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Eröffnungsstatement von Europa-Staatsminister Michael Roth bei der Podiumsdiskussion „Sweden and Germany – Shaping the future of Europe together“
Ladies and gentlemen, dear students,
Thank you very much for your kind invitation. The title “Sweden and Germany – Shaping the future of Europe together” sounds a bit like “Sweden and Germany against the rest of the world”. I prefer to read the title as a reminder of a very deep and trustful friendship that bears the potential of stimulating the ongoing debate on the future of the EU.
Sweden and Germany have a lot in common: Our economies are very open: In Sweden and Germany 50-60% of the exports go to other EU-Member States. Our views are congruent in many regards: Our countries were those ready to take in the highest number of refugees at the peak of the crisis - Sweden per capita even the highest of all Member States.
Together with a group of other countries, we are pushing for a reform of our Common European Asylum System aimed at solidarity. We appreciate Sweden as an important player and partner in the EU’s civilian crisis management. Sweden – just as Germany – pursues very ambitious national climate goals. These are only a few examples of why Europe absolutely needs the clear and strong Swedish voice.
Since our last elections, we even share the experience of very challenging coalition negotiations. Now, after the end of the negotiations in Berlin, we will still have to wait for the members of my party to confirm the result. But I believe that with the draft coalition treaty, we are in a good position to obtain the approval of the social democrats.
And I believe that we can soon form a new government that is willing to bring Europe forward, to achieve reforms and to invest in the future of Europe.
Thus, after months of waiting for a German government, let me paraphrase a Chinese proverb apt for this situation: The best time for EU reform was 15 years ago. The second-best time is now.
Speaking of reforms and of the future of Europe, I believe that we first of all have to face the fact that we Europeans find ourselves in a pretty uncomfortable world today. We witness fragility and armed conflicts in our immediate neighbourhood. We see fundamental changes in the international multilateral order that has long been shaped and preserved by Europe and the United States.
And we see the rise of new actors on the international stage that do no longer share our values and our interests. And at the same time, the importance of European countries is shrinking, in terms of population and in economic terms. In today’s world, every EU Member State, whether it has 10 million or even 80 million inhabitants, is a medium-sized country at best. And what we witness is only the beginning of this international trend. This makes one thing very clear for me:
Our only choice is between having a joint voice in the world or no voice at all. We Europeans need to succeed in uniting ourselves and in shaping our future – or our future will be shaped by others.
I am aware that after all crises, such as the sovereign debt crisis and the Brexit vote - many of our citizens were asking themselves what Europe can really do about all this? What can Europe do for me, what is the added-value of Europe? I am sure that this was also the case in Sweden.
So for making Europe ready for the future I believe, we need three things:
First: Europe needs unity and cohesion. A divided, fragmented Europe is paralysed and unable to achieve anything for its citizens. Therefore, all Member States need to stand united and focus on our common interests and on our common values. But unity and cohesion is also necessary between the EU and its citizens. We see growing populism all over Europe:
In the European Parliament, in our national parliaments, in European governments. And we see sinking participation in European elections and a growing distance between the EU and its citizens. We need to bridge that gap.
Second: We need a European Union which is really sovereign. By this I mean a Union that is capable of addressing global challenges and capable of shaping its future in the world. The EU’s input is indispensable, if we think of climate change, migration flows or free and fair trade.
The EU has done away with borders – not only in the classical sense but also in telecommunications, e.g. by putting an end to roaming fees. Or think about the freedom to work and study in the EU.
Now, France has brought forward a lot of ideas for reform in the EU and there has been much talk of Germany having to answer France’s call. But we should not be mistaken: None of this can be achieved by one or two Member States alone. If we want to shape our future in the EU, we need all Member States, big or small, representing the whole range of views and interests. So I am very glad to also learn from you today, about your Swedish ideas and visions for the future of Europe.
Thank you very much.