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Ladies and gentlemen,
It is wonderful to be here in Dublin today. This is my first visit to Ireland after taking office as German Minister for Europe in December 2013. This visit is long overdue!
Let me begin by saying: I am not here just to give a speech and leave afterwards. I am here to learn from you about your country, about your personal experiences, about your views on Europe.
I have been asked to say a few introductory words on “Germany in a changing European Union”. I am grateful that you are taking the time to focus on European politics in more depth – in particular on Germany’s role in the European Union.
I have learnt that there has been research in the United Kingdom which proves that as soon as the words “Europe” or “Brussels” appear in a headline, the majority of readers quickly move on to the next article. Thus I appreciate your interest even more!
Yes it is true: We are living in times of crisis. And crises bring about change. Everywhere in Europe we can feel the winds of change approaching from many directions. In many respects, the winds of change feel more like a heavy storm than a slight breeze.
I am well aware that many people in Ireland have personally felt the impact of the economic and social crisis. Nevertheless, Ireland has always been a strong supporter of the EU, even in times of crisis. I would like to congratulate the Irish government and the Irish people on how you have mastered the crisis so far.
I would like to structure my introduction around three points: first the core beliefs that constitute Germany’s European policy, then turning towards the EU’s agenda for the next five years, and ending with the global challenges, in which the EU is required to play a major role.
1. The cornerstones of Germany’s European Union Policy
The European Union is a unique story of success. It has been developed by its people out of the experiences of two World Wars. Former enemies became close partners and friends. Cooperation and discussions among the European countries replaced militarily actions against each other.
Yes, sometimes it is difficult and takes a lot of time to find a compromise among 28 member states of the European Union. But we always have to keep in mind that the mechanism we have today to resolve conflicts among the member states of the EU are all taking place in offices, conference rooms and other peaceful surroundings – and not on Europe’s battlefields anymore. Who would have believed it only some decades ago?
In its beginnings the EU was focused on a clearly defined topic: to maintain peace and stability in Europa after World War II. It was this approach which has led to a Union now comprising 28 Member States! In 2014 we have a Union which is founded upon shared values and solidarity, which offers many benefits for its citizens, and which is a huge economic power.
The key message has always remained the same: together we can achieve much more! The challenges of the 21st century cannot be tackled by any member state alone, but only within a strong union, a union which makes sure that everybody has their say. Compromise is the main aspect of work in the European Union. Europe can only work as a team project!
For Germany, the EU is our key political and economic foundation. It is the basis for lasting peace with our neighbours, the basis for our prosperity and economic success, and the cornerstone of our external policies.
Germany has, because of its large population and good economic performance in the last years, a prominent role in Europe. As the biggest member state we are willing to play an important role and take responsibility. But that can never be a “stand-alone” role for Germany. There are many more players on the European field. We will always have to act together with our European partners, taking the lead if appropriate, but constantly keeping in mind the common interests.
Germany has always understood its role as an advocate for the smaller member states. Small is beautiful! It is not the size of a country that matters in the EU. What really matters are ideas, creativity and a pro-European commitment. In this respect the smaller countries – like Ireland – have a lot to offer! And they are valuable players in our European team.
Germany and Ireland have worked and still work very closely together on many issues. One of the biggest challenges we dealt with together was the banking union.
2. The EU’s programme: The Strategic Agenda
These days the EU is undergoing a major change in its top positions. This change is almost complete and has produced a very energetic, ambitious and experienced team. With Donald Tusk as President of the European Council, Federica Mogherini as High Representative and Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission we have all the preconditions for successful European politics during the next five years.
At the same time we have managed to develop a “working programme” for the European institutions. With the “Strategic Agenda” the European Union has defined priorities for the upcoming five years. The Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament have to work together towards its implementation.
Employment, growth and social cohesion are the most important topics to be tackled. We have already come a long way in these fields: the ambitious pact for growth and employment, the creation of the European Stability Mechanism, the agreement on a Fiscal Compact. The banking union is to come.
Our joint efforts are finally bearing fruit. The EU is slowly recovering from the most dramatic financial and economic crisis in its history. But even where things have changed for the better, important challenges remain. Still, much remains to be done to make our economies more robust. And we have to reduce the dramatic levels of youth unemployment in many European countries, including in Ireland.
When talking about reforms of the economic and monetary Union, we always have to include the social dimension in our thinking and acting. We need a comprehensive policy approach: Long-term stability, strengthening social cohesion and promoting growth as well as employment are as important as fiscal discipline. The EU must be politically and economically strong but at the same time socially balanced.
Solidarity is therefore an important principle to keep in mind. As early as 1973, in his speech to the European Parliament, Nobel Peace Prize winner Willy Brandt, a former German Chancellor, declared: “It will be of vital importance for the [European] Community to grow beyond economic cooperation and political organisation to become the socially progressive region in the world. European integration must serve the people directly.” This is exactly what we are trying to achieve, and we have already come a long way in doing so.
3. The European Union as a global player
Another important topic of the Strategic Agenda is the EU’s growing role as a player on the global stage. One element to achieve this is a highly visible EU-representation in foreign affairs issues. Germany therefore strongly supports a strong role for the High Representative. With her “double-hat” in the European Commission and the European External Action Service, Federica Mogherini has the toolbox necessary for a cohesive foreign policy.
Even if peace has almost become self-evident to us in Europe, we are not living in peaceful times. Who would have thought a few months ago that in 2014 we are once again confronted with the danger of war in our direct neighbourhood? When we look at the conflict in the Eastern Ukraine, the civil wars in Syria, Libya and Iraq or the “come-back” of the Middle East conflict, we realize that these crises are happening at our very doorstep. A strong EU on the global stage is now even more vital than ever before.
The Ukraine crisis is the most serious challenge to our European security since the end of the Cold War. Russia is openly calling established European borders into question. The occupation of the Crimea and the ongoing fighting in Eastern Ukraine could be called a “crash test” for Europe’s foreign policy.
We all thought that after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the removal of the Iron Curtain the division of Europe had come to an end. We now see that we were wrong. Russia still thinks in geopolitical spheres of influence and follows zero-sum games.
Our response to Russia's violation of international law has been strong. The latest set(s) of sanctions have demonstrated that we do not tolerate Russia’s actions. I know that you have controversial discussions on the necessity and effectiveness of sanctions in your country. The same is true for Germany. It is obvious that the sanctions will not only have an impact on Russia but also on our own economies. But I am convinced that we have to pay this prize.
We can send a strong signal to Moscow only if the EU remains united in this conflict: We will not tolerate Russia’s breaches of international law in Ukraine and we urge Russia to return to the negotiation table.
Russia will remain our biggest Eastern neighbour. And the global issues we face – from energy security to nuclear proliferation – will not be solved without Russia. This is not to say that we can return to business as usual any time soon. There is currently no basis for that. But geography will not change. And European security against Russia is difficult to imagine.
Besides Ukraine, many other challenges for the EU’s Foreign Policy remain: relations with our neighbours in general, the Middle East Peace Process, relations with Iran, but also the global approach to tackling climate and energy issues.
All of these can only be solved together in the EU. Therefore we are striving to create an integrated, powerful European Foreign Policy. In pursuing its foreign policy goals, the EU has often been called a “soft power”. Our strength lies in conflict prevention, in moderating negotiations such as in Iran or between Serbia and Kosovo, and in its comprehensive approach combining development aid and a common security and defence policy.
Also in external policies, interests and positions may differ between the Member States of the EU. But in the past we have managed to stand together, to find common ground, and to be a reliable partner. The EU also needs to be able to act for itself, and the new High Representative can fully draw on the expertise of the European External Action Service, which has been set up during the past five years.
Like I said in the beginning: These days, we can feel the winds of change from many directions. It is good to know that Germany and Ireland are in this storm together.
I am convinced that by strengthening solidarity and social cohesion in Europe, by defending our values and by taking on more responsibility in our neighbourhood, we will make the EU stronger. We should allow ourselves to learn from one another. That way Europe, as a political project, will emerge stronger from the crisis than before.