“Rethinking Europe” - speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the 35th anniversary of the Heinz Schwarzkopf Foundation, 30 August 2006

30.08.2006 - Speech

European integration is a vision that continues to fascinate especially younger people, as Tobias Bütow and Mirco Günter impressively demonstrated just now. Like many young people, you both have shown just how attractive “Project Europe” remains.

Heinz Schwarzkopf would have been pleased, I am certain of that. In his youth he experienced the same passion and enthusiasm for “Project Europe.” That is what prompted him to establish this foundation 35 years ago. For three and a half decades the Heinz Schwarzkopf Foundation has been bringing young Europeans into contact with each other. It promotes engaged high-school and university students and enables young people to recognize what they universally have in common.

Why do I consider that so important? Because if a political idea is to endure, it must remain fresh and continue to evolve. The Heinz Schwarzkopf Foundation helps water and feed our European garden. That is why I was also glad to accept André Schmitz-Schwarzkopf's invitation to deliver the keynote address at today's celebration. I would like to congratulate you on your work and encourage you to continue pursuing it with such vigor.

For the infectious enthusiasm at European youth camps or at the pub following a day of seminars on Europe is the one side of the story. General public sentiment on Europe is clearly more negative. Let's be honest: The European Union is the greatest political success story of the past 50 years, but it is now going through a difficult stage. The project of an EU constitution has stalled since the failed referenda in France and the Netherlands. We all sense how reservations against the EU are growing within the population. Most people feel uneasy with the way European policy coming out of distant Brussels is increasingly reaching into their daily lives.

I have often asked myself what a master hairdresser or a sales clerk must think when they see the gigantic office buildings of the EU Commission and listen to the arcane reports on television. Many people believe that hardly anyone in Brussels really understands the living conditions of average people or takes them into account in the decision-making process. And, by the way, Brussels is not faring differently from most national governments. Rapid changes and globalization of the economy have shaken people's confidence. Many fear that they are among the losers of the transformation. They also fear that public policy can no longer protect them against business interests. Some have become resigned to a public policy that they do not understand – and which they feel no one is explaining to them.

But public mistrust is particularly dangerous for the future of Europe. Indeed, European integration was so popular because people believed they would personally gain from open borders. In the wake of globalization, some of those whose jobs perhaps will soon also be moved abroad wish they had a protective fence back. Those who are not so flexible, mobile, or highly educated often perceive Europe not as a promise for the future but rather as a threat. I am speaking so candidly because it does not help to gloss over the situation. We cannot win back the trust of the people and find ways to guide us out of the situation unless we speak about and analyze it honestly. Public policy begins with articulating the problem.

We have to take seriously the public's broad concerns about Europe and cannot merely sweep them aside. Precisely because I want further European integration, I call on policymakers to listen more to the people, to engage in discussion, and to better explain European measures. Democratic politics needs the support of the people. But that certainly does not mean that people should just be told what they want to hear! So let us try to go through some of the objections and concerns, one by one.

Many citizens ask, for example, whether we should continue to transfer additional tasks to the European level. My response is, you are right to ask that question! European integration has today reached a very high level. We no longer have to worry about preventing a war between the French, Germans, and other nations. Today we are negotiating in Brussels about everyday problems which used to be at the core of national domestic policy. In an extreme case a 30-year-old Greek in Brussels now decides whether a small or medium-sized business in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania may or may not receive a government subsidy.

That is no longer considered an interference in the internal affairs of an EU member state. All EU countries have voluntarily ceded their national rights. But that does not mean that the EU Commission should exploit every gray area to seize further competences in virtually every marginal area.

For in the meantime no one can mistake this call: Everywhere in Europe people are demanding more respect for their national identities. Cultural diversity in Europe is an enormous asset. We should not destroy it through leveling mania. We must therefore make clearer what competences will definitively remain with the nation states. For example, I count the social welfare systems among those competences. Many people in Germany fear that what we call “harmonization” will also affect our pension and health-care systems, and the standards of living, say, in Germany and Poland could be harmonized to half of what they are today. This fear is unfounded under the EU treaties, but we have to explain that much more clearly to the people.

Many citizens are also concerned that they often cannot identify who is responsible for decisions in the EU or how those decisions come about. Granted, reconciling interests in a Union of 25 member states is not an easy matter. But I can, nevertheless, understand the unease of many citizens. Only a seasoned specialist expert can navigate the labyrinth in Brussels, where EU directives and regulations are hatched. That sows mistrust among the citizenry. Indeed, we know that from our own personal experience: Whenever someone cannot or does not want to say in comprehensible terms what they are intending or planning to do, we suspect they probably have something to hide.

So let us be very frank: We have to improve the way EU institutions in Brussels work. Europe must in future become more transparent and coherent. That is why we need the constitution — the sooner, the better. The project of an EU constitution must be taken up again under the German EU presidency next year.

Many people even feel their livelihoods threatened by the EU. Particularly in the light manufacturing industries, many companies are moving their jobs to Eastern Europe. Others scare their workforce with the threat of moving to Eastern Europe, even when their plants are operating in the black. At the same time, low-cost workers are surging onto the German market from the other direction. Skilled workers and construction companies complain about cheap foreign competition ruining prices in our country. Anyone who has to have an apartment wallpapered or a wall moved here in Berlin knows that an Eastern European offers the most reasonable price.

But this is where I say, stop! – because EU enlargement eastward has on balance been a success story particularly for Germany. I disagree with the complaints about the proverbial “Polish plumber.” Europe has gained a dynamic economic region with the accession states in the East. We need only look 80 kilometers eastward from here! Everyday trucks are waiting on long lines on the border to Poland. They all contain goods produced, wrapped, and packaged by us here in Germany.

A new growth market has sprung up for many companies in Germany, starting with the machine engineering sector. When Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia become prosperous, that will create and secure countless jobs at home in Germany.

That is why I would like to make a clear appeal against the complaints that Germany is a net payer of EU enlargement. Europe is not making us Germans poor. On the contrary, our prosperity and our jobs are mainly due to the circumstance that we are able to sell our goods in 25 EU countries without customs duties or border fences. We talk a lot about Germany being the “world's leading exporter.” That sounds as though we were bringing our cars, machines, and other products to market mainly in the U.S. or in Asia. But this is a false impression: We sell nearly two-thirds of German exports to our partners in the EU. The Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce has calculated that the open borders for goods and products in the EU secure 5.5 million jobs at home in Germany.

Not every rallying cry of the Euroskeptics is valid, even if it sounds plausible for a brief moment. Many populists claim that Europe is making people poor and benefiting only large corporations. Anyone who talks that way is not in their right mind! Let's look at the trend in the countries that joined the EU 20 years ago. In 1986, Spain had an unemployment rate of 23 percent; today it is well below 10 percent. Since Ireland has been in the EU, the people there are no longer emigrating as they had done for centuries. Anyone who wishes, now finds a job there; Irelands has even become a magnet for immigrants seeking work. And in the meantime there are even businesses and skilled workers from Germany who are operating successful branches in Ireland with workers from here.

I would therefore like to stress that the European internal market is, on the whole, an engine for prosperity and jobs. Anyone who has an idea in Europe, anyone who invents a new product, can sell it on a market of 450 million people without encountering obstacles. Such an opportunity can hardly be found anywhere else in the world.

The introduction of the euro has also been a benefit to us all. We have thus created a single currency for 300 million people. Consumers and businesses alike profit from it, even if the pizza or the wiener schnitzel in the restaurant has become more expensive. Nevertheless, on the whole, money has retained its value. Inflation – which is the most important measure particularly for the people with low or average incomes – has been cut in half, to 1.3 percent, in Germany since the introduction of the euro. In the euro-zone businesses can now settle payments in a single currency and no longer need to hedge against exchange rates. The Federation of German Industries estimates that businesses in Germany will therefore save roughly 10 billion euros per year.

Notwithstanding all the successes in the economic sphere, we still talk too little in Europe about the other issues. Europe is more than just a common market. Europe is also a societal model, which differs from those in the U.S. and Asia. The large majority of people in Europe are proud of the social balance in our competitive society, as practiced here in Europe. People want a social Europe which also upholds our understanding of liberty and tolerance. We have not stressed these points clearly enough in past years.

Another assumption which I hear time and again is that open borders are a threat to our security. Accordingly, the gates are also gaping wide open to organized crime and terrorism in the EU. Here, too, I beg to differ! Traffickers in human beings, drug dealers, and terrorists have not been deterred by barriers or border signs for a long time now. But in the EU government countermeasures always work better. We can all still remember well when law-enforcement agencies and intelligence services in Europe used to keep information and computer data from each other. Those days are over! Security authorities in the EU are now closely interconnected with each other. And this cooperation has led in several cases to terrorist plans being thwarted.

After the attacks in Madrid and London, we succeeded in quickly identifying and apprehending the perpetrators and organizers. None of this would have been possible in a Europe with internal borders. We should realize that without the EU we would be less safe today in Germany.

Still others say, the Europeans, the EU simply can't pull it off. Nothing gets done with this bickering bunch. Such critics like to compare us with the U.S. They say, Washington is really the only world power that can quickly intervene in any conflict with military force and political clout. They advise us to forgo a common foreign and security policy altogether instead of constantly fighting without producing any results.

That's not a discussion that primarily interests skilled workers or the man on the street. Rather, it is more a topic foreign- and security-policy elites engage in.

Nevertheless, this debate is important to the future of Europe. Because, indeed, it's true: It is frequently difficult for 25 EU countries to act jointly in foreign-policy matters. Each country has its own history, traditions, and sensibilities. These cannot be simply pushed aside. And the instruments of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy also are capable of improvement. Many of these points have been addressed in the constitutional treaty, which is also why we need it.

Yet over the past years the EU has further developed its foreign policy at lightening speed and, in particular, has also learned from the wars in the Balkan region. We Europeans are engaged in peacekeeping missions in numerous countries, both politically and militarily. Today the EU is securing peace in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and in Macedonia, as well as outside Europe. Think about the EU missions in the Indonesian province of Aceh or in the Congo.

And a particularly important task awaits us now in Lebanon. Europe is sending some 7,000 soldiers as international peacekeeping troops. In doing so, we want to demonstrate that the EU is an important and reliable partner in the search for lasting peace in the Middle East.

We have to make it still somewhat clearer to the public that the Common European Foreign and Security Policy will grow in importance in the 21st century. We cannot merely put up a border around the EU and say: We don't shoot at each other here, and the rest of the world is not our concern. The world has long grown much too closely interwoven for that. Only recently did we witness that once again: If a war breaks out in the Middle East, the threat of terror also rises on our regional trains.

This is another reason, beyond our moral and political obligations. We will only secure peace here in Europe, that is, permanently, when our neighbors also enjoy stability, democracy, and the rule of law. That is why we are striving so vigorously within the EU to strengthen stability in South-Eastern and Eastern Europe, as well as in the Middle East and throughout the Mediterranean region – and, in doing so, the EU is forging its own path.

I am firmly convinced: The problems of the 21st century – from international terrorism to the breakup of entire states – cannot be solved with military arsenals, no matter how impressive they may be. There will only be permanent peace throughout the world when people overcome prejudices and hate and begin to work and live together. The EU has demonstrated this over the last 50 years.

Our message to the restless regions of the world is: talk instead of shooting! That is our most important political export product in the EU. That is why soldiers of the German Armed Forces have been stationed in the Balkan region for over 10 years. And that is why we are also engaged for the long term in Afghanistan — through the provision of not only German Armed Forces but also development aid workers, teachers, and government advisors. In the Middle East, too, I am counting on an intelligent mix of political negotiations, military backup, and very practical aid to help the people in the region grow together in their daily lives and overcome the humanitarian crisis.

The EU has gradually grown to 25 countries. The constant enlargement has helped overcome the division of Europe. It has brought long-term stability for Europe and ensured that democracy, the rule of law, and market-economic structures were able to spread throughout all of Europe.

Now we are faced with the question of how far the EU can expand beyond the current borders without losing its internal cohesion. This question is currently being discussed under the Finish presidency. It will take some time until we resolve it together. Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 will not be the last states to accede to the EU – that much is certain. But the road to membership for new candidates will sometimes be longer and rockier than some may hope for.

The EU will keep its promises. But, at the same time, we should not deceive ourselves: The criteria which the EU has established for this process must be rigorously applied. Moreover we must clearly state that not every country with aspirations of joining the EU will wind up in the EU, will ultimately be accepted as a full member. Still we must not disappoint the forces that are striving for democracy and market economy in those countries. Therefore we in the EU need to be able to make attractive and credible offers to our neighbors who have bravely begun an often painful reform process.

The EU needs to reformulate its policy towards the East — that is not as grandiose as it sounds. We are already working on it. This fall the European Commission will present a report on its policy of neighborly relations. The German Government wants the European Council to grant it a mandate in December to further develop and intensify the policy of neighborly relations during the German EU presidency next year.

Anyone who talks to people in Germany knows that a clear majority continues to view the European project in a positive manner – despite some skepticism. The same also applies, by the way, to the majority of Europeans as a whole. Yet the questions and fears that I have addressed, they play a significant role for the citizens. And they demand very specific responses, also to the fundamental question of why and for what purpose we need the EU.

Policymakers must ask themselves self-critical questions. The arguments offered during the founding stage of the EU are simply no longer sufficient at the start of the 21st century. The generation of Heinz Schwarzkopf, it still saw a clear objective. Out of the trenches and ruins of the Second World War grew an irrepressible will to prevent such carnage from ever happening again.

International understanding and European integration thus gained momentum. The life work of Heinz Schwarzkopf and of his foundation are representative of the achievement of that generation. It rebuilt Europe and Germany through unbelievable effort and dedication. I mean that in both a material and an intellectual sense. I think, for that, we should all be grateful to the generation of our parents for a long time to come.

On March 27, 2007 — during the German EU presidency — it will be exactly 50 years ago since the Treaties of Rome were signed. A look back at this period reveals an incredible success story. We are experiencing the most peaceful period in the existence of Europe. The threat of war, expulsion, and hunger have been virtually overcome.

We are enjoying peace, stability, and prosperity at a level as no generation has done before us. And yet these unprecedented living conditions are already taken for granted, especially by the younger generation. Forty years ago, during the period of Adenauer and de Gaulle, youth exchange between Germans and the French was a main message. Who among the younger of you here in this hall can still imagine that? Now, some people even only know of the Berlin Wall through accounts.

We are now standing on the threshold to a new epoch: the era of the knowledge-based society, the globalized economy — characterized by the Internet, limited raw materials, and growing environmental pollution. The old paradigms are therefore no longer enough to get people excited about Europe. It is my firm conviction that we need to change our perspective if “Project Europe” is to become appealing to the people again.

Against this backdrop we must place Europe on a new foundation. We do not need to reinvent but to rethink Europe. What is our objective and our mission today? What shape should Europe take in 2030. What vision of Europe can we offer young people today? Rethinking Europe also means policymakers should not act as though they already had an answer to every question.

We have some foundations on which we can build in this effort. Europe is a community of shared values, not just an economic area. Anyone who wants proof need only look at the European Charter of Fundamental Rights from the year 2000. It guarantees every EU citizen rights that sound self-evident to us, but by no means are: inviolable human dignity; the right to life; the ban on capital punishment and torture; freedom of thought, conviction, and religion. The European model of society is based on these values.

We Europeans stand for a policy that enables every individual to take control of their life and succeed through achievement. We also stand for people being able to rely on the support of society when they are in need. We want a tolerant society in which people of all colors, religions, and persuasions live together. We promote a child- and family-friendly work and living environment. And Europe also means that we view different cultures and traditions as an asset to be vigilantly preserved. “Unity in diversity” – that is and remains the proper motto for the EU.

Young people in the European Union have opportunities today like no other generation before them. From Estonia to Portugal, we are linked by shared opportunities, a shared attitude towards life, perhaps even a “European way of life.” Younger people – I call them today's “Generation Europe” – have every reason to seize and shape their future with self-confidence.

The framework for the Europe of the future is in place. But the question of what image we give it is still open. You should therefore see it as an encouragement: Let us rethink Europe! I mean this appeal as a call on everyone to actively shape the future of Europe. Indeed, we all know we would be worse off without this united Europe. So let us together seek out the opportunities that await us. Let us roll up our sleeves as the generation of Heinz Schwarzkopf once did. Let us grapple to find the best path for Europe!

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