It is great to welcome so many colleagues here today who want to share their thoughts on how to strengthen the rule of law in Europe. I am very grateful to our Belgian friends for their initiative and would like to thank Andreas Peschke and Axel Dittmann for organizing today's Meeting.
We have dozens of mechanisms regarding the Euro, fiscal policies and cohesion funds. But the EU is basically toothless when it comes to develop a common understanding of what the rule of law actually is.
Don’t get me wrong: We did not invite you together with our Belgian colleagues just tell you about my own views on this crucial subject. Also, there is not “one” objective and simple interpretation of the rule of law. Therefore, it is important for me that all Member States are included in this process and want to participate in this mechanism.
In a few days, on November 11th, all over Europe we will remember the end of World War I. This memory shall remind us also of the answer to the dark chapters of our history in the last century: the construction of a common European project based on a set of common values: Human dignity, democracy, rule of law, cultural and religious diversity, the protection of minorities as well as media freedom and freedom of speech – these are our European values, preserved in Art. 2 of the EU Treaties. They have become the “unique trademark” and “selling-point” of the EU.
We can be proud of the achievements we made together in Europe. The EU is much more than just a Common Market and a Currency Union. It is a community of values and a unique project of democracy.
These values are not just a list of criteria or checklist of good governance: These values are the essence and the core of our European identity! They are an expression of our common history and culture, based on our Jewish-Christian religious tradition, our philosophical heritage and the Enlightenment period. They are the lessons learnt of suffering, war and dictatorship.
It is not self-evident that these values will be permanently in place in the EU. The opposite is true, we need to take care of these values and defend them. The EU is a community based on the rule of law. Our European system can only work if we all have a common understanding of the rule of law and trust each other.
I know that there are serious doubts whether the existing mechanisms defending and strengthening the rule of law are really efficient and functioning. That’s why I am looking forward to your ideas and concepts in order to improve our tool box.
I support the idea of a peer-review on the rule of law. The United Nations have a Universal Periodic Review in the Human Rights Council. We, as Members of the EU, should be able to create a similar review for the rule of law.
Let me be clear: the peer-review should be used to bridge various ideas and European traditions on the rule of law. The objective is to enhance a common understanding of these norms in a fair and non-discriminating but also clear manner.
The German government wants an EU in which everyone takes part: small and big Member States, from the East and the West as well as from the North and the South. We need an EU where our common values are the basis for our cohesion. We need this cohesion internally, to have sufficient strength to shape the 21st century and global affairs.
I wish you a successful workshop and highly appreciate fresh ideas and a constructive discussion. Your criticism, inspiration and commitment are very much welcome. Dear colleagues, I count on you!