Joint article by Minister of State Michael Roth and France’s Minister Delegate for European Affairs, Thierry Repentin. Published in the Frankfurter Rundschau on 17 February 2014.
During the last few years, Europe has experienced a serious economic and social crisis. Europeans are still suffering from the consequences. Unemployment, especially among young people, has reached an intolerable level in many countries. Doubts are spreading. Populist movements are fanning the flames of fear. Europe is – quite wrongly – being made the scapegoat for all our problems.
As Ministers for Europe and Commissioners for Franco-German Cooperation, we will not accept this. For the very opposite is true: Europe is one of the solutions, not the problem. We need a Europe which is stronger, more rooted in solidarity, more prosperous and fairer.
We have to strengthen and reinvigorate a Europe based on solidarity. Solidarity is, in equal measure, an ideal and a value, a method and a policy. We have to take decisive action in order to preserve what makes Europe unique: the inseparable combination of a union of shared values and a welfare state model.
For a long time, a social Europe was not much more than a subject for grandiose speeches. This goal scarcely concealed the weaknesses in its implementation or those of the instruments available. Today we have to find our way back to growth throughout Europe, a growth based on solidarity which leaves no-one behind. We are working to achieve this through the pact of June 2012, which made growth and employment the focus of European action once more, through the banking union, which protects savers and makes banks take responsibility, through the inclusion of a social dimension in the economic and monetary union, through the agreement on the posting of workers, which creates a fair balance between economic freedom and fundamental social rights. The Heads of State and Government have demonstrated their personal commitment to fighting the scourge of youth unemployment by creating a budget of six billion euros for 2014 and 2015 for this purpose.
In the coming months, we will have to advance further along this road. We will work to ensure the greatest possible economic and social convergence. We will pay particular attention to ensuring that the social dimension does not become the poor relation of the European construction. We will also encourage our European partners to introduce minimum wages, which will be set at national level. We need to be more ambitious when it comes to social cohesion.
In times of economic and social crises, there is a greater risk that the fundamental values on which European society is founded will be eroded. We have to staunchly defend these values, for they are part and parcel of Europe’s own identity. Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and the universal nature of human rights are our shared values. Any attack on them undermines Europeans’ confidence in their joint project and weakens the role model function which Europe has for its neighbourhood, to the east and to the south. You only have to leave Europe to see in what high regard our shared values are held. The people demonstrating in Kyiv’s Independence Square or risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean yearn to be part of Europe. Our values give them cause for hope. We are therefore also open to the idea of developing a political mechanism aimed at protecting our fundamental values within the EU more effectively without weakening existing instruments.
The Europe for which we both stand is a Europe of concrete solutions as well as a Europe which strengthens its values. The triad we want to foster is made up of democracy, growth and solidarity. We want to revive Europe, to instil its citizens with renewed confidence and to make it possible for every generation to make a concrete contribution as committed Europeans to a better world. Our actions are guided by this European dream.