Speech Didier Reynders: Tag der Deutschen Einheit - Brussel, Büro des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt

date: 03 October 2012

Dear mr. Ambassador CUNTZ,
Dear Minister WALSMANN
Cher collègue Karl-Heinz LAMBERTZ
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

• It is a great pleasure and honor for me to be here today at the celebration of the 22nd anniversary of the German unity and to congratulate you at this occasion. To Ambassador Cuntz, I should like to ask to convey my best wishes to the Bundespräsident Joachim Gauck and to the Foreign Minister, my good colleague and friend Guido Westerwelle.

• It is nice to learn of your federal tradition that every year another Land is put in the center of attention at the occasion of the National Day celebrations in Brussels. The Free State of Thüringen, who has this honor now, is maybe not the best well known Land for Belgium in Germany, but when I tell that its old city of Gotha is closely linked with the birthplace of the Belgian Royal House, all my compatriots will immediately understand and appreciate the link between our territories. Furthermore, the talented Belgian architect Henry van de Velde was active in the region in the beginning of the 20th century and some of his marvelous houses are still present and beautifully restored in Gera or in Weimar, Thüringen’s most famous town.

• I am stating the obvious in underlining that the bilateral relations between our two countries are intense and flourishing. Germany remains for Belgium its first export market and Germany is our second country of import. In 2011 we traded among our 2 countries goods for a value of about 110 billion euros. But apart from these statistics, I appreciate very much our frequent, open and warm contacts at ministerial and official level and I know that our companies invest actively and develop their activities in both countries. Belgium and Germany work closely together in multilateral fora such as the EU, NATO and the UN, to name only the most prominent institutions. More and more, the cooperation of our researchers and universities is unfolding as is illustrated by e.g. the ambitious ‘Germany year’ which is currently being organized at our oldest university, in Leuven, at the initiative of the German embassy in Brussels.

• As the Day of German Unity still reminds us every year of the historic importance for Europe of the German reunification, and since I had myself the pleasure to work intensely with my colleague Guido Westerwelle in the past year as a member of the Future of Europe group, which he founded, I should like to develop some thoughts with you on this subject which is of paramount importance to all of us.

• The economic and financial crisis, which we are fighting already for 4 years now, is provoking tremendous changes in our societies: it has cast doubt on old investment wisdoms, it threatens the fabric of our industrial and social models, it will force us to rethink the role of the financial institutions, it will influence public spending and future choices. It has raised very simple but essential questions on our relationships with other member states. It has changed the way we look at the world and how the world looks at us, Europeans of the old continent. Moreover, in a rapidly and radically changing world, the sovereign debt crisis in Europe has cast serious doubt on the essence of the European project: people ask whether it is all worth the efforts:  reforms, restructuring, austerity or  … solidarity. Therefore, the initiative of minister Westerwelle to bring together some likeminded European foreign ministers to discuss intensely on the Future of Europe was a most welcome initiative. The group convened 5 times this year and organized one outreach meeting with some members of the EP. It produced a report on September 17th, which is, if I may say myself, quite remarkable in the way it has dared to reflect with courage and creativity on ways to find answers to the reinforcement of the Euro crisis and to increase the efficiency of Europe in the world.

• We are of course not the only ones this year to think beyond the firefighting of the day as far as Europe is concerned. The president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and 3 other presidents (Eurogroup, ECB and Commission) produced a first interim report on the way towards a real Economic and Monetary union in June this year. It should lead to an agreed roadmap to be decided at the European Council of December and should describe in detail the different steps to reinforce the Euro and the economic governance of the euro zone, which is at least what the Belgian government hopes very much. The scope of the debate in the Future of Europe group was broader, but many questions or issues raised were the same.

• At the basis of our work in the Future of Europe Group were two questions that pose an almost existential challenge to the European Union: (1) how can we find ways to overcome the current economic and financial crisis and (2) how can we increase the efficiency and democratic accountability of the EU in order to make it a more influential player on the world scene? From the outset it was clear for all participants in the debate that some answers would lie in the current treaties, but that some other answers would have to be found on the longer term, thereby implicating changes to the treaties. 

• It is not my aim to review the main conclusions of the report – there are really a great number of proposals, some of them most interesting and far reaching – I can only recommend you warmly to read it carefully, but I should like to seize this opportunity to give you a few key messages which I think, we should never loose out of sight in the debate on the future of our EU.

• Firstly: if the economic and financial crisis has made one thing clear for all Europeans, then it is the way in which our lives, our destinies have become intertwined definitively. In German, there is a nice word for that: we have become part of a “Schicksalsgemeinschaft”. More ‘plastically’, Charles de Gaulle reportedly once said that it is impossible to revert to the eggs after the omelet is made …Unless we accept a return to a status quo ante – and I do not think many citizens really want that - , we cannot but develop further the timid beginnings of what should be one day a fully fledged economic and monetary union. The monetary union was created by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992 and realized in 1999-2002. Since then the first steps towards a corresponding economic union have been developed, but we have now all seen that the instruments at our disposal - be it preventive or curative – were largely insufficient. There is no way back, only a way forward; standing still is falling down. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said many times: “Scheitert der Euro, dann scheitert Europa” and we entirely share this opinion in Belgium. The euro is the linchpin of our ever closer union. We have to accept the consequences of that position and to explain it as clearly as possible to our citizens. I know that the logic of this fundamental and historic choice leads often to difficult and emotional internal debates, not just in Germany, but also in Belgium – not to speak of other member states.

• Secondly, there is in my opinion a false opposition between short term measures and long term measures; this is code language for reforms within the current treaties and those for which the European treaties should be amended. I spoke of a false contradiction, because both time horizons are needed, and debates about one kind of reform do not preclude discussions or even decisions on the other. It is not a debate of “either or”: it is both, but at a different moment.  It is evident that the current crisis requires urgent measures and decisions; many of them have been clearly identified in e.g. the Compact for Growth and Jobs, which was adopted by the European Council in June 2012. The list of decisions that we have to take – both at national and at European level - to stimulate a sustainable, inclusive and job-creating growth is impressive. Also, numerous proposals have been made by the Commission to reinforce the economic governance at European level and important decisions have already been taken such as the Six pack , the Fiscal Compact, the Euro Plus Pact or financial firewalls such as the ESM , which entered into force last Friday. Other proposals for the ‘short term’ are being discussed and must be decided quite urgently. But the swift progress in these short term measures may not prevent us from thinking ahead and considering already now the more fundamental steps that will consolidate the economic and monetary Union. For that purpose it is very normal that at some point the current treaties will have to be changed. Lets us not make false problems: we should do whatever what is needed to make the EMU work well. When the necessary measures are decided, the legal formulations will be found. As we know from experience, far reaching decisions touching on the member states’ sovereignty or acquired rights are not taken lightly and need time. The last treaty revision took almost 9 years: from December 2001 to Dec. 2009. The Westerwelle report has also recognized the need that certain possible future changes will be necessary and that the normally foreseen provisions regarding the creation of a convention should be used.
Precisely this sifting of the short term proposals from the long term will be an important item for debate in the coming weeks and we expect the road map towards a real EMU, to be adopted in December by the European Council to address these questions in detail. After December, in 2013, we should do all that is in our power to implement the short term decisions, such as e.g. the different elements of a banking union. The next year should however also be used to prepare the contours of a future treaty revision which will be likely to take place after the EP-elections of June 2014.

• Thirdly, I should like to say a word on another pair of terms that are often opposed, but that in our view goes together like pepper and salt: I mean “solidarity” and “responsibility” in a real EMU. In a “real EMU”, the member states commit to respect common budgetary targets, accept harmonized socio-economic solutions and accept peer pressure or even central authority to stick to the agreed objectives, in order to lay the groundwork for a  sustainable and common monetary policy. This common framework of common responsibility requires considerable sacrifices from the member states, their governments and parliaments. With the sharing of their currency they also have to share parts of their economic policies, in other words, to share their sovereignty (not giving up!). It is impossible, I think, to request this transformation from the member states and their public opinions if they do not have the reassurance that they will be able to count on the solidarity of the Union in times of crisis. Both dimensions are equally important. Work on both dimensions must proceed in parallel, at equal speed. That is also a challenge for the report we all expect by Herman Van Rompuy and the 4 other presidents in December of this year: their roadmap towards a real EMU should be detailed and precise and clearly show that both essential dimensions of the EMU will be treated within a reasonable time frame. The road map will give a perspective and hence it can create the trust which is needed to take the difficult decisions, in countries that traditionally emphasize the “solidarity” or in the other member states that put more emphasis on “responsibility”.  Work on the responsibility has advanced relatively well in the past 2 years, but the conceptual work on the solidarity axis still needs more attention. I know the sensibilities in Germany about this last aspect, and I am the last to ask for an immediate Eurobond without any precondition, but I must be clear to you that for Belgium some sort of real solidarity between the Union and its constituent parts will be necessary to allow us to jump ahead in the coming months.

• Finally (fourthly), I should like to make a point about the importance of improved democratic accountability in a “real” and deeper EMU. As we have learned from preliminary discussions, there are no easy remedies here either.  It is clear to me that more accountability must be realized at the European level, with an increased participation of the EP in the discussions and decisions of economic governance at European level. The Westerwelle report has outlined some suggestions for change. At the same time the question of a better implication of the national parliaments has been put on the table and requires a clear answer as well. I appeal to all the bright minds in Brussels and other centers of European thinking to come forward with viable and interesting solutions! I shall particularly attentive to the suggestions from the parliamentarians themselves…Much remains to be done in this area, but we cannot begin in December with the realization of a roadmap towards a real EMU if it does not contain some promising proposals on more democratic accountability to be elaborated in the next months or years.
So far a number of rather general remarks that I present you in order to frame the debate. This ongoing debate is very intensive in Germany and it is something you should be proud of.  Although we Belgians are a bit more discreet about it, the discussion on the future of ‘our’ Europe is also lively in my country, judging from the media attention or the small talk I hear at dinner tables or in conversations with all kinds of people I meet. At the end of the day, what drives European citizens wherever they live is the question on how to preserve or expand their prosperity and how to keep their place in a rapidly changing and sometimes menacing world. And with these two questions I come back at the challenges for which the Future of Europe Group has sought an answer!
I am very happy to say that Germany and Belgium, 2 founding and neighboring member states of the European Union, and both federal states and early adepts of the Rheinlandmodel can work closely together to make this European perspective reality. What a nice common agenda for the future!

I thank you for your attention.