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Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to the Federal Foreign Office and to the twentieth WDR Europaforum! I am delighted to be able to welcome you to our ministry today.
Let’s start by looking back at where we were a year ago. In May 2016, the title of the WDR Forum was “Europe without Europeans?” At the time, we were faced with a Europe that was at risk of sinking into a mire of crises and populism, a Europe where fear of losing control was omnipresent. Support for the European project was increasingly eroding. Some of us even wondered if the EU had a future at all in its current form,
A year later, we can be somewhat more optimistic. Today, in June 2017, we can say that fortunately plenty of people still believe in Europe, as shown by the recent elections in our neighbouring countries.
In the end, it was not Wilders or Le Pen, but rather the pro‑European forces who won the elections in the Netherlands and France. Emmanuel Macron conducted a pro-European election campaign – and he won!
In many places in Europe, people are taking to the streets and gathering in squares to express their support for the EU. Europe is experiencing economic growth. And we have also made good progress as regards overcoming the refugee crisis, even if we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
However, an inventory of the past year also includes the fact that the United Kingdom decided to leave the EU. Many people in Europe feared this step could encourage others to follow suit. This risk has not come to pass so far. On the contrary, the Brexit vote brought home to the remaining 27 EU Member States what they gain from the EU. At any rate, the EU’s united stance on Brexit is encouraging.
This year’s WDR Europaforum has thus chosen the right time to ask what the next steps should be – should we have more or less Europe? How do we want to take the EU forward to make it fit for the future?
The European Commission outlined five scenarios in the White Paper on the Future of Europe it published in March. In the report, President Juncker clearly distanced himself from the scenario of reducing Europe to “nothing but the single market”, and I would like to do the same thing here because this approach would certainly not make Europe fit for the future. Instead, we need “more Europe” in certain fields in order to make the EU even better.
First of all, we have to complete the monetary union so that it can be a guarantor of growth, solidarity and stability for everyone. A stronger institutional bulwark, whether in the form of a eurozone minister, its own budget or a eurozone parliament, is needed. We need to coordinate our work on economic, social and employment policy in a better and more binding way.
Let’s be honest, voluntary agreements, to 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 do not want to content ourselves with the fact that prosperity is only found in a few places in Europe. Instead, we should promote education and employment in such a way that people see the entire EU as a community of freedom, social justice, fair opportunities and prosperity.
For that, thirdly, we have to invest more in research, infrastructure and digital networks. Above all, we need to do even more for young people, for success in reducing youth unemployment and creating opportunities will be crucial if the EU is to win back the trust it has lost.
And fourthly, we should enhance internal and external security in order to protect our freedom from terrorists and take on greater responsibility for our own security against external threats. We have to see overcoming the refugee crisis as a joint European task and create an effective asylum and migration policy based on humanity and solidarity.
All of this raises the question of how we deal with the fact that some Member States are probably not willing to take further steps. Should the EU accept it when a few members hold up – indeed, block – the EU’s further development? Or should those who want to move forward do so more resolutely in the future as a team of European cheerleaders, so to speak? That is one of the questions inextricably linked with the question of more or less Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When we talk about the future Europe today, this also concerns Germany’s role in Europe. We could also ask the question of whether Germany should play a greater or lesser role in Europe. Some Member States saw Germany as too dominant and judgemental in recent years. We need to correct this distorted image, and we want to correct it.
Germany must once again take on responsibility in Europe as a mediator and connecting force and help to bring about European solutions. In saying this, I do not mean that Germany should not pursue its own interests in Europe. But if Europe is to function, Germany, as the largest Member State, must be willing to put European interests above its national interests at times.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In his message to the WDR Europaforum, Jean-Claude Juncker described 2017 as a “world moment” that will decide the fate of our continent. I can only agree with that. In electing Emmanuel Macron, the French expressed their commitment to Europe. Now it is up to us to play our part in ensuring that Europe continues to move towards open-mindedness, solidarity and unity, and thus to a European future.
In this spirit, allow me to welcome you once again to the Federal Foreign Office. I hope that we will all enjoy productive, indeed heated, discussions. Our democracy depends on precisely this type of constructive wrangling on the future of Europe.