the full speech here: António Guterres, Address at the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen for the Unity of Europe, 30 May 2019


Make it visible, audible, tangible – aka enargia

1989 was a year of hope. For you, a history lesson. For my generation, a defining moment.

The year the Iron Curtain collapsed. And the Berlin Wall fell down.

The Romanian revolution was the last great political turnover of that year. It started around Christmas. There was no internet yet, or social media. We watched events unfold on our TV sets.

I remember demonstrators waving the Romanian flag. With a hole in it. People had cut the communist symbol, from the national flag.

We heard people shout “Timişoara”. Because the Romanian revolution started in the city of Timişoara. It became a call to freedom.

Contrast, combined with anaplora

You are generation Internet. You have never known a world without Internet, smartphones or social media. That’s why you are also generation social. More connected to each other than any generation in human history.  

You are generation democracy.  You have never known a Europe with brutal dictatorships.

You are generation Europe. You have never known a Europe divided between East and West.

Today you can drive from Lisbon to Latvia without stopping. Without someone in uniform asking for your passport at every border. Or going through your luggage.

Another sharp contrast

For me that’s still a miracle. To you it’s self-evident.

More contrast

You are also generation climate change. You know climate change is not a theory, a maybe, but a reality. Already, your generation is meeting this challenge, with inspiring leaders like Greta Thunberg and Anuna de Wever in Belgium.

If we really want to tackle all challenges I just mentioned, we also need a social Europe.

Just think about it:

Migration is not only about protecting borders, but also about integration.

Digitalisation is not only about technology. But also about education and social protection.

Climate change is not only about emissions and energy. But also about sharing burdens and social fairness.

Ending on a call to action

The challenge of your grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation was to rebuild Europe. Rebuild Europe, from the ruins and destruction of war.

The challenge of my generation was to reunite Europe, after the divisions of the Cold War.

The challenge of your generation is to reshape Europe. To reinvent Europe. To build a better Europe.

A Europe that must certainly be social.

Read the full speech here: Marianne Thyssen, Opening speech at the Youth Event in Sibiu, Romania, 8 May 2019



Fight for values with a positive attitude, not in order to defeat someone and ultimately destroy them just for the sake of defeating them, but instead in order to find, with them, a thread of understanding, some space where compromise is possible.

Read the full speech here: Donald Tusk, "Person of the year" prize awarded by Gazeta Wyborcza, 10 May 2019


We hear all the time about the 17,4 million who voted for Brexit. And then when I ask my British friends: “Have you ever heard of the figure 16,1?”, people do not even know what that refers to. Those were the people who voted to remain. If you want to move forward, you will have to bring together people who voted to leave with people who voted to remain to find a way forward that would benefit all of society. I think that is the European way. Whether that leads to Brexit or not is another matter, but that you try and bridge the different positions is the European way.

Read the full speech here: Frans Timmermans, ‘The State of the Union’ conference (European University Institute), 2 May 2019



We know they are the result of theoretical frameworks, regulations and policies that we have created. Theoretical frameworks that can be fixed, regulations that can be changed, policies that can be improved. (…)

We need to understand the frustrations of our people, the anger behind populisms, the feeling of unfairness of the many left behind. (…)

Any policy that does not appeal to human passion is a dead policy. Any reform that does not generate people’s engagement will make little difference. Any policy that does not connect with people’s dreams will never get the necessary traction to succeed.

Read the full speech here: Angel Gurría, What can I do? What can we do? What can we do… together?,  20 May 2019



At every stage in a competition investigation, we’re aware that our reasoning and our choices have to satisfy the courts. So for us, the rule of law isn’t just an abstraction. It’s a constant presence, in the work that we do. (…)

The rule of law is not just a prescription we write for others, but a medicine that we’re also glad to take.

Make it concrete, make it tangible

When the founders of our Union wrote the competition rules, they (…) focused on setting out certain fundamental principles – principles that are just as relevant today as they were when the Treaty was signed, in 1957.

In that year,  the world’s first hard disk was installed. It weighed more than a ton, and it could store about five megabytes of data. Today’s smartphones allow us to carry a hundred thousand times as much data in the palm of our hands. And yet the competition rules that were written in 1957 still allow us to deal with the world of smartphones – as you can tell from the decisions we took last year, involving Google’s Android mobile operating system, and the smartphone chips made by Qualcomm.

Read the full speech here: Margrethe Vestager, European Association of Judges, Copenhagen, 10 May 2019


Echoing ‘Tear down this wall’

Tear down walls of ignorance and narrowmindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is.

Read the full speech here: Angela Merkel's address, Harvard Commencement 2019, 30 May 2019

Watch the full speech here 

Memorable tricolons

Thank you to the woman who hired me as a “baby lawyer” at Baker McKenzie. She, too, was an incredible role model, and she taught me three things: how to “dress”, “address,” and “redress.” And I have not forgotten any of those three.

Read the full speech here: Christine Lagarde, Distinguished Leadership Award, Atlantic Council, 30 April 2019



Jose Iturri
Excellent speech from Angela Merkel (consec interpretation included :-). Emotional, courageous and ambitious. Climate neutrality by 2050 in Germany. Chapeau
2019-06-05 13:07:22