Little known as the fact may be today, the European Union was born of an energy cooperation plan. Shared control over coal and steel, along with the institutions founded as part of the Coal and Steel Community, formed the original core out of which today’s European Union has arisen. European integration has brought us more than sixty years of peace, freedom and prosperity. But today Europe faces entirely new tasks: an unprecedented sovereign debt crisis, a rapidly shifting balance of global power and a general waning of enthusiasm for the European idea. The project of Europe is in urgent need of new energy to master these challenges.
The foremost task is to overcome the debt crisis and get Europe back on a path of sustainable growth. But we must not limit our view to the financial crisis. We can master the tremendous changes and challenges of our age only if we make Europe a major global player. New trust in Europe can only be gained if we become aware that integration is more than a success story from the past – it is also the best response to the challenges of our time. And it is the only way for us to contribute to the future world order, safeguard our community of values and assert our interests as an economic powerhouse.
The tasks before us demand a new debate over the future of the European Union. We need to face three challenges:
First, we need a clear and ambitious vision of Europe as a global player. In the emerging economies with their fast-growing societies, new centres of economic and political power are evolving. China has supplanted Germany as the world’s leading exporter. In twenty years’ time, according to United Nations estimates, India’s population will be around three times that of the European Union. Europe’s individual countries stand to continue losing their relative influence in the years ahead. At the same time, globalization forces all countries to come to grips with matters they have never had to address before. A functioning global order has yet to emerge – to regulate the financial markets, to combat global warming and for foreign and security policy and energy security. Europe needs to enter into partnerships with other global players and work towards effective global governance with them. And we must also measure ourselves against them – our competitors in terms of economic success, ideas, education systems and models of society. We can only answer these pressing questions if we start pooling our strengths much more and acting together as Europeans.
Second, the European Union must remain a region of sustainable prosperity. It is currently the world’s strongest economic area. If trade between its member states is taken into consideration as well, the European Union today accounts for around 40 per cent of global trade – more than either the United States or China. But time is not on our side. That is why the task at hand is not only to get Europe’s ailing economies back on their feet. The real task is to boost competitive strength and innovation throughout Europe so that we do not fall behind in global competition. The debt crisis was a massive wake-up call, and its lessons are plain to see: the monetary union needs to be supplemented by a functional, comprehensive economic union. The trick to achieving this will be to connect the necessary budget consolidation with intelligent impetus for sustainable growth. Europe needs to become more competitive – and this includes deepening the Internal Market in areas such as energy and IT as well as investing significantly more in education, research and development. The current negotiations for the next seven-year EU financial period present a major opportunity to do just that.
Third, we need concrete, engaging future projects which people can identify with. Providing a safe, sustainable supply of clean energy is undoubtedly such a project. A strong European energy policy will play an ever more central role in our economic success. Solidarity in Europe means not least that cross-border cooperation is needed to ensure a steady energy supply for every country and region of Europe, without which living our lives and conducting business would be inconceivable in the industrial era. We need shared European answers to our key questions: How do we create a viable European energy infrastructure? How do we shape the external energy relations which ensure our continent’s energy supply? How do we achieve the energy efficiency that makes us less dependent on energy imports and helps us emit less pollutants into the atmosphere?
A politically united Europe that pools its strengths in core policy areas in order to assert its place in the new global order remains our goal. German interests do not conflict with the European common good here. Some critics like to accuse Germany of imposing its will upon its European partners and seeking to mould Europe to fit German expectations. Others claim that Germany’s commitment to Europe is dwindling. Both claims are based on stereotypes and both are false. We know that the success of the European project is based on the idea of partnership in leadership. It is precisely for this reason that we continue to feel a sense of responsibility for the strength of Europe: Germany is demonstrating an unprecedented level of solidarity with our European neighbours who face pressures due to the debt crisis. Not least among our acts of solidarity is Germany’s contribution to the euro rescue package. At the same time, we have laid the foundations for a new culture of stability in Europe through the initiative for the fiscal compact.
Germany’s responsibility is twofold: we want to work in partnership to help shape the Europe of tomorrow. At the same time, we have to convince the people in Germany and in Europe that we are on the right path. Our country will not have a bright future without European integration. Nor will our neighbours have a bright future without a Germany which is firmly committed to Europe. That was not only true during the Cold War. It is equally true today, and it will continue to determine our policy on Europe tomorrow.
This article is a translation by German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle and EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger