-- Translation of advance text --
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me extend a very warm welcome to the 12th German‑Netherlands Forum. I am especially pleased to welcome you to Friedrichsgracht. It was built in the 17th century with the help of Dutch specialists as a commission from Friedrich Wilhelm von Brandenburg. Friedrich was not just married to Luise Henriette of Orange, the daughter of a Dutch prince. He had also spent some of his formative years in Holland and studied at the illustrious Leiden University. In his day, Dutch artists, builders, farmers and merchants breathed new life into the country. Even back then, people in Europe learnt from one another.
The Netherlands and Germany have been the closest of partners in the European Union for more than half a century. As founding members, we shoulder a particular responsibility: Our bilateral cooperation is a central pillar of European unification. I am of course delighted, Frans, that you are now in Berlin for the second time since recently taking office as Foreign Minister of your country.
We want to close ranks with the Netherlands as a way of encouraging enhanced coordination with all the other EU member states. The German‑Netherlands Forum which today is meeting for the 12th time since 1996 provides key momentum. The motto of this year’s Forum is “The future of Europe and our future in Europe”. The European Year of Citizens next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of EU citizenship.
All EU citizens are for example free to choose where they want to live in Europe. We can stand as candidates in European and municipal elections, we have the right to petition the European Parliament. Alongside the freedom to travel, these are all European achievements which make day‑to‑day life considerably easier for people in Europe.
Europe finds itself in a historic defining phase. How we act in Europe and talk about Europe today will leave its mark on the political culture of our continent for many years to come. We are about to define the lasting image people are going to have of Europe. In the Netherlands and in Germany, the people want to know if Europe is going to overcome the debt crisis. Our response will dictate the attitude of the Europeans towards the European project, whether we are hesitant and despondent or decisive and confident. We do not just need “more Europe” here, rather as convinced and committed Europeans we also have to work for a “better Europe”.
Today we are shaping Europe’s image in a world marked by change. Will Europe develop the reputation of being an old and ageing continent which cannot keep up with the up‑and‑coming political and economic powerhouses of our day? Or will Europe remain a unique future‑oriented project which radiates and inspires people far beyond its borders? It is up to us to answer these questions. After all, we are deciding now how we want to relate to each other in the future as European neighbours. There must not be a return of outdated resentments. The European community rooted in culture should forge stronger bonds under the pressure of the crisis.
At the heart of this defining phase is people’s trust in Europe. We need to forge new trust in Europe: trust amongst European neighbours, trust in the euro and belief in the European idea. In this age of globalization, we are seeing fundamental shifts in global power structures. Twenty years down the road, India will have about three times as many inhabitants as the European Union. The influence of European states will decrease in relative terms. If we go it alone, we will not master the challenges posed by globalization. This is true for the Netherlands and Germany alike.
In the united Europe, however, we have the clout to lend powerful expression to our concerns. We have to drive Europe’s unification forward because we can only have a bright future within Europe. In recent months, we have made major progress. The fiscal compact, the permanent stability mechanism and the growth pact have ushered in a paradigm shift. They embody a policy that combines stability, solidarity and growth. And if all member states need to save, then the EU budget cannot grow. For us, it is a question of better spending instead of simply more spending. Growth is rooted in competitiveness not in new debts. We have to rectify the design flaws in the economic and monetary union and strengthen our cooperation on financial policy, economic policy and budgetary policy.
But if we give the European level new powers, we need to underpin this with improved democratic legitimacy. A Europe without full democratic legitimacy would be a Europe built on sand. At the end of the road we’re now travelling there will one day have to be a political union. And that’s what’s also needed to make the Common Foreign and Security Policy reality in the fullest sense of the word. We want to strengthen Europe as a global player. A comprehensive European diplomacy has to take in and combine the many facets of European foreign policy from security policy, to energy policy and trade policy.
Europe has the strength and the creativity to inspire people beyond its borders. As founding members of the European Union we want to continue the European success story. The future does not lie in withdrawing to the national level. It lies in cooperation, in the cooperation played out by the citizens of our two countries. In this spirit, I wish you many inspiring debates today and tomorrow and a very successful Forum.