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Ladies and gentlemen,
Professor Vella, Professor Vassalo, Professor Calleya, thank you for your kind words of introduction!I am very happy to be here today and to gain insight into academic life at the University of Malta. I always feel very much at home in a university building having done some research and worked in the field of economics at the University of Cologne myself. Two years ago, my predecessor Günter Gloser came to Valletta and attended the official launch of the new German Department.
It is the first time that I get the chance to come to Malta since I came into office again last year. My inauguration was shortly before the Treaty of Lisbon came into force. Therefore I had some time now to compare the European Union of 2010 with the European Union I was able to work on from 1994 to 1998 when there were only 12 or – since 1995 – 15 member states. And things have changed. The familiarity and the close personal relationships we enjoyed to our colleagues in former times have become more difficult to cultivate in a European Union of 27. And of course, the decision-making process has become much more complicated. Even though the new procedural rules of the Treaty of Lisbon have simplified matters, we need to organize ourselves even better to make our voice heard.
Let me give you a few examples: The EU is rather a big payer than a big player. Although we are contributing 40% of the UN-budget, we are facing difficulties in coming up with the legal framework to send the High Representative Lady Ashton to speak on behalf of the EU at the General Assembly in New York.
Also, we are moving – or have probably already moved – from the G8 to the G20. This certainly makes sense and proves to be a successful arrangement to coordinate policies on a global scale. But it is clear that others have entered the international scene as powerful players, while the EU has still been lacking the political clout it ought to have.
Or take the climate conference in Copenhagen: Our best ecological ambitions were destined to fail in the face of the geostrategic challenge European environment ministers suddenly saw themselves confronted with. Now, we have to manage our expectations for Cancun at the end of this month.
But we should not complain about these developments and find a way to deal with them.
We should appreciate the unprecedented blessings of over half a century of peace and prosperity on our continent. Instead, I sometimes have the impression that Europeans miss being at the center of attention. Yet, not to be in the constant focus of bipolar confrontation anymore does not mean a loss of significance – it calls for greater responsibility. And for that we need to prepare ourselves.
Over the last decades, we have been busy organizing ourselves. At the beginning stood reconciliation – a process that was so necessary after the atrocities that were committed in the name of my country. This development was complemented by the pursuit of prosperity in the 70s and 80s in the member states and for many still is one of the main arguments in favour of accession to the EU. Then we were busy (and still are) integrating new European member states after the demise of the iron curtain.
Today, it is all about being able to compete with other global actors. Europe needs to be in a strong position to play a role in shaping the world of the 21stcentury. This is vital to defend our European values. Enlightenment and political liberalism have led to our core principles: the respect of universal human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
In order to be successful in this challenge of globalization and in defending those values Europe must concentrate on its most important instruments: the political and the economic dimension.
First the political dimension.
One prerequisite is – of course – that we speak with one voice and have a coherent approach on the global challenges. For that coherent approach in European foreign policy the European External Action Service will officially start its work next month. It will then, at last, be able to support the High Representative – the first European foreign minister – Lady Catherine Ashton. And this will finally enable Lady Ashton to focus on foreign policy in its substance. She had a very challenging last year being forced to do foreign politics while at the same time having to build up a whole foreign service she can revert to. In any case, Germany will do everything to support Lady Ashton and to make sure that “Europe's one voice” will be successful.
For that reason we also support her to assume control in the field of European foreign policy. For example, it is necessary that – within the Union for the Mediterranean – the EEAS will speak for the European countries. Thus, it needs to take over the Co-presidency within the Union for the Mediterranean.
Germany was always very engaged in strengthening the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation.
From the very first, our chancellor Angela Merkel made it very clear that we feel committed to the fate of the Mediterranean region. But we were skeptical about the way the Union for the Mediterranean was to replace the Barcelona Process and the inner-European procedural aspects.
What might sound a little technical is a central question for us Europeans:
Should European foreign policy be defined between some group of member states, who – for one reason or another – feel it to be their vocation to act?
Or do we act as one European Union that does not focus on vested interests, but takes into account all challenges – in the east as in the south – as a whole?
To put it bluntly: Do we want to act as national countries with national agendas or do we see ourselves part of one European Union that takes its fate into its own hand?
For Germany it was clear: We do not want southern European countries to focus exclusively on the southern border and eastern European countries doing the same on the eastern border. This would lead to a division of the European Union and having the division line on one of the German borders. But we need to assume responsibility for Europe as a whole!
As you know Germany has been playing a very constructive role within the Union for the Mediterranean. We introduced the Solar Plan as one of the six big projects. Private companies have taken up this idea by creating the Desertec Industrial Initiative, a – non-exclusive – consortium of companies dedicated to promote solar power in the Sahara and bring it to profit to all partners – in the north, but especially in the south of the Mediterranean Sea.
For us it is very important that allcountries can draw a profit from this cooperation and we talk to our arabic friends on equal terms. It is vital that we show the respect for one another.
And we always saw Malta playing a central role within the Union for the Mediterranean. Malta is not only geographical in the heart of the Mediterranean, but has a extraordinary historical experience and has very close ties to our arabic neighbours, which makes it predestined for being the capital of the Union. Without complaining about the decision taken in Marseille, just three month after the big summit in Paris in July 2008, Malta would have also been a perfect seat for the secretariat, having already various institutions specialized on Euro-Mediterranean cooperation as the MEDAC-Institute.
More than two years have passed since we all promised to strengthen Euro-Mediterranean relations. And – despite the progress we have achieved in single fields – cooperation has not become easier. I just have to think about the discussions we had on the statute for the secretariat.
We all know about the main difficulty. The war in Gaza at the turn of the year 2008/2009 reminded us painfully of the reality on the ground. But nevertheless, direct talks are essential to obtain positive results. We are optimistic that things will move again once the midterm elections, which take place today in the US, have been held. We must reactivate the multilateral track and involve the regional partners.
Let me now turn to the economic dimension.
In this rapidly changing world the relative gain of prosperity in East Asia and parts of Latin America must not be perceived as a threat, but as a thought-provoking impulse. Europe must focus on its economic strength in order to stand up to global competition.
Two aspects play a central role: How do we protect our common currency? And how do we maintain and extend our competitive edge in key-economic branches?
First, the Euro. The European Council met just last week to discuss further steps on how to protect our currency and our economies in the light of a new crisis to come. The assessment of the results of that Council meeting is not very easy. We still have a long way ahead of us and there is no guarantee for a successful outcome. Nevertheless I do dare to be cautiously optimistic that we will get some concrete results at the next European Council in December. And this is crucial. We cannot afford to postpone necessary reforms to a later stage. The decisions taken in Brussels in May only served us to have more time to decide on a sustainable and robust framework for dealing with seriously indebted member states. It is for sure that the financial markets will get nervous again once the current framework will come to an end in 2013. Thus, in view of the rather complicated procedures we will be facing, time is limited.
There can only be one instrument that is sustainable enough to serve as a long-term solution: We must install a stabilization mechanism which is robust and will be accepted by our citizens – not only in Germany but throughout Europe.
It is simply unacceptable, that those, who draw the maximum profit from high interest rates, have the chance to socialize the economic risks that go along with such investments. The taxpayers throughout Europe pay the bill at the end. We must therefore involve the private sector and make them participate in paying the bill. We cannot simply prolong the current, temporarily existing framework.
We are strongly convinced that we must do everything to protect the Euro instead of allowing moral hazards to drive economic action and fiscal policy.
That is why there can be no doubt about Germany’s commitment to Europe. The protection of the Euro is a genuine pro-European concern.
But it is not just a political question and one of fairness. German constitutional law as well as European law would also prohibit to continue with current framework.
Second, the question of competitiveness of the European Union.
When we discuss this question, we cannot afford to limit our perspective on the European Union.
The speed of change has caught on elsewhere, beyond our common European borders. Benchmarks for our competitiveness are the global markets. That is why it makes little sense to criticize a trade surplus. The answer lies in getting Europe more competitive as a whole.
On the other hand, I do – of course – see a problem in the current account imbalances. But the answer must be to boost demand on our domestic markets rather than impeding competitiveness and losing ground globally.
All in all, Europe is on a good track. Many see us as a role model for successful cooperation and regional integration. We have gone a long way and still have some challenges ahead of us. But Europe is one big success story!
It is now up to us to open the next chapter and master those challenges.
I am very happy to be able give you my opinion and am looking forward to enter into a fruitful discussion with you now.