22nd International WDR Europaforum 2019

Shaping Europe together

Time for a new European confidence

The 22nd international WDR Europaforum will once again see leading European politicians discuss Europe’s future during a one-day conference on 23 May 2019 at the German Foreign Office in Berlin. The focal point of the controversial presentations and panel debates will be Europe's future - what kind of Europe do we want? What should it look like? And how far do we want to go as a Union?

On 26 May 2019 citizens in Germany will decide the future direction of the European Union. The European elections are of particular importance.

Will Member States of the European Union cooperate more closely in the future, with the aim of becoming the United States of Europe in the foreseeable future, or will Europe remain a union of nation states?

The European Union faces major challenges in 2019. For the first time there is an ongoing debate about whether to revoke individual or several steps towards integration such as freedom of movement, or to abolish common institutions. For the first time ever, an EU Member State intends to leave the Union.

Member States such as Austria are currently calling for a renegotiation of the EU Treaty and far fewer EU regulations. Their view is that the EU is outdated in its current form. The differences between France and Germany are clearly noticeable. Solidarity between the EU states, as well as shared values, are in danger of being eroded. “Europe has never been in such great danger”, says French President Emmanuel Macron.

European Parliament representatives will be elected between 23 - 26 May. The European elections could realign the balance of power in the European Parliament.

The European idea is more alive among citizens than it has been in a long time, and the EU approval is high. The majority of Europeans want to preserve their community of states. However, they also want an EU with a clear direction and ability to act on key European policy issues.

Only a strong community will be able to face global challenges. Terrorism, climate change, economic globalisation, migration and digitisation do not stop at national borders. Among the three major economic blocs, Europe is considered to be the weakest link.

Is Europe on the cusp of change? The emergence of nationalist parties in the European elections could shift the balance of power in the European Parliament. Nationalist, eurosceptic governments and movements burden Europe’s cohesion and pose a serious threat. The migration issue continues to divide the EU.

The euro, migration, security, defence, globalisation, populism and the UK’s expected exit from the EU confront the European Union with complex issues. Relations with the US, Russia and China need to be realigned.

Time for a new European confidence – time to shape Europe together. More than ever before, there is a need for a capable and active Europe.

How can Europe assert itself in a world radicalised by nationalism, populism and chauvinism? The world order, as we have known it, no longer exists for Germany’s Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas. The urgency with which Europe’s power in the world must be concentrated is greater today than ever.

“We are sitting on a rope and it is getting thinner and thinner”, Mr Maas says. The EU is forced to watch helplessly the new escalation between the US and Iran. This lays bear the fundamental change in the transatlantic relationship.

Digitisation, climate change, migration and the social consequences of globalisation - these global phenomena can only be tackled if Europe acts as a united force. Therefore, the joint response today must be Europe united - Europe needs courage, ambition and a willingness towards foreign policy! “We must not allow Europe to break up into groups and to establish new borders. We must heal the rifts that have arisen in our Union,” Mr Maas continues.

What responsibility does Germany bear? The differences with France are increasing. French President, Emmanuel Macron, puts forth the theory of “fruitful confrontation” with the German government. Important areas of conflict are the Brexit negotiations and trade and climate policy. He was uncharacteristically critical in his comments on the German growth model suggesting that it reinforces the imbalances in the EU and contradicts his ideas of a socially sustainable economic model.

Sylvie Goulard, Vice President of France’s central bank, Banque de France, a close confidante of President Emmanuel Macron and briefly French Defence Minister, emphasises joint responsibility for future development in Europe. She opposes every kind of national economic position. When countries such as Italy become heavily indebted, stability throughout the euro area is called into question. Ms Goulard is a strong advocate for the Stability Pact, which encourages national governments to keep a tight budget, as well as an advocate for more common tasks and investments by euro area countries. Her view is that the EU is undoubtedly a community of values, but that we must consider why there are so many differences of opinion and social unease.

The eurozone budget initiated by France, the key project for stabilising the eurozone, aims to reduce economic disparities between the 19 euro states and to better prevent crises. According to the latest data from 10 May 2019 by the ‘European Progress Monitor’, Europe is better situated than its reputation, and also prepared for a financial crisis.

According to a survey conducted by the European Commission, Poland is said to be the most pro-European nation in the EU. Poland’s vision is of a strong Europe and democratic EU. We want, says Poland’s Foreign Minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, a liberal Europe on the basis of competition where the four market freedoms are upheld - free movement of goods, finances, services and labour. Only in this way, can the EU develop and expand its role in the world. In the debate about a two-speed Europe, he sees a synonym for disintegration. Europe must stick together.

For Mr Czaputowicz, Poland could assume the role of the British in the EU, as a voice for a liberal market economy. We need economic robustness, less protectionism. When it comes to Europe’s future, Poland and German agree on many points.

The Polish Foreign Minister is convinced that there is little left of EU allegations under Article 7 of the infringement procedure, according to which judicial reform in Poland violates the rule of law. Following changes, there is no substance for it today, he adds.

“If the result of the European elections were to be that the European Parliament had a strong minority or a majority of eurosceptic MEPs in the European Parliament, that is, who are not in favour of European integration, then of course that would lead to fateful consequences for the European Union.” (President of the German federal parliament Wolfgang Schäuble in February 2019).

Europe’s question on societal perspectives, the economic and social future, finds many competing answers but few viable strategies. European unification is no longer self-evident. In the midst of a world threatened by superpower conflicts, we are experiencing a spiral of rearmament and nuclear arms race. The European universalism of Western values and the liberal world order are being called into question. The destructive power of a new nationalism by right-wing and left-wing populist forces is eroding the European joint project. Migration, climate protection, global change and digitisation are challenges facing the European Union.

Campaign slogans for Europe offer little political content or programmatic orientation. Does the capacity to act in a multipolar, complicated world mean talking European and acting nationally?

A Federal European State, European immigration law, one-off millionaire tax in all EU states, prohibition of arms exports, the dissolution of the border protection agency, FRONTEX, a permanent seat for the EU on the UN Security Council - pleasing demands of the parties ahead of the European elections, but hardly enforceable proposals.

The majority of citizens living in the EU do not want to give up their historically grown nation state - and no European federal state. The old order between leftist and conservative politics seems outdated. Feelings of exclusion and loss of identity dominate large ethnic groups. This is the basis for a right-wing identity policy that could lead Europe back to the days of racism and nationalism, writes the American Political Scientist Francis Fukuyama. Are we currently experiencing the end of liberal democracy?

We do not have much time left to defend our European values, says Wolfgang Schäuble, President of the German federal parliament, and advocates for a reform of the European Union. His view is that Europe needs to wake up and find quicker decisions and to show that it is capable of action. For this reason he believes that, in EU decisions, in future, the unanimity requirement should be repealed and replaced by qualified majority voting. Parts of the national finance and economic policy would have to be transferred to the level of the European institutions.

No European country has a future without Europe, Mr Schäuble adds. What is important, he continues, is a new sense of community - a common European identity. Global regulatory issues can only be addressed in the European sense if we act as Europeans.

He believes that this requires more understanding and openness to the perspectives of other EU partners. The European project needs more than ever, he continues, the willingness and capacity to consider, in its decision making, the points of views of the other Member States. It needs politicians who are not only knowledgeable about national peculiarities, and endure them, but who also show understanding and respect. "The rift that pervades Europe is deepening."

Reshaping Europe - the German response to France’s President Emmanuel Macron is cautious. Leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, does not address his ambitious definitions of European goals and value limits, nor the desire to bring Europe closer together. She is not persuaded by the demand for social harmonisation, and warns against a Europeanisation of welfare systems and the minimum wage. The French President’s proposals on security and migration policies, on the other hand, do find her support. Although she rejects a European superstate.

The goal of a Europe capable of action would not do justice to a European superstate. A new formation of Europe would not work without the nation states. They endow democratic legitimacy and identification. She adds that Europe must rely on subsidiarity and individual responsibility of the nation states and, at the same time, be able to act in the common interest. However, its capacity to act in relation to foreign and security policy must be improved upon by the European Union, as a matter of urgency.

Can the community of states maintain its unity? Can the EU develop a new European confidence? The electoral successes of right-wing populists weigh heavily on the European project. The question of a digital tax, a common budget for euro states and a new European industrial policy to counter China are challenges the European Union is currently facing.

EU Commissioner, Günther H. Oettinger, senses no new departure for Europe in Berlin. Brexit, growing populists in Europe and the increase in conflicts with the US and China mean that the European elections are taking place at a crucial time. All Europeans should now advocate for a free, strong and united EU he believes.

Europe must not become the open-air museum of tomorrow. It takes more and joint investment, for example, in education and research, to compete with China and Silicon Valley. If we stop now, other value systems based on autocracy and lack of freedom could proliferate, the EU Commissioner warns.

On the other hand, can the EU credibly promote a rule-based order if these rules are broken internally, as in the case of the Article 7 procedure for violations against the rule of law in Poland, and respect for EU values in Hungary?

Mr Oettinger recommends, in the course of conditionality, that , in future, the EU budget for the years 2021 to 2027 be designed in such a way that the disbursement of the billions of aid money is tied to the observance of EU rule of law.

For Joschka Fischer, the EU today is at a crossroads between renewal and self-abandonment. The cultural and geopolitical dominance of the West is at an end.

Today’s Europe is no longer contemporary, Mr Fischer says. It is stuck between federal state and confederation, he continues. There remains only an avant-garde solution, an EU of two speeds on an intergovernmental basis. Those Member States that want to go forward and can, should jointly advance in what the Lisbon Treaty expressly allows. What is important is cooperation of France and Germany.

On 12 May 2000, Germany’s then Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, in his speech on the ‘Finality of the European Union’ at the Humboldt University in Berlin, outlined the idea of a federal Europe and an ever closer European Union (ever closer union).

An EU Convention draws up a draft constitution for this federal Europe, which will be overturned in 2004 by referenda in France and the Netherlands. “Dodging the question of the finality of the European unification process, indeed ousting it,” writes the Historian Heinrich August Winkler recently, “was and is a grave error.”

Meanwhile, the European Council has developed into the real government of Europe, to a “presidential Europe” in which the heads of government collectively act as government (ever closer cooperation). The most powerful institutions in Europe today are the European Council and the European Central Bank. The question of the finality of Europe remains unanswered. Europe quo vadis?