German European policy facing great tests. Seven general remarks on the situation in Europe

30.05.2016 - Speech

IEP (Institute for European Politics) Lunch Debate with Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth.

IEP (Institute for European Politics) Lunch Debate with Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth.


-- Translation of advance text --

1. Seeing European tests as an opportunity

Many people are concerned about Europe. And they have good reason to be concerned. The refugee crisis, economic and financial crisis, high youth unemployment, the United Kingdom’s potential exit from the EU – these are just some of the tales of woe out there. But we mustn’t forget one thing in all this, namely that crises always mean progress for Europe as they go hand in hand with pressure. And sometimes there is no progress without pressure in the complex construct that is Europe. Together with our partners in Europe, we must continue to work on tangible solutions such as in the financial crisis, or most recently in the area of European refugee policy. We have to remain realistic. We will not always be able to take bold steps forward. We are now too many and too heterogeneous to arrive at swift and ambitious solutions. But, step by step and – first and foremost – through cooperation and solidarity, we will be in a much stronger position to pass all of these tests than by going it alone.

2. There are no simple solutions to complex problems

We also have to accept this fact. The threats posed by international terrorism, climate change and the impact of the war in Syria are all complex issues that we will not be able to find solutions to overnight. And Europe will not be able to find these solutions by itself. We need to work together with our international partners. But it holds that the bigger a problem is, the more complex the solution. We must therefore give Europe time to develop solutions. Populists’ calls for purportedly simple responses disregard reality. And yet they fall on fertile ground in many quarters. We must not underestimate this threat. The only way to respond to this is by communicating transparently what is possible and what is not. For us, this is a question of credibility.

3. Rediscovering the value of Europe

On his visit to Hanover, President Obama recalled the value of Europe, which is something that Pope Francis also recently did when he accepted the Charlemagne Prize. We Europeans must constantly remind ourselves of this, despite all of the difficulties we face. The integration of the countries of Europe into the EU’s regulatory framework is our guarantee of security, prosperity and peace. Europe is our life insurance in turbulent times. More than 70 years of peace on the European continent cannot be taken for granted – thanks to the EU, conflicts are now resolved at desks and in conference rooms, and no longer on battle fields, as was the case until well into the 20th century. We must not recklessly put this European success story at risk. All of us must take more responsibility in and for Europe.

4. Europe is a team game

European policy only works in a team. All member states – whether big or small, east or west, north or south, founding member or new member – are called upon to keep Europe’s motor running and to give it fresh momentum. We need more team spirit in Europe. The balance between the concerns of individual member states and our shared interests and values must constantly be readjusted. In a community of 28, each member state must be prepared to balance their interests and reach compromises – otherwise we will not be able to find any common responses, which would always be the worst outcome for all concerned.

5. Getting Europe’s citizens more involved

The debate about Europe’s future, the forces of disintegration and trends towards renationalisation cannot only be held by experts. At the same time, we must not give right-wing populists and their purportedly simple answers free rein. We must pursue the dialogue on Europe openly and honestly. Part of this is acknowledging the fact that Europe is not a passionate cause that everyone shares, but is often a question of weighing up costs and benefits. This is why we must make the argument for the benefits of joint action – simply calling for more Europe is not enough. We must demonstrate that cooperative approaches to cross-border problems are more effective than countries plotting a lone course.

6. Putting European values into practice and listening to each others’ needs and interests

The EU is a community of shared values. These values bind us together far more closely than all economic links. We must preserve and defend these values in our everyday lives in Europe. This is an ongoing task facing our European society – after all, in Europe, member states’ societies have long since ceased only to think of themselves, but must listen to the others’ needs and interests. By implication, the traditional principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries no longer applies in the EU.

7. Redefining Germany’s role in Europe

As the largest member state of the EU, Germany has a leading role to play, whether we like it nor not. We must accept this task not as an end in itself, but out of conviction. After all, we in particular have benefited tremendously from the European integration process. We must therefore be able to deal with the fact that some call for greater commitment on our part while others reject such a course. However, we need to be keenly aware of differing perceptions and interests – we must see Europe through our partners’ eyes and empathise with them. Only then will we be able to expect a willingness to compromise and solidarity and be in a position to take joint steps for the benefit of all.

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