The speech below was given by Minister of State Michael Georg Link on 23 March 2013 at the 152nd Bergedorf Round Table in Kraków organized by the Körber Foundation.
-- Translation of advance text --
Sehr geehrter Herr Bundespräsident,
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, let me thank you for the invitation to this year’s Bergedorf Round Table and allow me to apologize for my late arrival. Over the last two days, I was required at the informal meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in Dublin where we discussed important issues such as Syria and the future of Europe’s External Action Service.
Of course, on the margins of the informal Council in Dublin, Cyprus was also discussed. Observing the latest news on Cyprus, one could get the impression that European news is bad news. Anti-European demonstrations and banking clients outraged by eurozone decisions are on the covers of our newspapers.
Once again, the debate on the future of Europe is heating up and I am glad we have the opportunity to discuss it tonight. I would like to share with you my vision on the future of Europe. It is based on three principles:
I. Deepening integration (“more Europe”)
II. Enlarging the EU (“wider Europe”)
III. Focusing the EU on its essentials (“better Europe”)
I. Deepening integration
Let me start off with the first principle: deepening integration. The EU has made substantial progress in tackling the debt crisis. We have ratified a fiscal compact that firmly anchors a culture of sustainable public budgets in the eurozone. We have established a powerful permanent European Stability Mechanism and we have concluded an ambitious European Compact for Growth and Jobs to revive investment and growth.
We have come a long way, as the results in Ireland, Spain and Portugal show. But as we see in Cyprus, the crisis is far from over. One of the major problems of the eurozone remains public debt, totalling over 8 trillion euro. We have to address the roots of what has turned into the deepest crisis of confidence in the history of European integration. The time has come to address the euro’s structural shortcomings and complement our Monetary Union with an Economic Union – with closer coordination of financial, fiscal and economic policies.
Ever since the European Council in December, the issue of deepening the EMU has dominated the agenda of the Heads of State and Government. It was also discussed at the European Council last week. I could not agree more with its results. This summit stated very clearly that our main target has to be structural reforms if we are to improve competitiveness.
Having said that, I am well aware that we have a serious problem in terms of communication and acceptance. There is always going to be a time lag before reforms show their positive effects. We know this from our own experience. It is much more popular to distribute fresh money – but the concept of fighting a debt crisis by creating ever more debts is not the solution.
We strongly support the envisaged concept of contractual relationships to achieve structural reforms. This concept fully respects the distribution of competences between the EU and its member states. And it is based on full democratic legitimacy, as all arrangements have to be endorsed by national parliaments. Possible areas could be national labour markets or youth unemployment.
In this context, we support limited financial assistance to curb the costs of these reforms. But let me stress again that we do not agree with any mutualization of debts or an unconditioned eurozone budget to absorb economic shocks. Altogether, we will make sure that our citizens have their say whenever we transfer responsibilities to the European level. A Europe without full democratic legitimacy would be built on sand.
While tackling the crisis in the eurozone remains our top priority, we have to address the long term question: “Where do we take the European project from here?” Here, I would like to draw your attention to the proposals made by the Future of Europe Group (“Zukunftsgruppe”) which was initiated by Foreign Minister Westerwelle last year and brought together 11 European Foreign Ministers. Besides proposals to strengthen the EMU, their report also develops a vision of the future of Europe as a deeply integrated Economic and Political Union.
I firmly believe we need progress in crucial areas of EU action. Reforms are necessary if we want the EU to be an effective international player. We need to revise our foreign policy provisions and strengthen the High Representative and the EEAS. The EU has to speak with one voice on the global stage.
We have to make the EU competitive in relation to the rising global powers. This is our benchmark. In my view we will, in due course, have to review the European treaties. This can only be taken forward after the next European elections in 2014.
Allow me to turn to the second guiding principle of European integration: enlargement. While we are currently witnessing a period of intense discussion on further integration, there is increasing scepticism among European citizens with regard to enlargement.
Can enlargement nevertheless proceed? My answer is clearly “yes”. Not only because we have to keep the promises given to our neighbours. But also because it is in the vital interest of the EU to promote reform and export stabilization to the candidate countries. But we need a careful approach fully respecting the defined conditionalities.
Looking back, EU enlargement policy is a success story. In the 1980s it stabilized the new democracies in southern Europe, later those in eastern Europe and finally those in south-eastern Europe. By giving the Western Balkans an accession perspective, the EU has embarked on the last leg of European reunification.
The transformative power of EU enlargement policy can be seen especially well in the case of Turkey. Since starting accession negotiations in 2005, very impressive reforms have taken place in order to achieve benchmarks set by the EU.
I do not wish to deny that we may have made mistakes in our enlargement policies in the past or that some developments in certain candidate countries are not completely satisfactory. But the export of norms and values as well as the promotion of stability continues to be in the strong interest of the EU and its citizens.
EU enlargement must therefore continue. But we have to make sure it works – and explain it to our citizens. In order for enlargement to function, conditionality is the key. Without conditionality – with respect to the rule of law, economic governance, and the need to solve bilateral conflicts before EU accession – EU enlargement creates no incentive – neither for cooperation, nor for reform.
Finally, enlargement policy has to take into account the EU’s capacity to absorb new members. This criterion was set by the European Council in December 2006 and brings us back to the question of deepening and simplifying EU structures.
III. Focusing the EU (“Better Europe”)
I would like to draw your attention to my third – and final – guiding principle: focusing the EU. Let me explain. In my view we can make the EU more successful by focusing on the essentials. Of course, European cooperation is vital to create a strong European economy, to unify Europe, to help Europe compete in a globalized world. We all profit immensely from the single market, from our common trade policy, from the creation of the Schengen area.
But not every aspect of life in Europe needs harmonization. On the contrary, some areas occasionally suggested for European legislation are neither necessary nor appropriate. The Commission proposal on a quota for women on executive boards is a prime example. It is not compatible with the principle of subsidiarity. I am not saying that this is not an important issue – on the contrary. But it is an issue that should be addressed by the member states individually.
Linked to this is another phenomenon: Our European institutions are in need of reform. They need to take their institutional responsibilities more seriously, they need to cooperate better and they need to function better.
This applies to the Council where lengthy tours de table hinder the necessary open and frank exchange of views. This also applies to the European Commission. Do we really need a European Commission with 27, soon 28, in the future more than 30 different commissioners – all with an individual portfolio? I would much prefer a smaller and more efficient European Commission. This could be achieved, for example, by introducing a system of senior and junior commissioners. Such a reformed Commission could gear its political energy towards what is essential and show greater legislative self-restraint. This should also help strengthen the subsidiarity principle which in turn would help increase acceptance of the EU in the public eye.
Europe is much more than a simple economic community. Europe is a community of shared values and a political project. Therefore, we have to keep our sights on the long-term objective of a real Political Union with the Commission as a true government and two parliamentary chambers – the European Parliament and a second chamber of member states. On this basis, Europe could become a real global player capable of asserting its values and interests in the world with one single, strong voice. Democratic, competitive, transparent, efficient and open-minded. That is my vision of a united Europe!