Joint Article by the Foreign Ministers of the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Published in the Tagesspiegel and other European newspapers on 30 April 2014.
Europe was in a celebratory mood the night of 1 May 2004. When the fireworks were set off at midnight, the Oder bridge linking Frankfurt in Germany with Słubice in Poland was thronged with people as the two sides of the long divided European continent were reunited. This picture was mirrored by festivities in many other places in Europe – in the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Hungary – that moved during that special night to the centre of the European unification project. The magnificent welcome extended to the ten new members of the European Union sealed the end of the East-West divide. We can draw courage from these events. They show that even the rifts created by two World Wars and the Cold War were not deep enough to be truly insurmountable.
This success was due above all to the people in East and West who, despite decades of confrontational bloc politics, were not deflected from their pursuit of freedom and peace. They were united by their firm conviction that the rule of law must prevail over the law of the strong. It was especially the people in the countries then joining the EU who demonstrated an admirable courage to embrace change in their political systems, economic structures and everyday life on the basis of European values, in order to make this ideal a reality. Their dogged and ultimately successful efforts to deal with political upheaval, with the restructuring of their societies, and with occasional setbacks on the way, are an invaluable trove of experience for Europe as a whole. They can be a model and stimulus for us when it comes to making the European Union fit for the challenges of our time. For many other reasons but for this as well, the accession of ten new members greatly enriched the European Union.
However, while it is only right to recognise what we have achieved, we have no reason to self-contentedly rest on our laurels. We had thought that fears for our security and peace were a thing of the distant past, but they are being awakened in Europe once again. The conflict in Ukraine and the unacceptable and unlawful annexation of Crimea show that peace, political and social stability are not to be taken for granted in Europe, but must be constantly worked for anew. Today, it is vital for us to preserve our European integration, our great bastion of peace, and to apply a forceful and wise foreign policy to prevent a new division of Europe. One of the key principles on which Europe was founded is that of solidarity also towards the neighbours. Now is the time to make it visible.
The key prerequisite is unshakeable unity on the part of the EU member states. Options for action are carefully discussed and weighed up by all EU partners together. The security of each individual member state has a direct impact on the security of all the others. To the external world, we speak with a single voice. It is precisely in times of crisis that the true strength of the political bond between us shows that we are more than fair-weather friends.
The European Union proved this in its response to the economic and financial crisis. Those market participants who betted the eurozone would collapse misjudged our political will. In the coming years we have to further strengthen the sustainability of the Eurozone while maintaining the unity and integrity of the EU, without raising new internal walls. We need to ensure that Europe experiences a lasting return to growth and employment. In particular, we are committed to fighting the alarmingly high levels of youth unemployment.
We should also speak with one voice on external energy relations. We wish to intensify the EU approach towards energy security and enhance cooperation with our neighbours in the framework of the Energy Community. The situation in Ukraine exposes the importance of advancing the diversification of our energy sources, suppliers and supply routes, of enhancing energy efficiency as well as solidarity among ourselves. Therefore, the European Commission has been asked to prepare a comprehensive plan for the reduction of EU energy dependence.
We have already accomplished a great deal in Europe, one example being the single market, which now benefits over 500 million citizens. Free movement of goods, people, capital and services are equally important assets for strengthening Europe’s competitiveness. These four freedoms not only benefit economies of member states, but also each and every EU citizen. At the same time, it is not less important that European literature, art and science are emerging out of joint projects across the continent. These human encounters breathe life into the European idea and transform an economic union into a union of shared values, peace and solidarity. These principles were the foundation for the enlargement of the European Union ten years ago and continue to exert their pull on people in Europe’s neighbourhood. We will support those of our neighbours who wish to establish closer ties with the EU.
Today, the European Union faces major challenges at home and abroad which require of us the courage to change. We are facing tasks of great magnitude similar to those we had to shoulder in order to heal the divided continent ten years ago. Then and now, our goals can only be achieved by those who truly believe in the idea of Europe and in values on which the European Union is based, who seek common ground and surmount divisions. This inclusiveness has enriched Europe enormously in the past and must inspire us to deal successfully with our shared future.