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Germany

German president looks back on 2015: 'We've shown what we are capable of'

The refugee crisis was at the heart of German President Joachim Gauck's Christmas address. Gauck says that, through dialogue, solutions must now be found that meet ethical standards and do not endanger social cohesion.

German President Joachim Gauck combined his traditional Christmas address to the German people with some "gentle words of encouragement." The Christian holy scriptures, he said, show that the events honored on Christmas were a demonstration of God's love for the world - his philanthropy.

"It is very nice to be embraced by this philanthropy," Gauck continued, "But it is even nicer if we incorporate this philanthropy into our own lives and carry it out into our world."

Gauck also thanked those who had helped Germany cope with the refugee crisis, whether as volunteers or as part of their job. "We have shown what we are capable of - in terms of good will and professionalism, but also in the art of improvisation," he said. The many people who spontaneously offered their help had, he said, become "the face of a kind and warm-hearted country."

Controversy a 'part of democracy'

Gauck made reference to the "intensity" of the current debate in Germany about how to deal with those seeking asylum. "How should we deal with the refugees looking for a place to stay and a future in our country?"

The president's recommendation: "Only through open discussions and debates can we find enduring solutions that will be supported by the majority." The controversy was not, he said, a disruption of German unity, but part of life in a democracy. He credited the political engagement of citizens with helping to flag up unsolved problems. One thing, however, was also clear: Violence and hatred were not, he stressed, legitimate means for solving or calling attention to those problems.

Solutions now had to be found that met "ethical standards" and "do not endanger social cohesion," and that "consider the well-being of our own citizens, without forgetting the distress of the refugees." Both citizens and politicians should defend "what makes our liberal and democratic country both likeable and a good place to live."

Fear and insecurity

In retrospect, Gauck said that 2015 had been a year strongly marked by misfortune, violence, terrorism and war. These factors have often provoked fear and insecurity, he added. Numerous crises had happened at the same time, Gauck said, and many were still ongoing: the financial crisis, increasing differences within the EU and the debate about the future of Greece. Gauck specifically highlighted the crises in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan and the parts of Africa affected by terrorism.

During the speech, recorded at Schloss Bellevue, his official residence in Berlin, the president also sent a special greeting to the soldiers of the German Bundeswehr deployed "in the dangerous fight against the roots of terrorism."

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