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Past German Chancellor Schmidt wins peace prize

Helmut Schmidt and the charity "Children for a better World" have been awarded the Westphalia Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech, the 93-year-old former Social Democrat called for "proactive" measures to save the EU.

Germany's most famous chain smoker honored the smoking ban in the historic town hall in Münster when receiving his award, given out every two years to individuals or organizations that have contributed to peace in Europe or the wider world.

Schmidt, Germany's Chancellor from 1974 to 1982, was described as "one of the most meaningful path clearers for a peacefully united Europe" at the ceremony.

"If a military conflict between European countries is unthinkable nowadays, then that is thanks to people like Helmut Schmidt," Reinhard Zinkmann, the chairman of the economic society for Westphalia and Lippe, said in his speech honoring Schmidt.

Helmut Schmidt, smoking a cigarette

Probably Germany's most famous smoker, Schmidt unusually abstained on Saturday

Together with former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, himself a former winner of the German prize, the Social Democrat chancellor established "a series of decisive points on the path to European integration," including the formation of a European Council and the 1979 establishment of the European Currency Union - a precursor of sorts for the single European currency, the euro.

A message for the present

Schmidt said in his acceptance speech that the increased European unity achieved in his lifetime could still disintegrate, alluding to the need to combat the bloc's current debt difficulties.

"We cannot just be advocates of a European union," Schmidt said. "Instead, we must go far further and operate proactively to ensure it."

In an apparent reference to increasing reticence among Germans to contribute towards the emergency loan packages, more commonly called "bailouts," granted to struggling eurozone members, Schmidt called on Germany to remember the help it received when rebuilding in the difficult years after World War II, concluding that "Germany cannot be allowed to be responsible for the collapse of the EU."

The Social Democrat also criticized the EU's institutions in his speech, saying they were failing to further integrate the continent, citing the lack of progress on a proposed EU constitution as an example.

Schmidt shared this year's prize with the "Children for a better World" charity, which was formed in 1994 in Munich. The charity says it has contributed 25 million euros ($32.5 million) to 1,200 projects around the world since its inception. The two parts of the award both carry prizes of 50,000 euros.

The Westphalia Peace Prize, established in 1998, gets its name from the famous Westphalia Peace Treaty of 1648, a series of treaties signed that year to bring an end to the Thirty Years' War and the Eighty Years' War. Past winners include former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, former German chancellor Helmut Kohl and Czech dissident playwright turned president, Vaclav Havel.

msh/jr (dpa, epd, KNA)