Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me first of all thank you for having me here. It is a pleasure being here with you in Chicago, the city the 44th President of the United States calls home. And I think it is more than timely to talk about the state of the European Union and transatlantic cooperation.
If I just look at the past week:
- we had a Normandy format meeting under Chancellor Merkel’s leadership in Berlin with Presidents Putin, Hollande and Poroschenko, again trying to make progress on the path towards finding a lasting and peaceful solution to the crisis in Ukraine,
- we continue to oscillate between hope and frustration as we support the discussions between Russia and the US to bring a ceasefire – let alone a lasting solution for stability – to a deprived Syria.
And we are witnessing some turbulent efforts to forge a transatlantic trade deal with our friends in Canada, where I just paid a visit yesterday. This issue has not only huge ramifications for the future of international trade in general, but more immediately for our transatlantic trade negotiations with the US and for Europe’s future competitiveness,
It all shows: the world is in a difficult shape. Challenges are tremendous and long-established mechanisms to confront crises are increasingly put into question.
All this demands for strong and close transatlantic cooperation at times when the United States are deeply torn into the current – I am tempted to say: unprecedented – election campaign. And when Europe is in the midst of a difficult process shaping its own future.
So let me have a closer look at Europe today, which is undoubtedly my area of expertise:
The last two years have been extraordinary times for Europe. Our continent is facing major challenges. It appears as if the fundamentals of European politics cannot be taken for granted any more: 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 watershed moment 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 – through a mass movement of refugees, and major terrorist attacks in European cities – just recently Germany avoided an attack on its airports in Berlin.
The immediate and existential threat regarding the euro zone seems to be over; but the far-reaching social implications of the financial crisis are still felt in many countries.
In June the British people voted to leave the EU. In many other EU Member States we are also confronted with anti-European, anti-elites, 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.
And now the delays on the side of the EU to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada.
It may sound like a contradiction, but these various crises we are facing today re-assert us in our conviction that the EU is and remains the relevant framework for Germany’s foreign and domestic policy. Yes, the EU is a complex animal. But to call into question the entire project of the EU is irresponsible populism. The EU remains the best instrument we have to address the challenges we are facing in a more and more globalized and complex world. Disunity only plays into the hands of those who want a weak Europe.
For Germany, European integration forms part of its DNA, for two reasons: Because the European Union has been founded to overcome a legacy that weighs heavily until today: its history of war, mutual resentment, nationalism and racism. And because thanks to the EU, we have more leverage than single nation states alone, for the challenges at home and at the international level. This holds also true for a bigger member state like Germany. In the globalized world of the 21st century, even Germany, every member state can realize and defend its interests within and through Europe. We’re all pretty small fishes in a very large pond if we are on our own! Today, Europe accounts for 8 percent of the world population – 2050 it will be a mere 5 percent. No single European country will figure amongst the leading economic nations, but together, in the EU, we will still be one of the front-runners.
So let me be very clear: The EU is our past, our present and our future. Germany will continue to assume its particular responsibility for the European project, in close cooperation with the EU institutions and its partners in the EU.
We are ready to redouble our efforts to shape globalization in a way that makes it
a socially inclusive process, thereby overcoming current anti-globalization tendencies; furthermore we will confront a growing anti-European mood, often based in reality on
anti-establishment views. Finally and most importantly, we will redouble our efforts to deconstruct the nationalistic and populist discourse according to which a retreat on the national level would increase control of our own fate – the opposite is true: it would make us all more vulnerable and irrelevant on the international level.
President Obama has 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 might remember this speech. 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’s ever been.
Remember that our market economies are the greatest generators of innovation and wealth and opportunity in history.” End of quote; I can only agree to the fullest extent.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
You might be surprised that I paint the EU in such a positive way. It is true: Very often the EU is nowadays reduced to the crises it is facing and to the potential threat of disintegration. But: This image is misleading. Although the challenges seem to pile up in an unprecedented way, the EU has been effective in the last months and years and has made a significant difference to the better.
But we do not speak enough about these accomplishments. This is why I would like to do it today. Let me first focus on the three areas: Security, Migration, and Economy. Then I will give you a brief outline on our strategy for the way forward.
The EU is already an important contributor to peace and stability at a global scale. Together with the US the EU played a critical role in concluding the negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program. 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 to the conflict. I already mentioned the so-called “Normandy” format summit in Berlin. European countries contribute to the joint international efforts to combat ISIL in Syria and Iraq. Germany is the largest contributor of humanitarian aid for the suffering people in Syria, I am proud to say. And the EU has significantly contributed to making the Horn of Africa safer by completely eliminating the scourge of piracy with its maritime operation and its capacity-building missions in Somalia. We have just agreed on the new “EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy” last June 2016, framing our foreign and security policy in the years to come. We aim for a stronger Europe in security and defense matters. And in July 2016, the NATO Summit in Warsaw set the direction towards enhancing the strategic EU-NATO partnership.
We have managed to find a common answer to the unprecedented flow influx of migrants and refugees into the European Union in recent months: 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 persons before the implementation of the Statement to a daily average of 100.
Moreover, we have set up a new European Border and Coast Guard, to ensure full control of our external borders, and we will considerably strengthen the Common European Asylum Office.
Furthermore, we have set-up hotspots in order to efficiently register all migrants and refugees that reach the European Union in Greece and Italy.
And, last but not least: We have stepped up our cooperation with countries of transit and origin. Through tailor-made partnerships with key countries of origin and transit in Africa, we are using all policies and instruments at the EU's disposal to ameliorate the humanitarian situation of refugees by investing into housing, medical care and education. This will enable migrants and refugees to stay closer to home and, in the long term, to help third countries' development in order to address root causes of irregular migration.
Within the EU, we have successfully stabilized all members of the Euro zone, growth and jobs are – very slowly - coming back. The EU unemployment rate was 8.9% in January 2016, down from 9.8% in January 2015. This is the lowest rate recorded in the EU since May 2009.
Youth unemployment is still far too high, especially in countries like Greece or Spain,
but it also is declining since 2013. In February 2016, the youth unemployment rate in the EU was 19.4%, compared to 20.9% one year ago. The numbers show that we are on the right track and we will continue our joint efforts to provide better opportunities for the young Europeans.
In order to boost investments, we are successfully implementing the European Investment Fund and we are envisaging to extend and to strengthen it.
Let me also underline that enhancing high-standard 21st century trade is an essential part of our economic agenda. We have all witnessed the controversial debate on trade here in the US. And we in Europe faced the challenge to overcome opposition to a trade agreement with Canada which I personally strongly believe in.
Despite this delay, we should not step back from pursuing our ambitions for a high-standard transatlantic partnership for trade and growth which fosters the high standards with respect to labor protection, protection of the environment, health and cultural heritage which are very dear to us on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Europe is at a decisive junction to prove that it can improve its performance; we have to become more efficient in delivering tangible results and give solutions for the specific preoccupations of our citizens.
That is what we are currently doing within the so-called Bratislava Process. In the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome in March 2017, we have agreed to implement an ambitious and focused agenda, mainly in the three areas outlined above: to strengthen our Common Foreign and Security Policy, to establish a workable European asylum policy and to complete our Ecomomic and Monetary Union in a way that creates not only growth, but employment and social inclusiveness for all.
And this includes more honesty in our communication on Europe, taking the form of a credible commitment to the EU as our framework for action, also to clearly delimit us from Eurosceptics.
Second, it would be wrong to allow the shock of the British referendum to paralyze us,
to abandon the idea of further integration. It is true: Not all 28/27 will be ready to move forward on integration at this point in time. But multiple speeds have long been a reality in Europe and should enable us to move ahead with a group of member states, while remaining open for others to join at a later stage. This is why we call for a more flexible European Union.
Let me assure you: 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 and will play its role on the international level, alongside our American friends and partners, for peace and security in its neighborhood and in the world.
I am confident that the new US Administration will likewise value and appreciate this close partnership as one of the key assets to work with from Day 1.
Germany will play its part to preserve these achievements, unparalleled in human history, 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, social inclusiveness and absence of major conflict that so far have distinguished the European model.
One thing is crystal clear: Transatlantic cooperation, close partnership between the United States and Europe and unity are key in this endeavor.
Thank your for your attention.