"Courage for Europe" – A small future offensive
Churchill Speech by Federal Minister Dr. Ursula Plassnik
Zurich, 21 October 2008
Dear Federal Councillor Calmy-Rey,
Dear Councillors of State, National and Government Councillors, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The United States of Europe: that’s what we have not become.
We have simply not fulfilled the vision developed by Winston Churchill 62 years ago in Zurich. At least not with regard to the ideas prevalent in those days. Instead, on our path we have discovered and developed other solutions that fit us better, and thus set new standards for us throughout the world.
Europe is growing together.
Piece by piece, step by step. It is neither a supermarket nor a superstate. We have abolished most barriers at our borders. In foreign policy, we increasingly speak with one voice. Fifteen states have a common currency. Each of these steps has meant breaking new ground. It is a historic achievement of pioneering character.
But there is still a long way to go.
The basic understanding of our European unification is based on three pillars that were accepted from the very beginning as a matter of course: democracy, social market economy and integration.
- After the terrors of dictatorship, parliamentary democracy was to become a solid basis of a united Europe.
- The European life model is aimed at a social market economy and competition, rather than a centrally planned economy, as the organising principle.
- European integration is finally the recipe for overcoming excessive nationalism, which under the Nazi regime led to a pan-European catastrophe.
All three pillars are today the subject of criticism, problems are being expounded, and they are being called into question. Indeed, in some aspects they are subject to subtle erosion.
- Parliamentary democracy is increasingly seen as an insufficiently legitimate means for far-reaching decisions.
- The social economy is often denounced as being neo-liberal and incapable of coming to terms with the modern global economic order and its negative implications.
- National thinking and national interests are gaining ground. In their exaggerated form their imperative is the maintenance of identity, and in some areas they undermine the European project of unification and integration.
Is our system of coordinates still correct? In the meantime, have there been any developments that are better, more suitable, more successful?
I think the answer is no. Let me give the reasons for this.
A few days ago we had a European Council meeting. The Union once again had to prove its usefulness in complexity- and crisis-management: in terms of economic policy, in the financial market crisis; in terms of foreign policy, in the Caucasus conflict.
After initially treading on insecure ground, the EU has clearly learnt a lot in both fields. On the day after the summit the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung even paid tribute to “the EU’s impressive crisis management”. We like to hear that. We regard it as a compliment, particularly because it was issued by our strict neighbour Switzerland.
Indeed, the results are remarkable:
- An action plan for the European Union, coordinated in Paris by the Euro Group and the United Kingdom, which above all comprises state guarantees for the inter-bank market and the possibility of recapitalisation.
- A European emergency task force for the financial market.
- Improvement of European financial market supervision.
- Plus new European rules as regards capital requirements for banks and deposit protection as well as more stringent provisions for rating agencies.
Today, the significance of the manifold political consequences cannot yet be conceived: not only that the British Prime Minister coordinates his actions with the Euro Group but also that the heads of government of Denmark and Sweden now voice their interest in joining the Euro Group. Iceland once more is seriously asking itself whether it would not be better off within the Union than among the capitalist predators of Wall Street. And the Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn, publicly offers Iceland EU membership if it so desires.
There is no doubt: The European Union and the countries of the Euro area, in particular, turn out to be anchors of stability and incentive providers for Europe as a whole as well as at the global level – an important message, particularly for our small and medium-sized EU states. It is also a message that should strengthen our awareness of Europe and our willingness to participate pro-actively in European development.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All this has become possible through a special ability which our continent has acquired since the days of Winston Churchill: the ability to learn.
Europe is learning.
The European Union is above all a learning organism. In some disciplines, Europe has achieved a certain mastery. Let me give you three examples from business, foreign policy and international social policy.
1. First of all, the main subject: applied tribalism. The way we understand ourselves on this continent is characterised by tribal awareness – from ancient times each people has been a community of special people and special characteristics and particularities.
The European Union offers its stakeholders, so-to-speak, the constitutionally guaranteed certainty that their specific characteristics will be recognised and respected. Indeed, the Union rests on the idea that unity is sought only in diversity – and not in simple-mindedness. The ‘management of diversity’ is, logically, a skill specially developed within the EU.
(By the way, here, too, occasional recognition from the top of the class, Switzerland, would not be harmful.)
2. The learning process can also be recognised clearly in foreign policy matters:
The Union has learnt to offer a clear and tangible perspective to all states in the Balkans to make them turn away from the tragic experiences of the last century and to support them on their new course, to accompany them and encourage them on the rocky path to reconciliation – one of the dimensions in the integration and re-integration of our continent.
And it has been crowned with success: The Balkans are developing more and more towards European normality.
I am grateful that my home country Austria, in particular, has been allowed to make a substantial contribution to this process. It is good that history offers a second chance in exceptional cases!
During recent weeks we have also watched first steps being taken, most of them successfully, on the periphery of our continent, in the southern Caucasus: Following the outbreak of hostilities, we saw an immediate special meeting of EU foreign ministers, mediation missions by the EU Presidency in coordination with the OSCE chair, the withdrawal of Russian troops, and swift dispatch of an EU observer mission of 200 persons in less than three weeks.
It has been possible to halt to the military violence between Georgia and Russia. But we still have a long way to go as regards the elaboration of a stable and comprehensive future neighbourhood policy beyond the context of enlargement. That is also a responsibility of the European Union.
It must be possible to develop forms of European partnership that are satisfactory to both sides, allowing the gradual rapprochement with the EU in terms of both time and content, as has been accomplished with Switzerland through bilateral treaties and as has been achieved with the European Economic Area. They will have to meet the specific needs and requirements of individual regions or states.
But we must also have the courage to address these themes instead of avoiding clear statements. Turkey is a case in point. Here, in my opinion, a specific European-Turkish community could be a realistic and rewarding interim goal. The same holds true for Ukraine. For successful partnerships are based on the basic ideal of not asking too much of one another. They are not based on promises that cannot be kept.
3. The third example that demonstrates Europe’s ability to learn is international women’s policy. Progress in this field is quite unsatisfactory, and Europe, in particular, has to be committed to improvements in the global village.
Women are the politically and socially most important emerging power of the 21st century. Their contribution must be publicly acknowledged, their integration encouraged in a targeted manner, and their potential fully tapped.
We Europeans must therefore be among those who encourage and set positive trends worldwide, in our close fabric of relationships with the world, in our own EU missions and in development cooperation, and in intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.
In this context the issue should not only revolve around the question of content, of words used, but above all around the question: “Who is talking?” Therefore, it is so important to me that women, their experience and background, their sensitivity and their view of matters as well as young people are included in this dialogue.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This progress in learning is possible because 27 states are not pushing their national interests to the foreground but joining their efforts and focusing on their strength.
Here on the “little promontory of the Asian continent” (Paul Valéry), after hundreds of wars and years of sorrow, 27 nations have learnt how to overcome their old, bloody hostilities and replace them with moderate and clever integration. What today is a tough, controversial issue at the negotiating table in Brussels was yesterday the reason for taking to the battlefield.
This special peace learning process, this fundamental change makes the European Union unique and a role model in today’s world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Europe is learning. But all talented pupils have their enemies. All too frequently, in the case of Europe, they come from within. Returning to the national fortress of nationalism is very much in vogue at the moment. In my opinion, in view of the rough winds blowing in the world of business, this should be a reason for paying more attention and considering well-founded counter-strategies.
We are experiencing an alarming wave of newly disguised but well-known old criticism aimed at Europe:
It is easy and has become all too easy to brand “Brussels’ elites” and politicians who support Europe as scapegoats without much ado and substance: because they, allegedly, do not understand the concerns of the average citizen, because they submit to EU dictatorship, because they do not do anything or not enough, or take the wrong measures against rising prices, because they prevent referenda on European themes. One only has to look at the most recent example in Austria.
The arguments are as shallow as they are interchangeable.
Today, hostility towards Europe is approaching in a new disguise, subliminal, ambiguous, recognisable only at second glance. Initially it reads “We are for Europe in any case”, immediately followed by the reservation ‘but’, and this frequently turns into a lukewarm and vague ‘yes, but…’.
“But another Europe, a more social-oriented, a more democratic, a more transparent Europe that is closer to its citizens. A less bureaucratic, a less neo-liberal, a less centralistic Europe.”
This phoney “Yes, but…” endangers support for the European project, quite often because of trivial opportunistic aspirations for power, with powerful connections to the world of business and the media.
We witnessed it in Ireland. A skilful, well-organised and financially powerful campaign to say ‘no’ convinced and impressed the majority. The supporters of ‘nay’ appealed to subliminal anxieties and spread half-truths or even lies instead of presenting facts and figures – a small ‘yes’ with a big ‘but’.
Even if it comes as a surprise to Swiss ears: in Austria – as in other EU states – the new hostility towards Europe is often encoded in the demand for national referenda on EU matters.
The Irish example, however, clearly shows that individual national referenda simply do not offer a solution in complicated technical matters, such as the Treaty of Lisbon. They create a vehicle with 27 brake pedals – for every national referendum brings all 27 Member States to a halt.
For Switzerland, this would mean a system under which each canton would have a veto right in every situation.
Indeed, the EU does have experience with referenda:
- A total of 37 national referenda have been held since 1972: 20 of them on accession and 17 on new treaties and/or the introduction of the euro (ten of them did not yield the desired result).
- Three-quarters of the Member States are familiar with the referendum tool. In two Member States a referendum is obligatory for certain EU treaties.
However, the crux of the matter is that they are instruments of national will. A single ‘no’ means a ‘no’ for all 27 Member States, and not only for the state that advocates ‘no’.
There is still no pan-European arrangement concerning referenda and, subsequently, no arrangement governing pan-European majority requirements, no “double more”, as you would say in Switzerland.
The double majority would make a lot of sense. If referenda are held, they should take place at the European level, with a qualified majority of the population and the Member States.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
at the next election to the European Parliament in June 2009 the issue will probably not be confied to merely left or right, liberals, socialists or conservatives.
The main issue will be who is in favour of and who is against Europe, openly or in disguise.
Commitment vs. self-isolation, shaping the future vs. brake manoeuvres – the outcome of this landmark decision will also make a difference to our neighbour Switzerland.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Neo-nationalism is not only a threat endangering the further rules for the internal configuration of Europe, i.e., the internal rules of the European house. It is also a threat to economic policy.
Before Peter Mandelson assumed the office of Secretary of State for Business in London, he justly warned against a “wave of economic nationalism” which would embrace Europe in the wake of the transatlantic financial crisis.
Some examples are already on the table: protectionist positions in the Doha round, fear of foreign state funds, fear of hostile takeovers, longing for national core shareholders.
Today, we can observe a strong trend towards ‘neo-etatism’ or ‘neo-statism’. The current financial crisis is also making a contribution to this development. It will be difficult not to throw out the baby with the bath water and determine the right measure of regulation at the right level, respectively – be it national, European or global. We have sharpened our perception. The first signs give cause for hope.
In the age of globalisation we need more reasonable and targeted European regional economic policies instead of undifferentiated appeals to the state for help because we are experiencing panic attacks.
For small and medium-sized countries, in particular, Europe is not a problem but a possible solution on which we have to work in a target-oriented and consistent manner.
Jiři Gruša, the Czech writer and diplomat, tells us the story of Europe and the bull:
“At the end of the day each one wanted Europe only as its own beef steak…..We need not talk about Austria, let’s talk about Prague. There, too, they act as though Europe was the eye of the hurricane threatening to flood the holy land of Saint Wencelas, the island of identity. [….] Demos Europas means a community of values, but values have a price. And yet there are still Europeans who think they can get in their national second-hand shops things that still have to be created”.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We need a future offensive for Europe: it will be necessary, if we don’t want to leave Europe to those who advocate neo-nationalism, neo-statism or who are tired of Europe altogether.
Although we are working without a script, Mario Monti basically puts it in a nutshell: “This crisis is a choice between integration and disintegration.”
A future offensive may, perhaps, be successful if it is based on four modest, basically unspectacular approaches:
- First: we should learn from crises.
- Second: we should be willing to contribute to shaping the global village.
- Third: we should strengthen the European life model.
- Fourth: we should have the courage for more Europe.
First: learning from crises. So far, crises have made Europe stronger. Joachim Fritz-Vannahme, formerly an editor of the newspaper Die Zeit, now active for the Bertelsmann Foundation, calls it “black pedagogy” that has always moved Europe forward. Let me give you three examples:
- The European Union responded to the crisis caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union by devising its strategy of enlargement, but with clear rules: the Copenhagen Criteria and the offer of a community of values based on the rule of law to the east and south-east of the continent.
- The Maastricht Treaty and the introduction of the euro were a response to internal crises.
- Following Hampton Court, during the Austrian and German presidencies, the discussion about the impending climate catastrophe resulted – at least in some basic aspects – in a European climate and energy policy.
And speaking of climate and energy policy: We do not want to understand it as a reduction and making do without, but above all as an opportunity, especially for our economy. The car of the future, one that consumes less petrol and emits fewer harmful substances, should come from Europe!
Second: the willingness to contribute to shaping the global village. The current financial crisis could be an opportunity for the global partners to break new ground for reasonable global governance approaches.
Such a “big solution” could comprise the following four cornerstones:
- a new order of the global financial system.
- the resumption and completion of the Doha world trade round. Those who would be affected by a failure are the consumers on the one hand and the poorest countries in the world and their population on the other.
- a new post-Kyoto goal against global warming which would have to embrace the USA, China and India.
- a reasonable reform of the UN Security Council.
This may sound like a fantasy to some, but it would be a real chance to turn this crisis into an exciting opportunity, particularly for smaller and medium-sized states.
Austria is also prepared to assume more responsibility at the global level. This is why we applied for a seat in the UN Security Council for 2009-2010, and last Friday, we were elected to that position by the Security Council. We are grateful to Switzerland for supporting this effort as a neighbour and friend.
The smaller and medium-sized states are not only the solid middle class of the world community, but also the laboratory, the creative directors and the incentive providers of international policy. And, finally: we do not want a directorate of the big powers but an orchestra of the big and the smaller states.
Common sense and the courage to articulate major goals sometimes have better prospects when they do not come from a superpower but from those who as smaller and medium-sized states know how cohesion can be promoted and division be avoided and whose interest in the general welfare is driven by their own clearly defined interests.
My initiative for a multi-lateralisation of nuclear enrichment is such an example. The proposal is that all nuclear fuel transactions should be effected via an international ‘nuclear fuel bank’.
Together with a number of states, we support the swift entry into force of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
We are committed to working in the most diverse fora. However, in doing so, we should not lose sight of the big goal: a world without nuclear weapons.
Is this vision too drastic? Perhaps. But at least it is winning influential allies.
In a series of articles, George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn have pointed out concrete steps for a path to a world free of nuclear weapons. The project is supported by prominent figures such as Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell.
And yet another example of the European Union’s capability to shape the global village: rather unnoticed by others, the EU has quietly become a trendsetter for standards.
Here, I am thinking in practical terms: safety standards, food controls, food safety, safety standards for industrial commodities and the whole range of goods, including toys. On the other hand, the EU has set standards through self-commitment in such sophisticated areas, as CO2 emissions in the field of human rights and the rule of law.
Here, Europe has a lot to offer. But we must also accept challenges and make clear statements instead of retreating into a shell of indifference.
Third: strengthening the European life model. We should ask ourselves time and again why we like being Europeans although there are younger and more optimistic continents than ours. The answer will tell us ‘whatever holds this continent together in its inmost folds’.
We have developed a unique life model, a way of life that today unites almost 500 million people in all their differences.
The European life model is based on a clear system of values and above all also implies respect for diversity, the many valuable and sometimes difficult particularities that account for the wealth of this continent. As I said, applied tribalism …. The constant search for a balance between strong business, social responsibility and sustainability.
For that is also important to Europeans: not a superstate, but thinking in smaller units. For instance, making use of the strength of local communities and regions as clearly set forth in the Treaty of Lisbon.
What is important above all is that we must not join the ranks of the fear mongers and the fainthearted, not even here in the west of our continent with its wealthy, ageing societies who would prefer to withdraw into the shell of their egocentric, fictitious comfort and convenience.
Fourth: courage for Europe, courage for more Europe
Providing encouragement is much in demand. Those who find this difficult should review Central and Eastern Europe in the year 1989.
At the kick-off event of my initiative “1989-2009: Gateway to a New Europe” held a few weeks ago in Vienna I deliberately brought together young people from Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Young people who are not familiar with the division of Europe from their own experience and for whom, therefore, many things – too many things – have become a matter of course in this Europe.
But what is really a matter of course in Europe? Who would have dreamt twenty years ago that the once-imposed dividing lines are fading in our common Europe of today, that they are even disappearing? That we are free to jointly establish rules for the way we deal with each other and the world?
Therefore, more courage for more Europe must be targeted and administered in appropriate doses wherever it is necessary and makes sense, with the principle of subsidiarity as the governing principle of order, as a European competence filter.
The Treaty of Lisbon also shows that Europe has meanwhile learnt to let go and re-transfer competences to the Member States where it is reasonable to do so. This is actually one of the reasons why we need this Treaty.
The financial market crisis has also taught us that there are still deficits where we need more Europe, i.e., uniform rules and perhaps even new institutions, to ensure our general welfare.
Don’t be afraid of Europe! European integration has not resulted in the disappearance of our nations but in the regaining of their strength. Because no one can remain the greatest forever, because the individual is too weak, and because unity makes us strong. True competition does not take place in Europe but in a world that is full of new competitors hungry for success.
We Europeans have turned the loss of sovereignty we suffered into the renunciation of sovereignty, and we have done so as a result of deeper insight, not coercion. Just like the Swiss Confederation in the nineteenth century.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Courage for Europe. We have every reason to have this courage. Since Churchill’s speech in Zurich we have developed the tools and the will to be a positive force in the global village. A power of a very special kind, a completely new kind – a power that asserts itself not by violence but by the power of reasonable rules.
By the power of economic and development aid, solidarity and sustainability, based on the principle of partnership and best practice.
Let’s have the courage to assume joint responsibility for our continent.
Courage for Europe – that is the learning assignment we were given by Winston Churchill.