"Europe must turn its attention to the rest of the world"

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Speech by the Federal Chancellor in Strasbourg "Europe must turn its attention to the rest of the world"

In his speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed his opinion that Europe bears a global responsibility: "What we need," he said, "is a geopolitical, expanded, reformed European Union and, not least, a European Union that is open to the future."

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Federal Chancellor Scholz addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

"Europe is our future! And the future of Europe is in our hands," Federal Chancellor Scholz told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Photo: Federal Government/Kugler

This Tuesday in Strasbourg, the Federal Chancellor reiterated the proposal put forward 73 years ago by the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman that the production of coal and steel should be collectivised to prevent the outbreak of war in Europe ever again. These commodities, coal, and steel had been used for decades in the manufacture of weapons. "What the founding fathers and mothers of Europe dreamed of," the Federal Chancellor said, "was to put an end to this reciprocal murder once and for all. And that dream has come true for us."

Yet, he added, this dream does not reflect the reality of all European countries: "Day after day, Ukrainians are making huge sacrifices to defend their freedom and democracy, their sovereignty and independence against a brutal Russian invading army." Europe, he added, was growing together and its mission goes far beyond domestic peacekeeping. "Europe bears a global responsibility," said Scholz.

The 21st century world will be multipolar

Europe is home to just five percent of the world's population. All over the world, new economic, demographic, and political heavyweights are emerging in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, which is why the Federal Chancellor is convinced that: "The 21st century world will be multipolar, which it has been for many years."

The EU, he said, would have to change if it is to secure a favourable position for Europe in tomorrow's world: "shoulder to shoulder with others on a level playing field. What we need," he said, "is a geopolitical, expanded, reformed European Union and, not least, a European Union that is open to the future."

"The European Union has rarely been more united"

Scholz pointed out that to be heard, Europe would have to speak with a single voice. The brutal offensive against Ukraine, he said, had shown the indispensability of this realisation. "Consequently," Scholz continued, "the European Union has seldom been more united than now following this disgraceful breach of the European and international peace order." He added that this experience could serve as the basis for a geopolitical Europe, whereby he referred to the proposals he had put forward during his visit to Charles University in Prague.

  • This would have to include greater integration of our defence efforts as well as the development of an integrated European arms industry, he stated.
  • To achieve this, we should already be setting out the roadmap for the reconstruction of Ukraine, which would require long-term political and financial capital, he continued. At the same time, he said, this would present a huge opportunity, "not only for Ukraine, but also for the rest of Europe, because the clearest rejection of Putin's imperial, revisionist policies on our continent, which contravene international law, is a prosperous, democratic, European Ukraine."
  • Moreover, he continued, Europe needed to hold its own in the face of global competition from other major powers whilst still viewing the United States as Europe's most important ally. Investing more in our security and defence would significantly improve our alliance, he said. With respect to China, the Federal Chancellor expressed his agreement with Ursula von der Leyen's proposed approach of a de-risking rather than a decoupling strategy.

And, he said, we take the concerns and legitimate interests of the countries of the Global South,  our new partners, seriously, and that it was more than reasonable to swiftly enter into new and fair free trade agreements, with partners such as Mercosur, Mexico, India, Indonesia, Australia, Kenya, and many other countries in the longer term. Years of fruitless negotiations would lead to others dictating the rules in the future, resulting in lower environmental and social standards, Scholz pointed out. "Europe must turn its attention to the rest of the world," the Federal Chancellor insisted.

An expanded, reformed EU

Referring to the fact that the citizens of the Western Balkan states, Ukraine, Moldova and, in the longer term, Georgia had been told that they belonged to us, the Federal Chancellor stated that "we have taken the decision to expand the European Union," which, he said, had nothing to do with altruism, but with "our credibility and economic rationality." Another objective was to "secure a permanent peace in Europe in the wake of the historical turning point marked by the Russian offensive," Scholz added.

Qualified majority in foreign and taxation policy

Any sincere enlargement policy, he said, would also include the implementation of the promise made to our closest neighbours, which was another yardstick by which a geopolitical Europe would be judged. Of course, he continued, there would still have to be progress, but it would have to be rewarded to prevent the EU from losing its influence and appeal.

However, this would also require us to be sincere: "An enlarged EU will have to be a reformed EU." The Federal Chancellor expressly welcomed the fact that the European Parliament was working on institutional reform proposals and advocated an increase in qualified majority decisions by the Council on matters concerning foreign policy and taxes to which end, he said, he would continue his efforts to convince people to make the necessary reforms. Maximum democratic legitimacy is not predicated on unanimity, he said, not on 100 percent support for all decisions, but instead, "we democrats are characterised by our efforts and struggles to achieve majorities and form alliances".

Respect for democratic principles and the rule of law

Going forward, he said, it would be essential to insist on respect for democratic principles and the rule of law within the EU. He proposed using the upcoming discussions on EU reforms to grant the European Commission greater powers to initiate infringement proceedings "whenever our fundamental values are violated, which include freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights".

A forward-looking EU

The third main point that the Federal Chancellor highlighted was that: "We Europeans have to embrace the future with no ifs or buts," which, he said, would first mean resolving legacy issues, such as how to deal with the current influx of refugees. The Federal Chancellor urgently called for the Common European Asylum System reform to be finalised prior to the European Union elections whereby he referred to the fact that all parties were in agreement on the goal of "better managing and regulating irregular migration, but without betraying our values". Regulating immigration opportunities in conjunction with the requirement that countries of origin and transit would agree to repatriate those who have no right to remain, he said, would benefit all sides in view of the urgent need for labour in many parts of Europe. Combined with the kinds of effective border controls already agreed at the European Council in February, this would increase the acceptance of prudent, managed, controlled immigration and deprive those who base their politics on fear and resentment of their core arguments. 

Towards a climate-neutral future

However, he added, "probably the greatest challenge we face is to move our countries, our economies, and our societies towards a climate-neutral future". It would be important, he said, for our citizens to experience the benefits of this in their everyday lives through such things as cheaper electricity from renewable energy sources or the creation of new, sustainable jobs in the energy or microchip sectors for example.

"The major project for the future, behind which we Europeans ought to be rallying now, is to be ambitious in shaping this change whilst at the same time leaving no one behind," said Scholz.

The Federal Chancellor concluded by urging people not to be intimidated by Putin's show of power. Ukrainians, he said, had paid for "this madness of their powerful neighbour" with their lives and he called for "unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it is needed", because, as he pointed out, none of us wants to return to an era in which Europe was subject to the law of the jungle and smaller countries were obliged to submit to larger ones; when freedom was a privilege of the few rather than a fundamental right of the majority.

The Federal Chancellor was adamant that "when united in its diversity, our European Union is the best insurance that this history will not be repeated". The European Union, he said, was the future – "our future".  

The European Parliament invites heads of state and government to present their ideas on Europe as part of its "This is Europe" discussion series. The most recent speech was presented by Xavier Bettel, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, on 19 April 2023.