EUROPE: Whither Post-Wall Continent - and Germany?

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Photo: European Council President Van Rompuy | Credit: consilium.europa.euBy Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN - Europe is the world’s richest region. Together 28 countries constituting the European Union (EU) are the world’s largest market. EU and its member states provide 56% of about $130 billion global official development assistance. Precisely this obliges Europe not to stay bogged down in ongoing financial and identity crises but accept its international responsibilities wholeheartedly.

This was the upshot of a landmark speech by the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy on November 9, the very day the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, 28 years after it was erected to reinforce post-war division of Germany and Europe. The day was “perhaps the most important tipping point, not just for Germany but in our recent European history,” he said.

November 9 also marked the 75th anniversary of the so-called ‘Reichkristallnacht’ that witnessed a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and non-Jewish civilians as German authorities looked on without intervening.

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation availed of the double occasion to organise ‘The State of Europe – Die Europa Rede’ (The Europe Speech) for the fourth time since 2010. Such annual events with top EU officials as guest speakers are purported to keep alive the memories of crimes committed by Nazi Germany and at the same time emphasise change that post-war Germany has undergone and Post-Wall Europe is experiencing, explained the Foundation president Hans-Gert Poettering, a former president of the European Parliament.

Rompuy noted with apparent satisfaction that despite the euro crisis, the EU has launched no fewer than five new civilian or military missions in the last two years: in Mali and South Sudan, in the Sahel, on the borders of Libya and off the coast of Somalia. “In the course of 2013 we have also renewed operations in Afghanistan, Georgia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” he added.

Rompuy is the first president of the European Council, which consists of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President and the President of the European Commission. It does not exercise legislative functions but provides the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and defines the general political directions and priorities thereof.

In a vigorous speech, Rompuy said, despite financial distress, “Europe is represented in crisis and conflict zones, by doctors and emergency staff, by agronomists and engineers, and also by magistrates, police officers and soldiers. They are all there to support the efforts of their local counterparts to stabilise a country, to restore order, the rule of law and a sense of justice, and to provide hope for the future.”

He stressed that the European Union “as such” is not a military power. In any case, in today's world the importance of military power is on the wane, he added. “Economic might counts for more. And among the democracies with the biggest armies, we see – think of the reactions to Syria – that their public opinions or parliaments further restrain the use of that force.”

“Nevertheless,” he added, “in view of the turmoil in the world around us, we need to be able to fulfil our responsibilities. The geopolitical repositioning of our ally, the United States, further encourages us to do so.”

Explaining the current situation, the Christian Science Monitor’s Europe Bureau Chief Sara Miller Llana wrote: ”If after World War II and into the cold war the US once jealously guarded its dominance in transatlantic affairs, today it wants Europe to take care of Europe and its neighborhood. With the US ‘pivoting’ toward Asia and facing budget cuts at home, Washington has increasingly called on Europe to safeguard itself – and, more important, the nearby territory of the Sahel, North Africa, and parts of the Middle East.”

Llana recalled that upon retiring in 2011, then-US Defense Secretary Robert Gates rebuked Europe for not fulfilling its commitments to security. "If current trends in the decline of European defense capabilities are not halted and reversed, future US political leaders – those for whom the cold war was not the formative experience that it was for me – may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth the cost," he said.

Ready to play their role?

Against this backdrop, Rompuy said: “But are we ready to bring in the means? People are looking at European countries, including Germany, to see if they are ready to play their role. In terms of money, and also in terms of manpower. The question of financial means has become even more acute in view of current tight budgetary constraints.”

“That's why,” he said, “I have called for a European Council on Defence next December. Collectively we spend more on defence than the United States! But with a different impact. We should be using our money more efficiently, through pooling and sharing.”

Upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2012, European leaders said that the Union stands-by those in pursuit of peace and human dignity. “To fulfil such responsibilities, we need to have the means at our disposal,” the European Council chief said.

Easier said than done. Because the shock of the euro crisis – for countries individually and also for all of them jointly – has put the European Union under double pressure: it is affected by the low trust in politics in general, and it is specifically hit, Rompuy stated.

“Over these last years, within the Eurozone, the role of Germany has been essential. Not only have you stood by the euro, but you have been perhaps the strongest advocate for economic reforms – alerting to risks, injecting economic foresight into the European debate. That is something for which I commend your political leaders,” the European Council president said.

These remarks were made as the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) negotiated with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) on a coalition government.

Rompuy said, 'Europe' was now being blamed for what globalisation was asking for. “Of course, the fear of global market forces was there long before anti-European populism. But the common-shield is now perceived as outside-threat.”

For decades, “Europe was all about opening, liberating, creating possibilities, emancipating, empowering…Today, Europe is seen as being intrusive, meddling, dictating, judging, correcting, prescribing, imposing, even punishing…”

“It all boils down to this: today many people across Europe have the impression that Europe makes them weaker. Whereas the founding promise was that Europe would make people and countries stronger.” Rompuy argued.

Europe is part of the solution

What can we do to redress the situation? Rompuy said that in the end people will be best convinced by results. For example: By growth coming back, by jobs being created; by the visible signs that the work that societies and governments are doing – individually and jointly as a Union – is paying off. “But convincing people that Europe is part of the solution is not a matter of economy alone; of course it is also a matter of words.”

He asked political leaders to have the courage to defend and promote European integration, instead of selling illusions that their country can succeed on its own, abandon populism and nationalism, and set out clearly what is at stake.

Rompuy said: “It was – and still is – all about creating opportunities: for people and businesses to move, to take initiatives, to seize chances elsewhere. And what an amount of energy, vision and conviction has been devoted to this task! Even today – on energy, services, telecom, the digital economy – bringing down borders is the job. One long battle to establish this Europe-as-a-space!”

Because a space is about movement and possibilities. A space brings element of direction, speed and time into play. “For Europe to become a place, to feel more like a home, our Union must be able, if not to protect people, at the very least to respect the places of protection and belonging – be it certain national welfare arrangements, or local cheese,” Rompuy said.

He added: “For me, a space of freedom and rule of law – for restless travellers and home-staying citizens alike – is more than an element of an economic Union: it is a pillar of the new, post-Wall Europe: it is a sign of civilisation.”

In fact, Europe on the whole is still in the midst of getting to terms with the new situation. The moment has not been reached to say: "The 'new Europe' has become just that, 'Europe', for all."

However, in Europe, the chain of political events after the fall of the Wall unfolded at amazing speed. Within four years, in 1993, the old economic Community had become a political Union. In June that year, the leaders of the then twelve Western member states declared their readiness to welcome in the Union the countries in the East that had been locked behind the Iron Curtain.

Rompuy recalled that four years after the fall of the Wall, on 1st of November 1993, with the entry into force of the Maastricht treaty (or Union treaty), the path opened towards European citizenship, towards the single currency, towards a common foreign policy. “Revolutionary changes, and none of this would have happened then, were it not for 1989.” [IDN-InDepthNews – November 10, 2013]

Photo: European Council President Van Rompuy | Credit: consilium.europa.eu

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