Not every generation is fortunate enough to witness the emergence of a figure of unique international standing who has a profound impact on the lives of people across the world.
The European Union would like to pay tribute to the extensive personal achievements of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela a man who has come to symbolise the triumph of hope over despair, of justice over oppression and of peace over conflict.
Nelson Mandelas incredible story of personal sacrifice and his achievements for South Africa are well known to everyone in this room and will forever be remembered with the greatest respect by all democratic nations. His readiness to pay the ultimate price for his ideals is perhaps best expressed through his own words at his trial in 1964 before his 27 long years of detention.
He said I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Mr Mandelas steadfast perseverance and his commitment to these ideals and to living in a democratic and free society continue to stand out for all those around the world who are still denied their human rights and their fundamental freedoms. We hope all prisoners of conscience, wherever they are, will one day be able to enjoy the freedom which is denied to them and that was denied to Mandela for so many years.
Mr Mandelas work to build peace and to promote reconciliation at the national level has rightly been recognised by awards of the most prestigious nature, including the Nobel Peace Prize. The legacy of his struggle for social justice and of his efforts to combat HIV and AIDs continue to this day. We salute these achievements.
What sets him apart is also his ability to touch the hearts of ordinary people. Many of us remember the long years of Mr Mandelas incarceration and we were shaped by the example he set to us. His dignity and compassion in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenges have made people realise what an individual and mankind as a whole can achieve.
Mr President allow me to finish with the following quotation by Nelson Mandela:
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter. I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.
Mr President, I thank you!