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Europe must not take a step backwards! By Minister of State Werner Hoyer

07.06.2011 - Interview

Article by Minister of State Werner Hoyer, published on 7 June 2011 in the Danish newspaper “Berlingske”

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When politicians in EU member states start believing they can notch up successes by pushing an anti-European agenda, then it is high time to act. As in other areas, when it comes to European policy populists are – to loosely paraphrase Oscar Wilde – often not interested in arguments but in emotions, not in Europe as it really is but in how it is perceived emotionally. And this is precisely where Europe has a problem.

If we want to win over citizens despite their emotions, then our arguments must be infinitely stronger. Although Europe is far from perfect, those in favour of “ever closer union” ultimately have much better arguments. Those who would like to repatriate areas of policy or turn back the clock, those who long for the return of national currencies or even border controls, are jeopardizing Europe’s defining achievements – freedom and prosperity – and are playing with the fire of nationalism. This is one phenomenon which, in the wake of the indescribable suffering brought to the European continent in the name of my country, we were desperate to leave behind us in the last few decades by adopting Robert Schuman’s plan. As European integration progressed, we thought we had overcome the scourge of nationalism. It is important to remember at this time that Europe is our continent’s key peace project.

However, this historical dimension is not the only factor which explains Germany’s rock-solid commitment to European integration since the start of the post-war period.

Protecting what has been achieved in Europe is a major task. But it will not be enough if we Europeans are to hold our own in an increasingly globalized world with economic nations which – quite legitimately – are ever more self-confident. We must not shy away from facing up to reality; that will not change the tasks ahead of us. We have to actively tackle these challenges by looking forward. We have to ensure that Europe is perceived both within and from the outside as one entity. Anyone committed to Europe will help bring down borders. Discussions on strengthening national borders will only strengthen the borders in people’s minds.

We need more Europe in areas where only Europe can achieve what nation-states cannot – for example, when it comes to succeeding in the face of global competition. This also means defending our values and putting them into practice in our day-to-day lives in a way that is credible. In doing so, Europe must not lecture others. The perception of the individual based on the ideas of the Enlightenment is so attractive for all those who desire not only prosperity but also freedom, the rule of law and democracy that we cannot – indeed do not want to – shirk our responsibility. At the same time, we have to ensure Europe’s economic success. We have to finally complete the Internal Market and equip Europe to compete on the global markets.

For this reason, too, it makes no sense if we get bogged down in comparisons within Europe between national current accounts – especially not as long as even the strong export industries of a few countries are not enough to ensure that Europe has an overall balanced current account on the global markets. Europe will have to throw its collective weight behind its efforts. And it will have to further develop its strengths – the Internal Market, its ability to innovate and its cultural appeal. To this end, institutional and economic factors have to dovetail so that the best possible use can be made of the comparative advantages of Europe’s diversity as an economic and social area.

We have had to admit that our policy of running up debts, which we did not question over many decades, has become an intolerable burden, even for our own generation. And we have to make our single currency crisis-proof in order to ensure economic success. We will not allow the eurozone to be gradually speculated out of existence. We will only be able to overcome the ongoing difficulties if we work together. And at no time has Germanyfailed to show the necessary measure of solidarity. We know what we owe to the euro in political and economic terms.

And yes, the euro is also a political project. But we should not be ashamed to admit that, indeed we should be proud of that. Such a process always begins with a political project. When the US dollar was introduced, the thirteen states which had come together in 1776 to form the United States of America were far from being an ideal single currency area. And the theory of the same name is just a theory because an ideal single currency area is virtually impossible to find in reality.

We are all facing further painful sacrifices, sacrifices which will be especially hard in those countries which were forced to take advantage of rescue packages. In particular, the efforts of the Greek and Portuguese peoples and their governments deserve the respect of us all. For one can imagine people’s reactions in Germanywere it to face cuts on this scale.

It is time to concentrate on concrete areas of policy. Decisions have to be weighed up and, where necessary, made – regardless of our own personal situation or the question of nationality. We cannot allow our citizens to bear the full burden of fiscal reform. Those who have gained high returns also have to carry the resulting economic risk. Freedom and responsibility are inextricably linked – for individuals as well as for states. European taxpayers must not become Europe’s bad bank. At the same time, it is in the interests of us all to prevent the crisis from spreading.

In a dramatically changing global environment, Europe has what it takes to remain economically successful and thus ensure prosperity for coming generations. We have to win the support of our citizens – especially at a time when they are demonstrating their solidarity by providing generous assistance. We must not abandon the field to those with supposedly absolute truths who are refusing to assume responsibility for the people of Europe.

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