Standing together in Europe

15.06.2016 - Interview

On 15 June, Foreign Minister Steinmeier met his Czech counterpart Lubomir Zaorálek for talks in Berlin. In a joint article, the Foreign Ministers explain why Europe can only succeed if it stands united. Published in the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on 15 June 2016.

German-Czech relations have flourished over the last few years! That is even an understatement. “Our bilateral relations have never been so good”, may sound hackneyed. But the fact is that there has never been so much good neighbourliness, so much cooperation, so much political exchange, so much agreement, indeed harmony, in German-Czech relations as there has been in the last few years.

It was only just over eleven years ago that the Czech Republic and nine other countries “returned home to Europe”, a happy moment in their history. And yet it feels like an eternity: the trust which has developed since then, the friendship and our close coordination as partners give us heart. And we need that – also beyond our bilateral relations.

For the wind has become rougher. Our European house has been hit by many crises. The financial crisis, which has not yet been overcome, the influx of refugees into Europe, our approach to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, our relations with our large neighbour Russia, the rise in right-wing populism almost everywhere in Europe and, not least, the referendum in Britain on whether it should remain in the EU and its consequences: we cannot tackle these major challenges each of us on our own. Blinkered political actions which focus solely on our own national needs are not a convincing response to the forces pulling ever outwards in Europe.

Only if we work together can we find solutions to pressing problems and rebuild confidence in Europe’s capacity to act. Only if we work together will we counter the nationalist populists and their easy solutions.

We are convinced that the Czech Republic and Germany can make an important contribution towards overcoming these major challenges.

It is therefore good, and important, that as European partners in the heart of Europe, we Germans and Czechs stress time and again: we want Europe and we are working on European solutions. At present, Europe needs staunch champions and a close-knit network of good and friendly relations which will also withstand difficult times.

The more interconnected this world is and the more serious its crises, the more we must be able to rely on partners beyond our national borders. No other region in the world has practised this for as long, and as successfully, as the European Union. What is more, if any region at all is equipped to deal successfully with globalisation then it is Europe.

Withdrawing into a national shell is not a solution. At the end of the day, loss of control will befall those who opt for national isolation rather than European solutions. Fear has always been a poor guide – especially in politics.

We believe this presents us with a clear common mandate: we want to and can resolve our differences in the EU by conducting a dialogue in a spirit of partnership. We want to and can follow the rules which we drew up for this. We want to and can accept and implement the compromises we reach.

This also applies to the migration issue, where the heated and also controversial debates we have in the EU should not lead us to forget that – step by step – we have already found initial joint strategies which will help us master the challenges we face: marine rescue operations, measures to combat people smugglers, improved border security, the EU-Turkey agreement, support for Greece, greater efforts to combat the causes of flight in countries of origin and transit. There have already been positive results. We have made the greatest headway in controlling and managing the flows of refugees. We have made good progress in establishing joint border and coastguard operations. That was certainly not an easy process, and perhaps problems will crop up every now and again in future – but the right way forward is to sit round the table with all partners and look for joint solutions, even if that is difficult and sometimes also takes time.

Given our history, an incredible level of mutual trust has been achieved in German-Czech relations and that will now help us to find European responses to European crises. Twenty years ago, we adopted a joint declaration which looked to the future. We established the Future Fund, which has been bringing people in our two countries closer together through countless projects. We are engaged in a strategic dialogue which has helped us to advance our cooperation in all key spheres.

In other words, the excellent state of German-Czech relations means that there is an onus on us to lead by example. And indeed, we intend to continue along this path together setting good examples.

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