For a strong Europe that delivers. Speech by State Secretary Andreas Michaelis to members of the International Crisis Group

14.04.2018 - Speech

Lord Malloch Brown,
lieber Wolfgang Ischinger,
distinguished guests,
dear friends,

I am most delighted to welcome all of you to the Foreign Office. When I look back upon these intense last few days, it seems most natural to me to have dinner with the International Crisis Group tonight.

Earlier this week, we flew to Washington to have talks with the Americans as the E3 about the future of the JCPoA – and of course to see you, Rob. Yesterday, I accompanied Foreign Secretary Maas to Oxford where we deliberated on how to react to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. In between, I had an exchange with my French counterpart on how to move ahead with Minsk. Today, we dealt with the military response to Duma. And tomorrow, we will be back in London for further talks on Iran.

Crisis management all over the place - more than enough material for a passionate debate tonight, and more than enough work for the new Federal Government.

Yes, I am most eager to share my take on the JCPoA and on Syria with you. And yet, I would like to leave this for the Q & A session. Instead, I want to choose a different angle for my remarks, focusing Europe’s role in an increasingly crisis-ridden world rather than on individual crises.

After three years as Political Director, I do so because I am convinced that crisis management alone will not suffice in the years ahead. We have pitched too many tents and constructed too few lasting edifices. Too much ad hoc canvas and duct tape, too little institutional bricks and mortar.

This is why we are heading for the Security Council in 2019/20. This is why Europe must be at the heart of our Foreign Policy in the years to come.

The core of my argument about Europe has been summed up in Ralf Dahrendorf’s scathing words about our continent: “Europe has no real influence – at any rate, it has no European interest that could inform this influence.”

Dahrendorf’s remarks are even more topical now than they were when he made them two decades ago. With the Atlantic Ocean widening, with the list of our natural allies shortening, and with the international system growing ever more unstable, they force us to realize:

We can either shape the world ourselves or wait to be shaped by the rest of the world.

A focus on values alone, as we Germans like to underline in our foreign policy, will no longer be enough to enable us to stand our ground in a world characterized by economic, political and military egoism. The EU will have no real influence until it has defined its own “European interest” clearly. And without this definition of its own interest, it will simply not be able to project power.

To make overdue progress in defining European interest, we must come up with realistic, ambitious and convincing answers to three simple questions:

  1. Why should we want a strong Europe?
  2. What kind of Europe do we want?
  3. And what should Europe want internationally?

First question: Why do we need a strong Europe?

Brexit, the aftermath of the financial crisis, populism and nationalism – the very validity of the European Union has come under immense scrutiny in recent years, forcing us to come up with convincing answers to why European integration is in our best interest.

There is absolutely no need to discard the European dream of peace, freedom and prosperity. But if we want to win the fight against populists and nationalists, we may have to let go of a “Europe of dreams”. The vision of a “United States of Europe” has lost much of its credibility and appeal.

To address the wishes and fears of our citizens, we will have to make clear that our policy is not seeking to disband, step by step, the nation state to make way for a European Super-State.

We must focus on the reality of a Europe that safeguards the nation state as the locus of political and cultural identity. But we also need to make the case for a Europe that pools sovereignty when and where nation states by themselves cannot muster the strength that a unified Europe can bring to the table.

Both elements must be inextricably intertwined. Just like the two sides of our Euro coin. One bears Member States’ national symbols, the other one has the map of Europe and the European stars on it. One cannot exist without the other.

Instead of indulging in teleological debates about the finality of European integration, we should put the focus elsewhere: We want a strong Europe that overcomes internal struggle and stands united internationally. A European Union that convinces because it delivers.

Second question: What kind of Europe do we want?

Macron has reminded us that we must also make a decision on the shape of Europe.

From our point of view, the adequate approach is to think big. Look at the map: Germany is situated in the heart of Europe. We have a fundamental interest in a “big” Europe as the ultimate answer to the “German question” – not a reductionist approach towards a European core. This is true when it comes to security policy but also economically and culturally.

Surely, such a “big” Europe can only meaningfully act when it is not divided. We will thus have to accept with a new sense of realism that on many issues, we will only achieve a limited degree of integration. This does not preclude – quite the contrary - smaller groups to pursue further integration – especially on finalizing the Economic and Monetary Union together with France. But such groups have to remain open at all times to other European partners.

Maintaining cohesion in the European Union will also require overcoming the fault lines that have developed between the East and the West and the North and the South.

Within the European Union, we will seek to get our partners to the East, primarily Poland and the Visegrad states, back on board. To achieve this, we want to pursue a policy that brokers political compromises and balances interests across sectors. I refer to the central question of security, but also to migration and financial policy. Our neighbors to the East cannot be second class members. But that also means that we will take them up on their responsibilities - especially when it comes to questions of the rule of law.

Regarding the North-South divide, we too have to be willing to compromise. This is in our own strategic interest. This will require us to become more flexible in our financial policy without crossing internal red lines. When it comes to migration and security policy and protection of our common border, we also need fair European answers.

Third question: What should Europe want internationally?

Let me start with the European Union’s neighborhood. Europe‘s internal cohesion and its policies and politics beyond the EU’s external borders are inextricably linked.

Just look at our eastern neighborhood as one example. Given their massive security implications, our efforts to overcome the East-West divide within Europe cannot end at the borders of the European Union. They must include the members of our Eastern Partnership, particularly Ukraine and Belarus. And they have to aim at a shared security, a peaceful balance of interests and connectivity with Russia.

Regarding Moscow, we have to face grim realities with a new sense of realism. We may have thought after Crimea that relations could not be worse. What followed was Donbass, interference with elections, cyber attacks, Salisbury. Our relationship is turning increasingly adversarial.

Here, too, we must critically review policies that we have pursued for decades and that some of our partners have denounced as “Russia romanticism”. In today’s SPIEGEL, Foreign Secretary Heiko Maas makes clear that he is ready to do so. In the upcoming months, we will hammer out a balanced approach towards Russia, combining a clear stance on principles with the readiness to engage in dialogue and connectivity. It is clear that this new “Ostpolitik” must be European.

We must also develop the European Union into a strong actor beyond its neighborhood. What we have achieved in trade and climate policies shows what is possible. We must continue to develop our Common Foreign and Security Policy and shape a European agenda towards Asia and Africa. Above all, we will need to formulate a real European foreign policy towards those powers that have recently divided Europeans time and again.

This must include the United States whose 360 degree partnership we can no longer take for granted as we used to. This widening transatlantic gulf is not just the result of the 2016 Presidential elections. It has more profound structural reasons.

Against this backdrop, we must realistically review our traditional policies. As Europeans, we must assume more responsibilities for our own fate and for a rules based international system. We should soberly assess of areas in which we may be at odds with one another - possibly permanently. If need be, we must make clear to our allies at what point they would be overstepping the boundaries of our solidarity.

At the same time, we will need to invest more in our transatlantic partnership – bearing in mind that even though we may be drifting apart, we are still each other’s closest ally in almost every respect. The solidarity that we have expressed after Duma is only one example.

All this will be a tough job for diplomatic architects, brick layers and carpenters. We must proceed brick by brick, while we keep an eye on the crises around us. We will need tenacity, courage and a whole lot of creative realism. And we will, of course, depend on the sharp analysis and policy recommendations that the International Crisis Group is renowned for.

Thank you very much.


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