Chairman of the Board David Braun,
Chairman Mark Tomkins,
Dear members of the German American Chamber of the Midwest,
The American businessman Sumner Redstone once said: “Success is not built on success. It's built on failure. It's built on frustration. Sometimes it is built on catastrophe.”
This may not only be true for some business success stories, united here tonight, but this can also be said of the European Union – which has just suffered a major set-back by not signing the CETA trade agreement with Canada, but the EU is – nevertheless - a success story. And why so, I would like to explain to you tonight.
But first of all, let me tell you how grateful I am for the invitation to honor today’s awardees, together with you. And it is an honor to be given the chance to share some ideas on the state of the European Union with you. I’m sure you all pay close attention to these matters, because developments in Europe necessarily have big repercussions on the day-to-day business you are doing.
It is great to see such a large turnout at this dinner and I am happy to be with you tonight. The attendance of far more than 200 representatives of member firms and friends of the chamber shows the importance of your organization in German-American economic relations. 800 member firms in the Midwest and a total of some 1,300 companies with a German-American connection: That is really impressive.
Let me also congratulate the five awardees of tonight for their achievements:
- Excellence in Services: Vetter Development and Minodes;
- Excellence in Innovation: Forcam, VisiConsult and Relution.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The last seven years have been challenging times for Europe. Crisis seems to be the new normal wherever we look.
It appears as if the fundamentals of European politics cannot be taken for granted anymore: neither the notion that European integration is irreversible, nor that peace on the continent is sustained by a unique security order based on a common set of rules and principles.
Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine were a decisive turning point for European security.
Equally, the instability and disruptions in Europe’s Southern neighborhood will impact Europe’s security for years to come. They have long reached our doorsteps – not least through the influx of refugees.
In June the British people voted to leave the EU: And also in many other EU Member States we are confronted with anti-European, nationalist – often even xenophobic – movements and parties. With concern, I do see parallels to some of the debates during the election process here in the US.
The immediate and existential threat of the euro zone seems to be over. But the far-reaching social implications of the financial crisis are still felt in many countries, for example in Greece, Portugal and Spain.
And now our struggle to sign a Trade Agreement with our transatlantic friends in Canada.
But these various crises we are facing re-enforce our strong conviction that the EU remains the relevant framework for Germany’s foreign and domestic policy. Because the European Union has been founded to overcome Europe’s history of war and nationalism. And because the EU provides us with more leverage than a single nation-state would have alone, for the challenges at home and at the international level.
Yes, the EU is a complex animal. But to call into question the entire European project is irresponsible populism. The EU remains the best instrument we have for addressing the challenges we are facing in a more and more globalized and crisis-ridden world.
Even Germany, though apparently politically and economically a heavyweight, can only realize and defend its national interests within and through Europe. We’re all pretty small fishes in a very large pond if we are on our own! Soon no single European country will be amongst the leading economic nations anymore, but together, in the EU, we will still be one of the front-runners.
For this reason, I also believe that TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is a critical transatlantic initiative.
At this point in time, the EU and the U.S. account for almost half of the world’s economic output and 40 percent of global trade. Ours is also the world’s largest investment relationship.
If we want our values and ideas to shape globalization – for instance, by ensuring that our high and sustainable standards are accepted – we need allies and like-minded partners like the United States and Canada.
We know from the past that trade negotiations are difficult. Our citizens have legitimate concerns as workers, as customers – and as business people. They fear that the social welfare state will be dismantled, standards watered down and that jobs are under threat. Free trade and globalisation require clear, binding and predictable rules. And as long as there is no world trade regime that is internationally binding for all of the world’s countries, the EU’s agreements with other states represent a great opportunity. Therefore I am very eager to see that the European Union signs the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada.
I am confident that the EU will be able to sign CETA as soon as possible. And I hope our Canadian partners have patience with us. Nevertheless, this does not bode well for the trade negotiations with the United States. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as it is called – TTIP – is still in a much earlier stage of negotiations, many issues remain open and unsolved. But I hope that both sides of the Atlantic will work hard to agree on an equitable and sustainable trade agreement, designed in full transparency and well explained to our citizens. The more we gain public support for this endeavor, the better the chances for lasting success. Because then, TTIP can provide the economic and strategic framework that can serve as a foundation for shared prosperity. It seems to me as the next logical step in a strong relationship between equal partners.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me assure you: Despite some set-backs, the EU will live up to the challenges it is facing. The leaders of the EU Member States know exactly what is at stake. A strong and united Europe will remain an important and attractive partner for the United States. The EU will play its role on the international level, alongside our American partners and friends, for peace and security in its neighborhood and in the world.
With this clear agenda in mind, European leaders are determined to deliver in the coming months tangible results to their citizens in areas that are of great concern to all:
Regarding security in the world, the EU will push forward cooperation for a Common Foreign and Security Policy. The EU is already an important player for peace and stability. The EU played a very important role in concluding the negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program. European countries contribute to the joint international efforts to combat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. And the EU has adopted a common stance on Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and continues to contribute to a peaceful solution of the conflict. Just last week Chancellor Merkel hosted yet another summit in the so-called “Normandy format”.
Regarding migration, we have managed to find a common answer to the unprecedented influx of migrants and refugees into the European Union in the last month. The EU-Turkey Agreement has led to a tremendous fall in the loss of life and in irregular border crossings into the EU.
Numbers of arrivals went down from a daily average of 1,700 arrivals before the implementation of the Statement to a daily average of 81. Now we have intensify our cooperation to make the integration of so many refugees in our countries a success, also by a better political and economic support of the countries of transit and origin.
Regarding the economy, we will seek to complete the Economic and Monetary Union in a way that assures not only growth, but also employment and social inclusiveness, especially for the young generation. We have managed to successfully stabilize all members of the Eurozone. Growth and jobs are finally coming back. The EU unemployment rate was 8.9 percent in January 2016, down from 9.8 percent in January 2015. This is the lowest rate recorded in the EU since May 2009.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
President Obama said it in Hannover this year: “Your accomplishment – more than 500 million people speaking 24 languages in 28 countries, 19 with a common currency, in one European Union – remains one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times.”
You probably all know this citation. But the President went on, he also said: “Remember that every member of your union is a democracy. That's not an accident. Remember that no EU country has raised arms against another. That's not an accident. Remember that NATO is as strong as it has ever been. Remember that our market economies are the greatest generators of innovation and wealth and opportunity in history.”.
And I can only agree to the fullest extent. For me, Europe is the dream of diversity, the guarantor of our individual ways of life, our life insurance in this turbulent age of globalisation! We ought to remind ourselves of that each time we doubt the value of Europe.
Germany will play its part to preserve these achievements and to shape the future of Europe as best we can in order to ensure the liberal order, pluralism, open societies, political stability, economic prosperity and justice as well as the absence of major conflict that so far have distinguished the European model.
Thank you very much for your attention! I now wish you a wonderful dinner!