9th of November: a historical day for Germany signalling the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of a whole new era. On this symbolic day and thanks to the “European Speech” project cooperation organized by the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Kornard Adenauer Stiftung and Stiftung Zukunft Berlin, I had the chance to listen to Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, giving his own European Speech in the Paul-Löbe-Haus of the German Bundestag. Martin Schulz, as the main speaker, took the floor in front of 750 guests and reminded us of the importance of this specific “day of destiny” both for Germany and the EU.
Martin Schulz opened his speech emphasizing the importance of granting the Nobel Price to the EU – particularly during these hard times, as this can be a source of stronger incentives for a better Europe. He stressed that Europeans have been living together peacefully for sixty years without war and that this is exactly the merit of European integration: peace was “certainly not enshrined in the European DNA” in the past decades. What happened in Germany on November 9th 1989 had always been crucial for the course of events to follow in Europe. Schulz pointed out that German and European history are woven together and whoever does not understand that cannot understand the process of European integration itself.
Martin Schulz referred to the commendable foresight of the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, who “offered a helping hand” to the Germans after the Second World War, and allowed them to “to join the democratic family once again”. The Franco-German friendship was and still is the driving force behind European integration. However, after the eastern enlargement of the EU, it is about time to end this duet by introducing another partner in the alliance: Poland, the most dynamic and promising economy in Europe.
“Either we all win or we all lose”
Mr. Schulz continued his speech by numerating the challenges to be countered by the bloc; most important of which are the increasingly complex society, the globalized (social) media and the oppressive markets among others. All of these require the ability to act fast in order to maintain democracy in our continent. For this reason he pressed national parliaments to take binding decisions on the final way out of the crisis. “Times of crisis are always times for action,” he said. Nevertheless he expressed fear for the “Vergipfelung” (the excessive number of eurogroup summits) during the past three years and its undermining consequence for the parliamentary democracy.
As the President of the most democratic institution of the EU, he called for unity. How linked and inseparable our economies, societies and life are matters that concern the majority of European residents. He did point out though, with a sign of bitterness, that some governments still tried to push through national interests in Europe and presented the results to their countries as glorious victories. He quoted the logic advocated by Ulrich Beck’s positive-sum game: “Either we all win or we all lose.” according to Schulz, many political tasks -like the response to climate change or the regulation of financial markets- require long-term supranational solutions.
He also seemed to be concerned by the revival of nationalist waves in Europe. Many Germans see themselves as paymasters of the Southern States; people of the South, on the other hand, feel victims of the austerity imposed by Berlin. “They are all, and we are all, victims of the financial crisis. Some pay taxes for guarantees and others with cuts in services.”, he noted – the fairest saying I have heard lately. Apart from this, he cited some figures of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, arguing that the domino effect (caused by a country leaving the euro) would cost Germany a direct loss of three trillion Euros, not to mention the tsunami of upcoming problems. What moved me the most was his heartily reference to the record of high youth unemployment in Greece and Spain, and the amount of qualified young employees stuck in a fatal spiral of underpaid internships. “This leads to disappointment, frustration, anger and undermining confidence in democratic institutions”, he closed up.
Martin Schulz called on the people of Europe to oppose the European division and stressed that everyday politics should not take our eyes from the long-term stability of our societies and democracies. In terms of the financial sector, long-term policies –word of the evening- should also be extended to the maximum. And because Germany must find its position again today, it “might once again become a key state in Europe through its economic power,” Martin Schulz said. Lastly he recalled on Thomas Mann’s appeal not to aim to a German Europe, but to a European Germany.
“European Speech” that took place on November 9th was the third since the projects inception in 2010. The former two main speakers were also top EU officials, namely Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso, which triggered a chain reaction of thoughts in my mind: Is the EU on “promotion campaign” due to the crisis? Not to mention some statements made by Barroso himself, Merkel, the Spinelli Group and many other politicians asking for more Europe, in every way possible. The fact is that we are experiencing unprecedented changes in the way the EU is working. The amount of developments that have occurred during the past 3 years are too concentrated in such a short time period. Are we really moving towards a different European model? Surely this would be a hasty conclusion, considering the classical EU motto “take your time”. From the Berlin aspect at least I sense a really strong pro-European movement attempting to brush up EU achievements and round up public opinion on sensitive issues.
– Styliani Kampani
(Featured photo: Comité des Régions, Creative Commons, Flickr)