– Translation of advance text –
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let’s be honest, had we known how many stress tests the EU would currently be undergoing; had we sensed the tremendous number of crises, difficulties and unsolved problems we are facing today; and had we seen the torturous effort that is required again and again to keep the ship on an even keel – would our countries, Portugal and Germany, today actually be Member States of the EU? Would we have subjected ourselves to all that?
This question probably applies not so much to the founding member Germany, for which joining a European community meant truly entering its post-war period, as it does to our Portuguese friends, who joined in 1986 – that is, exactly thirty years ago.
We must never forget that, thirty years ago, the European Communities were also experiencing difficulties, in particular economic stagnation, high unemployment and a standstill of European integration efforts.
During those years of crisis, there were certainly much more enticing projects than that of joining the European Communities. Nevertheless, it is a good thing that Portugal at the time was not dissuaded from joining by Europe’s troublesome state of affairs.
So even in times of crisis, Europe still has a certain appeal. That is something we would do good to recall today, now that Europe is once again in crisis mode. Since 1986, we have seen many crises come and go. However, this time, it does not appear to be a run-of-the-mill crisis: the situation is serious. Very serious indeed.
Solidarity among Member States, which have been weakened by the economic and financial crisis of the past six years, is being put to the test again by the arrival of more than a million refugees in Europe. The EU is at a crossroads. Will the continent fall back into putting up fences and being guided by national egos?
Or will we proceed down the road towards a more and more political union? Nothing is automatic in either direction.
What new impulses can we provide during these times of crisis? Portugal and Germany are different. Yet we all know that opposites attract. And it is precisely this dichotomy that makes our cooperation so valuable for the EU. When our two countries have agreed on common positions, then these also become attractive for other European partners.
Our two countries have much to thank Europe for. It is through European integration that Germany found its place in a civilised and peaceful post-war order. Portugal found a new home in Europe after a long and conflict-ridden dictatorship. As EU Member States, we benefit from open borders, the single market and freedom of movement. And we have learned that every Member State at some point benefits from the solidarity of others.
We all know that Portugal has in recent years had a long and difficult journey.
With support from European partners, and above all thanks to its own hard work and tireless efforts, the Government has tackled comprehensive structural reform to overcome its economic and social crisis, without neglecting the need to maintain social cohesion. I have great respect for what our Portuguese friends are doing!
Germany, too, is asking for solidarity from its EU partners, so that we are not overwhelmed by the refugee situation. Solidarity, after all, is not a one‑way street, but rather always give‑and‑take.
Portugal and Germany are prepared to do their share to ensure that European solutions work. It is not only about the numbers, but also about showing the political will that is needed to find promising solutions.
No one should be overburdened. Rather, solutions in the EU are always based on fairness and solidarity.
As the largest Member State and thanks to our strong national economy, Germany bears special responsibility for Europe.
Germany is prepared to set a good example and act in a spirit of solidarity, with a view to tackling both the financial crisis and the refugee crisis. Portugal, too, can be an example to others – the country is taking in more refugees than was agreed by the European Council.
That proves how a shared and united Europe that is based on solidarity is worth making all of these efforts. After all, the EU remains our life insurance in these times of crisis. And opinion polls prove time and again that the vast majority of Portuguese share this view, also 30 years after joining the European Union. For that, too, I am grateful.