Dear Prime Ministers, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
In my capacity as Dean of the North Atlantic Council I have the great honour and immense pleasure to say a few words of welcome to our new members of the North Atlantic Council at this flag ceremony.
But first of all I want to express my heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathy to our Italian Ally on the tragic events in Italy. Our thoughts go to all the many families who are suffering unbearable loses and hardship.
As I look at the now 28 flags I am struck by how diverse they are. The design of each and everyone connected to, and sometimes representing, a historic moment in the lives of our respective nations. Each flag wields strong emotional power over those who identify themselves with it.
Now as Skanderbegs double headed eagle and the five crowning coats of Croatias historical regions fly amongst the other 26, adding to the diversity, I say welcome to all those who identify themselves with those two flags.
Welcome to the Transatlantic family. A family healthily growing over the decades, with each enlargement bringing new dimensions and different experiences to the family (by the way I notice we still have space for more flagpoles). Like a true family, irrespective of when each member joined, everyone has a say, everyone is heard, everyone has rights, and everyone has obligations and commitments. Tomorrow the challenge we face remains the same as yesterday: to encompass our differences of opinion in the spirit of those words inscribed in the Council Room “Animus in Consulendo Liber” – a free mind in consultation - for decades the way we have worked towards our common goal. Ultimately what bind us together are the shared values: freedom, democracy and the willingness and ability to contribute to the common defence of the Alliance.
There is one flag, the NATO flag, which unites those who can adhere to these words, those who can adhere to the assurance that mutual defence is a safeguard for peace, those who can identify themselves with the compass symbolising the common path to peace, and the circle symbolising unity and co-operation.
At the Strasbourg/Kehl Summit a long and at times arduous journey came to an end as Albania and Croatia took their places at the Alliance table. Now a new journey begins and from this day forward wherever NATO is represented Albania and Croatia have their place under the NATO-flag.
Once again, a cordial welcome – and the best of luck in our Alliance.