Speech by Minister of State Roth during the Bundestag debate on the EU Commission Work Programme 2014

17.01.2014 - Speech

– Translation of advance text –

Mr President, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

This year is a very special one for us. We will be commemorating the First World War, which broke out 100 years ago. We will be remembering that 75 years ago Germany invaded Poland and thus bears responsibility for starting World War II. And we will be celebrating the collapse of the Communist dictatorship 25 years ago, which paved the way for European and German reunification.

These three events are inextricably linked with Europe. They are the foundation on which this Europe stands. Perhaps we should call to mind these events – some tragic, some wonderful – when our run‑of‑the‑mill routine drags us down. This is also important as Europe is going through a bad patch at the moment. Europe is still in crisis. There is absolutely no point in trying to gloss over that fact.

Of course, as my colleague Axel Schäfer mentioned, some new tender shoots are emerging, which the Federal Government is delighted to see: Latvia has joined the euro. The news we are hearing from Portugal and Ireland shows us that there are ways out of the crisis.

Nonetheless, combating the dramatically high levels of unemployment among young people in Europe is one of the Federal Government’s central projects, requires all our efforts and considerable creativity to tackle.

We must make clear to the younger generation in Europe that Europe is there to solve problems, not to aggravate them. We cannot rest while 60 percent of young people in Greece have no job and no prospects. We cannot rest while 60 percent of young people in Spain have no job and no prospects.

After all, young people are Europes future, and Europe can offer hope for young people. In any case, we in the Federal Government intend to do what is in our power to help the younger generation associate Europe once more with a major, tangible promise of hope.

The European Commission has rightly coined the motto “year of delivery and implementation” for its work programme. We are ourselves aware that the window of opportunity for concrete decisions is relatively small. Elections for the European Parliament are coming up, as are elections for the Commission. We therefore now need to do our utmost to ensure that important dossiers are agreed in good time, before the elections for the European Parliament.

The first point, which is directly related to the dramatically high levels of youth unemployment, is that it goes without saying that we must continue the reforms in Europe. We need structural reforms. Above all, we also need investment in education, training and infrastructure, especially in the states afflicted by the crisis. I am not just talking about austerity programmes or the liberalisation of the markets. We need a broad political approach which does justice to the tense social and economic situation in Europe. That is why the Federal Government plans to place a new emphasis on social cohesion and to do what it can to support initiatives for growth and employment.

The second major point on our political agenda is the development of the Banking Union. We must ensure that taxpayers no longer have to pay the price for risks taken by the banks. That is why we should support the compromise reached by the European Council in December last year on the Banking Union – including the Single Resolution Mechanism. I can only appeal to all those in positions of responsibility in Brussels to conclude the negotiations rapidly and successfully. We cannot afford to accept the threatened delay of up to one year.

A major concern which is not only voiced by the European Commission, but is also shared by the Federal Government, is that there be a clear commitment to the European Union as a union of shared values. Europe’s internal cohesion does not depend on a functioning single market and the idea of competition; instead, it hinges on common values: democracy, the rule of law, acceptance of minorities, cultural and religious diversity. That is what makes Europe strong and that is what makes the concept of Europe a marketable export across the world. In the European Union we need an effective mechanism to protect the community of shared values where it is under threat. Our credibility is also at stake. The European Union can only be confident in promoting its values beyond its borders, i.e. on a global scale, if it is also consistent in living out these values at home. You all know that a number of states have experienced problems in the past few years. We want to help these countries by means of common, binding standards and a corresponding mechanism.

With regard to the discussion on the issue of migration, allow me to make a very clear statement on behalf of the Federal Government: Freedom of movement is one of the greatest European achievements, which the Federal Government intends to defend fiercely. All we can do is ask all those in positions of responsibility to discuss this issue objectively and shrewdly, without polarising. Germany benefits from freedom of movement more than most other states in the European Union.

We bear responsibility for this Europe, but we are not solely responsible. The Federal Government will therefore ensure that we in the European Union carry all the member states along with us. Size is not an issue here. Some small states – I am thinking of Luxembourg – have considerable weight, because they have demonstrated creativity, courage and decisiveness in driving this integration project forward. We want to extend a hand to all our partner countries in Europe, encouraging them to work with us. Europe doesn’t need a German headteacher or schoolmaster. Europe needs a Germany that is willing to show solidarity in shouldering responsibility and ensures that the small, the medium-sized and the large states are all on board.

That will not be possible without very close cooperation with France and Poland. We were delighted to hear President Hollande’s expression of commitment to more Europe – above all to a better Europe. We intend to do what we can to support our French friends in this task. I am saying this today with a deliberate glance towards the upcoming Franco-German Day in a few days’ time, but I am also saying it with Poland in mind. The Weimar Triangle – here in the Bundestag there are many colleagues who filled the Weimar Triangle with life over many years – is an important anchor for us, an important pillar for success, for we have to get the partner countries on board – I am saying this particularly with regard to central and eastern Europe. We have to convince them that Europe is not merely a project for the west, but a project which includes the south, the north and the east as equal partners.

I want to reiterate that responsible German leadership does not mean that we exploit our economic and political clout – our history reminds us that this did not do us any good in the past. Allow me therefore to stress once more that I am talking about responsible leadership based on solidarity.

The Federal Government will do everything in its power to lead Europe out of the crisis, because the Europe we represent is a Europe which stands for solidarity, social cohesion and shared values. This, better Europe is what we intend to build together with our partners. I ask you, dear colleagues, for your active support in this venture.

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