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A Soul for Europe

Speech given by Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder at the Berlin Conference for European Cultural Policy:

»Mr Federal President, Mr President of the European Commission, ladies and gentlemen! With his much-quoted call for a soul for Europe, the great European Jacques Delors coined what is now a proverbial maxim of European – and not only European – policy. Innumerable congresses and conferences have been held under this motto. That is scarcely surprising, for who would not want to join the quest for Europe’s soul?

 

We might well ask, however, since Delors issued his appeal several years ago, whether it is still as justified and topical today as it was then and whether we have not in fact made significant progress in this respect in recent years. Is there really still any doubt about what, at its heart, holds Europe together? To my mind many questions about Europe’s supposedly unknown soul are prompted by the tendency in some quarters to play down the tangible progress we have made on European integration. That kind of attitude prevents us from seeing that both politically and historically European unification has been a unique success story. Hence we have every reason to highlight and take due pride in the impressive achievements of the founding fathers and mothers of the European Union and of successive generations since.

 

This year ten European countries have become new members of the European Union. The dream cherished by earlier generations has at last been fulfilled, the decades of Europe’s partition are over for good. What took place on 1 May 2004 is usually talked about as the eastern enlargement of the European Union. That is by no means wrong. But properly speaking, the accession of these new members did not enlarge Europe at all. As nations and states that are part of Europe and have always seen themselves as Europeans, the new members have in fact returned to the European fold. Their accession was simply the next logical and necessary step in the unification of Europe.

 

That will not, by the way, be the end of this process. The next new members – Bulgaria and Romania – will join in 2007. Accession negotiations with Croatia are likely to start early next year. In the medium term a European perspective can and should be given also to the countries of the Balkans. Next month the European Council will decide on the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey. It will do so, I may say, on the basis of an extremely astute and far-sighted recommendation of the European Commission. On this issue I hope and indeed expect that as far as possible the Council will proceed closely in step with the Com­mission’s recommendations since that is of the utmost importance.

 

I know there are sceptics who see in this enlargement a danger that the European Union may become over-extended. In my view, however, such fears are groundless, firstly because every successive enlargement has gone in hand with a deepening of European integration and, secondly, because this unified Europe cannot be defined purely in geographical terms, let alone in terms of a particular world view. Who becomes a member of the European Union is decided primarily on the basis of political criteria. Also in future countries that respect European values in the matter of democracy, the rule of law and protection of human and minority rights cannot be barred from acceding to the Union.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, this year has seen not only a historic eastern enlargement but also the reaching of consensus on a Constitution for Europe. That is clearly an epoch-making develop­ment and one in which we Germans – and I say this with a certain pride – played a prominent role. It was in 1999 under the German Presidency that the work on a Charter of Fundamental Rights was initiated. The European Convention was another idea we canvassed strongly especially at Nice – with measurable success. In the Constitution Treaty both old and new member states reaffirm their determination to build a common future and to ensure the European Union is able to take the decisions that get things done – in other words, that it remains governable. With its current institutional set-up, that can no longer be assured. Europe’s old structures and mechanisms have become a straightjacket, its capacity to take and act on its decisions has now reached its clear limits.

 

The Constitution Treaty offers us a chance to inject new dynamism into the process of Euro­pean integration. It affirms anew the European Union’s historic ambition. For Europe sees itself as a social, economic, cultural and political community. It wants its unity to be viewed not as something purely superficial but as a unity that comes from within – and to act accordingly. Obviously the Constitution text is a compromise. But one which I believe in every respect meets the high standards we rightly expect. The Charter of Fundamental Rights is an integral and binding part of the Constitution. That is something many Europeans have fought long and hard for. The rights enshrined in this Charter are the foundation of our European democracy, the foundation on which Europe’s common future will be built.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, the European Union undergoes of course a constant process of change, it adapts to new realities as they arise. While it may show different faces, its nature remains the same. That comes over clearly in the Constitution Treaty, too. With its over 450 million citizens the European Union is now, as we know, the world’s biggest internal market as well as the biggest importer and exporter of goods and services. Nevertheless – and this I believe is crucial – this Union of ours is far more than a common market or a huge free-trade area.

 

The American writer Jeremy Rifkin has described the European Union as the first trans­national dream of this global epoch, an institution sui generis without any historical prece­dent. Although it is clearly not a state, it acts as if it were. Based on the principle of pooled sovereignty in certain clearly defined areas, this Union has introduced new forms of the democratic process in Europe. People throughout the continent view this Europe built by our common efforts, a Europe never before seen and still under construction, as a source of hope, hope that they can look forward to a life of freedom, peace, prosperity and of course also security.

 

European integration was a response by the nations of Europe to the wars that devastated our continent in the past century. To prevent war was the first goal of European unification. Without unification, it would never have been possible to overcome national egoisms or centuries-old, deeply-rooted enmities. Peace through integration – that is the prime vocation of the European Union and the key to its success. Looking ahead, it will be important to develop a Common European Security and Defence Policy, so that on issues of peace, multilateralism and a global order based on international law Europe can make its voice clearly heard. For we know that as a rule war is not the solution to conflicts and can never be anything but a last resort.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, we in Europe rightly see our social model as a unique product of European civilization. To date this particular way of organizing working life, managing the economy and practising solidarity with our fellow citizens exists only in Europe. It is a model which is inspired by and has its origins in the Enlightenment, a model that respects the human dignity and rights of every individual and ensures that as far as possible everyone not only shares in the general prosperity but also participates in decisions affecting all sections of society.

 

This social model should not be confused or equated with actual and particular social systems which may often vary considerably. Given such long-standing differences, it would be quite unrealistic indeed to expect any move towards a uniform system. Nevertheless, the phil­osophy that gave rise to this model is one to which the whole of Europe subscribes. Its main tenets: free access to education for everyone; equal opportunities for women and men in all areas of life; work relations should be regulated by law; arbitrary treatment and inhumane work conditions are prohibited. And most important: in all member states there is a general expectation that public policy should be geared to actively promoting equal opportunities for everyone; that it is the responsibility of government to ensure social balance and protection; that society has a duty to make social justice a reality tangible to all its members. In sickness, old age or unemployment, people in Europe want to know they will not be abandoned to their fate.

 

I believe this all has to do with our European perceptions of the individual and the way we relate to one another. They might be seen as some kind of European middle way between extreme individualism, in which the individual counts for everything, and extreme collect­ivism, in which the individual counts for little. Our distinctive approach in Europe is a symbiosis of individualism and solidarity. That is a model supremely well suited to the society of the future. I believe it is a model we must preserve and of course constantly develop and refine. For when economies are undergoing such rapid, radical and ongoing change, there is no way the systems built on that basis can remain unaffected.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, European integration is also our response to globalization and the growing internationalization of all aspects of economic life. It is the second goal of European unification. In today’s world of highly developed international trade, liberalized financial markets and an increasingly international division of labour, there is no longer any such thing as national autonomy, let alone national autarchy.

 

That is precisely why we need European cooperation. The major problems of our time – unemployment, transfrontier crime, migration, terrorism – can only be successfully tackled through cross-border cooperation. It has long been clear to all of us that no country can guarantee single-handedly the security of its citizens. More than in the past, that requires international cooperation, which means first and foremost: a strong Europe and, most importantly, a Europe that is able to act effectively, a Europe built on the firm belief that more can be achieved if we act together than if we act alone. Seen in this light, the true exercise of sovereignty in today’s world – and of responsibility, too, of course – requires a readiness to cede certain aspects of national sovereignty to the European institutions, for that is clearly the only way to realize goals that no country, however large, can accomplish on its own.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, let there be no misunderstanding: the case I am making for more integration and enhanced cooperation has nothing to do with the construction of a European super state. Europe is and will remain a unique entity committed to sound federal principles and which strictly respects the principle of subsidiarity. For that, too, is part of what Europe is all about. People forge their cultural identities from a wide variety of national and regional traditions, from historical experience, from the wealth of intellectual currents and ideas inspired by the world of ancient Greece and Rome, by the Reformation and the Enlightenment as well as by exchanges with the Islamic-Arab world. In the Europe of the future I believe there will still be nation states and regions with their own rights and responsibilities, and people will continue to look to them for a sense of identity and belonging.

 

This is all summed up in the European Constitution under what I feel is the very apt motto “unity in diversity”. Tolerance towards those who have a different outlook, a different faith or creed, an acceptance of diversity and difference: that is the cultural foundation of European integration. Europe is not just a commitment to but the daily practice of pluralism. At this particular juncture, at a time of heated and sometimes turbulent debate, that, I believe, is extremely important to emphasize. We must not allow a climate to develop in which anything that is different is immediately regarded as threatening. It was a tremendous advance for us in Europe when we learnt to recognize those we perceive as different as our equals, a principle we are now working to see respected also in the wider world.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, in the nineteenth century people still saw themselves primarily as Bavarians or from the Palatinate, as Hanoverians, Lombards or Neapolitans rather than as Germans or Italians. In the course of time regional and national affiliations created what people came to feel as a double identity. Today I have the impression at least that a similar process is under way. We are certainly building Europe, but as yet we have no Europeans. That at any rate is what the sceptics argue. My advice is to be patient and take a more relaxed view of the matter. As time goes by, I am convinced people will increasingly find that their identity has a European dimension. This is an organic process and cannot be simply dictated. Only of their own free will can people develop a real bond with the member state of which they are citizens, and that same goes for a nascent European identity. It is my firm belief that the seeds from which this will grow – the sense of a shared European bond – have long taken root and are starting to thrive.

 

That is something quite different from an emotional bond with some remote institution. In the eyes of most people, Europe is far away, much further than Brussels or Strasbourg. It is in a different and very concrete way that Europe is growing together, in the daily reality of people’s lives. It is happening in a very natural and unspectacular fashion as people travel about, use the single currency, do their shopping and even eat their meals. Europe is evolving as a community of shared values. It is not history, language or religion that makes Europe different and unique but the values, political principles and cultural attitudes for which Europe stands: a commitment to peace, respect for the individual, tolerance of cultural diversity yet also respect for universal human rights, a firm belief in the rule of law and of course respon­sibility for future generations.

 

That is also the basis on which we will be discussing accession negotiations with Turkey. Here we Europeans have a historic opportunity to build a bridge to the Islamic world. For it is not cultural demarcation based on religious criteria but pluralism and diversity that is our common goal. A democratic Turkey committed to European values would be clear proof that the Islamic faith and an enlightened, modern society are entirely compatible. That to my mind anyway would be a fantastic prospect, for Turkey could be a role model for other Muslim countries in Europe’s neighbourhood. That is why Turkey’s accession rightly raises hopes that the peace and security for which Europe stands will carry that same message also to the wider world beyond Europe’s borders.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, with the Constitution Treaty the national governments have shouldered their responsibility for the Europe of the 21st century. This Constitution is an invitation to all Europe’s citizens, to civil society throughout Europe. For it will be up to Europe’s citizens and civil society, after all, to breathe life into this Constitution. To that endeavour I believe con­ferences and events such as this will make an invaluable contribution.«

 

Speech given by Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on 26 November 2004 at the Berlin Conference for European Cultural Policy; Translation

 

 

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