Dear Dr Waigel,
Dear former Federal Chancellor,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Dear Charlotte, thank you for being here,
Ladies and gentlemen, and to many of you in the room, dear friends,
I must set the record straight: Ingo Friedrich, who is a master of the Bavarian language but uninformed about the major languages of the world, just described Luxembourgish as a Mosel-Franconian dialect. That's what it says in the Brockhaus Encyclopaedia, which he used to prepare his speech. But it's incorrect. If anyone in Luxembourg were to say Luxembourgish wasn't a language but a Mosel-Franconian dialect, they would be brought before the firing squad. So I would suggest you never say such a thing around me again as I too know how to shoot!
I am delighted to be here today. And that's no lie. Normally, when you make an appearance somewhere you say you are delighted to be there, but more often than not you don't mean it. But today is different because when Theo Waigel plays host, I always accept, almost as if it were an official duty. And he too is always there whenever I need him. As I am always being asked to give speeches, I frequently find myself having to tell those who ask me to drop by the following month that I don't have the time. But if ever I have to cancel an appearance in Bavaria, I call Theo two days beforehand and say: ‘Theo, jump on a train, go to Munich, to the Catholic Academy or wherever, and give a speech for me'. And he does. That's why, when he asked if I would come this evening, I accepted. Until an American Vice‑President got in the way. We are certainly not living under a US dictatorship, but I live under a Waigel dictatorship.
Dear friends, I wanted to quickly say a few words about Europe, following on from what has already been said. I don't say it easily, but I am one of the younger generation, as I was only three years old, primary-school age, when the Treaty was signed in 1957. I only learned of it second hand. However, I was brought up by my father and my whole family to feel a fondness for Germany, despite the dreadful experiences in the family: young Luxembourgers were conscripted into the Wehrmacht by Hitler against their will. It wasn't easy to wear a uniform you hated and fight those who were actually trying to free your country. We shared this fate with the people of Alsace and Lorraine. But my father, a steelworker, rather than teaching me, showed me by example from a very early age why this should never be allowed to happen again. And so I became a European. I wasn't brought up to be anti-German. Instead, my father would say ‘The Germans were fair and decent during the war. The low-ranking soldiers, at least. Not everyone'. He also made friends for life, which may seem trivial but means a great deal. And so I too developed a fondness for Germany and, through my schooling in French, reformed into a European. And I have never regretted it. Our parents' generation were those who, stricken with grief, spared from death and after slipping away, returned to the ruins of their towns and villages and turned their eternal post-war prayer for ‘No more war' into a political programme. We were not the ones who created Europe. It was the war generation, our parents' generation, and we should be eternally grateful to them for this.
We then continued the work, creating the internal market, which was by no means an easy undertaking. The complexity of the decisions which had to be taken to form the European single market is underestimated. And it still isn't over. We are still working to complete the European single market, in particular in the area of services. 80 % of European gross national product is a result of the service sector. We are not there yet. At the Commission we are hard at work trying to create the European digital single market. It has the potential to generate EUR 600 billion, additional EU growth and millions of jobs. This is why we are working, together with my friend, Klaus Regling, and others – although with Klaus in particular – on creating a European capital markets union – an important initiative, which many do not understand but which many would use if created – as well as other initiatives.
Europe will always be a work in progress. Anybody who thinks the day will come in Europe when we can say that the job is done is mistaken. Each day is a new day, but each European day is a new beginning. If you think about it, each European day also brings the magic of a new beginning, every single day. Each day produces European miracles, big and small – only we do not see them because we do not want to. We have become obsessed with failure, obsessed with non-existence. We are crazy about apocalypses and tragedies which recur every day. Is Europe a tragedy? No. Europe is a stroke of luck for our continent, and those who badmouth Europe are actually doing an injustice to a great idea which attracts more recognition, support and admiration in the rest of the world than it does in Europe itself. I love travelling to Africa and Asia – although I rarely get the chance – and whenever I am there I am welcomed like a saviour (I hesitate to use that word for fear of being confused with somebody else) because Europe has a global impact and everybody admires us for what we have achieved. It makes me sad then when I step out of the plane back in Brussels, in this valley of tears, – lacrimarum valle – and hear all the complaints about Europe. I also moan a lot about Europe; not everything is as it should be. If I had thought that Europe was as it should be, I would never have made the difficult journey from Luxembourg to Brussels to become President of the European Commission. There is a lot of room for improvement.
By the way, I have noticed a lot of speculation in the German national media and public opinion press about why I announced some days ago that I would not be running for a second term – and I also saw the glum faces when I walked into this room. This is something I have been saying for the last three years. I have said it in Luxembourg, on French TV, on the BBC, but you have to say it on German radio on a Sunday morning for it to really hit home. It is not because I am tired of office – I am full of energy. But five years is enough. I also want to avoid what happened to our friend Barroso. After the first half of his first term, whenever he proposed anything, everybody said he was only doing it because he wanted a second term. That is precisely what I do not want. I enjoy my freedom, and I like to be able to speak my mind without everybody thinking he is only doing that to curry favour with us. I am a free man and that is why I said what I did.
Brexit. When I started in Brussels I never thought I would be doing more dismantling than building. I spend a few hours a day with my aides thinking about how we can limit the damage from the UK exiting the European Union. Dismantling is not looking into the future. I wanted to build something and now we are busy taking something apart. I am very concerned that many people in Europe think that now the British have decided by referendum to leave, they can do the same. It is not that simple. It is dramatic when one of the big Member States leaves the European Union voluntarily and without coercion. It is not something I can be pleased with. Now I must make sure that it is done properly. What does that mean? Well, it has to do with the age-old relationship between the islands and the European continent.
I am not in a hostile mood. I do not think we will get anywhere by clobbering the British, insulting them and driving too hard a bargain. That is certainly not my intention. But I do want to see European values and the principles underpinning the European Union fully respected. That includes free movement of workers. The idea that the European Union could become a sophisticated free trade area – in which only capital, the market and goods count, without any consideration for people in this European project – is not one I can embrace. First and foremost, Europe is a project for the people, for every single person living in Europe, without distinction of race, colour or nation. All Europeans are equal as Europeans, and this is something that must be clearly established in these negotiations.
And there can be no cherry picking either: I am in a bit, out a bit, I might come again tomorrow, I couldn't make it this evening. That is no way forward. You are either in or out. And that must be guaranteed in these negotiations. As a friend of the British, I can say that the continent owes Great Britain, the United Kingdom, an enormous debt of gratitude. We should not forget that. Without Churchill many things would not have been possible on the European continent. This lack of a sense of history bothers me. We have a great deal to thank the British for, including our freedom. Things could have turned out very differently had it not been for Churchill and the British, and the courage of the British people. We should always remember that. But later their strength waned. When they were called to vote in the referendum, they were not the people they had once been. That is no reason, however, to forget all the good things that history has brought us from the UK.
However, the British are not at present allowed to conclude trade agreements left right and centre. Trade agreements are within the sole competence of the European Union, more specifically the European Commission. As long as it is a member of the European Union, no Member State is entitled to conclude trade agreements bilaterally. Nor, in fact, should it be able to. Unlike many other people, I do not believe that, within 24 months, we will succeed in a) determining the terms for Britain's departure from the European Union and b) establishing the outlines of the future relationship between Britain and the European continent. Anyone who thinks that a free-trade agreement can be concluded within two years, without the details of the exit process having first been worked out, is fundamentally mistaken. This is an issue I have a lot to do with, and I discover new challenges and questions on an almost hourly basis. In fact, I had no idea what a good job we had done and just how tricky and interwoven the connections are between EU Member States. Twenty-six thousand laws in Britain will have to be changed before Britain's exit from the European Union can be finalised; yes, 26 000. Now, I know that this is a figure projected for me for the purposes of making a point; but the figure is probably at least 20 000, and that's high enough. In other words we face a very difficult task, and I should like us to carry it out properly and with an awareness of our historic responsibility. One thing is certain: news of its proper completion will not be in the papers for a while yet.
Let me turn now to the subject of President Trump. Mr Trump will be the fourth President of the United States that I will get to know. I have known three, and I will be making the acquaintance of a fourth. Is there anything novel or newsworthy about the fact that the Americans are calling on Europeans to shoulder more responsibility, including financial responsibility, for European and Atlantic defence? No, there is not. President Clinton talked to me in the same terms; so did President Bush (the second one); and so did President Obama. And now President Trump is saying the same thing. Where does the difference lie? It's been the same message from the Americans for many, many years, and I am adamant that we shouldn't be knocked off balance by it. I am well aware that if Germany had to increase its defence spending from 1.2 to 2 % of its gross national product, it would be back in the red again. What I don't like to see is the concept of security being confined to purely military spending only by our American friends (if they are to, and want to, remain ‘friends', which I think they should). Instead, it makes sense to consider whether there might not be several elements to an up‑to‑date policy on global stability. We are talking not only about tasks, properly and jointly funded, that relate specifically to defence but also about development aid (not a term I favour; I prefer to talk, rather, in terms of ‘partnership' with Africa and parts of Asia). When European efforts in the area of defence are added to those in the sphere of development aid (to use that term again), as well as to those in the field of humanitarian aid, then a substantially different picture emerges for the purposes of comparison between Europe and the US. The fact is, an up-to-date policy cannot just be about increasing defence expenditure; rather, a more global approach is needed.
Now, not being a specialist on defence matters – I come, after all, from Luxembourg, where the army comprises just 771 men, including the defence minister – I don't express opinions on intercontinental defence issues. In Brussels, however, I have learned – and I am, of course, paid to learn such important things – that we in Europe have 177 different weapons systems, while the Americans have 30. Europe as a whole spends something like the equivalent of half the American defence budget, but our forces are between just 15 % and 20 % as efficient as their American counterparts. If, for the purposes of military procurement too, we were to concentrate our forces in the manner also described by Wolfgang Ischinger – by the way, one of the cleverest minds in Europe – we could save between 25 and 100 billion euro. By concentrating our forces and organising procurement on a joint basis, we could save between, yes, 25 and 100 billion euro. And when everything is added up – defence and development budgets, humanitarian efforts worldwide – the world looks considerably different. But because, for military purposes, we descend into parochialism, we just founder, because 80 % of our expenditure goes into national rather than European defence. Europe must learn that the time for parochialism is past. That is not something I say lightly. There is something slightly comical about a Luxembourger railing against such politics. But it's a form of politics that the Germans, and the French too, need to guard against; and, at all events, also the British, who are now discovering the provincial politics of Scotland and of other constituent parts of the United Kingdom. No, we must be ready to take some big steps, and ones that don't deprive us of any of our influence. Indeed, taking such steps would, instead, increase our influence and save us money that we could invest more sensibly elsewhere and to better effect.
Given the high concentration of experts in this area sitting in this room with me, I don't dare say much about the euro. I will say one thing though - we were right to introduce the euro, despite all the difficulties. And I would like to clear up a widely held myth still circulating in Germany. According to the myth – and I still find even academics writing this, who should know better – that the euro was actually the result of German reunification and a demand made by other European countries, especially France. But this is a myth and simply not true. At the 1988 European Summit in Hannover, my predecessor Jacques Delors was tasked with writing a report on European economic and monetary union. That is when it all started and, since not even the greatest statesmen of this world can see into the future, particularly not Foreign Affairs Ministers (who Theo Waigel often accuses of being luxury-class statesmen), they also did not know in 1988 that the wall would fall in 1989. And it didn't fall, it was brought down. And not by the West but by the East - let's not forget that. This [the euro] was therefore not connected with German reunification. I will admit, from my experience of heading in the first half of 1991 the Intergovernmental Conference which led to Monetary Union, that German reunification, although it didn't pour oil on the fire, may in many people's opinion have been an accelerating factor - that much is true. And? So what? Shouldn't politicians be able to react to history? Are we supposed to just suffer, put up with, observe and describe history? Shouldn't we also sometimes write history ourselves?
That is what we did back then, and it was right for the European continent and it is still right for the European economy. You only have to stop and ask yourself for a moment what would have happened to Europe after all the crises we went through and survived: after America's invasion of Iraq, which left Europeans in total disarray; after the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York, after America's (fiercely contested) intervention in Iraq, after Afghanistan, after the financial crisis imported from the US (which we Europeans need not reproach ourselves for), if we had still had our national currencies then, with or without independent central banks (the German central bank was always independent and the French central bank would still be influenced by government policy directives), if there had been no Maastricht Treaty, we would have been in a hopelessly divided mess. If we hadn't had the euro, even a flock of hens would have posed a formidable threat to a Europe of national currencies. Instead of the papers reporting every day (or Bavarian radio every third day) on what is not perfect in Europe, they should write a leading article every day describing what Europe would look like if there was no euro.
The same also holds true for Europe's enlargement into Eastern and Central Europe. But we shouldn't say Eastern Europe. It is Central Europe, not Eastern Europe. No one seems to be aware that, since the wall fell and the massive change in Central and then also Eastern Europe, we have 27 new States, 27 new players in the field of international law. What would have happened if we had not succeeded in bringing together these new, fledgling democracies with their developing economies and happily rediscovered national identities into a united Europe that pulls together (and we often did not succeed here)? I talk to these people - whether they are statesmen, prime ministers, presidents or Members of Parliament. I know what the potential flash points are and, if this disciplining constraint was not there, this European‑continental obligation to seek tenaciously to reach agreements, the situation in Europe would have become impossible.
Theo told us that he was proud to have signed the Treaty–- as am I. Incidentally, I am the only one still active in politics. The euro and I are the only survivors of the Maastricht Treaty. This Treaty shaped our future as a continent, not only in terms of currency. Not in as much detail as we – Wolfgang, you and others – would have liked because we actually wanted more political union, but, nevertheless, we can see not just the beginnings of the future shape of the continent but so much more: enlargement, more political union, a currency union, independent monetary policy on the continent, and tentative economic coordination - even if not done as it could have been done. That is why I believe in sometimes also holding optimistic speeches, as my team are always asking me to do. I don't want to just talk about what isn't working, even if I could say a lot about that; I agree with Theo Waigel that this commitment of ours to Europe is worth it. We owe this to our parents' generation.