Contribution: ‘Changing the European Debate’, 2011 Dahrendorf Symposium in Berlin




‘Ralf Dahrendorf would have encouraged us to be courageous in order to drive forward the idea of liberty.’ Wolfgang Ischinger calls for more courage in the EU, more mutual appreciation and more interference in a positive way!

Let me offer a few observations. One of the lessons that I would like to draw from the last year and a half of crisis management efforts is that what did not work was the effort to turn a small screw to deal with the crisis in a mechanical way, as if it was a big machine but all you needed to do is to adjust the carburettor and then things would run again.

Second, I believe that we need to be aware, especially in Germany, of two interrelated but paradox developments that are now confronting us. Let me call this the paradox of the Euro and German power. When you go back in history, in fact, you see that the German government was persuaded by François Mitterrand and others to accept and share the idea of the Euro, because it was going to be the best way to make sure that German economic predominance would not turn into German political hegemony in Europe, in this way limiting German power.

The paradoxical effect is that the Euro has now turned into an instrument to allow Germany to be the central power in Europe, or at least to be seen that way by most of the other members. This is not healthy or sustainable. How can we redress the balance? If this is going to be a permanent state of affairs – Germany in the centre with or without France – there must be some element that we need to invent to make sure that everybody will feel happy with this new division of power in the EU.

The second paradox is linked to the first. As we try to create an EU that, from an economic and financial point of view will function better and more effectively, that will be more disciplined and have more authority to interfere with national financial and economic decision-making, as we establish these torture instruments for the EU, the consequence will be that anti-European – and maybe more specifically anti-German – sentiments will grow in the countries in which these torture instruments will be applied. In other words, as we make the EU better, we will also make it worse in terms of creating divisive forces. That’s something we need to deal with.

When I think about how to approach these issues, I am reminded of something Donald Rumsfeld said: ‘If you find that you cannot solve a problem, enlarge it, put it into a larger context’. And I think that’s not a bad idea in the present debate on Europe. My own view is that we should change the debate from a negative debate about why we should pay for the Greek debt into a debate about how we can create a better Europe? If we do this Germans will be with us and we will have 80 percent of the German Bundestag behind us! And it appears that there is a lot of support in Germany and probably in most of the other EU countries (let’s leave Britain aside for the moment) of the idea of a stronger, more effective and more credible EU as a player in the world. Therefore, enlarging the debate from the debt debate to the ‘Europe in the world’ debate is an important endeavour.

Finally, a couple of thoughts about what should be done. I think we need to define the enemy. That is the first job for any general. In this EU debate, I think the enemy is the status quo. If we could agree that we do not like the status quo, that we want to go beyond it, that we want something better and different, we would have achieved a lot. I believe that the German nation has started a love affair with the status quo in the post-unification era. Germans loathe change now. But it is a challenge for political leaders to explain to Germans and to other Europeans that, in a world that changes dramatically every day, more dramatically probably than at any other point in the last 50 years, we cannot continue our love affair with the status quo. It is not going to work.

Third, I believe I can see among the business leaders in Europe, not just in Germany, an acknowledgement, even an appreciation or awareness of the fact that there is no way back. Some people thought half a year or a year ago: ‘Well, maybe we should just go for something different?’‘Re-nationalisation’ was the catch word! I believe that it is a very, very good thing that most of the major business leaders and associations now understand that the best strategy for themselves and for their future is to move forward. More and better Europe is, I believe, something that the business communities in the EU will be able to support.

Finally, and this is really the most important point I wanted to make, I believe we are not courageous enough in the EU. We need to interfere in each other’s domestic affairs more than we are already doing. We are doing so every day, as you can see by what is going on in Greece and Italy. But we should do it not just in the negative way, making the Greeks feel pressured into something by Germans and others. Chancellor Kohl went to Paris to make a speech during the rather shaky French debate on Maastricht in 1992. We had a long debate about it in the German government: was this a good thing or a bad thing and would it backfire? Would the French hate him for interfering in French domestic politics? If you look at what was written and said then, you can see that it was a successful and very courageous act, which was unprecedented at the time. The French – not because of Kohl’s intervention, but also because of this type of interested intervention – said ‘Yes’ to Maastricht.

It is never too late. I am waiting for the moment when Angela Merkel and the French President travel to Greece and give a speech together, and tell the Greeks what they need to do – but also that we love them. Yes! The emotional impact is also important; it’s not just the economic hardware that matters. Emotional elements matter in Europe and we need to tell each other that we love and need each other beyond just looking at the bottom line. Ralf Dahrendorf would have encouraged us to be courageous in order to drive forward the idea of liberty.