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“Our prosperity hinges on the success of the European project”

05.10.2011 - Interview

Interview with Foreign Minister Westerwelle, published in the Rheinische Post on 5 October 2011

For a year and a half now, Europe has been living through a crisis.You, the German Foreign Minister, have only spoken up now.Why so late?

The German Government has addressed the political dimension of the euro debt crisis from the outset. Reducing it to economic or financial consequences would be dangerous. Europe is also a political project. Therefore, we now need to launch a debate on the construction of a new Europe. Europe has reached a crossroads: will we respond to the crisis with more Europe or with renationalization? My position is clear – I’m advocating more Europe.

It feels as though the heads of state and finance ministers are settling the matter amongst themselves.

The German Government shapes our policy on Europe together. For me as Foreign Minister, the future of our continent is a vital issue. I want to see further development in the European project that goes beyond crisis management. There have been unfavourable developments which we will have to avoid in future. This may well involve treaty amendments.

What precisely do you mean?

The Maastricht Treaty was a great step forward, and entirely right in the early nineties. But it has to be adapted to today’s challenges. What we need is some kind of Maastricht II. We have to fix a new set of rules for a stable, financially sound Union; we need to constitute Europe anew. We must, for instance, accept that national budgets can be partially decided at European level, when a member state ignores budgetary guidelines and asks for financial support. In such cases, the EU needs to have the right to intervene in national developments. For countries asking for financial support, this will mean that others get a say when it comes to drawing up the budget, or that sanctions are imposed automatically when previously agreed measures are not respected.

What form would these sanctions take?

One option would be for a national budget to be vetoed at European level if it violates the jointly set rules despite warnings. This, in turn, could have consequences with regard to EU funds. Just as in real life, those who ask for guarantees know full well that the guarantor will ask for sound policy in exchange. The stability union needs teeth.

Who makes the decisions? The Commission, the European Parliament?The heads of state?

That’s what needs to be discussed now. Preferably, the 27 EU member states would decide on and legally adopt an automatic procedure for cases where budgetary discipline is constantly violated. If we don’t manage to do that, the euro area countries will have to advance with their own agreement, as was done with the freedom of movement in the Schengen area. I am thinking of a differentiated process of integration. Some countries must be able to push ahead in order to build a stability union.

Must Europe be able to make do without one of its member states if that state endangers its unity?

This is precisely what we want to avoid. No one is to be excluded – while, at the same time, no one must be allowed to slow the others down. That is why there has to be a multi-speed Europe just as there must be robust consequences for countries which do too little for their economic development and competitiveness.

So Greece is staying on the team?

That is the goal of our efforts, yes.

By when does the stability union need to be established in a treaty?

Time is of the essence. Change is sweeping the world, with new centres of power emerging in Asia, Latin America and Africa. If Europe aims to translate this crisis into an opportunity, the house of Europe has to be modernized quickly. On its own, any European country, including Germany, would be too small to hold its own in the global competition for prosperity.

Will more Europe be acceptable to the majority of your party?

The vast majority of our members know that Europe is not only the answer to devastating wars, but that our prosperity, too, hinges on the success of the European project. We still export more goods to Belgium and the Netherlands than to China. In times of globalization, nation-state approaches are a thing of the past.

Towards the United States of Europe?

Europe will go its own way, taking account of our continent’s cultural, linguistic and intellectual diversity.

[...]

The questions were put by Michael Bröckler.

Reproduced by kind permission of the Rheinische Post. Source: RPOnline, published in print on 5 October 2011 in a slightly abridged version.

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