Speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth at the Romanian-German Forum's “Romania and Germany – New Opportunities for Europe?” conference in Bucharest

04.05.2017 - Speech

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Exactly fifteen months ago, I had the honour of being present at the birth of this Forum. I am delighted to see that our baby is clearly thriving and prospering and has already made lots of new friends.

I thank the Romanian-German Forum's invitation to the “Romania and Germany – New Opportunities for Europe?” conference. This conference is celebrating in particular the 25th anniversary of the Treaty on Friendly Cooperation between Germany and Romania. The Foreign Ministers Sigmar Gabriel and Teodor-Viorel Meleşcanu published a joint declaration on this anniversary on 21 April 2017.

The title of this conference puts in a nutshell what should be our main concern today, i.e. what do our two countries need to do to defend and strengthen a united Europe that will be able to rise to future challenges?

But it is always worth going to Bucharest, not just for this reason. I have good memories of both of my trips this past year. They showed me yet again how close relations between us are and how wide-ranging our cooperation is in different fields. Our relationship is also built on the countless personal ties between us.

We will have many opportunities in 2017 to properly celebrate this relationship. We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, but it is particularly the “Treaty on Friendly Cooperation and Partnership in Europe” of 21 April 1992 that has laid the foundation for the political, cultural and economic cooperation between our two countries.

The fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe paved the way for overcoming the division of Europe for good.

Our aim was and remains to create a permanent pan-European peaceful order and to build a common Europe united by human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Ladies and gentlemen,

25 years later we can look back on many successes. We took a big step towards our joint aim of a peaceful order when Romania became a member of NATO in 2004 and of the European Union in 2007, which was then under German presidency.

The Treaty on Friendly Cooperation included many areas, i. a. promoting cultural cooperation and economic exchange, both of which have been a great success. German investors have created about 300,000 jobs in Romania and are seriously involved in the field of vocational education and training.

Trade relations between Germany and Romania have steadily intensified since 2009 and the volume of trade currently amounts to more than 26 billion euros. Germany is Romania's most important trading partner.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A major component of the Treaty on Friendly Cooperation was the setting up of a Romanian-German Intergovernmental Commission for the concerns of the German minority in Romania. The 20th meeting of this Commission, also an anniversary date, took place a few days ago in Bucharest. The members of this minority played and still play a major part as bridge-builders and role models. The same is true for the many Romanian citizens who live in Germany and enrich the close relations between our two countries. This regular interaction between Romanians and Germans is clear proof of the fact that diversity is part of Europe's identity. We benefit from it. All of us.

Ladies and gentlemen,

But we must not deny that the European Union has never faced as many major difficulties as it does today. Recent crises and challenges have shown us one thing, i.e. we must not take the achievements of the last few decades for granted! Political stability, domestic and international security and, in particular, the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in a democratic society based on the rule of law are too important to simply stand back and watch them being eroded in any way whatsoever. That is why we are conducting an open, constructive and results-oriented dialogue between Romania and Germany. A stable partnership should also allow for mutual criticism and debate.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the past few years, Romania, under the European Union's Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, has made impressive progress in the battle for the rule of law and against corruption. Against this backdrop, le me be very frank, OUG (Emergency Decree) No 13 issued at the end of January greatly troubled the German Government and many other international partners, affecting their confidence in the Romanian Government's desire to persevere in their path to success. We therefore share the worry, anxiety and astonishment of large swaths of Romanian civil society.

In impressive demonstrations, Romanian civil society sent a clear signal full of courage, commitment and determination that they are against corruption and for the rule of law and, something I would really like to stress, for Europe.

It is hard to imagine a clearer and more moving pledge than that of tens of thousands of Romanians coming together under the European flag. It is probably the clearest sign of Romania's success on the path towards an open, tolerant and pluralistic society, i.e. tens of thousands of citizens taking to the streets to support diversity, freedom of opinion and sticking to clear rules. This is living democracy, something that can certainly not be taken for granted everywhere in Europe.

The German Government hopes that the Romanian Government will take these signals seriously and that, along with the Parliament, it will act accordingly at each stage of reforming Romania's criminal law and tackling the situation in its prisons. This would show its partners in the European Union that Romania is determined to carry out consistent and credible reforms. A commitment to a united European Union also means a commitment to our common European values.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Under the title “Germany and Romania in 2016 – joint solutions for new challenges in Europe”, we exchanged our first thoughts on the future of a united Europe when we set up this forum. Recently, some of the challenges we saw coming towards us on the European horizon have unfortunately become bitter reality. It is now up to us to find the right answers, a process we can begin already in our discussions today. Please allow me to throw in two issues we should examine to begin with.

Firstly, we must enable Europe to keep its promise of prosperity. We all have to show solidarity. For a long time, the single market was enough to guarantee growth and employment in Europe. The last few years have shown, however, that the single market on its own is not enough to hold Europeans together.

We must turn the European economy into a functioning social market economy. If Europe is to keep its promise in the future too, it must show more of a social conscience and more solidarity. Not just in the form of lofty rhetoric but in a way that is concrete and real for citizens everywhere in Europe.

This can be demonstrated clearly with figures. Although the growth forecasts are positive for all EU Member States, this does not mean that we have turned the corner, as the average unemployment rate in Europe is still too high. Above all, the issue of youth unemployment is a heavy burden for the future of Europe. In Romania, for example, youth unemployment is almost four times higher than the average unemployment rate.

So it is right and proper that, 60 years after the Treaties of Rome were signed, Europe debates on its future, putting social issues, youth and employment at the heart of its discussions and decisions.

Secondly, we must, in solidarity and in acknowledgement of humanitarian principles, find an answer to one of the main challenges for the future, i.e. refugees and migration in the face of war, displacement and crippling poverty.

Does anyone really believe that the EU Member States can unilaterally find sensible solutions to refugees and migration on a global scale, particularly from our neighbouring countries? How absurd! Isolating ourselves is not the answer.

The European Union must of course be enabled to control its external borders. However, the refugee crisis is clear proof that we need Europe. A better Europe that is allowed to act and does not have its hands tied.

We should not forget in our discussions that there is no easy solution to the refugee crisis; it is not just another bullet point on Europe's latest to-do list. By this I mean that our response to this will be the making or the undoing of our liberal and pluralistic model of society. And of our common European values. Europe must remain a safe harbour for people fleeing from dictatorship, war and persecution.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to be able to discuss all of these issues with you this evening and to develop ideas on how Germany and Romania can help find solutions, so that we can replace the question mark in our conference's title “Romania and Germany – New Opportunities for Europe?” with an exclamation mark.

Thank you and I am looking forward to a stimulating evening.

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