-- Translation of advance text --
Ladies and gentlemen,
How wonderful it is to be a guest once more at the EBD General Assembly. The European Movement Germany has for decades been a cornerstone of European organised civil society in Germany. Such reliable and committed partners are good for politics – and certainly good for Europe!
At this time, we are engaged in hefty struggles to see if we can find European solutions to the major challenges of our time: migration, trade, climate protection, social cohesion and the stability of our economic and monetary union.
Europe is currently under immense pressure to deliver at long last. Not some time, but right now. The nationalists, populists and Eurosceptics are just waiting for us in the EU to fail to pull ourselves together and agree on shared solutions. Their approach is nations going it alone instead of shared European solutions. Here in this room, I don’t need to tell you why this is so wrong as here I am preaching to the converted.
But for that very reason, I expect a clear stance from pro‑European forces. With a pro‑European stance, you are well placed to build new trust. Had the EBD not been in existence for 69 years, we would have to invent it particularly at this juncture.
Europe can only flourish if all play their part and engage in the Europe debate. But what does “we all” mean? Ideally, citizens play an active role going beyond simply voting in elections, for example in the current citizens’ dialogues which are taking place all across Europe.
In Germany there is a dense network of associations, foundations and institutions who are helping us place the European discourse on a broad footing and bring it to the heart of society. At the current time, this civil society approach is especially important. We cannot leave Europe up to politics. That would be particularly dangerous at this time of nationalism, populism and Euroscepticism.
But I say to you who join me in this struggle, it is not enough to pair up with the usual suspects of civil society and to assure one another how right we are and how good Europe is. There is one particular question that preoccupies me: How can we reach the hearts and minds of those who have long since withdrawn from social discourse and are trapped in their own Eurosceptic echo chambers? Do help me and us to find convincing answers.
Today is a day for bidding both welcome and farewell. Your long‑serving President Rainer Wend today chose not to stand for re‑election.
We have known each other for a good few years now and have completed a considerable part of our journey together: in the SPD, as Members of the German Bundestag and, of course, as convinced Europeans. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, Rainer, for your tireless dedication to Europe!
As an economics expert and Social Democrat, you have a keen sense that the European Union cannot be further developed only by belt‑tightening. You have been a convinced and well‑informed advocate of the position that we in Europe also need to create instruments to provide greater support for growth and social cohesion. And even if we did not always agree on everything, there was never any doubt that you are on fire for Europe and you work with great energy and deep conviction to further the cause.
I am delighted to be one of the first to congratulate you today as the new President of the EBD. I remember that some of your questions on the European Citizens’ Initiative landed on my desk just a few years ago. We didn’t know each other back then. I was the parliamentary group’s rapporteur in the Bundestag dealing with the European Citizens’ Initiative and you were researching the subject. We ran into each other time and again in the years thereafter. I have especially fond memories of being allowed to pay tribute to you in a speech in 2014 when you were presented with a Woman of Europe award.
Even in your youth, you did a lot for Europe. Your CV is very much a European one. And yet it is certainly not to be taken for granted that a young woman is appointed as the new EBD President today. Following in the footsteps of Annemarie Renger, Rita Süssmuth and Monika Wulf-Mathies, you are now the fourth woman at the helm of the EBD – but none of them were as young as you.
Making Europe and indeed politics as a whole more vibrant, diverse and yes, even more feminine, is a particular priority of mine. One small contribution I try to make is that I don’t take part in any events where women are not suitably represented. I am delighted that I won’t have to pose this question any more about discussions with the EBD leadership.
Just last week, the head of an important international conference complained to me that there are too few female experts on security policy. I beg your pardon? But perhaps such formats have had their day if in 2018 people are doubting women’s expertise on security policy.
It is thus doubly positive when we have a young woman at the helm of the largest and most important European policy network. Particularly at this time when the European project is under attack, we need young, innovative and resolute pro‑European voices such as that of Linn Selle.
I look forward to working with you in the years to come. We are kicking off next Thursday when we open our joint stakeholders’ forum on communicating Europe and on citizens’ dialogues in the Federal Foreign Office.
I would also like to pay tribute to the newly elected Vice‑Presidents of the EBD: Michael Gahler, Christian Petry, Manuel Sarrazin and Peter Hahn. Thank you for your commitment!
Where something new begins, something else draws to a close. I would thus like to extend my particular thanks to Axel Schäfer. Axel, you have had close ties to the EBD since 2001, firstly as Secretary-General and since 2005 as Vice-President.
The story goes that you have hardly missed a board meeting or General Assembly in all those years. We can rely on committed Europeans like you.
There is hardly anyone as dedicated to Europe as you. I know this due to the many debates in the German Bundestag where we worked and debated together to promote a strong, democratic Europe based on solidarity. Thank you for your many years of work for Europe and the EBD!
I would also like to thank the other 28 candidates for the EBD board. A glance at the names and their backgrounds confirms that the EBD is well placed to cover the entire spectrum of the European policy discourse in Germany in competent and professional fashion.
The EBD’s profile remains clear and provocative: it advocates more democracy by means of strong parliamentarianism in the EU. It criticises countries going it alone, new walls and new borders. It promotes blueprints based on solidarity in the fight to reduce youth unemployment and increase social cohesion.
On displacement and migration, you are a voice of reason. On trade policy, you advocate a strong EU mandate committed to fairness and freedom in equal measure. And also on foreign and security policy, you are leagues ahead of the despondent pragmatists we see every day. You know what others have not yet realised despite Putin, Trump and Jinping: only a united and strong Europe will have the clout to promote its interests and values on the basis of equality in the world.
And there is another important point where civil society plays a crucial role precisely because the point is so fundamental: European values and European fundamental rights. Whether or not we stay a team in the EU largely depends on whether we can agree once more on a shared understanding of our basic values.
Where pressure is exerted on a critical civil society, democracy, the rule of law and diversity remain weak. As you put it in your work priorities: only practised values are strong values!
Also in the years to come, I am counting on your ideas, your commitment, your courage and your criticism. Feel free to annoy us every now and then. It is good for our relations but above all good for Europe. Thank you for your hard work!