Sovereign and indissoluble

01.07.2020 - Article

Article by Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and A. González Laya, Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Spain, on European sovereignty and solidarity

Today, Germany assumes the Presidency of the Council of the European Union – amid the greatest crisis since the EU was founded. A 24-page programme summarises Germany’s plans for its Presidency. A motto: “Together for Europe’s recovery”. But we actually don’t need many words to describe how this can be achieved. We simply need two – namely, solidarity and sovereignty. These are two sides of the same coin. Europe will only be able to promote its values and interests abroad as a sovereign entity if it stands united internally in a spirit of solidarity and grows even closer together.

A lack of solidarity tears Europe apart. We had painful experience of this during the euro and financial crisis and in the conflict on refugees and migration. And this danger is looming again. If everyone merely attempts to save themselves, the economic and fiscal inequalities will be further exacerbated – and then we will all lose. None of us were prepared for the pandemic; no one bears the blame for it. And yet some countries, such as Spain, were hit harder than others by it. We need to take that into account if we want to overcome the crisis. That is why we suggest that all national measures be embedded from the start in a European recovery programme of a dimension never before seen in Europe.

We cannot “save” our way out of this crisis. On the contrary, everything we invest now to stimulate our economy will reduce future costs and the risk of the next crisis. One priority should thus be to provide rapid support to member states and business sectors that have been disproportionately affected. However, investments of this magnitude cannot focus purely on “recovery” if we want sustainable growth in Europe. We need to invest the money in the opportunities of the future rather than the problems of the past. We want to make Europe greener, more socially oriented, more digital and more innovative. Europe’s prosperity in the coming decades hinges on this. Our two countries agree that this aim must also be reflected in the future budget.

This can lead to a watershed, a paradigm shift and the reinvention of a truly indivisible and indissoluble Europe based on the principle of solidarity. For this to happen, solidarity in Europe may not be measured in euro alone. We need to achieve greater cohesion in all areas, be they foreign and security policy issues or how we deal with refugee movements and migration. Here, too, the crisis must become an opportunity.

And we also want to change something else in this crisis – European solidarity can no longer merely mean solidarity between countries or with companies. Solidarity is for the people. That is why for the first time we want to provide everyone with security in the form of reduced hours compensation benefit via the SURE programme. And we want to go even further in this area, for example as regards unemployment reinsurance and a common framework for a European minimum wage because we will only be able to preserve cohesion in Europe, stand up to those who preach populism and seek to divide us, and turn European unity into strength in the wider world if solidarity becomes tangible for each and every European.

That was the case even before the pandemic. But it holds all the more true in the post-COVID-19 world, in which the rift between the US and China is growing, global imbalances are worsening and instability is increasing everywhere. European sovereignty means that Europe can act and decide independently and pool its resources in areas where nation-states are no longer in a position to shape globalisation.

The fact that Europe now imports almost 90% of all medicines that WHO considers essential from China or India illustrates what we need to do in the coming months. The same goes for 5G, storage and information technologies, logistics, energy and the natural resource sector. Sovereignty is vital also here.

Together, Spain and Germany will call in the European Union for a rigorous analysis of our strategic dependencies, irrespective of whether they concern technology, security, trade or currency. And we will draw up solutions to these dependencies in order to overcome the crisis and pave the way to a more resilient future. Let’s look at transatlantic relations, by way of example. Regardless of the outcome of the US elections, Europe finally needs to be in a position to ensure stability in its southern and eastern neighbourhood on its own – and in its own interest. We are working on this with Josep Borrell and the other European foreign ministers. It is also vital that Europe – and that means all 27 of us! – speaks with one voice as regards China.

Crises have always coined new words – troika, rescue package, anchor centres, transit zones. We want to work together to ensure that we remember not just terms such as “minimum distance” and “social distancing” after this crisis but rather “solidarity” and “sovereignty”.

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