Foreign Minister Westerwelle on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on Europe

28.01.2013 - Interview

Foreign Minister Westerwelle on British Prime Minister Cameron's speech

An article by Foreign Minister Westerwelle on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on Europe. Published in the daily “Die Welt” on 28 January 2013


Let me start with what’s positive. Yes, we need more competitiveness. Yes, we need more subsidiarity. Yes, Europe must become more democratic and transparent. And yes, Europe is not yet good enough.

If China continues to grow at a rate where it adds the equivalent of Greece’s GDP to its own output every twelve weeks, or that of Spain every twelve months, that is a resounding wake‑up call for Europe. We share Britain’s desire for determined expansion of our European single market and ambitious fresh impetus in the pursuit of more free trade. A transatlantic market could unleash enormous momentum for growth, from which we all stand to benefit.

We too are in favour of reform. And we too believe that what we need is not just more Europe. What we need above all is a better Europe. The question is how we achieve that goal. We are therefore eagerly looking forward to Britain’s concrete proposals. There will be issues where London and Berlin will largely agree, and others where we will not agree at all.

The EU’s rules must apply to everyone the same, but the EU does not need to set down rules on everything – only on those issues which Britain, France or Poland cannot resolve better on their own. We need more Europe in areas where Europe has a valuable contribution to make. Where this is not the case, however, where Europe’s cultural or societal diversity is particularly marked, a top-down approach is superfluous. Instead of worrying about a women’s quota on company boards, for example, Brussels would do better to tackle money‑laundering and banking transparency. The individual member states are in a better position to solve the former type of problem on their own, while the latter can only be dealt with by a transboundary approach. We should clearly define those areas where Brussels comes into its own, as well as those where it would be well advised to exercise restraint.
While self-restraint is a good thing, repatriating powers on a large scale would be an altogether different matter. I fear that, as Goethe put it in his famous poem “Der Zauberlehrling” (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), we might be conjuring up forces that we won’t be able to control. In other words, it is easy to tear down the European house, but much more difficult to rebuild it after the fact. David Cameron is right: if Britain left the European Union, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return.

We must not put at risk the common ground we have achieved in more than half a century. Today’s Europe is the result of decades of hard-won compromises. And our British partners have been an integral part of this process, as they helped shape and shared responsibility for every development step of the EU. The European acquis may not be to everybody’s liking in all its parts, but that is the nature of every good compromise. One thing, however, holds true for all of us: there are no rights without duties. There can be no cherry-picking. Saying: “You either do what I want or I’ll leave!” is not an attitude that works, neither in personal relationships nor in a community of nations.

We firmly believe that there is one overriding lesson to be learned from the financial crisis and globalization: we need more, not less Europe. A more competitive Europe can only come about through deregulation and doing away with excessive red tape. On other issues, however, we need to take a tougher stance, for example when it comes to calling upon member states to implement necessary structural reforms. There is no way around it; we need to make the economic and monetary union stronger. Never again can we allow the loose spending habits of individual states to tear at the foundations of the European house. Brussels therefore needs to be able to take tough measures in this area. Moreover, the call for more democracy should not be limited to calling for stronger national parliamentary control; it should also include the European Parliament.

Just like Britain, Germany wants a better, more competitive and more democratic Europe. On many issues we see eye to eye, while on some others this is not the case. One thing, however, is not negotiable from Germany’s point of view. For us, the European Union is far more than just a single market; it is a community united for peace and the shaping of our common destiny. It was this political core that the Nobel Committee paid tribute to and that we celebrated together with France last week. At the end of the day, it was this political core that held the eurozone together in its biggest crisis, thus proving the many sceptics wrong who took a narrow cost-benefit view. It is now up to us to muster the courage and vision to keep working on this great project for peace and prosperity.

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