Interview with Norbert Lammert (Konrad Adenauer Foundation, CDU)
Norbert LammertChairman of the Konrad-Adenauer 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?
I generally find it difficult to predict the future — no one can reliably predict what will happen tomorrow — especially not in the European Union, where every substantial change depends on the unanimous consent of all member states. At the same time, of course, it is important to at least be prepared for any foreseeable challenges and to consider how to master them in light of one’s capabilities and the available opportunities.
The EU still possesses considerable economic power; our liberal, democratic societies still have a strong appeal in many parts of the world. But our social, political and economic model is facing competition. China, in particular, is supposedly proving that economic prosperity and democracy do not necessarily go hand in hand.
This situation of international competition will concern us in the 2020s and the EU will have to prove its mettle. In the face of profound global challenges, it must prove its ability to influence the outside world and at the same time prove its utility internally. That is why elected representatives, in particular, must tirelessly explain to their citizens why the EU is necessary in the 21st century. This is less trivial than it seems at first glance. For some time now, we have been faced with the remarkable paradox that many people seem to have lost faith in the value of constructive international cooperation, even though we are facing global challenges not only in relation to the Corona pandemic and its effects, but also with regard to climate change, digitalisation and many other developments that have one thing in common: they do not stop at national borders, and no nation state can successfully tackle them on its own. Against this background, the EU, as an institution particularly suitable for problem solving, should actually flourish. In reality, the willingness to find common solutions is declining everywhere in Europe — at a time when the necessity of finding such solutions has objectively increased.
The EU’s reform efforts must be directed towards this — it must succeed in providing common European answers to the important questions of our time. This is perhaps easier to achieve by focusing on a few particularly central issues.
An important aspect must be the common European foreign and security policy. In order to improve the EU’s agency in this policy area, it should build up joint European armed forces within the framework of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) by 2030, expand Europol and deepen intelligence cooperation and joint cyber-defence — to mention just a few projects.
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?
Germany must and will seek dialogue with all European partners. Of particular importance are the two major neighbouring countries, France and Poland. Depending on the issue at hand, there will be varying degrees of agreement with one member state or another, or even between the European party families. It is important to remain open for compromise. This is a central feature of democracy: compromise must be found and implemented while balancing different legitimate interests. Even if this is more difficult, or at least more complex, in a European framework than at the national level.
But with the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) there is at least a possibility to form flexible “coalitions of the willing and able” within the framework of the EU and to cooperate even more closely within them. This is a highly relevant instrument that should be used more in the future. France’s President Macron called for a very similar approach in an interview with Le Grand Continent when he suggested “project- and actor-based coalitions”. This can certainly be applied to the EU within the framework of the PESCO.
Which foreign-policy approach should the EU follow regarding the USA, China and Russia?
The USA is our ally, China and Russia are not. With Russia’s aggressive foreign policy and China’s ruthless assertiveness, the Western alliance is once again confronted with strategic challengers; we have been in a geopolitical competition for quite some time. There can be no equidistance to China or Russia and the USA.
Russia is intervening in elections — not only in Europe — and is pursuing a militarised approach to political power on our borders. The civil wars in Syria and Libya are still unresolved crises in our immediate vicinity. China is expanding politically and economically, investing in European infrastructure and trying to drive a wedge between the EU member states and the USA. Europe must find common answers to these and a whole series of challenges in international politics. Otherwise, we will no longer be a formative actor, but only a passive observer of an international political struggle fought on our own territory.
A realistic assessment of the situation also includes the simple but serious awareness that without the military capabilities of the USA, Europe will not be able to protect itself effectively in the foreseeable future. The transatlantic partnership is therefore of vital importance for Europe. The greater the EU’s own capacities and competences, the more credible a partner it is for the US.
In close cooperation and coordination with Washington, the EU should develop mechanisms and approaches to deal with China and Russia, but without closing the door to meaningful cooperation. In their own and mutual interest, Europe and the US must work together more and develop a common stance in more areas: from climate protection and respect for human rights to data protection, digitalisation and the fight against pandemics, we must coordinate our efforts, show mutual consideration and develop mutually acceptable solutions. The resumption of the TTIP negotiations and the overdue conclusion of a transatlantic trade agreement would send a clear signal.
Reciprocity is part of a stable relationship. Militarily, we can ease the burden on the United States in the middle and long term, but our options are limited. Europe must therefore focus on its strengths and use its economic power more strategically. Through trade agreements and development aid, we can build ties with states in our neighbourhood, instead of leaving them to Chinese influence.
Ultimately, the world continues to need a reliable and capable Western alliance to ensure peace and freedom, security, and prosperity. American and European interests are not always the same, but our political cultures are convergent, and our common values are robust.
What type of climate policy do you wish the EU should adopt? Which global role should the EU play in climate questions?
In functioning democracies, whatever one can organise majorities for is implemented, and not necessarily what minorities consider to be a priority. That said, the climate issue will undoubtedly be one of the key challenges of the future. The EU should therefore commit to an active role in international climate policy and continue to pursue a comprehensive strategy for sustainability as envisaged in the European Green Deal.
In the process, both national and European climate policy must also take into account the manifold legitimate interests of different parts of society. Only if it is possible to sustainably reduce greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time advance economic and social development will European climate policy be implemented in the Union and become a global example. A sustainable growth strategy must therefore rely on market-based instruments and work with incentives rather than prohibitions where appropriate, while promoting innovation and competition. In other words: European climate policy, the promotion of innovation and the social market economy should continue to be closely interconnected.
What European perspectives are necessary for the next generation of Europeans, especially with regard to the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic?
The pandemic is holding up a mirror to all of us. It has brought existing latent problems in European societies and in the EU into the spotlight. Strategic dependencies, the crisis of multilateralism (which did not stop at the EU, judging by the impact of unilateral national efforts), cumbersome decision-making processes — to name just a few points — have led to the EU not always looking its best during the pandemic. The lessons learned are manifold and it is certainly too early to draw final conclusions.
But one thing should be clear — also with regard to the next generation of European citizens: for all its shortcomings and cumbersome voting procedures, the EU is an ambitious and complicated, but highly intelligent attempt to find a workable answer to the loss of sovereignty in times of globalisation. Or, to put it differently: by deciding to share and jointly exercise their sovereignty, the European states have preserved the possibility of exerting a decisive influence on their own affairs. On careful consideration, the EU has succeeded in many more fields of action than a public as accustomed to success as it is suspicious of it is prepared to accept.
Nevertheless, we must take criticism seriously, even and particularly when it seems exaggerated or unjustified. At the same time, we have to explain such relationships more understandably. In a world that is becoming more and more complex, the questions and the possible answers have to be explained more than they used to be in order to become understandable.
Ultimately, it is important to convey that Europe, despite all its difficulties, remains a historically unprecedented and exemplary model. We have to explain to our own citizens — also in order to address their concerns — not only how European institutions function, but also what perspectives they can expect from the Union in the medium and long term. Obviously, this can no longer be justified only with reference to economic and political necessities, but must also be experienced at an emotional level. Europe is also, and perhaps above all, a matter of the heart.
Norbert Lammert, Interview with Norbert Lammert (Konrad Adenauer Foundation, CDU), Sep 2021, 93-95.
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