In his keynote speech on Europe, delivered this June under the heading of “Europe United”, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for a stronger alliance of all EU member states. He said that we need “a large Europe. A Europe that doesn’t differentiate between smaller and larger countries, or between the centre and the periphery.”
Since this summer, the Federal Foreign Office’s European Directorate General has been pursuing a concerted campaign involving like minded countries. The aim is to further enhance cooperation with strongly pro European EU member states, to better explain Germany’s policies, and to more closely integrate our partners and their priorities into our foreign policy. Alongside pursuing crisis diplomacy and maintaining relations with long standing and important partners, cooperation with like minded countries is again at the top of Germany’s foreign policy agenda.
A first step: enhancing cooperation with Ireland and Finland
Finland and Ireland are the first two strongly pro European countries with which the German Government has chosen to enhance cooperation as part of its campaign involving like minded countries. Heiko Maas visited Ireland in mid April, only one month after having taken up office, emphasising that – particularly with a view to Brexit – cohesion of the EU27 remains an absolute priority. He also stressed that Ireland is an important partner – particularly for the reforms that Germany and France seek to implement together in the EU. He went on to say that, to achieve this, we need all EU partners on board. Germany and Finland, which Minister Maas visited in late May, also share a similar understanding of European values.
Recently, pilot projects have gotten under way with both countries. Over the last few weeks, country specific consultations (so called Ländertische) were held with both Ireland and Finland. This involved calling meetings of representatives from several ministries on both sides that are important for bilateral relations, for the purpose of tackling specific projects. In Germany’s view, these consultations must pursue not only common objectives, but should also address new and emerging issues in areas such as science and research, the environment and the opportunities of digital technology.
The Nordics: a group of like minded countries
The campaign involving like minded countries has an open format and will include other countries, as well, such as Denmark and Sweden. At a conference on German Scandinavian cooperation in the EU, Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth emphasised what these countries have in common: “All of us are pursuing ambitious climate targets, and we have similar views when it comes to economic policy and questions about the single market.” A key objective of the like minded countries’ joint efforts is to defend the rule of law and European values.
Creating a strong network of bilateral relations is becoming increasingly important, given the challenges the EU is facing from within and the external threats it must ward off. With its campaign involving like minded countries, Germany wants to strengthen trust, and Europe in general, by increasing its political liaison work in all directions.
It is doing so because, as Heiko Maas emphasised in his speech on Europe, the late Belgian Prime Minister Paul Henri Spaak was right when he said: “There are only two kinds of states in Europe: small states, and small states that have not yet realised they are small.”