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Speech by Minister of State Michelle Müntefering at the ZEIT Online conference “Europe talks” in Brussels

11.05.2019 - Speech

Speaking about dating - this is quite an interesting date here, even if we are not online.

All of Europe is faced with a big decision in the coming weeks. ‪We will elect a new European Parliament on 26 May.

By voting, we will also have our say on the future of our continent.

And all of us can feel the great challenges it faces.

On the one hand, young people are demanding that we do more to resolve the global problems of our day such as climate change. That gives me hope!

On the other hand, we see that a close European partner and friend wants to leave the community of Europeans.

This will have far-reaching political, social, cultural and economic consequences for millions of EU citizens. That worries me.

Europe is at a crossroads. All of us are responsible for ensuring that we do not drift further apart, but instead move closer together!

In a nutshell, the question is here: do we believe that everyone’s interests are well served when each person thinks only of themselves or do we believe that we can achieve more together?

And I am certain that speaking with one another is already part of the answer to this question.

And that’s why I’m glad that this conference, Europe Talks, which has been organised by ZEIT ONLINE and its media partners wants to do just that.

The aim is that we talk with one another and address the pressing issues for our future.

And: we know that national answers to the great issues of our time are no longer enough.

And it is also too short in the face of an emerging, global new nationalism to seek purely national explanations for our problems: whether in Germany, the UK or Poland – today we are more closely connected than ever.

Also culturally.

Destructive antagonists are currently trying to steer the future of Europe.

They stoke fear, and the global trend towards digital echo chambers means that a loud echo can be heard in response.

We democrats are not too few in number. We are too quiet. And maybe we are not brave enough. It is up to us to demonstrate our solidarity, to foster it and make it something positive.

The crucial thing we need to do is to make Europe more tangible for everyone, for all Europeans, especially those, who have benefited less from its achievements so far.

And whether we continue to enjoy economic success and are able to safeguard prosperity and peace, also depends on people believing in the idea of cohesion in Europe.

Bringing Europe back together and defending the multilateral global order against nationalistic forces cannot be achieved by traditional diplomacy alone.

It also needs to be underpinned by civil-society contacts, particularly in the cultural sphere.

That is why we need a “European public” to a far greater extent.

There are good examples, such as Greta Thunberg, a young woman who inspires us, and the grief and shock shared by so many when a priceless and centuries-old example of common cultural heritage, Notre Dame, went up in flames.

I wish that we felt as much “shared empathy” when people die making their way to our wonderful continent.

More than that, I wish we would find a common path and a spirit of solidarity to deal with this and to help people.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There was a TV-debate last week in Germany between the lead candidates from the EPP and PES.

We’re lucky because Frans Timmermans speaks excellent German.

But far too often, the different languages still pose an obstacle to understanding, particularly in daily life.

Technology and digitalisation can be useful here. We should know how to use them well.

I can imagine starting with European eSport Olympics for the young generation.

And this could lead to developing artificial intelligence together in an ethical way.

What is at stake now is peace, prosperity and security.

That’s why we must find the strength to facilitate a new era of European culture – a Notre Dame of ideas.

nd instead of swarm intelligence we need the intelligence of the whole community.

We are facing enormous competition worldwide. China and Russia, for example, are not only investing in shaping their own narratives, while also focusing on technological development. It’s all about both.

Or if we think about the huge digital firms from the US.

The type of technology we have will determine how we live together.

And it must be about us determining the technology - not determining

the technology ourselves.

Europe needs to introduce regular, compulsory tests for algorithms in the field of AI.

The European Commission’s new Ethics Guidelines are an important step in this regard.

So far, Europe has been too hesitant about getting in the game.

But we have every chance of doing well in this competition.

And we have all the resources – education, industrial supply chains and strategic size.

Whether and how we work together will be decisive, as well as whether we do so on the basis of a broad educational drive.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In my view, we need to do three things.

Firstly, Europe must hold the promise of a good life for people. It must be a social Europe.

Secondly, Europe must demand solidarity from everyone and achieve a balance between people and the markets and between economic prosperity and the environment.

And thirdly, European policy must always be peace policy.

This issue matters to you. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here today.

It is vital to put this into practice now.

Lend a hand, and let’s have another date on 26 May!

Because the truth is, yes, EU can.

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