I am concerned that Germany’s role in the European process is currently being regarded with scepticism and distrust in some countries. Yes, it is true that Germany has benefited greatly from the euro. It has made Germany strong. And Germany’s rise to become the largest economic power in the heart of the continent after reunification has aroused the fears of many people. I am shocked at how quickly perceptions became distorted, as if today’s Germany was continuing in the tradition of German great power politics, or even German crimes. It is not only populist parties which are even portraying the German Chancellor as the representative of a state which, just like in former times, supposedly wants to enforce a German Europe and oppress other peoples.
I want to assure all citizens of neighbouring countries that I cannot imagine any of Germany’s policymakers seeking to impose a German diktat. Until now, our society has proved to be rational and mature. In Germany – and I am grateful for this – no populist, nationalist party has won enough support among the population to gain any seats in the German Bundestag. It is my heartfelt conviction that in Germany more Europe does not mean a German Europe. For us, more Europe means a European Germany!
We do not want to intimidate others, nor force our ideas on them. However, we stand by our experience and would like to pass it on to others. Less than ten years ago, the world and indeed our own citizens regarded Germany as the sick man of Europe. Despite the severe domestic conflicts they provoked, the measures which led us out of the economic crisis then have been successful. At the same time, we know that there are different economic strategies and that there is more than one way to achieve our goal.
If any German politician has shown too little empathy for the situation of others or if rationality has sometimes come across as cold-heartedness or a know-it-all attitude, it was certainly the exception and not the rule. Perhaps it was due to the necessary discussion on the right way forward. However, if critical comments have been disdainful or even contemptuous in tone then that is not only morally reprehensible but also politically counterproductive. It makes the self-critical discourse which is already taking form in all crisis countries, at least among a minority of people, more difficult or even impossible. We in Germany should be aware that those who have confidence in their own arguments have no need to provoke or even humiliate their partners.
It is worth the effort for all 27 partners in our community to recall once more the pledges made when economic and monetary union was launched. This Union is based on the idea that rules are abided by and any breaches penalized. This Union is characterized by give and take. It should never be a one-way street for anyone. It is based on the principles of reciprocity, equal rights and equal obligations. More Europe must mean more reliability. Reliability and solidarity stand or fall with each other.
I firmly believe that if everyone in Europe remains committed to this principle then solidarity within Europe can even grow and, in the long term, reduce the great inequalities on our continent, thus helping to improve conditions where they need improving, where people see no future in their own countries but need to have one.