The think tank European Council on Foreign Relations celebrated its tenth anniversary on Monday (26 June). On this occasion Foreign Minister Gabriel called for European cohesion to be enhanced, the European Security and Defence Policy to be strengthened and Europe’s role within the international order to be redefined.
Turning point for Europe
2017, the tenth anniversary of the European Council on Foreign Relations, could be a turning point said Foreign Minister Gabriel. While 15 years ago, “ever closer union” was the stated goal of the European Union, since then a series of crises had jeopardised European integration. The negative outcome of national referenda concerning a European constitution, the financial and debt crisis, the tense security situation at European borders and the flows of refugees in recent times had led to scepticism towards the EU and boosted populist and nationalistic movements.
Nevertheless, Gabriel went on to say, there was now some room for optimism. The elections in Austria and the Netherlands had shown that populists could not take Europe by storm after all. Furthermore, the election of Emmanuel Macron in France confirmed that people on the European continent still believed in the EU as a guarantor for a better future. Moreover, following years of sluggish growth the economic situation had improved in almost all member states, investment was picking up and unemployment was going down.
“Europe is back”
“We can see a strong momentum”, said Gabriel: “Europe is back!” He went on to say that this momentum must now be turned into a sustainable dynamic: “We have to seize this European moment!”
To do this, Europe first of all had to be strengthened from within, Gabriel stressed. First and foremost, this was about political and social cohesion. In concrete terms, the reform of the eurozone had to be tackled in order to prevent an ever growing divergence among the European economies. Moreover, basic social security systems were needed in all member states and efforts should be made everywhere to introduce a minimum wage. Furthermore, individual countries and regions had to be supported in their fight against youth unemployment, for example through targeted investment in vocational training, infrastructure and digital projects.
In the outside world, too, Europe had to play a more prominent part, added Gabriel. The role of the European Security and Defence Policy should be strengthened. In Gabriel’s view, various regions should be the focus of special attention: in the countries of the Western Balkans, the cooperation in the spheres of infrastructure and energy had to be expanded. In countries such as Libya, Mali and Niger, too, Gabriel believes that the EU has to be more engaged in view of refugee issues and migration.
Finding a united European voice
Finally, this was also about the role of the EU in the international order, stated Gabriel. Currently, the established global cooperation was changing and formerly close partners such as the United States had to be convinced that they should continue cooperating closely. Sigmar Gabriel stated that in future the EU’s voice would only be heard on the international stage if it was a united European voice.