What should tomorrow’s Europe look like? What worries Germans about Europe? Where do they see opportunities and risks in connection with the EU? On Friday (10 March), 130 participants in a foreign policy workshop with the public had the chance to address these questions about the future of Europe directly to Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
A dialogue with Foreign Minister Gabriel
“Nowhere in the world can people live as freely and with as much democracy as in Europe,” Foreign Minister Gabriel emphasised. European cooperation was the 20th century’s greatest project for civilisation, and it has helped to overcome animosities and conflicts in Europe. “That’s something worth caring about.”
This is why the Foreign Minister chose to engage directly with citizens. The foreign policy workshop with the public brought together 130 participants between the ages of 17 and 77 for a discussion about the future of Europe. Participants first had the opportunity to pose questions to Sigmar Gabriel. Afterwards, they split into small groups to talk about European values, Europe’s role in the world and Germany’s role in the EU, as well as European and national identities.
The workshop is part of a series of events titled “What kind of Europe do we want?” Ahead of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome, Federal Foreign Office representatives have since October 2016 been attending public events throughout Germany, from Flensburg to Rosenheim, at which they meet with interested members of the general public to discuss Germany’s policy on Europe and the future of the European Union.
Enthusiasm for Europe
When he was young, Foreign Minister Gabriel said, people were enthusiastic about the idea of a united Europe. In contrast to the experiences and resentment that characterised the post-war years, people were suddenly presented with an alternative, an entirely new prospect: living together in Europe in peace. They spent their summer holidays abroad and got to know people in other countries.
Today, Gabriel went on to say, he has the impression that this fundamental aspect of the European project has been forgotten. Many things that were revolutionary at the time are today taken for granted. National narratives about Europe diverge greatly, and prejudices are becoming ingrained. Germany, for example, often sees itself as a net contributor that invests more in EU institutions than it benefits from them, while countries in southern Europe complain about austerity measures.
Gabriel: We must speak with one European voice
This crisis must be overcome, Gabriel insisted, saying that “nowhere in the world can people live as freely and with as much democracy as in Europe.” Another aspect, he explained, is that the world is changing. While the populations of Asia, Africa and Latin America are growing, Europe’s population is shrinking. Europe must adopt its own position on influential countries such as Russia, China and the United States. The Minister stressed that “our children and grand-children will only be heard in the world if Europe speaks with one voice.” Even large countries like Germany will in future only play a part through their role in a strong European Union.
It is this Union that we must work to improve, Gabriel said. The two key promises that the EU makes are peace and prosperity. Europe has brought peace, at least to Western Europe. In the coming years, the key question will be whether Europe can also make good on its promise to promote prosperity, particularly in southern Europe.