Interview with Martin Schulz (Friedrich Ebert Foundation, SPD)
Martin SchulzChairman of the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation
21x29,7cm - 102 pages Issue #1, September 2021 24,00€
Elections in Europe: December 2020 — May 2021
How do you imagine the EU in the year 2030? Where do you believe is reform most needed? Which amendments to the Treaties would you propose?
In the Coronavirus pandemic, after initial difficulties, the EU proved to be quite capable of acting, having learned from its mistakes during the financial crisis. At the same time, however, the fundamental structural and political deficits of the Union and the urgent need for structural reform became very clear. Reforms must be conducted with much broader participation by European citizens. By 2030, the EU must be sovereign, capable of acting on its own and respected as an international player.
To further stabilise the euro area, the monetary union should be deepened and underpinned by a political basis. The decisions taken in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, including the instrument to support short-time work (SURE), joint borrowing, the possibility of raising own resources and the suspension of the Austerity and Growth Pact are important steps towards more sovereignty and, above all, more solidarity in the EU. However, more reforms are needed and the coming new federal government must pursue them from day one, as they are in Germany’s own best interest. The path towards a fiscal union, as called for by the Social Democratic candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is therefore the right one.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is an important initiative and a promise to the citizens. It is intended to regain the citizens’ dwindling confidence in the successful peace project of Europe. The conference’s late start, caused not only by the pandemic, but also by disagreements between the Parliament, the Commission and the Council on questions of processes and personnel, was not a good start. This must be urgently changed in the course of the conference, and the proposals and ideas from the Citizens’ Forums must be seriously discussed. Possible treaty changes must not be excluded a priori, but maintaining the European values of peace, freedom, solidarity, democracy and human rights should be our priority. The process should also not end with the French Council Presidency, because the EU is, and remains, a work in progress.
Further integration steps and stronger cooperation at the political, fiscal and economic level, but also in the area of foreign, security and defence policy will be necessary in order to be able to meet the global challenges facing Europe. A sovereign Europe needs a strong EU at its core. In the long run, this permanent integration and reform process will lead to a kind of European Federal State. The relationship between nation states and the EU in such a federation will evolve in the course of the process. National and European sovereignty must complement each other in a meaningful way, because this is the only way we can master the major challenges in the areas of climate, digitalisation and comprehensive security.
On which partnerships (in the Council of the EU and the European political groups) should the next German government rely in order to implement this vision?
First and foremost, there are the progressive centre-left groups in the Parliament, above all the family of Socialists and Social Democrats, who are pushing the EU integration and reform project into the right direction, namely towards more active responsibility based on solidarity, socio-ecological balance in domestic and foreign policy, and a social, political, economic and fiscal union in the interest of the citizens. The liberal-centrists of Renew Europe and the conservative EPP strive for reforms and further integration steps in many areas; however, they focus mainly on the expansion of the economic and monetary union, the internal market and the security and defence policy. The right-wing populists and extremists of ID and the Eurosceptics in the ECR not only want to prevent further integration instead, but also, partly, to destroy the EU.
The last few years of the Merkel government have been marked by political stagnation in European matters, which from a social-democratic point of view is politically short-sighted and demonstrates a lack of solidarity. To address the economic and social consequences of the pandemic, the EU was able to agree on the emergency aid package and the comprehensive reconstruction fund New Generation EU, and thus on joint borrowing. This happened on the basis of a Franco-German Initiative launched in July of last year by the Social Democratic Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and his French counterpart, Bruno Le Maire. The election of Olaf Scholz as the next German Chancellor would therefore be a real opportunity to foster the EU reform and integration process.
The outcome of the French elections is also critical for the EU. If the right-wing Rassemblement National wins and Marine Le Pen becomes the next French president, this will stop the European reform and integration process, perhaps even reverse it or lead to a Frexit. Therefore, the future German government must not wait for the elections in France, but should immediately form flexible alliances, depending on political concerns and the respective national interests, in order to advance the European project. The Franco-German convergence is viewed with scepticism by smaller countries. In order to avoid this “hegemon effect”, we need different alliances with various member states, especially the smaller ones, on the different reform steps.
Which foreign-policy approach should the EU follow regarding the USA, China and Russia?
The current governments in Moscow, Ankara and Beijing perceive intergovernmental and multilateral relations through the prism of power hierarchies, vulnerabilities and dependencies. This was also true for the USA until Trump was voted out of office. The result are increasingly strong and unabashed autocratic policies, both internally and externally, including human rights violations, attacks against liberal democracy, trade wars and attempts to divide the EU. In addition, these governments fuel conflicts in their respective vicinity, pose military threats, acquire armament and, in the case of Turkey and Russia, even intervene miltarily. Their goal is geostrategic influence in the Eastern European vicinity, the Middle East and Africa, as well as, in China’s case, in the Indo-Pacific region. They also deploy increasingly aggressive global trade and investment policies, which could escalate into a trade war between China and the USA, while China itself has pushed far into European territory with the Belt and Road Infrastructure Initiative. In the face of these realities, the suspension of punitive tariffs on aluminium and steel, the constructive attitude of the USA and the developments in the subsidy dispute between Airbus and Boeing are positive developments in EU/US relations.
Unity and solidarity within the EU are essential in the face of growing conflicts between major powers, multiple attacks from Russia and in defence of its own values and interests. In order to strengthen multilateralism, now once again in cooperation with the USA, the EU must pursue a sovereign policy guided by its own values and interests in the areas of trade, climate, energy, technology and digitalisation, as well as classical and advanced security, and act in a united manner. In doing so, the EU should stand up for its values by urging states that violate these values and international rules to respect their obligations under international law, and abide by their multilateral commitments. If necessary, this must be backed up by sanctions or similar measures.
The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, has called for a push-back, containment and engagement approach in the current Strategy towards Russia. Three new principles are to be added to the five existing principles in dealing with Russia, which comprise full implementation of the Minsk agreements on Ukraine, closer relations with Russia’s neighbours, strengthening the EU’s resilience to Russian threats, “selective engagement” with Russia on specific issues such as counter-terrorism, and support for people-to-people contacts on both sides. This approach should avoid breaches of law, limit the possibilities of weakening the Union, and allow for cooperation in areas where it is possible.
In its relations with China, the EU applies the threefold principle of cooperation, competition and systemic rivalry. The Asia Connectivity Strategy, the EU-China Investment Agreement and an EU-Indo-Pacific strategy are currently being discussed in Brussels. Here, but above all in questions of human rights violations and climate change, coordination and a joint approach with the USA are important. However, consistency and a clear joint stance between European partners are central if cooperation with the USA is to take place on an equal footing.
In order to make Europe capable of global policy leadership, the EU member states must be prepared to integrate their national interests into European interests. This means moving away from the principle of unanimity. In defence and security policy issues, it must continue to cooperate more closely with NATO and work with transatlantic partners to support values-based, socially balanced and sustainable international trade, climate and development policies. The joint communiqué published at the end of the recent NATO and EU/US summits favors this approach.
What type of climate policy do you wish the EU should adopt? Which global role should the EU play in climate questions?
With the adoption of the European Green Deal and the ambitious CO2 emissions target of a 55% reduction of emissions by 2030 and the goal of zero emissions by 2050, the Union is a global pioneer in climate policy. Implementation must now take place in all EU policy areas and at all levels of the Union, and above all in the context of the €750 billion reconstruction package. The central demand of social-democrats in climate protection matters is that it should be implemented in a socially equitable way. The great challenge is to ensure that this is achieved throughout Europe. To make the continent ready for the future, economic dynamism, social justice and ecological responsibility must be reconciled. Ecological change must not happen at the expense of the socially disadvantaged. The task of adapting one’s own practices must be made easier for those who cannot afford it. Those who have worked in coal mining, for example, must have their education and training funded instead of being dismissed. For this purpose, a “Just Transition Fund” with a budget of €7.5 billion has been set up at EU level. The ecological transformation of the economy will cost jobs, but it will also create many new jobs and initiate competition for knowledge and development of environmentally friendly technologies. If this restructuring comes together with socially just measures, we will be able to take the majority of the European population along the path towards a sustainable economic model within the next 30 years. At the same time, the EU will set global standards and show that the sustainable and successful restructuring of one of the largest economic areas globally can be implemented in a socially acceptable way.
What European perspectives are necessary for the next generation of Europeans, especially with regard to the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic?
With the comprehensive reconstruction fund New Generation EU and the adoption of the Multiannual Financial Framework, the EU has set a milestone on its way to becoming a more crisis-resistant, but also ecologically and socially sustainable economy and society. This decision was taken in the member states and in Europe in the midst of the pandemic. 37% of the funds are to be used for the sustainable restructuring of economies and climate investments.
For social-democrats, it is important that these funds are used to support the vulnerable sections of society: young people, women, people with a background of migration and people with disabilities, who have been hit particularly hard by the consequences of the pandemic. Investments in solidary and functioning public health systems, social security, education, research and sustainable infrastructure — and thus in the future of the next generation of Europeans — must be given top priority. A European Unemployment Insurance and a framework for decent minimum wages in the EU countries are important projects of the Action Plan for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. However, in view of rapid technological developments and ecological transformation, much remains to be done in this regard to make the EU fit for the future in the area of labour and social affairs. Here too, people must always be at the centre of our efforts.
For the next generation of EU citizens, inclusiveness is already a much more natural part of everyday life, as is the protection of the environment and the climate. However, young Europeans need to feel that the EU’s recovery fund, among other things, is actually helping to achieve sustainability, climate and digital goals. The fund should make a positive and visible difference, and show young citizens that it is a sound investment in their future and not a subsidy to compensate for past mistakes.
In surveys, many EU citizens want a strong and sovereign EU that has the power to act on global issues, defend the rule of law and democratic principles, control its external borders and at the same time allow lawful immigration within the framework of a humane migration and asylum policy. Such an EU should promote resilient supply chains, support fair trade, tackle climate change, and be able to act effectively and quickly in the event of further pandemics. A retreat into protectionism, as called for by a minority, would not be sustainable. On the other hand, the embedding of a sovereign EU in NATO in security matters, a renewal of transatlantic cooperation on an equal footing, and joint promotion and integration into a rules-based international system are guarantees for a secure, stable and prosperous democratic and sovereign Europe.
To cite the article
Martin Schulz, Interview with Martin Schulz (Friedrich Ebert Foundation, SPD), Sep 2021, 96-98.
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