In many respects, the world is in disarray. Authoritarian governments are gaining ground, seemingly stable states have collapsed and millions of people have been forced to flee their homes.
In the European Union’s immediate neighbourhood, the territorial integrity of Ukraine is being actively undermined by continued Russian aggression. As described by Chancellor Angela Merkel after this year’s G7 meeting, the era in which Europeans should fully rely on others is over. We must take greater responsibility for shaping our own future. For this reason, I believe that we need a strong and self-confident Europe, capable of defending its interests and managing its international responsibilities. A Europe which promotes freedom, security and prosperity and can if necessary, take necessary action to defend itself.
With public support for the European Union project at a high, this is a propitious time to promote a strong Europe. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to support the ideas espoused by the ‘Pulse of Europe’ movement. France and Germany are once again forging a closer relationship and reinvigorating the Franco-German friendship. Approval rates for the European Union and its policies are the highest in a long time. We must seize this opportunity to create a Europe which is fit for purpose not only for now but also for the future.
Europe is a peace project. The EU was founded in response to the atrocities of the two World Wars. Sixty years have since passed and in that time, no EU Member State has waged war or employed armed force against another. Europe has a unique success story which should be better promoted. As such, we must acknowledge that Europe has an important responsibility for promoting freedom and peace and can help to resolve conflicts in the shared neighbourhood. I therefore fully support the proposals for a European Defence Union and a European Defence Fund.
This is because the EU must be an effective guarantor of the internal and external security of its Member States. In our globalised world, no country can protect its interests alone without the support of others. The EU must effectively protect its external borders against illegal migration. It can do this by strengthening its border agency Frontex and by completing the European asylum system. Domestically, Germany should retain its internal border controls until the EU’s external borders are properly protected.
The EU-Turkey Agreement must serve as the model for similar agreements between Europe and other countries in the region and North Africa. The EU must do all it can to prevent thousands of refugees being smuggled by unscrupulous traffickers – many of whom tragically drown in the Mediterranean when making the journey to Europe. EU Member States also have a shared responsibility for taking in refugees who have been persecuted and are therefore are entitled to protection and safe asylum. All European countries must accept their responsibility for providing these basic rights.
Yet, European countries must also protect their citizens against radicalised foreign fighters and terrorists who are exploiting the plight of refugees and victims to enter Europe. Therefore, the EU must introduce a register of people entering and leaving the Schengen area to monitor how many third-country nationals are residing in the EU. This would help identify and thwart would-be terrorists and people smugglers. In addition the EU urgently needs a better system for the exchange of information among the security authorities of the Member States, as terrorism and organised crime knows no borders.
The Franco-German friendship, established by President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, has been the cornerstone of the EU since the Union’s inception. Our two countries have helped drive many important EU initiatives. At a time of major foreign policy challenges, the Franco-German friendship should be revived as our shared efforts could potentially provide fresh ideas for the rest of Europe. For example, Paris and Berlin are currently working towards a harmonised system of corporation tax in our two countries. If implemented this would be a clear symbol of our willingness to fight for markets and investments and could be emulated by others in Europe.
In challenging and uncertain times such as these, the European Union is necessary now more than ever. Under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel Germany is an anchor of stability for the European project. Together with our partners we should embrace and promote our European future. In a world of uncertainty, unity is our best choice.
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.