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Debates
Tuesday, 14 March 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

10. Formal sitting Federal Republic of Germany
PV
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  President. Mr President of the Federal Republic of Germany, ladies and gentlemen, before welcoming our illustrious guest today, I must inform you that, during the meeting we held with President Köhler before coming to the Chamber, we heard the sad news of the death of Mr Lennart Meri, who was President of Estonia from 1992 to 2001. As you know, President Meri was seen as a symbol of Estonia’s fight for freedom and national identity, and his death deprives us of an important European personality, whose memory we shall honour here today.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour for me and the whole of the European Parliament to welcome you to this formal sitting today.

Mr President, please allow me to stress your personal commitment to the European project, which is particularly useful and necessary at a time when the situation in the European Union is causing many doubts amongst the citizens. I know that this is a cause for concern for you, which you express with passion. I know that you are very aware of the responsibility we all share in relation to the problems of concern to Europeans today, which cannot be resolved without more Europe.

We are aware of the initiatives that you are taking to extend and deepen the European debate. One example of this was your invitation to your counterparts from Finland, Italy, Latvia, Austria, Portugal and Hungary to a meeting that was held in Dresden – about which I am sure you will speak this morning – with students and personalities from those countries, in order to debate European identity and the future of Europe.

This important initiative is not an isolated one. You take every possible opportunity to exchange opinions with the citizens and in particular with young people. Strangely enough, it is they who express the greatest scepticism about this project which is so important to their future.

You also combine words with actions: you do not just talk about ‘Europe’ at official events, but you also work every day on specific issues on the European agenda.

Your personal experience makes you almost the model European. You were young, a child refugee, during the final stages of the Second World War. During my visit to Germany, you told me, very directly and personally, of your experiences: how you suffered the war and the exodus from the refugee camp, how you made a success of your life in a ruined country that was also gradually building its future upon the wreckage of history.

Your personal experience took you away from Europe. You have lived outside Europe and you have watched us from that standpoint and, for that very reason, because you have had dramatic experiences inside Europe and have watched it being built from the outside, you know that Europe has no option other than its European Union project.

You also know, however, that those values and projects must be actively defended every day and that they do not come free or automatically, and I would therefore like to thank you for being here with us today to communicate your ideas to us, which will undoubtedly make a great contribution to our broad debate on Europe.

President Köhler, I am very pleased to give you the floor.

 
  
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  Horst Köhler, President of the Federal Republic of Germany. (DE) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, honourable Members of the European Parliament, your honourable House is the centre of public politics and democratic opinion for the EU, and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this place about Europe and its future.

Europe presents a puzzling aspect to the world. Why, so soon after its reunification, does it already appear so divided? Why, when the European internal market has been so successful, does it not have more confidence in its advantages? Why, with all its strengths and opportunities, does it display such hesitancy?

When I was working for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and for the International Monetary Fund, I got to know many countries around the world. Looking at Europe from outside gave me a sharper picture of it, and I learned how other countries see our continent and the European Union. For us, democracy founded upon freedom, the peaceful settlement of disputes and mutual solidarity among the twenty-five Member States have long been a fact of daily life. Looking in from the outside, though, one sees much more clearly to just what an incredible achievement we owe what is now ordinary, a mere two generations after the Second World War and half a generation on from the removal of the Iron Curtain.

It is for this achievement that Europe is an object of admiration for many people around the world, but, while they admire us, they are slowly beginning to grow impatient with us and to be baffled by us. Too many Europeans they see as remarkably lacking in self-awareness, beset by doubt and lacking in courage, and they say, in a friendly way, ‘Europe, if you are tired, step aside, we want to move forward’. What do we say to that?

What I say to that is this: Europe will always be full of creative ferment; we Europeans do not fear challenges – we make use of them, and that is why the European Union has a good future ahead of it.

I want to back up the three things I have just said.

Those who want to understand Europe must consider its history and understand what are the ideas and ideals that bind us Europeans together. What we regard as central is the inalienable value of all human beings, in all their uniqueness, along with their dignity and freedom. Even thousands of years ago, people in Europe regarded these things as gifts of which one proved oneself worthy only by using them to the utmost and, if need be, by fighting again and again to secure them. That is precisely what Europeans did – tirelessly and in the teeth of every dreadful setback. Their use of their talents opened up to them the depth of the mind and spirit, in the shape of philosophy, the sciences and the riches of the arts. In so doing, people in Europe also learned to question their own beliefs and to demand – and give – good reasons for every action, and this process of enlightenment will never come to an end.

It was very early on that we understood and took to heart the importance of social cohesion, self-determination and autonomy, not only in the city-states of ancient Greece but in the republics of medieval Italy, with not only the self-awareness of Spain, France, Poland and England, but also the colourful diversity of the ‘Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation’.

In all these places, Europeans were as god-fearing as they were industrious. Not only at home, but also in the outside world, they understood work as a religious obligation; they traded and learned how to co-exist with people of other faiths and cultures and live with them.

It is true to say that in doing this, Europeans more than once sinned terribly against other peoples and cultures and also against one another, but they did learn the right lessons from that, in that they now contend for human rights, peace and democracy and wish others to learn the same lessons that they have had to learn. Europe also bears the stamp of a culture of active love of one’s neighbour and of active striving for social justice.

These good qualities are, of course, to be found on all continents, and Europe has learned from them, but the specifically European blend of love of freedom, the striving for truth, solidarity and creative ferment is unique and found to be good by the many outside Europe who expect us to make our contribution to the peace and well-being of the world, just as it will be by those who will come after us.

Yet again, great challenges lie ahead of the European Union and its Member States.

Around the world, new growth regions are emerging, and the shape of competition is changing; there are new spheres of influence, and new lines of conflict are being drawn. In many European countries, unemployment is at intolerably high levels.

The public and the electorate are becoming demonstrably alienated from the European Union, and the European constitutional treaty failed to win the approval of the people of two of the founding states of our Community.

So many challenges, so many opportunities! We must again think back to how often Europe has succeeded in facing times of trial, precisely because it was capable of renewal. You need only consider the European internal market and economic and monetary union.

Thirty years ago, the Dutch foreign minister, Van der Stoel, said that the motto of the European Communities was no longer ‘completer, deeper and wider’ but rather ‘inertia, reversal and flight’. Europe was, at the time, in a profound economic and institutional crisis.

Twenty years ago, the Single European Act set the internal market as a goal. At that time, there were so many obstacles to the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital that, to take one example, Philips had to produce seven different versions of the same electric razor for the European market and Siemens had to produce twenty-five different electrical plugs.

Ten years ago, the goal of the internal market had largely been achieved. The European Union has now put it on an institutional foundation and increased economic and social cohesion between the Member States. Since then, European firms have had a domestic market of what are now 450 million customers for their products. New opportunities for success have come into being, not least for service providers from the smaller Member States, who are now able to produce their goods in larger quantities and hence in a more competitive way. And, above all, the internal market is a first-rate programme for making European businesses fit for global competition. Those who manage to prove their worth in it, have no need to fear competition from overseas.

Economic and monetary union was and is the logical outcome of the internal market, shielding it against the possibility of again being split up through arbitrary devaluations, against monetary crises and waves of speculation of the kind that we in Europe were still experiencing at the beginning of the 1990s. It gives businesses the security to plan ahead, enables consumers to compare prices without difficulty and does away with high charges for currency exchange and the high costs of hedging against exchange risks. That is why the euro – like the internal market – has long been a success story, and its strength on international currency markets testifies to the world’s confidence that was learned long ago is still true today, that Europe is capable of turning challenges into opportunities, and that is something you need to recall, again and again, day in and day out.

(Applause)

We will succeed again, albeit subject to two conditions: we must not allow our tried and tested principles and achievements to be undermined, and we must, earnestly and honestly, set to the task of correcting what has gone wrong and putting things in order where they need to be.

All that needs to be said about the first condition is that those whose protectionism weakens the European internal market are, at the end of the day, harming themselves.

(Applause)

Those who now revert to the old attitude that everyone should look after themselves first are misjudging the dimension of global competition and offering their citizens a false security.

(Applause)

In the long term, they are undermining Europe’s ability to maintain its position in the world, create lasting jobs and accrue the resources for a more equitable society.

It follows, then, that only the other way remains. Europe must regain its fitness. For each and every one of us, that task begins at home. Some Member States have made considerable headway with the necessary structural reforms and have what is needed; others have yet to make more efforts in that direction. There are many examples that show that the effort is worth it, and we must not fail to make it.

The European Union, too, is in need of reshaping. The first issue to be addressed is that of where it, as a Union, should become active. At the end of the day, it needs to do not everything that can be done, but rather everything that needs to be done, and that does not include those things that can already be done quite adequately at the local or regional level or by individual nation states. Respect for the subsidiarity principles means respecting in so far as possible the personal responsibility and identity of the EU’s citizens, and anyone who knows how decisions are really arrived at in the European Union will know that this is an obligation incumbent not only on the governments of the Member States but also on the institutions of the European Union.

(Applause)

If, though, the European Union takes action with good reason, it needs to do so with as little administrative red tape as possible and in a way that people can understand. After all, we are heirs to a great tradition of law and administration in Europe, and that should encourage us once and for all to let some air into the bureaucratic apparatus. Our former enthusiasm for legislation has left us with plenty of places where we can do this, and so it is a good thing that the European Commission has set in motion a major programme of cutting through the thickets of legal verbiage that we have at present and simplifying European law. I have just had a good discussion about this with Commissioner Verheugen.

The public will also appreciate it if decisions in Europe are arrived at in a more transparent way. At present, the decision-making processes at EU level are often a world away from the people they affect, many of whom have little concept of who in Europe is actually responsible for what and of who, at the end of the day, is to be held responsible for what goes on, and, as a result, they become apathetic or suspicious – both of which are damaging.

The public, though, want to be more than spectators who understand the plot; in addition to the European elections, they seek as much democratic involvement as possible; they want to be heard, and they want to be able to take the initiative in influencing what the European institutions do.

To that, you will say that all these things – subsidiarity, democratic participation, the right to a citizens’ initiative – are to be found in the European Constitutional Treaty. Indeed they are, and the treaty contains much else that is good and right, which should not too readily be surrendered, not least in view of the fact that 14 Member States have already voted to approve it.

(Sustained applause; jeers from the Right)

Europe has now prescribed itself a ‘pause for thought’, termed in German a ‘Denkpause’, which can mean both a pause for thought and a pause in thought. We should use this period of reflection as an opportunity for a thorough rethink. By then at the latest, we must talk to each other soberly and seriously – not only in the European institutions and parties, but also in all the Member States’ public fora for political debate. What that will demand of the Members of your honourable House is ideas and tireless effort – not least in discussions with those who were less than satisfied with what I have had to say.

(Applause)

This European debate cannot do other than benefit from diversity and creativity, but the only thing that will count will be the power of sound argument. It will be enlightening in the best sense of the word if there is in-depth discussion in the Member States about the purpose and substance of European integration. It will, in the long term, do public acceptance of the EU some good. I have confidence in the people of Europe, in the European public; they must be trusted with something at least.

We Europeans expect good reasons and give them; that is something I regard as characterising us. I believe, then, that there is more than one good reason why Europe should, in the new world order that is coming into being, speak with one voice on matters of foreign and security policy. It gives us more weight, for example when discussing with others in the world the international dimension of social responsibility and the protection of the environment, and the public have long been aware of the fact that, in worldwide competition, we must be all the better the more expensive we are. For Europe’s future prospects and for the far too numerous young people without work, then, education, training, research and development are crucial, and that is a good enough reason to reallocate considerable sums from the European budget in that direction and thereby to earn a tribute of appreciation from our nation states.

(Applause)

The public will also be appreciative if the EU sets itself new goals and takes the sort of actions that make Europeans’ lives easier and keep them safer. That is indeed possible, as has most recently and resoundingly been demonstrated by energy policy. It must surely be plain to every rational person that all the Member States have a vital interest in the safe and affordable supply of environmentally-friendly energy and that they must work together to find the most effective way of achieving this. The ‘everyone should look after themselves’ attitude will not hold water. The European Commission has presented a Green Paper on energy policy, and that I very much welcome. Where these matters are concerned, we need the right decisions, and soon. The debates of which I have spoken and which will ensure the European Union a good future, are already underway.

Let me give a small example of this; a few weeks ago, I was in Dresden with six other European presidents. We were continuing a dialogue initiated by the former Portuguese President Sampaio, and we talked to young people, with a hundred students from seven Member States, and we asked them what they thought about Europe, what benefits they could see accruing from it, and what expectations they had of the European Union and its Member States. These students were not hand-picked; they had been found by a public lottery, but these young people were well prepared. They had spent a day and a half discussing among themselves and called what had emerged from their own deliberations the ‘Dresden Demands for European Cohesion’. They are thinking, for example, in terms of a single right to vote and would like to see a European House of History. They suggest setting aside five per cent of the gross domestic product for research and development.

(Applause)

And they want a European army and European non-combatant service.

(Applause)

Further to this speech, I am presenting, for the documentary records of your honourable House, a copy of what these young people wrote down. Granted, their group was hardly representative, and they appear idealistic in what they call for, but their idealism is impressive. It has about it much of the enthusiasm of the people who rebuilt Europe after the war and who fought for its unity in freedom. There it is – the typical creative ferment. There they are – the Europeans who expect something of Europe and are ready to do something for it. They are to be found in Europe.

(Applause)

By the way, some of these students had benefited from the Erasmus programme; let us be glad of this Erasmus generation and make more of them.

(Vigorous applause)

And while I am on that subject, trainees and apprentices too should be given more opportunities to learn from their neighbours and learn from experience the value of Europe.

(Applause)

It was Jacques Delors who proposed the European Training Cheque, and I urge your House to draw on it!

(Applause)

Let us take the enthusiasm of these young people as an example. Let us show ourselves to be real Europeans. Let us, rather than being disquieted by the future, be filled with creative restlessness, for Europe and for the European Union. Let us join together in transforming all our challenges into opportunities, for the benefit of all; then Europe will still be what it is today, a good place in which to live and a force for good in this one world of ours!

(The Members rose and gave a standing and sustained ovation.)

Annex

Dresden demands for European cohesion (5 February 2006)

I. Bringing Europe closer to the people.

1. Exchange programme for all sections of society.

2. Uniform electoral laws throughout the EU.

3. Europe to be given a face by a directly-elected president.

4. A short and comprehensible EU constitution.

5. Europe to be giving ‘visible clothing’ through more powerful symbols, such as

– a House of European History;

– a European Cross of Merit;

– Europe Day as a public holiday throughout the EU;

– a blue EU passport, and much more.

6. ‘European studies’ in all schools in Europe and a ‘European centre for political education’.

7. ‘Euro-News’ to be developed into a popular ‘Euro-channel’.

8. A ‘We are Europe’ campaign.

9. A ‘Eurobus’ to bring Europe to the countryside.

II. Seizing Europe’s opportunities

1. 5% of the EU Member States’ GDP to be used for research and science.

2. The European Parliament to have full power over the budget.

3. Reduction and reformation of agricultural subsidies.

4. ‘European Voluntary Service’ to be developed.

III. Together for security and responsibility

1. Belarus on the political agenda

2. Establishment of a ‘European Army’ as part of a common foreign and security policy.

3. The sustainability principle to be given a permanent place in European legislation.

 
  
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  President. Thank you, Mr President.

Before continuing with the sitting, I would like to say a few words of thanks to the President for his speech.

It is true that there was a time when we had twenty-five different kinds of plug: now we have the same plug, but twenty-five different electricity networks.

As you have pointed out, the next step is to move ahead with the Europe of energy and with many other aspects which must become common.

Thank you very much for your words and your encouragement, Mr President.

(Applause)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR MOSCOVICI
Vice-President

 
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