French President Emmanuel Macron appealed to the citizens of Europe a few days ago. There was an urgent need for action. And indeed, he is right, because we are faced with urgent questions: do we want our future to be determined by the strategic decisions of China or the United States, or do we want to play an active role in shaping the rules of future global coexistence? Do we want to give a joint response to a Russian government that apparently desires to draw its strength from the destabilisation and weakening of its neighbours? Do we ultimately want to submit to the social and political ideas of others, or do we wish to proudly stand up for the "European way of life" – of representative democracy, parliamentarianism, the rule of law, individual freedoms and the social market economy – both at home and throughout the world? There can only be one answer to this question: Our Europe must become stronger.
The story of Europe is, so far, one of unparalleled success. I belong to the fortunate generation that has never experienced war. We owe this to a European Community that has learnt its lessons from the past, and is resolutely looking to the future. We Europeans live in one of the richest and safest regions in the world, because we have negotiated our conflicts with each other and, through the close transatlantic alliance, have built a secure wall of protection against external threats.
Yet many look to Europe with anxiety. However, we should not misunderstand the citizens of Europe. There is now more support for the European idea than ever before. What the EU lacks in the eyes of its citizens, however, is clarity, orientation and the ability to act on key issues of the day. They feel a lack of clarity when, for instance, the EU requires a seeming eternity before it is able to arrive at a common understanding regarding events in Venezuela. They feel a lack of orientation from the EU when they are confronted with the future of the digital economy and the digital labour market. And they sense that the institution’s ability to act is lacking with regard to the handling of major issues, such as migration, climate change, terrorism and international conflicts.
Therefore, the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament cannot focus upon defending the imperfect status quo of today's EU against populist accusations. The question of whether one is "for" or "against" Europe does not arise for most citizens. Instead, we must consider different concepts and reshape our ideas. We must ask how the EU can improve its capacity to take action on key issues in future, and how it will continue its unprecedented success story in the ever-shifting global conditions of tomorrow.
The first priority is to safeguard the foundations of our prosperity. In the European internal market, too, earning comes before distribution. We have taken the right path in establishing the Economic and Monetary Union, and in stabilising the Eurozone. If we want our businesses in Europe to continue to be financed by European banks, we must create a common internal market for banks. At the same time, we must consistently rely on a system of subsidiarity, individual responsibility and associated liability. European centralism, European statism, the communitarisation of debts, the Europeanisation of social systems, and the minimum wage would be the wrong approach. Yet, we must strive for convergence in the sense of equal living conditions within and between Member States. That is why we need a strategy to promote convergence that intelligently links national and European approaches.
We now need a European strategy with regard to the following questions: which technologies do we want to use to protect our climate and, simultaneously, to manage it well? Which intelligent systems do we want to use to feed billions of people, and to preserve all of Creation? Which of our research results will lead to new medicines and treatments to defeat diseases? And what will our response be to ensure forms of mobility that are both climate-friendly, yet individualised?
Joint research, development and technology should be funded from an EU innovation budget and bear the label "Future made in Europe". A new European strategic capability for future technologies should not override our rules for fair competition. However, such a capability must put Europe in a position to operate competitively on a global scale, considering the potential distortions of competition from other protectionists or state monopolies.
Europe has taken on a prominent responsibility for global climate protection. As with financial stability, the living conditions of future generations are at stake. However, ambitious European targets and thresholds have not yet achieved anything. This path will only meet with broad approval among the population if we succeed in taking economic and social aspects into account in such a way that employment and economic strength are preserved, and new development opportunities are created. That is why we need a European Climate Protection Pact for further implementation, which will be negotiated jointly between business, employees and wider society, with the involvement of European and national, democratically legitimate players.
We must also finally implement our joint efforts to put an end to the distortion of competition in Europe through tax avoidance. To this end, we must close tax loopholes in Europe, and introduce digital taxation based on the OECD model. Only in this way will international corporations make just as fair a contribution to our social market economy in Europe as our small and medium-sized enterprises do.
I fully agree with Emmanuel Macron: our sense of community and security in Europe needs secure external borders. We must complete Schengen. To this end, we in the EU need an agreement on seamless border management. Where the external border cannot or should not be protected by national means alone, Frontex must be swiftly set up and deployed as an operational border police force. Claims to asylum, refugee status or any other reason for entry must be verified directly at the Schengen border. This requires an electronic entry and exit register, and an expansion of the Schengen Information System so that authorities can use a uniform, common data system at both national and European levels.
Europe stands by its humanitarian claim to protect victims of political persecution and civil war refugees. The European solutions that we have been striving for as regards the reception of refugees, and the rejection of economic migrants, have so far been impossible to implement. However, attempts at national solutions will not be successful without ultimately calling the very principle of Schengen into question. We must therefore reorganise the EU's common migration policy in future according to the principle of communicating vessels. Each Member State must make its own contribution to combating the causes of migration, protecting its borders, and taking in migrants. The more work it does in one area, the smaller its contribution might be in other areas, without any loss to the whole.
The European Union urgently needs to improve its ability to act in foreign and security policy. We must remain transatlantic, and at the same time become more European. In future, the EU should have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. At the same time, we should decide on common foreign policy positions in a European Security Council involving Great Britain, and we should organise concerted action on security policy. Incidentally, a National Security Council in Germany for the development of strategic guidelines, and for the coordination of foreign, security, defence, development and foreign trade policy would also be an idea worth considering.
Germany and France are already working together on the project of a European future combat aircraft, and other nations are invited to participate. The next step could be to start on the symbolic project of building a common European aircraft carrier to express the global role of the European Union as a power ensuring security and peace.
At the same time, we must create an additional new outlook with and for Africa. In the interests of the people there, but also in our own interests, we need a strategic partnership on an equal footing. But this may also mean, in concrete terms, that the opening of our market to African agricultural products, and the dismantling of our extensive regulations and subsidies in this area must no longer be taboos.
There is no version of a European superstate which can live up to the goal of a Europe made up of sovereign Member States, and able to take action. The work of the European institutions cannot claim any moral superiority over the collaborative effort of national governments. A new Europe cannot be founded without the nation states: they provide democratic legitimacy and identification. It is the Member States that formulate and bring together their own interests at the European level. This is what gives Europeans their international weight. Europe must focus on subsidiarity and the individual responsibility of the nation states, and at the same time be capable of acting in the common interest. Our Europe should therefore stand on two equal pillars: the Intergovernmental method and the Community method. We should, simultaneously, also take long overdue decisions, and abolish anachronisms. The latter include the European Parliament's concentration on Brussels, and the taxation of the income of EU officials.
Many Member States face the challenge of keeping together a society that has become more heterogeneous as a result of immigration. This is particularly true in view of Islamic trends that are incompatible with our ideas of an open society. One of the major questions for the future is therefore whether Europe can provide incentives to allow for a form of Islam that is compatible with our values. To this end, we should establish European "Nathan Chairs" based on the tradition of enlightenment and tolerance, in which we train our own imams and teachers in this spirit.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall almost thirty years ago, millions of Central Europeans have become new members of this community, and more would like to join them. With regard to the Member States of Central and Eastern Europe, we must respect their approaches and their specific contribution to our common European history and culture. And yet there must be no doubt about the non-negotiable core of values and principles. If we have the courage now to talk concretely about amendments to the European Treaties, neither the "Brussels elite", nor the "Western elite", nor the supposedly "pro-European" elite should remain in their silos. We will only gain democratic legitimacy for our new Europe if we involve everyone.
We don't have to be afraid of these discussions. The attraction of our "European Way of Life" to those all around the world is demonstrated by the global tourist rushes to European metropolises; by the accession and rapprochement efforts in our neighbourhood; and by international students and start-ups who want to be based in Europe. Europe is a place of longing for many around the world. For that matter, even those in Putin's Russia are desirous of living their lives according to the "Euro standard".
The world is in flux, and Europe is faced with a choice. Mine is clear: we must now make Europe right. We need strategic strength for our industry, technology and innovation, a sense of security for our European citizens, and common foreign and security capabilities to defend our interests.
We should now confidently go to work, and not be timidly prevented from doing so by the constant anxious questions about "the populists".