Belgium -Brussels – The unity of Europe, once reserved for ceremonial speeches, has become a reality. On no other continent in the world, do people enjoy a comparable degree of peace, freedom, security and prosperity. Although the honeymoon is over and the Union has entered its daily routine: today, the European Union is more relevant than ever. Nothing less is at stake than the self-assertion of the continent and its values. Digitalisation is changing the world’s business and social models at an unprecedented speed. Today’s leading innovations are coming from Silicon Valley. The new economic giants are no longer car builders or even banks, but Internet companies. We can simply not afford to further lose track: we have to stand at the forefront of the digital revolution. This is the only way that we can create the jobs of the future and secure our European standards and values in the world.
At the same time, the world is getting smaller. China, once a closed-off country, has become the factory of the world and the leading export nation. Migration flows are at unprecedented heights. Climate change is endangering the basis of life. Autocrats are threatening our political order. Islamic terrorism is challenging our open societies.
All these challenges cannot be solved by one nation alone, but only with European unity. Europe must use its economic power to shape globalisation otherwise, the world’s developments will simply sweep away most of what is dear to us in Europe.
We need a Europe that works to provide the right solutions for its people. In order to preserve our European way of life, we have to make the following eight efforts in 2017:
1. Acknowledge Europe’s successes: our continent used to be the most war-plagued place in the world. Today there is peace and prosperity. Without Europe, the world would not have agreed upon far reaching goals for climate protection. Europe stands for diplomacy and disarmament, a strategy that led to the success of the nuclear deal with Iran. Let us be proud of these achievements.
2. Do not act along with national egoism: today’s biggest mistake would be to copy populists. Populists have no solutions to our common problems such as security, the migration crisis, globalisation and the fight against climate change. These problems can only be solved if we act together. Europe is more than the sum of national interests. Each EU Member State needs to do its bit and share the burden of the common challenges. Italy and Greece cannot be left alone to deal with the migration crisis.
3. Take the rules seriously: Europe is a legal community, not a self-service counter. The trust in rules is the basis of every community.
4. Be open to change: only those who quickly detect and address change will be able to master it. We have to leave the stand-by mode in Europe for once and for all and take up the fight. This means shaping digitalisation, softening climate change with technical innovations, setting clear limits for globalisation.
5. Assume responsibility: democracy cannot succeed by shying away. In Brussels, almost no decision is taken without the consent of the national governments. Ministers have to stop raising their hands in Brussels and then permanently criticise their own decisions when they return to their national capitals. Citizens have to be able to choose between clear political alternatives. This begins with personnel.
We need full parliamentary democracy in Europe with a strong and directly-elected European Parliament, a political European Commission fully accountable to this Parliament, and a Commission President who puts himself to the vote of the people, as top candidate of his political party family.
6. Draw up clear borders for Europe: people are afraid of an ever-bigger Europe, getting lost in details and bureaucracy. Europe needs clear borders: Turkey cannot be a member of the European Union. Brussels shall only be in charge where necessary and in a way that people understand it.
7. Do not build up false contradictions: being a good Bavarian, German or European is not a contradiction; for me, they belong together. He who is a true patriot must also be a convinced European.
8. Let us defend Europe’s values: we have to make sure that Europe preserves its soul. Europe is more than a marriage of convenience or a sheer community of interests. Europe is a community of values. We draw our true strength from our values, rooted in the Christian image of humanity. The European Social Model, developed from this image, is a unique European achievement that has to be preserved.
Let us live Europe and not just manage it. This is how we will master the challenges ahead and continue on the path of European success – despite all the difficulties of the day-to-day work.
By acting, we give new vision, justification and acceptance of Europe.
The demagogues are preaching the return to nationalism, to times that we thought were long gone. Their alleged solutions only lead to dead ends. Instead of regaining national grandness, people would only witness irrelevance, fading wealth and loss of control with them.
Europe, more than ever, stands for the preservation and recovery of sovereignty for its citizens and of the public capacity to act. Europe stands for democratic self-determination and for the self-assertion of our values.
Europe is our life insurance in a globalised world. Let us work together in 2017 to make Europe and our future a success.