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The Future of Europe and the Transatlantic Partnership

Speech by Gerhard Schröder in the German Historical Institute Washington:

»I would like to thank you for the invitation to Washington.  The last time I was in this city on an official visit was in the year 2005. I was chancellor at that time, George W. Bush was the president of the United States.  I still remember our meeting well. It was about the upcoming G-8 summit meeting in Gleneagles. The topics were reform of the United Nations and the situation in Iraq.  Another topic was my proposals for the regulation of international financial markets. Unfortunately, no one in the G-8 saw the necessity of such regulation at that time, however.  On all three of these issues, President Bush and I had different views. However, that is all in the past. We must look forward in relations between Europe and German, on the one side, and, on the other, the United States.  That holds for the future of a stable Iraq and the entire region of the Middle East as well as for other political issues, first of all the reform of international financial markets.

The past twenty years were marked by major historic upheavals. The point of departure for these upheavals was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.  In the past two decades, we have seen the rise of new powers, the rise of China and India in Asia.  China has become a new global pole in economics and politics. The developed industrial nations, too, are feeling their political and financial dependence on China.  With the end of the American-Soviet bipolarity, our world has not become a safer place. Many hopes that had arisen with the end of the cold war and the overcoming of the bipolar world order have – unfortunately – not come true.  New challenges have arisen:  international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the growing number of failing states.  A single state – even a superpower – is not in the position to meet all of these challenges on its own. Multilateral solutions are the only response.

The policies of President Obama have brought about a paradigm change in American foreign policy, a turn toward multilateral cooperation.  I welcome this change very much, because I am convinced that multilateralism is the right approach toward solving global problems.

The historic upheavals of the last two decades have also changed the character of transatlantic relations.  The United States has changed, but so, too, have the European Union and Germany.  With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany attained full sovereignty as a state, with all the rights, but also all the responsibilities that come with it.  With the accession of the states of Eastern Europe, the European Union overcame the political division of the continent.  And not least as a result, Europe has become more self-confident. A junior partner has become a full partner. That has not always been understood in the U.S.  This development is perhaps a reason for the difficulties in transatlantic relations.  For the sake of an honest analysis, let me make an observation: the transatlantic partnership is not in the best of shape.  We share common values and often common interests as well. But too rarely do we find common answers to international problems. And too rarely do we act together.

Even if the global financial and economic crisis had its origins in the United States and even if the American economy in particular was affected by it:  I am convinced that the United States is and will remain a superpower.  It will rebound politically and economically. The crisis in the economy and in the government’s finances will be overcome – and, indeed, more quickly than many observers in Europe believe.  That will be a result not only of American policies, but also and above all of the dynamism and flexibility of American society.

I became acquainted with that dynamism during my first visit to the United States.  In 1981, I had the opportunity as a junior Bundestag representative to travel across the country as part of the U.S. government’s “Young Political Leaders” program.  What struck me in particular at that time? Above all, the American sense of freedom.  Some of you know that I grew up in extremely modest circumstances and worked my way up. You hear that in my English.  The chance to get ahead, regardless whether rich or poor – that is what made an impression on me in the United States back then.  I do not want to argue, that Germany should take on the American social model. We set too much value on our social safety-net for that.  But one thing that America undoubtedly has over us Germans is the abundance of positive attitudes, energies and mindsets.  For example, trust, self-confidence and the willingness to take a risk.  For this reason, American will rebound again. My prognosis for the other side of the Atlantic is not so positive.  Political weakness, above all the disunity of the European Union, makes it difficult for the United States to take advantage of the transatlantic partnership’s potential.  We Europeans are responsible for this weakness. And we have the responsibility to remedy it.

Germany’s history and geography make it self-evident, that European politics and European perspectives are particularly important for Germany.  And that, I am firmly convinced, is in the interest of the German-American partnership.  European integration and the expansion of the European Union are positive developments not only for our continent, but also for a free and democratic world.  For one, the coming together of formerly hostile states can serve as a model for other regions of the world. And the European Union has enormous economic and political potential:  A thirty-percent share of the world economy. The largest internal market in the world with some five hundred million consumers.  And it accounts for one-fifth of the world’s military spending. I mention that for the benefit of those, who frequently demand, that we should spend more.  The European Union has the potential to become a third pole in international politics alongside the United States and Asia, and thereby to become a privileged partner to the U.S., which shares the same values.  But we Europeans are far from realizing that potential.

Two tasks lie before us. First: the European Union has to become more capable of taking action.  And, indeed, not only in foreign and security policy, but also in regard to its member states. That means speaking with a single voice. And also jointly implementing decisions.  During my term in office, NATO and the European Union expanded with the accession of the Eastern European states. That was a historic step. The European Union grew from 15 to 27 states.  At that time it was clear above all to Germany and France, the European Union’s core states, that a reform of the European Union had to master this expansion.  We therefore convened a meeting in 2001 to prepare a European constitution. Unfortunately, it did not become a reality.  But essential points were nonetheless implemented. The European Parliament was strengthened.  The new offices of President of the European Council and EU Foreign Minister were created.  But it is already evident that these structures are still a long way from perfect. They must be improved to make the European Union more democratic and more capable of taking action and implementing its policies.

Second, the European Union must continue to expand its territory and to deepen its partnership with its neighbors.  Membership negotiations are underway with Turkey. I pressed the European Union to start these negotiations in 2004.  Because I am convinced that Turkey’s entry into the EU will be a gain for Europe economically and, above all, in terms of security policy.  Over the decades, Turkey has been an important partner for Germany and Europe. Turkey is a reliable NATO ally and shares our determination to fight terrorism in all its forms.  Turkey, in an important position on the interface between Europe and Asia, can also enhance Europe’s political standing in the world.  But the vital point in considering the increased security resulting from accession is, that democratic Turkey, committed to European values, is a clear proof, that there is no contradiction between Islamic faith and a modern society.  Turkey is a model for other Muslim countries in our European neighbourhood.  Likewise, the countries of the Western Balkans must join the European Union. That is the only way to achieve lasting peace in the Balkans.  We still remember the resolutions for military intervention in Kosovo in 1999. That was a historic step, above all for us Germans. It was the first combat mission undertaken by German soldiers since World War II.  At the present time, it is clear that a strong European Union – determined and able to play an active role – is as much in the interests of the United States as a strong America is in Europe’s interest.

What are the task that, in my view, the transatlantic partnership should tackle? For one, we need to bring stability to the Near- and Middle East.  The death of Bin Laden does not mark the end of the threat, we face from terrorism. But it is a step forward.  Bin Laden will no longer be able to continue his campaign of global terror.  Above all we should think of the victims of the terrorism, he has been responsible for: thousands of innocent people – people of every race and religion.  And we must stand together to continue the fight against terrorism.

In Afghanistan, we have a shared responsibility that goes back to my term as chancellor.  After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, I promised the United States “Germany’s unlimited solidarity”. I stand by that to this day.  At that time, it called a parliamentary vote of confidence over my decision to send 3,900 German soldiers to Afghanistan, because not a few in German were opposed to such a mission.  And I won the vote of confidence in the German Bundestag by just three votes.  The mission in Afghanistan has brought success. Afghanistan is no longer a center for international terrorists. But the country has not yet been pacified. We now have to find an exit strategy.  Germany must hold to its responsibilities. We intervened together with the United States, and we must also end this mission together. The NATO resolutions behind this mission are right.

In light of current events in North Africa and the Arab states, Germany, the European Union, and the U.S. must work together more closely than ever before.  I will not criticize the German government from here in Washington.  I know from my own experience as chancellor the unsuitable effect, that such criticism has.  Let me just say, that I would like to see my country take a position, that would allow it a stronger influence on goals and strategies within Europe and NATO.

We could also cooperate more closely in connection with another region, namely Russia.  I am well aware that the special relationship between Germany and Russia is not always viewed positively here in Washington.  It is a traditionally close relationship. It was deepened by my predecessors. And my successor, too, is continuing that policy.  And there is a deeper reason for this relationship, that lies in German-Russian history.  In the last century, these two countries waged two murderous wars on each other. About 27 million people lost their lives in the former Soviet Union during World War II.  The world war, that Germany began, brought death, suffering and expulsion back to Germany itself. And as result of the war, the eastern portion of my country experienced forty years of communist oppression.  Nearly every family in Germany and Russia suffered a loss during that war. My father, whom I never knew, fell in that senseless war.  It has been burned into Germany’s collective memory, that peace and stability on our continent depend on good relations between Russia and Germany.  And that holds for the European Union as a whole.

We have a fundamental interest in having Russia as a stable and reliable partner on the European Union’s eastern border.  That was not the case in the 1990s. In those days, Russia was internally divided, economically a wreck and politically instable. Russia, a nuclear power, was on the verge of becoming a failed state.  For that reason, we Europeans were glad that then President Putin has led Russia back to a path of stability in the years since 1999.  But Russia is still a country searching for an international role. It lost its status as a superpower, but still wants to be treated like one.  The question, we Europeans are asking, is: Which way is Russia drifting – toward Europe or toward Asia?  We can already see the first structures for political, economic and also military cooperation in the Eurasian region. That is by no means a sign, that Russia has already decided on a direction.  However, it is not in the interest of either Europe or the United States, that Russia is orienting itself toward Asia so strongly.  Rather, it is in our interest to bind Russia as closely as possible to the European structures. And that is also in the interests of the United States:

–     To secure peace and stability.

–     To politically integrate Russia better.

–     To be able to influence the country’s internal development.

The strategy of containing and encircling Russia has failed. Europe is grateful to President Obama for pushing the “reset button” in Russian-American relations.  The Russian American treaty on further reductions of strategic nuclear weapons – the New START agreement – was tremendously important.  The cooperation between NATO and Russia on missile defense is also a step forward in security policy.  More than ever, the Europeans must build bridges of cooperation in the direction of Russia. I am not the only person at present, who would like to see a strategic approach in European and German policy toward Russia.

Moreover, we need that strategic approach, because there are more than enough issues on which the Americans, the Europeans, and the Russians have shared interests:  On Iran, for example, in stabilizing Afghanistan, and in bringing peace to the troubled region of the Caucasus.  For these reasons I proposed binding Russia more closely to Europe with international law. Not by offering EU membership, but rather by association with the EU.  That could include a free trade zone, shared infrastructure, political dialog, and visa-free travel. We would thereby tie Russia to us more tightly and profit from its enormous resources.  By this we will achieve a degree of modernization in Russia, that will approximate our value and legal systems, plus stability for our continent.  One of our fundamental interests is, that Russia develops and strengthens the rule of law, human rights and its civil society.  That Russia finds its place in the global economy and in the international community. This reduces the risk of tension and conflict.

Our transatlantic relations are shaped by not only politics, but also – and more strongly – by the civil society contact, by economic and cultural ties, and, above all, by the encounters between individuals.  It is precisely those contacts, I am convinced, that justify talk of “German-American friendship”.  It is not primarily a question of interests, but rather of human relationships, of emotions. That is why, for instance, transatlantic youth and student exchange programs are of such tremendous importance.  Historical research, too, is of great political importance. It not only contributes to historical and political education, but also to the further development and deepening of relations between nations.  In this respect, the German Historical Institute is fulfilling an important task.  This institute has done outstanding service on behalf of the transatlantic partnership. I wish the German Historical Institute much success in the future.«

 

Speech  by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Gerd Bucerius Lecture,  „Opportunities and Challenges in the 21st Century: The Future of Europe and the Transatlantic Partnership“,  10th May 2011, Washington (German Historical Institute)

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