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Dear colleagues! It is no coincidence that 64 years ago to the day the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman delivered a ground‑breaking speech on the integration of European interests, a speech on the vision of a united Europe. During this period people probably felt this was a very long way away. At that time, only five years after the end of the Second World War, the world already found itself in a new conflict, the Cold War, and amid the hardships of the post-war period many people had first‑hand experience of the rift running through this Europe. Only one year had passed since the Berlin blockade. Western Germany was groaning under the influx of millions of people from the eastern regions. The East was witnessing the plundering of the industrial landscape. At that time, 64 years ago, who in Europe would have placed any hope in Schuman’s words regarding the unification of the European nations?
Nevertheless, dear colleagues, however much or little hope the people at that time had, Schuman’s hopes for Europe have been good for us. Today, when we look back, we can see that it is not only Schuman’s hopes that have become a reality, but also the hopes of very many Europeans of a life in freedom and peace – for those who at that time were not able or not permitted to believe that this could ever happen.
Less than 30 years after Schuman’s speech we saw these hopes flare once again: in the eyes of the peaceful revolutionaries on Prague’s Wenceslas Square and in the Gdansk shipyards. Once again courageous people made something possible that nobody had dared hope for, people in Leipzig, in Berlin, in Rostock and in other places who tore down the Iron Curtain piece by piece and thus freed the way for the reunification of our continent.
Europe and the Europeans seized this historic opportunity together. Ten years ago today, on 1 May 2004, Europe overcame the rift that for decades had run not only through the continent but also through millions of family histories. After two world wars and decades of division and distrust, should we have still reckoned with this? From a rational perspective, maybe not, but hope prevailed in the end, and the forces that unite us retained the upper hand over the things that divide us. It is important to remember this, particularly in these times. I believe this thought can encourage us. With regard to the achievements of those who made European reunification possible, I would like to say at this point that in view of the courage demonstrated by these forerunners we cannot allow ourselves to fall prey to resignation in the current situation.
Ten years ago the European Union did not only become larger, it also gained considerably in terms of experience, history and political influence by its eastward enlargement. But above all, Europe has grown richer, richer in terms of language, richer in terms of culture, richer in terms of ideas and prospects. That is why I say that this eastward enlargement is a success story in many respects. We could cite a whole range of numbers and statistics to support this view. I could tell you, for example, that in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland purchasing power has increased consistently since 2004. Back then, you will remember, it was less than half of the EU average. I could tell you about Latvia, which only recently introduced the euro at the beginning of this year and is now the leader in Europe with 4 per cent economic growth. I could say to all those who ten years ago were predicting doom and gloom that according to the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry hundreds of thousands of new jobs have been created in Germany as a result of eastward enlargement – some even say up to one million.
But of course, it is not just about statistics. On a day like today we should acknowledge the human achievements that lie behind this success, the degree of strength, courage, adaptation and flexibility required, both from a political and economic perspective and within day‑to‑day family life.
This persistent social transformation in the new member states which joined in 2004, the political changes and the setbacks: all these, I believe, constitute an invaluable trove of experience for Europe, particularly today in our efforts to facilitate elections in Ukraine and to use the resources at our disposal to bring the country back onto a stable track. In this area we urgently need the experience gleaned by these Eastern European countries, which have survived the changes they faced after 2004.
I am saying this despite the fact that this tenth anniversary in Europe comes at a damned difficult time – we had a debate on this in this House only recently. I believe that we are over the worst of the European economic crisis, but we all sense that the political crisis continues to gnaw at the heart of Europe. That’s one point. But even more alarming is that in the context of foreign policy we are facing our most serious crisis since the end of the Cold War.
Confidence and belief in Robert Schuman and his visions has undoubtedly been damaged – that is certainly a view shared by many.
At the moment this election year 2014 is bringing the major problems facing the European Union into particularly sharp focus. How can we get Europe’s economy growing again? How should we tackle the alarmingly high levels of youth unemployment? How can we make Europe more democratic and transparent? How can we ensure that Europe actually stands shoulder to shoulder during a phase of foreign policy challenges?
Looking back on the past four years in particular, which required us here in this House to participate in innumerable debates, many of them critical, I think we can say: This European house stands firm, and it is firmer than many believed. It has weathered some severe storms, even though I have to say that this European house will remain a building site for the foreseeable future.
Let us put it another way: What state would this Europe be in today if we had not stood together in the economic crisis?
We have to take a critical look at ourselves in Germany and ask what state we would be in if we had followed the advice of those who suggested at weekly intervals that we just distance ourselves from one Southern European country or another. Today, when peace in Europe is under threat, would we be able to present the same united front if we had followed their advice then and acted unwisely?
Today, when spirits we believed dead are re‑emerging in Eastern Europe, Europe must be united at its heart. That also applies to the candidate countries, which can count on our solidarity. After all, on 1 May 2004 they joined a community of solidarity and not merely a group of fair‑weather friends.
Yet community also requires us to not simply turn a blind eye to any existing problems, and there are indeed problems. If the independence of the judiciary or the freedom of the press is under threat in individual countries, or if efforts to fight corruption are not sufficient in our view, we cannot simply look the other way. We must be able to demand that tasks which have not yet been performed are completed. We must insist on this, even though we know that it is sometimes difficult. However, we can say that our Eastern European partners who tackle such urgent reforms can depend on our support.
Twenty-eight member states, twenty-four languages in Europe, 500 million people: Anyone who has attended a Council of Ministers in Brussels knows the amount of institutional work and renewal efforts that lie ahead of us in this area.
But to return to Schuman: Sixty-four years ago he said that peace in the world and in Europe cannot be preserved without creative efforts which correspond to the size of the threat.
I think we all sense that we must now make huge efforts to preserve peace and prevent a new rift in Europe.
And that is why I say that in such a phase of sometimes incessant crisis management, even on a day like this, we may still find a rare opportunity to stop and reflect for a few seconds. If we take the time to do this and look back on this anniversary of Schuman’s speech, we will all realise that the creative efforts he demanded, also from us today, are worth all the hard work.
Thank you very much.