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Ladies and gentlemen,
And, first and foremost, esteemed co hosts from Pulse of Europe and the Schwarzkopf Foundation Young Europe,
How can Europe hold its own in a world radicalised by nationalism, populism and chauvinism?
This is what I keep thinking about when I consider Germany’s role in Europe these days. And this question is always in the back of my mind when I talk to my European counterparts, and, of course, during my visits to Moscow and Washington, as well as to Africa and the Middle East.
• Donald Trump’s egoistic policy of “America First”,
• Russia’s attacks on international law and state sovereignty
• and the expansion of the giant that is China.
The world order that we once knew and had become accustomed to no longer exists.
Old pillars of reliability are crumbling under the weight of new crises.
Alliances dating back decades are being challenged in the time it takes to write a tweet.
The US was long the leading power among the free nations. For 70 years, it was committed to freedom, prosperity and security in Europe.
A few days ago, I stated that we must respond to the decisions made by the US with appropriate countermeasures. The fact that a German Foreign Minister has to say this is something that, to be honest, I wouldn’t have thought possible for the longest time.
However, the Atlantic has become wider under President Trump. His policy of isolationism has left a giant vacuum around the world.
Who will fill this vacuum? Authoritarian powers? Anyone at all?
Or will the European flag become the new banner of the free world, as the stars and stripes of the US once were?
The response to this must come not least from Germany.
Yes, we are strong when it comes to analysis. There’s scarcely a newspaper article or a political statement these days that doesn’t claim it is up to Europe to save free trade, climate protection and the multilateral world order. And I fully agree with this assessment.
The urgency with which we must pool Europe’s strength in the world is greater than ever before. Digitalisation, climate change, migration and social issues relating to globalisation – these worldwide phenomena can only be tackled when Europe acts with the combined force of its 500 million citizens.
What are we still waiting for? We can no longer afford to content ourselves with these insights. If Europe fails to sing from the same song sheet, then it will very soon wind up only playing second fiddle.
In 20 years, our planet will probably be home to more than nine billion people, with only just over five percent of this number in the EU. But five percent is still more than the fractions of one percent that are accounted for by the individual nations of Europe. Only when these five percent are united will we be strong enough to continue shaping the world in accordance with our interests in the future.
This is why our common response to “America First” today must be “Europe United”!
What is more, drawing up yet another set of bullet points won’t do the job. Just doing that won’t help us to win anyone else over to Europe.
At the end of the day, this is about something else. This is about our attitude to Europe. And I firmly believe that we need greater courage.
• Courage, at long last, to resolutely seize the hand extended to us by the French President back in September of last year. And not with a multiple choice approach, but with alternatives where we have different visions.
• Courage also to present our own ideas for Europe’s future – ideas that are not exhausted by purely technocratic considerations or lip service to the EU.
• And courage to throw some of our own orthodoxies over board if this is in the interests of the greater good.
Nationalism and isolationism also feed on our lack of courage. Populists need people’s fear and disorientation in order to propagate their fake solutions.
I’m not indifferent to this; on the contrary, this new nationalism distresses me greatly, and this is probably also to do with the fact that I hail from Saarland. Those who come from this border region have a particular affinity to Europe.
When I commenced my studies in Saarbrücken, the President of the University encouraged each and every one of us in his inaugural lecture to cross the border to France by ourselves for the day and to ponder and reflect on the battlefields of Verdun not far away. This is a good experience for those who only know war from history books.
And I did just that. I hopped on my motorbike and rode to Verdun one morning. I saw the endless burial grounds, the countryside that is still disfigured by shell craters, and the Douaumont ossuary, the final resting place of 130,000 German and French soldiers; soldiers who were so badly mangled that they could no longer be identified.
Anyone who has ever seen Verdun knows what a unique achievement the European Union is in terms of peace. They know what great courage was required to speak of reconciliation only a few short years after the devastation of two world wars.
In order to unleash new enthusiasm for Europe, it will not be enough to invoke our history and the courage and foresight of the founders of Europe.
We must make it tangible in the here and now that we need more Europe, not less.
Any honest assessment of the status quo also includes the realisation that this new form of nationalism is underpinned by new reasons, for which the policies of many governments share responsibility – policies that all too often point the finger of blame at Brussels, but are wont to paint European successes as their own at home.
Moreover, we have, for far too long, considered globalisation and some of its excesses to be a natural phenomenon against which politicians could not or – stemming from a neoliberal ideology – did not want to do anything. The banking crisis, migration flows, the outsourcing of jobs – these experiences are grist to the mill of nationalists and populists.
It is therefore a key task of European policy to make people feel that globalisation and the erosion of structures of order are far from being natural phenomena against which we are defenceless. This requires courage to recast the European Union for the 21st century.
We don’t have a lot of time left to do this. But one thing is entirely clear, namely that it is worthwhile fighting for this cause.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Europe’s domestic state and international tasks are closely linked. Only cohesion and unity on the domestic stage will enable us to hold our own on the global stage.
It is for this reason that we also need a large Europe. A Europe that doesn’t differentiate between smaller and larger countries or between the centre and the periphery. A Europe that doesn’t end at the former Iron Curtain or at the ridge of the Alps.
Until 1989, the Berlin Wall stood only a few metres from here. It was a deadly frontier between East and West.
If we Germans have learned one thing from our history of division, then it is that walls and borders do not create security, but instead curtail freedom, prosperity and happiness.
We therefore cannot allow Europe to disintegrate into separate groups today or to establish new borders. We must heal the rifts that have emerged in our Union in recent years – between North and South and East and West.
And this is our German vision for Europe: we want to overcome what divides us. We want to be a guarantor of the inner unity and strength of Europe so that Europe is better able to fulfil the hopes of Europeans and the expectations of the world.
Germany must also demonstrate flexibility in order for this to succeed. The line between fidelity to principles and stubbornness is sometimes a thin one. We must also learn to see Europe more through the eyes of other Europeans.
• On the one hand, we have the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which experienced the collapse of communism and the radical transformation of their way of life.
For them, Europe primarily represented a promise of freedom and prosperity. Europe has delivered on both counts, despite the fact that an economic gap remains. However, its handling of the refugee crisis evoked a feeling among many in Central and Eastern Europe that others were making decisions for them – and I understand that people are apt to be sensitive when they believe their newly won sovereignty and identity are at stake.
It goes without saying that Europe cannot overlook shortcomings with regard to the democratic rule of law, as this is the foundation of our Union. But know-it-all finger pointing on the part of Berlin certainly achieves less than intelligent policies geared towards achieving a balancing of interests.
• On the other hand, we also have the southern Member States that are still suffering from the impact of the financial crisis. While their economies have recovered, there are still regions in which 25, 30 or 40 percent of young people are unable to find employment. We in Germany cannot remain indifferent to this.
It must give us cause for alarm when in Italy of all places – a pillar of Europe and one of our closest partners to date – almost one in two believe that their country doesn’t benefit from EU membership.
Europe must find a convincing response to people’s legitimate expectations with regard to solidarity in southern Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When we talk about a large Europe, then the question as to the EU’s ability to act immediately arises. A large Europe mustn’t put the brakes on the ambitions of others who want to work together even more closely.
Instead of categorising people as good or bad Europeans, we should take note of the fact that the objective of ever closer union for the countries of Europe is not shared to the same extent by all Member States.
This is why we need mechanisms – and I concur with Emmanuel Macron here – that give groups within the EU the flexibility to forge ahead, without being blocked by others. At the same time, the door must always be wide open to those who want to join later on.
The fact that this can succeed is demonstrated by our enhanced cooperation in security and defence policy, to which 25 Member States signed up in the end. The keys to success were ambitious goals, maximum transparency and consistent openness vis-à-vis all Member States. These must continue to be the principles for making the EU even more effective.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Ensuring people’s commitment to Europe is not so much a question of how decisions are made in Brussels as which decisions we make.
A particular opportunity for common action in Europe arises when nation states are confronted with global problems. By itself, no European country, not even Germany, has the necessary clout to shape globalisation, the trade system or international politics. What the late Belgian Prime Minister Paul Henri Spaak once said still rings true: “There are only two kinds of states in Europe: small states, and small states that have not yet realised they are small.”
What does that mean when we follow this through to its logical conclusion? It is only by surrendering sovereignty to the EU that we can win back the political influence we have long since lost as a nation. Nationalism doesn’t mean “taking back control”, as the Brexiters claimed, but, in reality, “giving up control”.
Upholding sovereignty through closer cooperation must be the objective and principle of the EU. And this is why we urgently need an answer to the following question: what are the most important tasks that we must tackle together?
There are, to my mind, three areas here:
• economic and financial policy with its social dimension that must ensure greater harmonisation of living standards;
• migration policy, which must not be allowed to remain a source of division in Europe;
• and, lastly, foreign policy, which is a question of Europe’s political power and ability to assert its interests in the world.
There is no doubt in my mind that we must leave the divisions in European economic and financial policy behind us. For this, we must put our reservations to rest at long last.
After all, Germany benefits from the euro and the internal market more than most other Member States. The Bertelsmann Stiftung has estimated that Germany’s economy grows by over 37 billion euros annually thanks to its membership of the internal market. That’s equivalent to an additional 450 euros of income per year for each and every one of us. Nine of our twelve largest trading partners are EU Member States; six of them, like us, use the euro for their business transactions.
The long-term stabilisation of the euro is therefore in Germany’s fundamental interests.
We Germans love insurance policies. Taken together, we have taken out over 430 million insurance policies to insure ourselves against all sorts of risks. But when it comes to safeguarding our common currency, we have passed the buck for too long.
It is therefore right that the Federal Chancellor has, for the first time, contributed some details with regard to how Europe can do better here.
But we must go further if we want a strong, prosperous Europe without first and second-class members. Deputy Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s proposal to equip the EU with tax-based capital for the first time via the financial transaction tax would represent a genuine paradigm shift. Moreover, particularly with a view to transatlantic relations, we should also give some thought to a digital tax.
• And we need greater efforts to curb youth unemployment, as well as less social disparity in the eurozone, for instance with a European minimum wage or a European reinsurance system for national unemployment insurance schemes.
• We need greater commitment on the part of the EU in the fight against social and tax dumping, for instance through the harmonisation of corporate taxes,
• We need greater support for structural reforms and greater investment, for instance in digital transformation.
All of this safeguards Europe’s economic stability, the stability of our currency and the social harmony for which Europe is envied all around the world.
Thrift is a virtue, but avarice threatens what we want to preserve and enhance – namely the unity and strength of Europe. Each and every cent invested here is money well spent – and not only because we will stand to benefit together in the end.
Or do we really want to stand idly by and accept that technologies of the future such as autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence are only developed in Silicon Valley or in Shenzhen in China? If that is the case, then I believe that the future of Germany as a business location looks bleak. So why don’t we pool European venture capital, for example, and cut red tape, thereby promoting networking in the European start-up sector?
Germany must be prepared to do its part in all of this – in the interests of a united Europe and therefore also in Germany’s interests.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The second policy field in which I believe Europe is called upon to act is displacement and migration.
No issue has put cohesion in the EU more strongly to the test in recent years and no other has greater potential to divide us. This is why we must do everything in our power to ensure that migration no longer undermines cohesion in the EU.
I believe that we must do two things to this end:
• Firstly, we Germans in particular should stop taking the moral high ground on migration, especially via-à-vis our partners from Central and Eastern Europe. Mutual finger wagging and moral arrogance will only increase divisions.
• Secondly, all Member States must stop using migration to stoke eurosceptic sentiments at home.
I have absolutely no patience for attempts to capitalise on migration issues in order to distract people from one’s own political shortcomings.
What we need to do instead is to make rapid progress in the areas where there is consensus. We must do more to tackle the reasons why people flee and to make our external borders more secure. We have left Italy and Greece to cope alone with these tasks for far too long.
And it is also very important to me that we keep the borders in Europe open.
Schengen stands for the freedom enjoyed by the people of Europe. Every day, 1.7 million people cross the border to work in another EU country. Sixteen million EU citizens live in another Member State, where they work, are retired or attend university. And we Europeans cross an internal Schengen border an inconceivable 1.25 billion times per year. There are no customs, passport checks or barriers.
Yes, we need to do more to protect our external borders, but we must never relinquish the freedom we have achieved in Europe!
Some countries, including Germany, have reintroduced “temporary border controls”. I want to state very clearly that “temporary” checks must not become permanent ones. We cannot turn back the tide of time!
Ladies and gentlemen,
Foreign policy is the third policy area in which the EU must demonstrate greater unity and strength.
“We Germans are aware that an increasingly strong alliance between the peoples of Europe is urgently needed, because our peoples must share the responsibility for the preservation of world peace more determinedly than hitherto and because only by combining the limited powers of the individual nations will they be able to fulfil this task...”
That was a quotation. However, it was not said this year, but rather in a speech given in 1967 by Willy Brandt, who was German Foreign Minister at the time. It seems that our analysis has not changed in the past 50 years. But the world is incomparably more complex today than it was at the time of the Iron Curtain.
The Trump administration’s conduct is posing new challenges to Europe. We are faced with:
• the termination of the Paris Climate Agreements,
• withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran and overt threats of sanctions against European partners,
• and a return to protectionism.
All of this shakes the certainty that we and the US are allies in the fight for multilateralism and a rules-based world. And this certainty has unfortunately already been shaken so badly that it is bound to go beyond Trump’s presidency.
Naturally, the US remains our closest foreign and security policy partner outside the EU. However, it is time to readjust the transatlantic partnership – not with the aim of abandoning it, but rather to preserve it in a changed global situation.
We need a new balanced partnership with the US. This means:
• concentrating on working together where both sides’ values and interests are balanced,
• stepping up when our partner country withdraws
• and forming an assertive European counterweight when the US crosses a red line.
Where the US Administration overtly calls our values and interests into question, we certainly need to take a more robust stance.
The first test of this approach will be the nuclear agreement with Iran, which we Europeans want to defend with determination, not to support Tehran, but rather to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East – something that would also have devastating consequences for our own security.
This can only be achieved if we join forces with France on a very wide range of issues. Under President Macron, France is finding the strength to undertake important reforms and has made far-reaching proposals on the future of Europe. It is perfectly clear to me that we can only respond to this in the affirmative. We do not need to reach agreement on every last detail right at the start of the debate, but given the uncertainty in transatlantic relations in particular, it must be absolutely clear that we are working hand in hand.
This does not mean we are at the helm and dictating the course for other Member States. We see ourselves as a motivating force that is working resolutely to further Europe.
If Berlin and Paris find the courage to work far more comprehensively together on economic, financial, energy and security issues than they have in the past, I firmly believe that others will follow suit. This will create a new momentum for Europe as a whole. And only in this way will we come closer to achieving the aim of greater European strategic autonomy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We agree with the US on the fundamental values of liberal democracy. In other parts of the world, however, authoritarian regimes are gaining ground. Conflicts are raging in our neighbourhood – in Syria, Ukraine and the Middle East – and we are not getting anywhere as regards resolving them because we are failing to make Europe’s voice sufficiently heard.
Europe must finally react to this, not by turning a couple of screws in the Brussels apparatus, but by changing its own mentality. We need greater courage, ambition and willingness to shape foreign policy. One could also say that we finally need to become capable of conducting foreign policy.
In order to achieve this, two things are required:
• firstly, the determination to draw up a common foreign policy
• and secondly, the ability to implement European foreign policy.
We are still a very long way from that.
A European Security Council was already suggested in 2016 by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is now Federal President, and then French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, his counterpart at the time. Such an institution could define the framework for a coherent strategic EU foreign and security policy. That would be a prerequisite for creating European seats on the UN Security Council. Until then, all 27 Member States could meet once a year as the European Security Council.
After all, the world is not going to wait for Europe to finish discussing its structural issues. I mainly see one way for us to become more capable, even this year, of taking foreign-policy action.
This would entail ending the curse of unanimity, which often leads to policies based on the lowest common denominator. This system is a blatant invitation to foreign powers to divide us and to make use of individual Member States’ potential to impose a blockade.
I thus suggest that the European Council defines the first areas that can be decided immediately by a majority vote and that it do so as soon as possible.
Those who claim this means we are relinquishing sovereignty are mistaken. After all, who seriously still believes that a European country can achieve its national goals in any foreign-policy conflict of global dimensions on its own? Be it Iran, Ukraine or Syria, the answer to such conflicts is always the same – Europe must act as one.
Creating stability in our neighbourhood must be the priority for European foreign policy. That goes in particular for the countries of the Western Balkans.
If the EU does not manage to make headway in the accession process with these countries, there will be fatal consequences. For a long time now, other powers – Russia, China, Middle Eastern countries, that is, states with completely different notions of order and stability than those held by us Europeans – have sought to fill this gap.
Naturally, EU accession is contingent on countries meeting clearly defined criteria. The focus is on liberal democracy and a functioning state based on the rule of law. Some countries have made good progress. One example is the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where in recent days I was personally involved in endeavours to resolve the question of the country’s name. Albania has also made significant progress by carrying out impressive judicial reform. That is why I expressly support the conditional opening of accession negotiations with these two countries.
We also need a new Ostpolitik, that is, a European Ostpolitik which shows new ways to cooperate with Russia in the interests of all Europeans given the dangerous silence between Washington and Moscow.
However, this new Ostpolitik must also reach out to Eastern Partnership countries such as Georgia and Ukraine, which are as European as we are in how they think and feel.
It must take into account the needs of all Europeans – those of the Baltic states and Poland, as well as those of the western countries.
And it must find a balance between security interests, economic cooperation and collaboration in fields such as culture and academia. This could also generate positive momentum in Europe’s relations with the eastern EU Member States.
Furthermore, we need a joint EU policy on Africa, one that no longer defines the continent merely as a recipient of development aid or an exporter of crises and migrants. Africa does not only want development aid – it wants a real partnership.
We also need a joint strategy on how to deal with China’s striving for power, in part so that we can work together to counter targeted attempts to divide us.
That is why we will set out to make our UN Security Council membership in 2019/20 a European membership. Naturally, our name plate will say “Germany”, but when we speak in the Security Council, we will also be speaking on behalf of all EU Member States from 1 January 2019 onwards. And when we vote, we will be guided more than before by European policies, which we want to draw up with our EU partners.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As well as the courage to unite, the EU needs the right instruments to put these policies into practice. Part of the new transatlantic reality is that we need to take on more responsibility for our own security. We need a real European security and defence union.
We have made progress on defence structures thanks to Permanent Structured Cooperation. But further steps are essential. That is why I support France’s proposal on a European Intervention Initiative – although I think European Crisis Response Team would be a more fitting name – which would be dovetailed with our Permanent Structured Cooperation. And we should also offer the United Kingdom a chance to join this initiative despite Brexit.
However, we must not close our eyes to a further reality – Germany will have to fill gaps in the Bundeswehr’s capabilities. That will cost money, but investing in equipment is certainly not the same as rearmament.
By the way, we are not doing this at President Trump’s behest, but rather because we want to play our part in building up European security structures, which in turn are an essential component of – and by no means a substitute for – an EU foreign policy geared to peace and security.
As set out in the coalition agreement, this must go hand in hand with increased spending on all forms of diplomacy, ranging from crisis prevention to cultural understanding. Strong defence and strong diplomacy are two sides of the same coin, as we have known since Willy Brandt’s policy of détente at the latest.
It is obvious that European foreign policy can only ever be a policy of peace, as no conflict can be permanently resolved by military means.
Civilian crisis management must thus always be at the heart of European foreign and security policy. 2017 was the year when we achieved a breakthrough on Permanent Structured Cooperation. Let us make 2018 the year when we achieve a breakthrough on the civilian side, on a “civilian CSDP”!
We are supporting governance in Mali, helping to train security forces in Somalia, and fostering the establishment of law and order in Iraq. But we first need to find, train and support the experts we need for these things. We want the EU to be able to do this on its own in the future. And we suggest that all EU Member States undertake to second such experts to a new civilian European Stabilisation Corps.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Federal Foreign Office will continue firming up the details of these key issues in the coming weeks and months. My goals are detailed work plans for a balanced partnership with the US, a new European Ostpolitik and the establishment of a sovereign and strong Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As a native of Saarland, I come from a region that was contested for a long time between Germany and France. My grandmother lived her whole life in the same town – in the same street, in fact – but held five different passports over the course of her life.
My generation was spared such upheavals. I grew up with a feeling of peace, a spirit of reconciliation and a sense of freedom. I am part of the Interrail generation. In the summer when I was 17, I travelled all over western Europe by train.
Democracy, the rule of law and human rights – much of what was once taken for granted by my generation is now being called into question again. And once more, we need to learn how to respond to this and not merely be passive bystanders. That is why Pulse of Europe is so wonderful. It has brought tens of thousands of people out on to the streets. They are not frustrated, angry individuals. Instead, they are filled with optimism and have a positive message to share.
This enthusiasm about Europe does not come about on its own. And that is why we should create more events and opportunities for people – especially young people – to meet. One example would be a European Youth Day, when young people from all Member States would meet, celebrate, talk and experience the similarities and diversity of European culture. I am certain that the Schwarzkopf Foundation Young Europe would be keen to get involved in this.
Or why don’t we make more use of digital technology in the Europe-wide debate, for example in a European cyber forum, where every European would communicate in his or her own language, with a digital language assistant translating what is said in real time? Estonia has already developed this type of online tool and I am certain that our Estonian friends would be happy to share their experiences with us.
This last point in particular – more political debate – is important to me. Europe is about more than harmony and friendship between nations. It is also about politics, which means debating opinions democratically and across borders.
We also need a new form of politicisation in order to overcome the polarisation caused by the new form of nationalism we are witnessing.
• How much money do we want to spend on tackling youth unemployment?
• How far can we curtail civil liberties in the fight against terrorism?
• Do we want to save more or invest more?
All of these are highly political questions. German, French or any other national positions are not the issue here – competing political ideas are the issue.
A new European Parliament will be elected in a year’s time. We cannot abandon these elections to nationalists and populists who are incapable of compromise.
We thus need to use the crises in and expectations of Europe to bring about a constructive type of politicisation.
Where there are no debates, the electorate lacks orientation.
When voters have the impression that their ballot paper is no longer able to bring about a democratic change of course, it is easy for populists to call the system into question.
So let us recall an old virtue of democracy – arguing fairly with one another! Europe needs competition on the best ideas.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Can one actually be proud of a certain nationality? The history of Saarland shows how random one’s nationality is.
I am proud of freedom, democracy, our open and tolerant society, peaceful coexistence and social cohesion. None of these things can be taken for granted – they were fought for and are defended by the people of this country.
However, they are also European achievements that can form the heart of a new European patriotism, to which populists and nationalists can only respond with historical dementia.
This European patriotism gives us the courage we need for the Europe of the future:
• a Europe that is united internally and strong externally,
• a Europe that distributes its joint wealth fairly,
• a Europe that stands up for peace and fair compromises
• and a Europe that protects freedom in the Union itself and opposes foreign despots.
Given the current state of the world, Europe United is needed more than ever. This is our chance. Let us find the courage to create this Europe!