“The future of Europe – what needs to be done?” - Speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid

03.03.2017 - Speech

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Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today. I would like to start my brief input with a quotation on the future of Europe:

“What started out as a European peace project must in the 21st century become a factor for peace in the world. Our young people will, without a doubt, back such a project. Because it is they who dream of a world like that. It is what our citizens are calling out for and what is expected of us outside Europe. We have the means. (...) Europe is a point of reference for a world based on solid, respected laws and institutions. That is my idea of Europe. And I believe with all my heart that this can and should be the next achievement in the grand European project. We have the capability. Let us mobilise the political will and make it happen.”

No, this is not me quoting myself. These inspiring words come from a former student of this university, a brilliant Spaniard who went on to become the first High Representative of the European Union – Javier Solana de Madariaga.

He gave the speech from which I just quoted in 2007 when he received the Charlemagne Award in Germany for his exceptional services to European integration. It was a speech full of energy and optimism about the European project and what the EU could do in the world.

What a remarkable difference to today’s world. Ten years later, speeches about the EU are no longer so bright and hopeful. In fact, nowadays they are often like doomsday speeches. The EU has been dealing with so many challenges since 2009 that somebody invented the term “European poly-crisis”. The effects of the financial and economic crisis can still be felt in several places in Europe, including here in Spain. Migration continues to put Europe to the test, and Europe’s neighbourhood is becoming increasingly unstable. The rise of populism in many Member States, including countries such as France and my home country Germany, where elections will take place this year, is also extremely worrying.

Yes, the past decade has been exceptionally difficult for Europe. But to call the European project as such into question is certainly not the right answer. Instead of questioning the EU, we should strengthen it. Because in the face of globalisation, the EU is our only life insurance in times of crisis. What we need to learn from the past decade is that we must mobilise all our energy to make Europe work better.

So what needs to be done? I have four main thoughts.

Firstly, Europe needs to revive its promise of prosperity and solidarity.

A common market for Europeans seemed to be in itself a promise of growth, employment and prosperity. And for a long time, that may have been the case. But we now see clearly that a common market is by no means enough. The European economy needs to become a genuine social market economy. I firmly believe that if Europe wants to keep its promise of prosperity, it must first and foremost strengthen the social dimension of the European project.

Current data supports my point. Whereas growth is returning, unemployment remains high. The European Commission estimates that economic growth in the Eurozone was 1.7% in 2016, outperforming even the US at 1.6%. One of the leading economies in Europe was Spain, with an impressive growth rate of 3.2%. That is the good news.

The bad news is that the average unemployment figures in the Eurozone are still around 10%. Youth unemployment is even higher. And in some Member States such as Spain, this figure is much higher still. That is unacceptable. It is the responsibility of all politicians to bring these numbers down. We have tools on the European level that we can use in better ways to support national measures. One example is the Youth Guarantee of the European Commission. So far, some nine million young people have benefited directly from this. But we can do more. Greater investment is another example. Also, we can and should make better use of European structural and social funds in order to help the young generation join the work force.

In just three weeks’ time we will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. I believe that this anniversary will be the right occasion to reflect on how to fulfil the promise of prosperity for all our citizens that was made as early as 1957.

Secondly, we need European answers to the migration issue.

Does anyone in this room seriously think that we are better off if every Member State tries to solve the migration issue on its own? I don’t think so. National approaches, such as relying on national border controls, offer no lasting solutions. On the contrary, they pose a threat to the Schengen system, one of the greatest achievements of European integration. We all like to enjoy the benefits of Schengen. We can travel across Europe without even having to show our passports. How could the protection of Europe’s external borders then not be a job for the EU? The migration issue is just another example that shows we need Europe and that we need more rather than less Europe.

Important initial steps have been taken. Cooperation with countries of origin and transit on migration policy has become an integral part of European foreign and development policy. Some progress has been made as regards strengthening solidarity within the EU, though the topic remains difficult. The Member States intend to do more to help each other, coordinated by Frontex, in order to regain control over our external borders. Member States continue to learn from each other’s experiences with migration. Spain also has a lot to bring to the table in this regard. One major milestone is the establishment of a European border and coast guard agency.

But tackling the migration crisis is not only a task that has to be solved. The fundamental question is whether we are able and willing to defend our liberal European model of democracy. Europe has always been a continent of migration – both internal and external – and a safe haven for those fleeing dictatorships, wars and persecution. Our Europe is based on common values.

These values bind everybody. But our societies must be open to different religions, cultures and ethnicities. Diversity enriches us and makes us stronger, not weaker. We are determined to defend our values, as we always have, with a strong and compassionate European asylum policy. We must also work with our neighbouring countries and further partners around the globe to tackle the root causes of migration, not just to manage its effects. As you might know, this is a vast undertaking, but Europe is moving forward. And it is worth the effort.

Thirdly, Europe must protect us!

We must do more on internal and external security. Given the alarming fragmentation and disintegration of our neighbourhood, Europe has to do more to manage these crises in a better way. Former Commission President Prodi wanted to create a “ring of friends” around the EU. That was in 2002. History went the other way, and now we are experiencing a ring of crises. Just look at Libya, Syria and Ukraine.

We Europeans must adapt to this. Just as Javier Solana said, Europe must become a real factor for peace and stability. That means that the EU must become a more proactive political actor. Its Neighbourhood and Foreign Policies should become more consistent and targeted. Last year, the EU came up with a new Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. That has been a good starting point. Now is the time for implementation.

Fourthly, we must protect Europe!

This point is especially important to me, and it should be to you, too. We mustn’t allow populists and nationalists to determine our actions. We, whether politicians or citizens – in particular you, as the young people of Europe – must jointly respond in the strongest terms and speak up for our values and beliefs! Let’s not leave the stage to groups who claim to present the majority, but don’t respect fundamental rights such as freedom of opinion or the protection of minorities. Let’s not leave the stage to those who reject a model of pluralist and open society based on the values of tolerance and respect for others.

Admittedly, it is not easy to speak up for Europe and to be committed at the moment. In a world of fake news, sensationalism and echo chambers of online social communities, demagogues are having a field day. But fighting for freedom, tolerance and respect has never been easy, as our European history shows.

Last but not least, I want to make a very personal plea to you. The best way to counter Europe fatigue is to experience Europe for yourself. We have to make sure that as many young people as possible experience Europe at first hand, regardless of their parents’ financial means. So I can only encourage you to go and study abroad and take part in an Erasmus exchange programme. Get to know your fellow Europeans and their languages and cultures! Be a part of this great endeavour. Now and in the future, we need Europe. And for Europe to have a bright future, we need you!

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