Mijnheer de Gouverneur, President Van Rompuy, former colleagues, colleagues now, Dames en Heren,
I am quite moved to be back here in Maastricht for the 25th anniversary of what we are looking at now as a defining moment of modern European history. But I have to confess this day is always a bittersweet moment for me. On the one hand, it is with professional and personal pride that I think back to 9 December 1991, to what it meant at the time and to what it has helped us to achieve in the past 25 years. But on the other hand every year on the 9 December I turn one year older.
25 birthdays ago I was Finance Minister of my country in a year in which Luxembourg held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Jacques Poos was chairing the political part of what was supposed to become the Maastricht Treaty, and I was in charge of the Intergovernmental Conference leading to the single currency. As one of the only survivors of Maastricht – there is in fact only me and the euro left – I have been asked many times in the run up to this anniversary what my recollections are of that time. First and foremost, I remember how hard-fought and momentous the negotiations on the Economic and Monetary Union were in the run up to the summit – something I have since learnt is emblematic of pretty much all negotiations in the European Union.
There were divisions on the European Central Bank's independence – where it should sit. It should have been located in Luxembourg, because according to the Treaties all the financial institutions have to be located in Luxembourg; but history is history and Treaties are Treaties. And so the Bank has its seat in Frankfurt. We were discussing what the new currency should be called, because at that period it was called "ECU". I think it was in Madrid in 1995 that we decided to call it the "euro". We were discussing rules to be added to the Treaty that has the name: Stability and Growth Pact. Not stability enough, not growth enough. It was an idea of Jacques Chirac in Dublin in December 1996 because he suddenly said: "Let us call this thing not only Stability Pact; that is not talking to people. Let's call it ''Stability and Growth Pact". But OK – French idea.
So we were discussing all these things. I also remember with fondness the great personalities of that time. I think of my friends and teachers, models such as Helmut Kohl, who always gave the best advice like on the eve of the summit here, when he told us: "One does not baptise a baby before it is born". But it was born the night after. I think of the best European Commission President ever – present company is of course excluded – Jacques Delors who had the vision and spirit to think big and to inspire others. But more than anything I remember the feeling around the table – that we were opening a new chapter in our joint history. A chapter that would shape our role in the new world around us.
Standing before this new Treaty I sensed that this might be the most important signature I ever made. I was signing this Treaty with friends here: my friend Jacques, Mark, others, Jorge, Francis – who had a short appearance – a signing appearance – but you have your place in history because you were here at that very moment. And we really had the impression that we were making history, that maybe for the first and the last time – not for the first, but maybe for the last time – those sitting around the table had the feeling that they were not victims of history, but that they were actors of history. And so until today I am proud for having been among those to have signed this Treaty. And I am proud for having paved the way during the Luxembourgish Presidency, during the Intergovernmental Conference on the EMU – for the Maastricht Treaty. This was not an easy thing to do. You have to remember – as Jorge was explaining, I remember the informal ECOFIN in Oporto – yes, the spirit of Oporto. And you were explaining to colleagues that you were born in the north of Portugal, and that is meaningful. Wim Kok was the first to take the floor after you, and was saying: "I have to apologise, I am born in the South of the Netherlands. That is not as meaningful as Oporto". The spirit of Oporto, as you called it at that time. You have to remember that we had to bridge huge differences between mainly France and Germany. The French could not imagine that the Central Bank could be independent; and the Germans could not imagine that the Central Bank would not be independent. And the one who was the Chief Negotiator of France was Jean-Claude Trichet, the then Director of Treasury. He could not imagine that the Central Bank could be independent. He learnt the lesson years later: when he was appointed President of the European Central Bank, he was fiercely independent. For a Frenchman, quite a surprise, a miracle in fact.
I am switching into German because I think that Europeans have to be used to the fact that English is not the only language used in Europe. Es kommt eigentlich bei Geburtstagsfeiern darauf an, dass man zurückblickt, um den zurückgelegten Weg zu bestaunen, und dass man nach vorne schaut – beides ist notwendig an Geburtstagen. Ich weiß, wovon ich heute rede, wenn es ums Zurückschauen geht und dass es auch darum geht, einen Blick nach vorne zu werfen. Wobei in meinem hohen Alter – ich erreiche langsam aber sicher die Reife, die man braucht, um Präsident der Europäischen Kommission zu sein –ist der Blick nach vorne etwas kürzer als der Blick zurück.
Was mich sehr stört an der aktuellen Debatte, ist, dass wir eigentlich ungenügend stolz auf das Erreichte sind. Wenn ich reise – nach Afrika, Asien oder sonst wohin –, dann ist man gerne Europäer, weil man mit offenem Herzen und sehr oft mit großen Augen empfangen wird. Weil in anderen Teilen der Welt gilt die Europäische Union als eine außergewöhnliche, nicht nur kontinentale, sondern auch interkontinentale Leistung. Mark [Eyskens] hat gesagt, seit Julius Cäsar hat es nie eine so lange Friedensperiode gegeben wie jetzt. Ja, Julius Cäsar weiß das, aber wir wissen das wahrscheinlich nicht. Und wir sind nicht stolz darauf, dass wir auf diesem so oft gespaltenen, gefolterten, im Blut untergangenen Kontinent es geschafft haben, den Frieden zu einem Dauergast auf dem europäischen Kontinent zu machen. Und wir genießen das nicht, weil wir finden das selbstverständlich – evident –, mit keinen besonderen Leistungen verbunden. Dabei ist es eine besondere Leistung, vor allem der Kriegsgeneration gewesen, der Generation meiner Eltern, dass die Menschen, die von den Frontabschnitten, aus den Konzentrationslagern in ihre zerstörten Dörfer und Städte zurückkehrten, aus diesem ewigen Nachkriegsgebet 'Nie wieder Krieg' ein politisches Programm entwickelt haben, das bis heute seine Wirkung auf unserem Kontinent zeigt.
Die Geschichte hat nicht mit uns begonnen, die Geschichte hat mit denen begonnen, die Opfer der Geschichte geworden waren, und die die richtigen Lehren aus dem Nicht-Europa, das sie an Leib und Seele erlebt hatten, gezogen haben. Und deshalb sollte man eigentlich der Kriegsgeneration gegenüber etwas dankbarer sein als wir das sind. Nicht wir haben dieses große Projekt in die Welt gesetzt, das waren unsere Eltern und daran sollte man manchmal erinnern dürfen.
Nun kommt es wesentlich darauf an, andere Erfolge zu begutachten, die wir erreicht haben. So einfach war das nicht, den Europäischen Binnenmarkt in die Wege zu leiten. Das ist das große und bleibende Verdienst von Jacques Delors, dies getan zu haben und daran haben viele gearbeitet – auch Frits Bolkestein, den ich hier herzlich begrüßen darf, hat an der Entwicklung des Europäischen Binnenmarktes großen Anteil gehabt. Dass wir der größte Binnenmarkt der Welt geworden sind, stand nicht in den Geschichtsbüchern bevor Geschichte geschrieben wurde, aber wir haben es geschafft. Und dass wir die Europäische Wirtschafts- und Währungsunion auf die Umlaufbahn haben bringen können, bleibt bis heute ein Quasi-Wunder.
What we have to have in mind is that the Economic and Monetary Union was not something obvious, evident to realise. I will always remember having been in Washington, at the White House, in August 1995 as a then young Prime Minister with Bill Clinton. And he was saying: "Explain to me European things". And I started to sing my economic and monetary opera, and he said: "No, I am not interested in that, because this will never happen. Explain me when Turkey will become member of the European Union". I had an appointment at the Treasury. Rubin was the then Finance Minister. And he said: "What about Europe?". I was restarting my opera about the Economic and Monetary Union. And he said: "Let us talk about the Internal Market, because this will never happen". One year later, I was back in Washington – IMF meetings and things of that kind – and then I received a phone call from the Secretary of the Treasury, from Rubin. And he said: "We were starting a debate last year on the Economic and Monetary Union. Could you come back tonight to explain me where you are?". And suddenly I had the impression to be a very important person. And I said: "No, I do not have time tonight". And then he invited me for breakfast on a Sunday morning. And I said to myself: "If the American Finance Minister is inviting the Luxemburgish Finance Minister for breakfast on a Sunday morning, then they believe it". But at that very time many Dutch professors did not believe it; but it happened. And it was the right thing to do. And we have to destroy a certain number of legends, of stories – wrong stories. The Germans did not give up the Deutsche Mark because they wanted to have the agreement of all the others concerning the German reunification. That is historically wrong. It was the European Council in Hannover in 1988 – Jacques Poos was there – where the decision was taken to launch the Economic and Monetary Union or rather to prepare the launch of the Economic and Monetary Union. Delors was asked to chair a group of central bankers, and they prepared the way to the Summit of Rome – 1990, the Presidency of Guido Carli, as Jorge does remember – where everything was done which happened after. We had some difficulties with the Dutch government, on the political dimension of the Treaty and on the monetary dimension of the Treaty. We do remember this – Jacques Poos and myself. I think that the Dutch public does not remember this; reason why I have to tell them the story. We had prepared a Treaty on the political Union. The Dutch government tried to change this Treaty in its substance; it was rejected by the other Foreign Ministers.
My good friend Wim Kok was in fact happy that I invented in May 1991 the opt-out for the British, because we had – you were there – to have these things be dealt with in a way that would not harm later on the whole political and monetary process of the Maastricht Treaty. I proposed this in May 1991. Norman Lamont, who was the then Chancellor in Britain, was very happy about that, but then after the meeting he came to me and said: ''Jean-Claude, that is fine, that is excellent, that is genius, but do not do it now; we have to do it in December in Maastricht''. I went to see Jacques Delors and said: ''Do not tell the press that we have an agreement as far as the British opt-out is concerned''. Of course Jacques Delors being Jacques Delors, started the press conference by saying: ''We have...''. Then this has been known as the Delors plan. I was very jealous, because it was mine. And it took until Jacques wrote his mémoires before the real story was told. He was apologising that he was usurping this moment. But the reality is, the truth is it had nothing to do with the German reunification. Nothing.
My friend Wim, he invented something different: instead of having an opt-out for Britain, he wanted all the others to have an opt-in in the Monetary Union and in the single currency. This was rejected by colleagues and so what we have decided under Luxembourgish chairmanship was finally adopted.
What I wanted to say is that we cannot explain the European Union, the European project, simply by going back to history. That is important, but if we want to convince younger people that the European Union is a must today and in the years to come, we have to explain European history in a perspective. What is Europe today and what will Europe be tomorrow and the day after tomorrow?
Europe is the smallest continent. We do not know it. The European Union, that is 5.5 million square kilometres. Russia: 17.5. Questions? We are a relevant part of the global economy: 25% of the global GPD. In 10 years from now, it will be 15%. In 20 years from now, not one single Member State of the European Union will be a member of the G7. Questions? And from a demographic point of view, we are not really disappearing, but we are losing demographic weight. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Europeans represented 20% of the human kind. Now, at the beginning of this century: 7%. At the end of this century: 4% out of 10 billion people. So those who do think that time has come to deconstruct, to put Europe in pieces, to subdivide us in national divisions, are totally wrong. We will not exist as single nations without the European Union.
Thank you for listening.