Speech by Federal Minister Steinmeier on the Future of Europe

12.06.2007 - Speech

Federal Minister Steinmeier delivered a speech on Europe's future at the 3rd Joint Parliamentary Meeting June 12 in Brussels. He emphasized the importance of a united Europe as the international balance shifts and noted broad support for “placing the EU on a new footing” before the European Parliament elections in 2009. “We need new foundations for the EU's work if we want to be effective in performing the tasks before us, whether in connection with climate protection, energy security or the resolution of current international crises,” he said.

— Check against delivery —

President of the European Parliament,
Vice-President of the German Bundestag,
Commission President,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The future of Europe has always been based on two pillars. On the one hand there were political visions that saw well beyond the immediate future and which sought to plot the way of European unity for many years to come. On the other hand the last 50 years in Europe have also been marked by a considerable amount of pragmatism, and European integration has always been a building site producing small successes, a constant grappling with the concrete problems of the day.

That is still the case today. As so often in the last decades, we are living at a time in which we must take important decisions on the future of Europe. That being so, this year's Parliamentary Meeting rightly focuses on the future of Europe, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you and discuss this issue as a representative of the German EU Presidency.

As holder of the Presidency, we have set ourselves the goal of commencing the process to successfully renew the basis of the EU's work, and we are only a few days away from a European Council that will play a decisive role in this process.

At the same time we Europeans face urgent issues which cannot be postponed. Questions which need answers now. Crises such as those in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa cannot wait until we have put the treaty reform behind us. Here political determination, European action and political backbone are called for – both before and after the treaty reform.

The debate on the future of Europe is therefore definitely multifaceted, and for that reason I do not now intend merely to reduce it to a mere interim phase in preparation for the upcoming European Council.

Instead, let me begin with the subject of visions. What is the European Dream today, at the start of the 21st century?

“Let Europe arise!” That was Winston Churchill's appeal to Europeans in his famous 1946 speech to the Academic Youth in Zürich. Churchill wanted to provide the European Family “… with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom.” His idea was “a kind of United States of Europe”. He believed, “In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.”

Was it easier to have visions then? Amid the devastation of postwar Europe, European unification was held aloft as a peace project. Peace and prosperity – these two early European dreams have now to a great extent become reality. Once irreconcilable enemies have become close partners. The same is true of other major future projects from the past. Isolated individual economies have become an internal market for 500 million consumers, while the former confusing diversity of banknotes and coins is making way for a common currency in ever more EU countries.

And now? What kind of Europe do we need? How much Europe do we need? People have become more reflective in recent years, as evidenced in the rejection of the constitution via referenda in France and the Netherlands. Insecurity is widespread. Many people feel that decisions are taken by bureaucrats who are too far removed from real life. There is fear of a European superstate which exacerbates rather than helps resolve the problems of globalization.

These are very serious reservations, and they concern me all the more since they are weakening the idea of European unification at a time when we ought to be especially bold in pursuing it.

For if we are not only asking ourselves what form Europe should take today, but also what form it should take, say, in 20 years' time, surely our first priority must be to look at the world in which this Europe finds itself, a world which is changing fast and ever more dynamically. Today we are surprised when we see the silhouette of Shanghai and the number of cranes there. China already has the world's fourth-largest economy. Mexico City, Tokyo, Cairo, Istanbul, Lagos, São Paulo – all over the world megacities are emerging which seemingly know no bounds.

What will it be like in 20 years' time? In 2025 China is likely to be the second-largest economy in the world, as big as the EU's six largest economies put together. And if today's prognoses are correct, a quarter of a century later, in 2050, India will overtake us convincingly as the third-largest economy, followed by Brazil and Russia in fourth and fifth place.

In other words, the international balance will shift quite considerably. What will the world order look like then? Only one thing is clear – even today, individual European nation-states can no longer represent their interests single-handedly. How much truer will this be in 20 or 50 years' time?

The creation of a united Europe is therefore more than an abstract idea, more than a nice topic for a newspaper supplement – it is a very concrete political necessity. If we Europeans want to have a say in global governance in the future – and we have every reason to want this – Europe is our best chance of doing so. Europe has helped us to banish the ill-fated ghosts of the past. Today we need it to safeguard our future. I see this as a call for political involvement, a task that will still occupy us in 10, 20 or 50 years' time – even if, as I sincerely hope, the envisaged treaty reform succeeds.

I now want to focus on a few aspects which I believe are core components of the Europe of the future. They are:

  • European foreign policy,
  • further development of the European Security and Defence Policy,
  • formation of a European public opinion,
  • the European value of solidarity and
  • the European social dimension in the face of globalization.

I am aware that this cannot be a complete list. But these are areas in which the citizens of Europe expect the EU to take resolute action.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When we talk today about the need for reform in Europe, we also always speak of more scope to act in the area of foreign policy. And quite rightly so, for two reasons. First, the more we manage to speak “with one voice”, the more powerful and effective European external policy will be.

Take the example of the Middle East. In the last six months – and this was a priority of the German EU Presidency – we have succeeded in playing an active and responsible European role, which is what the conflicting parties expect from us. The revival of the Middle East Quartet is largely thanks to Europe's insistence. Admittedly, none of the conflict situations are even close to being resolved. But things have been set in motion.

And that brings me to the second reason. Wherever I travel – and as Foreign Minister and Council President I have covered a lot of ground particularly in the last six months – I sense that people have high expectations of Europe. Maybe also because many people throughout the world want to share in some way in Europe's success story – for that is how almost everyone outside the continent perceives it. In other words, almost everywhere in the world there is a desire to cooperate with a Europe that has managed, as Carlos Fuentes recently said, “to turn history into an opportunity, not a burden, and to recognize cultural diversity as well as the universality of human rights.”

We therefore need to strengthen the EU's scope to act in the area of foreign policy. And we must use this as a basis on which to gradually build a European foreign policy that is visible to outsiders and that coherently and effectively embraces the European approach in international relations: i.e. that paves the way for development and for the resolution of conflicts first and foremost through dialogue and civilian means and only resorts to military action when absolutely necessary.

We already support this approach with our European Security and Defence Policy. The EU has deployed 16 civilian and military operations in only four years. And enormous progress has been made on the issue of the speed at which troops can be mobilized or the controlling of operations. However, international crisis scenarios – we only have to think of the mission in the Congo, or the European contribution to the peacekeeping troops in Lebanon – require increasingly rapid, more decisive responses. I therefore believe that further expansion of the ESDP is vital. And if you ask me about long-term visions for the Europe of the future, I would say that a common European defence policy would be a good candidate.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Almost every day decisions are taken in Brussels which have a direct impact on the lives of people in Europe. And I say quite clearly that the impact is overwhelmingly positive! And I am not just thinking of the roaming directive, which, following the approval of the EP, was also adopted by the Council last week and which will soon reduce the cost of mobile phone calls throughout Europe.

But I get the impression that we have not yet managed to communicate these changes in such a way that they have become part of people's everyday way of thinking. At the same time, I am sure that one reason for the euroscepticism in recent years has been the discrepancy between the realities of a closer community and public perception.

Politics cannot shirk its responsibility for this situation. When the going gets tough, national politicians are only too happy to pass the buck to Brussels. But in Brussels, too, when problems surface, people are quick to blame “inadequate implementation by the Member States”.

One thing seems clear to me – if Europe is to grow yet closer together politically, we must push to establish a European public. The foundations for this have been laid. Parties, unions, associations have already built up European networks, are debating with one another and taking far-reaching joint decisions in some cases – consider, for example, the pan-European political groups in the EP.

Nonetheless, even European events are still predominantly viewed with a national slant. In the words of Milan Kundera, “All nations of Europe endure the same common fate, but each nation has a different perspective on it, coloured by its particular experiences.”

My hope is that we Europeans will one day succeed in viewing the world through European as well as national spectacles as a matter of course when we are dealing with politics. Meetings like yours, which bring European parliamentarians together with politicians from the Member States, play an outstanding role in this area.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When we reflect on the Europe of the future, we ought also to build on something that has been an integral component of the European idea – the European value of solidarity. In his famous speech French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman called for “de facto solidarity” as early as 1950.

And solidarity – knowing that we in Europe are there for one another and that we can depend on one another – will, for me, continue to be a crucial key to overcoming the enormous challenges we face in the age of globalization, both within European societies and between the Member States.

The reason I find this so important is because in my opinion it is this solidarity which people expect from Europe and which helps foster acceptance of the European idea. People want the Europe of the future to continue to stand for equal opportunities and ownership, for a society which seeks to combine economic competitiveness with social and environmental responsibility.

This social dimension is already a hallmark of Europe. Developing it further, in the face of globalization, is for me one of the EU's central tasks for the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

European foreign policy and European defence policy, European solidarity and the social dimension – I have raised these topics because I believe they must be part of every discussion on Europe's future. Because these are topics that will largely determine the success or failure of European policy in the eyes of its citizens.

That is precisely why these issues also feature prominently in the envisaged treaty reform.

To conclude, I would like to say a few words about the next European Council.

You all know the situation – the European Constitution has been signed by all Member States and ratified by 18 countries, but the populations of two Member States rejected it with a “no” vote.

However, the questions the constitution sought to answer are no less urgent now than they were three years ago – on the contrary. We need new foundations for the EU's work if we want to be effective in performing the tasks before us, whether in connection with climate protection, energy security or the resolution of current international crises. That is why we are doing everything we can in our role as holder of the Presidency to ensure that the upcoming summit is a success.

I have always said that if we want to make a breakthrough on this issue, everyone has to compromise. I get the impression that the willingness to act is there, and I hope that ultimately all sides will do their part. Allow me to take this opportunity to say thank you for the support we as holder of the Presidency are receiving from both the European Parliament and the parliaments of the Member States in our search for a compromise.

Our consultations have shown that the clear majority of the Member States are keen to retain the institutional package agreed on in 2004, because it makes the EU more democratic, more transparent and more effective. And the constitutional treaty also contains major steps forward in individual policy areas. These concern first and foremost the EU's external relations, the area of justice and home affairs, energy policy and the EU's social dimension. These elements must be preserved. On this there is a broad consensus, as there is on the need to consider where modifications could be useful, for instance in the area of climate protection or energy solidarity – both fields to which people attach great importance.

With regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights contained in the treaty, the vast majority agree that we should hold firm to its legally binding character, without allowing an extension of EU competences.

Furthermore, there is considerable willingness to strengthen the subsidiarity principle. This includes the question of how to define the competences of the EU and the Member States even more precisely. It also includes upgrading the role of national parliaments, without creating new opportunities for states to obstruct initiatives. We also see a willingness to reflect on whether it might not be possible to do away with terms and symbols which have awakened fears rather than enthusiasm for Europe in some countries.

I get the impression that all stakeholders are serious in embracing the goal of placing the EU on a new footing before the European Parliament elections in 2009. I see the desire of all parties to find a viable compromise. And I even perceive a new sense of dynamism.

Of course, we have some way to go yet. But it seems to me that the pathway to a solution is gradually taking shape, at the end of which an agreement may be reached.

Europe has always owed its existence to the fact that farsighted politicians not only developed wise visions, but that they also took bold decisions at the right moment.

Without wanting to exaggerate its significance, I nonetheless believe that we are about to witness such a moment. And the people of Europe expect us to make the most of it!

Thank you for your attention.

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