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12. November 2015 Fudan Universität Shanghai: “Perspektiven der Europäischen Union”

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Vortrag des Ersten Bürgermeisters Olaf Scholz.

Fudan Universität Shanghai: “Perspektiven der Europäischen Union”

Dear Mr. Zhou,
Dear Mr. Ding,
Dear Professors,
Dear Students,

It is a great pleasure for me to be permitted to speak here in Shanghai at the renowned Fudan University. During the past year, Fudan and Hamburg have been able to further strengthen the partnership they have shared since 1986. It is not only in the investigation of our cultures and languages that we have been working together, but also in physics, in the humanities, and in political science. We have joint study programmes, we enable exchanges for faculty, and we organise coordinated research programmes, so that our scientific findings are highly complementary.

We are also running the Confucius Institute in Hamburg together, a very successful cooperation that we are proud of.

Strategic partnerships of the universities

Fudan University is one of China’s leading institutes of higher learning, one that is recognised throughout the world. The universities of our two sister cities are a good match. For our internationally oriented scientific locations, collaboration with research institutions at a high level of excellence is very important. We enjoy a strategic partnership with Fudan which is very successful. This has done more than simply increase our scientific productivity.

Some time ago, we also realised that we have mutual friends: Both Fudan University and the University of Hamburg have been working with Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, for some time now.

The University of Hamburg has acted on this. At the beginning of 2015, together with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), it launched a new partnership programme. Shanghai – Hamburg – and Sydney will continue to expand this science triangle in the coming four years.

A sustainable network for research and teaching is being established through 14 projects and in various disciplines. This is very important and impressive work. Very few universities anywhere in the world have attempted to establish a three-way partnership. This is an exemplary initiative: Fudan, Hamburg and Sydney are thus jointly developing the universities of the future.

One famous Hamburg citizen would have loved hearing about this: Helmut Schmidt. He passed away this Tuesday, at the age of 96. Helmut Schmidt, a son of Hamburg, was a great European, an outstanding statesman, and an expert on China. A sad moment for Germany.

What is the EU?

You have invited me to speak here at Fudan. This is a great honour, and I was very happy to accept this invitation. I will be talking about Europe and the European Union. The European Union is an extremely important topic for every politician in Europe.

Curiosity about other countries is one of the defining values of Europe. And this holds true especially during one’s formative period, during one’s education and training. Even during the Middle Ages, while Europe was involved in many minor and major wars for centuries, young people travelled to other cities. This was not only true for wealthy people or for those who were to assume political offices, but also for craftsmen who were being trained, for journeymen and masters. In fact, there were many professions in which “going on the road” was an obligatory part of one’s training. This tradition still continues, with many people still travelling throughout Europe. For centuries, students and scientists have been among those who have been especially active.

This is why, since 1987, we have had ERASMUS, a European programme for study and work stays. Nearly 3 million students have already taken advantage of it. By 2020, another 4 million women and men will be “taking an Erasmus,” as it is casually referred to in Germany.

And I am very pleased that more and more students from China are coming to universities in Europe and are thus able to get to know the European Union from a practical side. For taking a closer look at Europe is certainly worthwhile.

The European Union is in an exciting phase at the moment. Its achievements, accomplishments and challenges are particularly apparent when seen in view of European history as a whole. By the way, this is also a key topic of academic studies.

Brendan Simms, an Irish-British historian and professor of international relations, has compared the EU with the Europe of the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire was a confederation of states that controlled the region between 962 and 1806. These 800 years encompassed important technical inventions and the development of the European university. During this period, the basic European values of Enlightenment and Humanism were developed, but it was also a period marked by decades of conflicts and ongoing violent confrontations.

From the perspective of history, Simms warns that federal models, those based only on the consensus of single states, have historically proven to be unsatisfactory. The EU needs to concentrate its power, much as this has made Great Britain and the USA successful. Brendan Simms argues in favour of a strong European Parliament, for a joint security policy and a joint fiscal policy. I agree with Simms’ analysis, that the EU must speak to a greater extent with a single voice and must take further steps toward integration.

The foundations for this have been laid. The European Union functions well. 28 different countries, each of whom once acted separately and very often also against one another, now join together in making policies. 28 countries have delegated authority to European institutions in questions such as foreign trade and competition law, energy and transport policy, or research and development. Instead of insisting on cumbersome territorialism, they now follow joint guidelines and work together for the prosperity and safety of their 500 million citizens. There is a European Court of Justice and a shared EU environmental policy. The EU provides assistance in war and crisis regions and is a globally recognized mediator in conflicts.

Thanks to the EU, Germany and all of our European neighbours are in a much more favourable position than ever before.

For the first time in a long while, however, Germany does not represent a security problem for our neighbours. To the contrary, Germany is the member of EU that is always asked to help find a consensus, and this also often means that we must economically enable the solutions that have been found.

The EU has led Europe into a new era. After hundreds of years of armed conflicts, the EU is the first European institution that guarantees stability, peace and prosperity. The aim is now to develop the EU into the institution that provides an inner strength to counter the centrifugal force of diverging interests, differing economic strengths, and the challenges of global financial markets.

What this means can be easily seen by the topics that most concern the European institutions at present: First, the outlook for the euro, along with the questions relating to debt policy. Second, the outlook for the European Single Market, the Schengen area, and how to deal with the refugee question. And, third, the consequences for a European foreign policy.

The euro

It is known on the stock exchanges of Asia, the USA and Africa. It is at home on the stock markets of Europe: The Euro.

Most of the countries in Europe have been familiar with the Euro since 1999. Since January 2002, it has been used for cash transactions. 19 countries are now part of the euro zone.

Many economists have lamented that the establishment of a monetary union was wrong. Leftist and neoclassical economists explained in detail why this construct cannot work. The European Monetary Union did not meet the requirements of currency areas. In addition, the point in time was wrong, and the core structures were not optimal. Criticism of the euro became louder within the EU when it became known that some of the EU countries were deeply in debt and that the Euro had also been attacked in the form of global financial speculation.

But Europe and the euro are stronger. The euro is the common currency of Europe, and it makes its economic power visible in the form of monetary policy. It is the second most important currency in the world, a currency that expresses the economic freedom of the EU, the freedom of its citizens, and the values of the European Union. The euro also serves as an orientation for the countries that border on those that are part of the euro region. Calculations are done with the euro, and people rely on the euro. This is also related to the fact that the EU has succeeded in coping with the debt crises of the southern euro countries.

The decision for the euro is irreversible. And the basic structures are good. Ireland, Spain and Portugal have also benefited greatly from it. And particularly the new euro countries, such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are aware that joining the euro zone means greater growth through greater economic freedom.

The outlook for the EU is clear: We must take the next steps that are necessary. By and large, the rules we have in the EU are sufficient for a common economic space. The regulations for the banking systems, on the other hand, are not sufficient. The euro crisis was triggered not only by an unbalanced fiscal policy in certain European countries, but especially by a lack of bank regulation. This is why bank security must be increased. In the future, we need regulations for banks in the form of a European banking union. For this to occur, the member states must be prepared to relinquish competencies to Europe. But this will pay off: The European economic area is the geopolitical strength Europe has in the world.

Freedom of movement

Closely related to the Single Market is the right to freedom of movement throughout Europe.

This is one of the greatest achievements of the European Union. The 508 million citizens of the EU have the right to move freely and to be situated anywhere within the entire territory of the Union. The EU citizens can use this right to go on holiday, but they can also work, live or study in any other EU country. The Single Market prohibits discrimination. It is not permissible to pay someone less because he comes from a different country, and everyone is to be treated the same as nationals in regard to buying or selling. Occasionally there is a national regulation that is not quite in accordance with this. Then there is a dispute, and the EU Commission and the European Court of Justice monitor compliance with the stated principles. On the whole, however, this all works outstandingly well.

It also strengthens the self-confidence of citizens of the EU to know that they will be treated as an EU citizen, and not as a foreigner, when they are working, shopping, or looking for an apartment in a different EU country. The Europe-wide right to freedom of movement is the personal side of the Single Market. Freedom of movement is the Single Market on two feet.

This is a fantastic right, one whose significance cannot be valued too highly. Especially if one keeps in mind that countries here have torn down the border fences that kept them entangled in wars for centuries. The EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for this achievement. The explanatory statement: “The stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace. The work of the EU stands for ‘fraternity between nations.’”

Europe without interior borders and freedom of movement for its citizens – this is the core of the European Union. Just the same, up to the present the EU is not yet sufficiently prepared for the consequences of this freedom of movement. There are two reasons for this. One involves European domestic policy, the other European foreign policy.

Social benefits

Let us first look at the domestic side: As we have seen, freedom of movement means that participants in the European Single Market are to be treated everywhere as if they were a national. But life is more than just a Single Market. We are not just buyers or sellers of goods and services. And everything that goes beyond the Single Market is regulated non-uniformly in the EU, but rather, nationally. This includes family law, labour law, social law and medical care.

Social benefits, in particular, vary greatly in the different EU countries. As you can imagine, there are systems that are generous and others that offer only minimal care.

A vigorous discussion is being carried out on the political level as to when promises of solidarity that exist at a national level can also apply for all other EU citizens. Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, France and Great Britain are against a standardisation of social welfare. And in Germany, there is fear of immigration into a social welfare system that is generous by European standards. Courts have already had to deal with this question numerous times.

My opinion is that this must be based on the integration capability of the labour market. Changing from the social safety net of one EU country to that of a different one should not depend on crossing a border, but on one’s success in the labour market. The European Court of Justice has a similar opinion. It has confirmed that social benefits must only be permanently granted after one has been employed for a year in the labour market of a given country. This will make it possible for the European freedom of movement to continue to function well.

Common European Asylum System and refugees

The second challenge involving freedom of movement concerns how external borders are dealt with. After all, if the interior borders have been removed, what happens with the borders to the outside? The question regarding the exterior borders of the joint interior area has been of concern to the EU for several months for a very special reason: Hundreds of thousands of refugees have been coming to our countries. They are fleeing from war and terror in their homelands.

Up to now, the principle that has been applied is that the open interior area would be combined with strong controls of the exterior borders. Each European country is expected to control and protect the borders to non-European countries. This principle also involves the idea that every nation must take care of refugees and asylum seekers who cross its own borders and enter European territory, and that all other countries must be able to rely their doing this.

This is as if each country were to guard certain doors to the House of Europe, welcomed family members and friends, and permitted them to stay in all of the rooms in the house. Others would not be permitted to enter, unless they were in great distress. Unfortunately, this is not that simple. After all, certain countries have long EU external borders, while others do not have any at all. And Europe is surrounded by many war and crisis areas, in which the situation is becoming increasingly severe.

Many thousands are fleeing and are knocking at the doors of the House of Europe. 7,000 – 8,000 refugees are coming to Europe every day – via Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, the so-called Balkan route. They come from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea or Somalia, but also from countries in Central and Eastern Europe, such as those of the former Yugoslavia.

Europe can cope with this responsibility, if it is able to coordinate the necessary processes and share the burden. The first resolutions on the new common asylum policy have already been adopted. The EU has reached an agreement on the distribution of 40,000 asylum seekers, to begin with, and then an additional 120,000. There are already indications of the next steps to be taken: reciprocal recognition of asylum procedures, joint designation of countries that are considered to be safe third countries, and joint financing of registration centres.

The refugee question shows that Europe can only be strong if it acts as one. Because Europe cannot ignore these problems and must reach decisions that are viable. The European Commission expects three million more refugees by the end of 2016. It is not easy to reach a consensus, but it is remarkable that this discussion is taking place. The European Union is trying to act as a single unit. In these efforts, we can affirm the existence of a shared European policy. The refugee problem will force Europe to take additional steps toward integration.

The questions that concern Europe point to the EU again and again as the answer. It is almost as though we were meant to learn something from this. Every new challenge is linked to the same message: Solutions can only be found from the European perspective. There are no good answers that are not also European answers.

And this is why all of the relevant politicians in Germany are committed to the EU and the integration process. Of course, all those in responsible positions always also consider the question of what this means for us. But there is no solution that is based on the perspective of a single country. The European Union comprises 28 countries that have joined forces to solve the problems they share. Therefore there will always only be a single solution, the one that can be shared from the perspective of all members. A stronger relationship among its members will always enable the EU to command more respect from others.

Foreign policy

When European integration is mentioned, this means the European Union. Here we are also thinking of the countries with which we are working closely and to which the EU has opened up the prospect of membership. And the EU is – geographically and historically – part of a larger Europe. When one looks at Europe, this therefore also always includes its relationship with Russia.

We must call for acceptance of the EU by Russia. The Russian president may be sceptical about further integration on the part of the European Union, but he will have to accept it as a fact. The EU will also continue to act as a single unit in talks with Russia, and all 28 countries belong to this EU.

These talks must be characterised by mutual respect. But the EU must also ensure that Russia is able to develop well. The Russian Federation is a great power. We must accept this, even if we hold different views. There can be no military solutions in any conflict with Russia. And there can be no solutions in the relationship with Russia that involve only individual countries. The European Union would be endangered if the national states were to act against one another in regard to foreign policy. We have been able to avoid this in the past years. We also have to develop joint actions in the Ukraine crisis. Germany, along with France, assumed an important mediation role, as is so often the case in central questions of the European Union.

Discussion and recognition of shared values

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When you hear reports about Europe, they often have to do with crises.

There is no doubt that the situation for the European Union is a complicated one today. The debt crisis of some Southern European countries has been stabilised, but has not yet been overcome. There are populists and right-wing nationalist parties in the parliaments that are attempting to make their mark at the cost of the asylum seekers. We are faced by the immense challenge of distributing the refugees in a fair manner and integrating them. And Eurosceptic attitudes can also be found in all EU countries. But Europe is not in crisis.

We share common problems, because we have joined forces politically and economically. And we have problems we want to solve together. Europe is discussing, negotiating and arguing. With every consensus we are able to find, our shared institutional system becomes more stable. Germany is the great economic power in the middle of the continent. We have the greatest number of inhabitants and a very stable political system. Germany will broker compromises within the EU and will make them possible economically.

I am glad that it has been possible to keep Greece in the euro zone. Europe will also find joint solutions to the question of dealing with refugees. In the history of the EU, we have already been able to agree on how to deal with many such questions. And we will have to re-adjust these answers again and again. After all, these are not symptoms of a crisis. No one is intending to withdraw from the EU. Our discussions are always an expression of our joint efforts to find sensible solutions.

The European Union is an extremely important topic for every politician in Europe. In fact, the European Union is the realisation of European ideals. It represents our future.

I’m very much looking forward discussing those questions with you today.

Thank you.

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