“Europe is dead!”, “Moscow will win”, “It’s over, they’re out.”. After the last key vote, European newspapers sought to outdo each other with dramatic headlines. These were the first shocked reactions to the outcome of the Brexit referendum three years ago. The British had made their decision. Yet, it was immediately clear that the result affected the whole of Europe. And it had a particular impact on the Saarland, whose second most important trading partner in 2017 was the UK.
Europe will be going to the polls in just under two weeks. Once again, this will be a key vote. However, we have learned two things:
Firstly, if we leave Europe to the populists, then that will lead to chaos. No nation-state can master challenges such as climate change, the digital transformation or migration on its own. Only together as a united Europe do we have enough clout to make our voice heard on the international stage.
The nationalists have no answers to these challenges. Their rise is due to their stirring up resentment and fears.
However, it is also the result of the concerns felt by many people that they are being overwhelmed by uncontrolled globalisation or left behind by rapid advances in digital technology. If we want to uphold the European peace project, then we have to take these concerns seriously.
The EU must become stronger, more sovereign and more socially just.
Europe will be strong if we overcome the divides created by the financial crisis and migration debate. If we uphold our shared values. No concessions can be made when it comes to the rule of law. In economic terms, the EU is already a world power. We have to use this clout in the fight for just globalisation and fair standards, as we do in the trade talks with the United States and in the negotiations on modern free trade agreements.
Europe is sovereign when it can assert its values and interests in the age of “America first”, “Russia first” or “China first”. The EU must become more effective in the sphere of foreign policy. The unanimity requirement means that the slowest member always dictates the speed. We have to put an end to that, so that we can make progress in climate policy, disarmament issues or in the human rights field despite any resistance.
Europe is socially just when citizens throughout Europe see that people, not the market, are the focus of attention. During the last few years, there has been too much talk of the free flow of goods and financial services across borders and big corporations and too little talk of workers’ rights, co-determination, gender equality, as well as work and training opportunities valid across borders. What we need is a genuine European social union in which the same importance is attached to social security and co-determination as to economic growth. Social cohesion is the best antidote against nationalists and populists.
The second thing we learned from the Brexit referendum is that elections make a crucial difference. Those who do not vote are helping those who want to destroy Europe. A low turnout only helps extremists.
People in the Saarland have long since realised this. At the last European elections, the turnout here was the second highest in Germany, just behind Rhineland-Palatinate and ahead of North Rhine-Westphalia. I bet that the Saarland will be top of the league this time and show everyone that we here in the Saar region live and love Europe. I therefore call on all Saarlanders to vote for Europe on 26 May. To vote for peace, for European values and our social cohesion. So that the newspaper headlines will be: “#SaarWette (#Saar bet) successful.” “Europe has won!”