Europe needs more than just paying lip service.

Foreign Minister Gabriel and President Macron on their way to the cabinet meeting (30.08.2017)

Foreign Minister Gabriel and President Macron on their way to the cabinet meeting (30.08.2017), © Inga Kjer/photothek.net

15.12.2017 - Article

Tribute by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on the occasion of the selection by the “Handelsblatt” of French President Emmanuel Macron as person of the year.

It is a great honour to be acquainted with Emmanuel Macron as President of the French Republic. But getting to know him better as a person is a great bonus at a personal level. Following the birth of my youngest daughter, he handed me a pink soft toy rabbit on his visit to the Federal Foreign Office – badly wrapped in creased wrapping paper. And it was this small gesture in particular that was indicative of his character. Despite his busy schedule – he was in the thick of his race for the office of President – he managed to buy and wrap up the present himself while at the airport.

Anecdotes aside, I have been acquainted with him for long enough to know that he is committed to the very last to the things that he holds dear. Europe is what concerns him, and Europe needs him.

Europe has many practitioners and innovators who are very well versed in operational issues and who therefore help both to improve and advance the EU in many areas. However, what has been lacking in recent years, perhaps even decades, is a visionary for Europe who not only researches and writes for Europe from within the confines of a quite back room, but who – in a pivotal position and with the necessary decisiveness – has a heart that beats for Europe, who has the will to dare to launch genuine reforms and who has the vision and stamina to undertake the necessary operative steps to this end.

Emmanuel Macron possesses all of these qualities. At a time when European integration is being questioned, when its basic principles and foundations are being shaken, when populists are gaining ground with anti European slogans, we need someone like Macron who is not afraid to stand up for Europe and speak out clearly – one who says that we are nothing without Europe.

Thanks to his initiative, we have made decisive progress on a truly European security and defence policy. This is a development that experts did not even dare to dream of just a few short years ago. Of course, this is also due to current political circumstances, such as the need for an independent European strategic, security and defence policy. But what we need is people who grasp this opportunity and take action. Emmanuel Macron is just that and more. In public, he says that he could imagine doing without a French Commissioner. He could imagine a radical new EU agricultural policy. A French President who puts national interests aside in the interests of the European whole!
However, it is just as clear that Macron must be able to rely on the Germans in order to make a genuine difference. When we attended a panel discussion with Jürgen Habermas in Berlin in March, Emmanuel Macron articulated what both of us see as self evident, namely that we can only create European momentum and achieve progress for Europe if Germany and France move forward together.

That is why France and Emmanuel Macron deserve a response that goes beyond the weary smile that his proposals are currently being met with in Berlin. After all, the successful model that is European integration is far from guaranteed.

Allow me to give you four examples that demonstrate this.
Firstly, economic and social imbalances are putting cohesion and solidarity within the EU to the test. While the unemployment rate in the eurozone may have stood at 8.9 percent in June 2017, the lowest rate since February 2009, the difference between the unemployment rate in countries such as the Czech Republic and Germany compared with Greece and Spain is striking – and this is particularly important in the case of youth unemployment. This is why we cannot content ourselves with the fact that we are doing well in Germany right now. In order for things to stay that way in the long term, we must invest not only at home – but also in Europe!

Macron is therefore right when he calls for us to work together to enable the EU to invest in its citizens, economic growth and education. For Macron, Europe is more than just a cold internal market. He wants a Europe that protects, which does not represent the abstract interests of markets and dog eat dog competition, but rather stands for the interests of its citizens both at home and abroad. A social and a market economy Europe. Macron is, if you like, the European combination of Ludwig Erhard and Karl Schiller.

It is only with this modern idea of a European social market economy that we can keep Europe together. Only in this way can the EU grow into a real community – and only in this way can we make Europe a solution rather than a problem for the young. What impresses me in all this is the fact that Macron is honest. He tells the French that they must first tackle reforms in France to put themselves in a stronger position as regards initiating reforms in Europe. He does not want to milk the EU, but wants to strengthen it.

Secondly, the refugee crisis has caused a further deep rift, particularly between Germany and other member states that hold us responsible for the migration flows to Europe while closing their eyes to the fact that it is not Germany but the bloody crises abroad that have driven people from their homes. These rifts won’t heal by themselves. Common bridges are needed, as well as patience and an appreciation of each other’s positions. For all of us, however, it must be quite clear that, despite all the discussion, European law and European jurisprudence must not be called into question. Germany cannot make this case by itself.

This brings me to a third challenge. The EU is based on a strong foundation of the rule of law and democracy. We must also defend this foundation on the domestic front. Turning a blind eye to the domestic situation and preaching to the outside world would not only undermine the EU’s credibility, but would also abandon the citizens of Europe who rely on these principles. We therefore need a large majority of convinced member states pursuing a clear policy in this area, too.

Fourthly, we need a genuine European foreign policy that goes hand in hand with EU interests and that is more than just the lowest common denominator. After all, the rifts in the EU at home are a target for seeds of division sown from the outside. We don’t have to look for too long to see them. In attempting through its clever investment policy to drive a wedge into the EU with the 16 + 1 talks, China’s actions as an economic power show how urgent it is to shore up the EU’s principles and unity. Who is able to stand up to a trading giant like China, which defends its own hard headed interests in such an uncompromising way – if not an EU that protects and supports our standards and our openness to the world?

In this situation, having Emmanuel Macron as French President is a stroke of good fortune for us Germans. Have we come to realise that yet?

Especially now, it cannot be that the Federal Government bases its European policy solely on its calculator, looking first to see what ideas cost. The next Federal Government must focus on cooperating with France on a common European reform agenda. Our sights must not be set on our wallets, but on the future.

How can we, together with Emmanuel Macron, set the course in Europe that is needed in order to strengthen the EU for the coming decades? We could not wish for a better partner than him, the French President, who is passionate about making the European dream a reality – with courage to do what is necessary and a clear view of what is feasible.

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