By Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth. Published in the Tagesspiegel newspaper on 6 May 2017.
The French presidential elections have an impact far beyond the country’s borders – both on Germany as France’s closest partner and on Europe as a whole. What can we hope for from our neighbour in future? And what should we offer the new French Government? Given the difficult international situation, as well as the destructive forces of populism and nationalism in Europe, we have an obligation to work even closer together with France in future in order to strengthen Europe.
How can this be achieved? Europe’s political geography will change dramatically with the forthcoming Brexit. Germany has a growing responsibility to act more as a mediator within Europe and not to take sides. We have to move towards our partners so that there is once again more room for compromise.
In the last few years, we have asked much of our partners – when it comes to cuts, reforms and solidarity with us. As a member state with a successful economy, we have done this from a position of strength. And in terms of substance, we have not always been wrong. However, these messages were often received quite differently than we intended by our partners. But we can only successfully stand together in Europe if everyone feels understood, if they do not feel left behind and if they see themselves as equal winners.
We should also approach the new French Government in this spirit. For if we succeed in formulating a European agenda for the future in partnership with France, then we can win the support of other countries. What does that mean in practice?
First of all, we have to complete the monetary union so that it can be a guarantor for growth, solidarity and stability for everyone. A stronger institutional bulwark, whether in the form of a eurozone minister, an own budget or a eurozone parliament, is needed. For we have to coordinate economic, social and employment policies in a binding manner. Voluntary agreements, by which no-one feels bound, will not achieve anything. Secondly, we are keen to see a union of solidarity: we can prevent a race to the bottom with regard to social benefits by implementing minimum social standards in Europe. We should promote education and employment in such a way that people see the entire EU as a community of social justice, fair opportunities and prosperity.
For that, thirdly, we have to invest more in research, infrastructure and digital networks. Above all, we have to make greater use of the creative potential of all young people and greatly expand mobility schemes such as Erasmus. For success in reducing youth unemployment will be crucial if the EU is to win back the trust it has lost.
Fourthly, we should strengthen internal and external security in a way that allows us to protect our freedoms from terrorists. We have to see overcoming the refugee crisis as a joint European task and establish an effective asylum and migration policy based on humanity and solidarity.
We will have to spend more rather than less money on this – admittedly ambitious – agenda. For these are urgently needed investments. I cannot imagine a better partner for this than France. I hope that our two countries can greatly advance European integration. With this objective in mind, we should also broaden the Élysée Treaty, the foundation of our cooperation, to include the European dimension.
Finally, it is vital that we convince our citizens that this is the way forward. Everywhere, especially in Germany and France, people are taking to the streets every week to show their support for Europe. Europe is close to their hearts. This gives us hope that the Franco-German friendship can again be strong and ambitious – dedicated to fostering a united Europe.