Esteemed colleagues from the European Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Looking back, 2013 was an eventful year for European politics. But 2014 too will be a defining year for Europe, with the elections to the European Parliament in May and new people taking up the EU’s top posts in the autumn. So 2014 will be an exciting year: a year of decisions, but also a year of transition.
The forthcoming institutional changes and new faces will revive the debate about the future of Europe. The Federal Government will bring fresh impetus to this debate.
Allow me just to give a brief sketch of some of the European issues and reform projects that will be occupying us in 2014.
1. Europe must act decisively and deliver
The EU Commission has rightly declared 2014 a “year of delivery”. This is particularly true of the time remaining until the European elections, a period in which we need to convince the voters that Europe does offer real, tangible added value for the citizens. There is not much time before the European Parliament election in May to successfully complete all the pending legislative processes. In other words, Europe now needs to act decisively and deliver results.
Our main aim in the coming weeks is to push forward with creating the Banking Union and to put in place the Single Resolution Mechanism. We are aware that this will not be easy given the different positions and the huge time pressure. The Federal Government is working determinedly to help bring the difficult negotiations with the European Parliament to a speedy, satisfactory conclusion.
2. Strengthening social cohesion in Europe
We also need to use this year to forge ahead with reforms for a “social Europe”. In far too many EU member states unemployment is unacceptably high.
We have to take account of the tense social and economic situation in parts of our continent. That’s why we must strengthen social cohesion in Europe and provide tangible impetus for growth and jobs.
In this context, I am particularly keen to tackle the dramatically high levels of youth unemployment in Europe. We must put absolutely every effort into this task. We have to make it clear to the young generation of Europeans in particular that Europe doesn’t make problems worse, it solves problems. Europe must once again become a promise of hope for the younger generation.
3. Defend the community of shared values
The European promise of hope comes home to us just now, above all when we take a look at our immediate neighbourhood. The European Union flag is flying on the Maidan in Kyiv because people believe in the values of Europe: democracy, the rule of law and the separation of powers.
Refugees from North Africa are putting their lives at risk because they hope for an escape from persecution and a dignified life in Europe.
This shows us that, notwithstanding all the necessary efforts to counter the economic and financial crisis, we must never lose sight of the following: Europe is much more than a single market and a monetary union. First and foremost, Europe is a unique community of shared values which exerts an attraction far beyond our external borders.
However, it has become clear on numerous occasions recently that our shared values in Europe are not something we can take for granted; rather, they need to be nurtured and defended day in, day out. That’s why the Federal Government will present proposals for the creation of effective mechanisms which will protect our community of shared values wherever democracy and the rule of law are under threat.
Because only those who resolutely defend Europe’s fundamental values at home can credibly seek to establish them internationally.
It is good that the EU Commission is pulling in the same direction as us and many partners in the European Parliament and Council and that it will issue a communication in this connection in the spring.
4. Germany and its partners in Europe
Our European partners expect Germany to assume increased leadership responsibility in the EU. In the past, however, the policy of not exploiting our economic and political clout has always served us well. In recent years some have gained the impression that Germany was looking to take on the role of head teacher, uncompromisingly pushing through its own ideas about Europe. We have to correct this false impression.
This includes showing our partners that the EU is not just a matter for the so‑called “big” member states. A country’s size is not what matters in Europe. What matters is the creativity and ideas with which a country throws itself into European debates.
If Europe really wants to achieve great things, we will only do so by working together. We therefore want to offer solidarity and cooperation to all our partners in Europe, irrespective of their size.
Another hardworking year lies before us. Ambassador Tempel, I would not like to miss this opportunity to thank all the colleagues here for the tremendous work they do. It is clear to all of us in Berlin just how much commitment each and every one of you here puts in every day to further our interests and support our shared Europe. Remain creative; remain committed; have the courage to defend your own standpoint; and keep up your passion for Europe. Don’t regard yourselves only as an important arm of our Government, but also as a partner for the members of parliament. In this you can always count on support from me as Minister of State for Europe!