Liberal Manifesto

Germany Needs European-Style Liberalism

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The Hambach Festival in 1832 was a celebration of incipient nationhood and the moment German liberalism was born. Source: Picture Alliance

Europe is facing its worst crisis since 1945 for a whole number of conspiring reasons: the mountains of sovereign debts amassed by euro zone countries, the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, a rampant weariness of history in Western countries, widespread euro-skepticism, as well as the emergence of populist, nationalist and even anti-democratic movements in some EU countries and the US. It’s time to give European-style liberalism a new lease of life and to restore its political responsibility.

But liberalism in Germany – by which we mean the European liberalism of individual freedom and constitutionally limited government, not the big-government, big-spending US variety – will only regain credibility and the power to shape German policy if it does not again  succumb to merely serving as kingmaker to Germany’s bigger parties in a coalition government, or catering to a limited voter base once in power. Liberal policy will only regain its contours if the Free Democratic Party can again recognize itself as an all-embracing party with political objectives centered on civil rights and individual freedom.

Freedom comes with risks, but is worth every effort. Today, citizens are easily distracted, often overwhelmed by th complexity of a globalized world, increasingly perplexed by information that could be true – and just as easily fake news. Today more than ever we need a political platform that upholds democracy as the arena in which freedoms political, social, economic, cultural, and of the press can best find expression; a platform that also upholds these freedoms must be earned anew by every generation.

The ruling “grand coalition” of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, Germany’s two big parties, has made German society more lethargic, more provincial, less democratic. It’s time for a liberal manifesto – for the sake of German and Europe. We need a “reset” to forge a Europe that is prepared to fend off the forces trying to undermine the ideas that define the West. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the feted Free Democrat foreign minister, once said: “Europe is our future, and it’s the only one we have.”

“Europe is our future, and it's the only one we have.”

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Former Foreign Minister

It’s time to start improving education. In 1964, the pedagogue and philosopher Georg Picht declared an “education disaster” in Germany. It’s now 2017 and it feels like nothing has changed. We invest only 4.2 percent of our gross domestic product into education. Other western European countries invest on average a whole percentage point more, according to OECD figures. Education is both the opportunity and precondition for social advancement, professional qualifications, and top academic achievement in education and technology. Professional skills are fundamental and should not rely on social origins.

Education is a human right – as much a human right as the right to live in peace.

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The migrant crisis was inevitable. Source: dpa

No other issue is as polarizing and emotionally charged as migration and integration of refugees. Around 66 million people are currently displaced by hunger, war, and torture. Walls, fences, perilous voyages across the Mediterranean do not stop them. Europe has proved unable to implement a common migration policy that upholds the fundamental values of the community, and to create an efficient system of border protections. Populists have used the opportunity to accuse Brussels of failure and to stoke racist fears.

While German Chancellor from 1969 to 1974, Willy Brandt foresaw the problems associated with the growing economic disparity between the poor south (Africa) and the rich north (Europe). It was clear to him that as long as Europe and the US subsidized their agricultural sectors, African farmers and their products wouldn’t stand a chance in European markets. It was clear to him that fair trade agreements were needed that mainly benefited African entrepreneurs – not wealthy European food producers.

Today this situation has hit a crisis point as massive flows of migrants are looking for better economic conditions. The current German government is trying to address this problem with a Marshall Plan for Africa. But this policy runs the risk of using development politics to stem the flow of migrants instead using investment to create sustainable industry and domestic markets in Africa.

Instead, the EU should finance temporary refugee cities and camps in northern Africa and place them under UN supervision to avoid the disastrous humanitarian conditions now prevailing in Libya. This has to be done to prevent 30 million migrants from making their way to Europe, which European Parliament President Antonio Tajani is already warning of. This would also prevent deaths in the Mediterranean.

Secondly, all EU countries – including Germany as the bloc’s wealthiest member state – cannot avoid investing billions in education, training, and production in Africa in the coming years to provide Africans with fair prospects on their own continent. Thirdly, we have to distinguish between political asylum and regular immigration. The right to political asylum must be defended and cannot be weakened. However, foreigners without the proper visas and without asylum status must be consistently deported.

To address security concerns, the next administration must provide federal and state governments with sufficient support to avoid prevention and monitoring breakdowns. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has been the only party that recognizes that Germany is a county of immigration – and that immigration is needed, both economically and demographically. An immigration law that only allows the “best and most capable” into our country is necessary to better control and limit immigration.

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A symbol of quality... for now. Source: dpa

Welcoming the most talented and capable people will only add to our country’s fantastic potential for economic daring, inventive imagination, technological know-how, and intellectual curiosity. But in 2017, we’re still profiting from the gains of the “Agenda 2010,” developed by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, which says much about his successors. To maintain our momentum, we need an “Agenda 2030” that ties environmental, energy, and climate policy to economic and structural policy. This transformation would allow us to develop new global markets – as long as investments are made into new technologies.

At the same time, we must move away from a corporatist democracy of accommodation, which has led to the current political-industrial complex in Germany. The “unholy alliance” between politcians and carmakers as well as politicians and state-owned banks must come to an end. A fair and free market economy includes reasonable antitrust legislation. If we want “Made in Germany” to remain a symbol of quality, illegal collusion should be punished with real penalties for the actors and their customers.

We need to achieve a liberal, environmentally friendly, and socially cohesive democracy that fosters competition. This means less regulation, less bureaucracy, lower taxes, better education and training, more work, more research, more investment in environmentally friendly technology, and more immigration of qualified people into Germany. We stress that this should not come at the expense of a functioning social welfare state, with an adequate safety net for the weaker members of society.

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Merkron represents a new chapter. Source: DPA

Germany has the unique opportunity – as an important EU and NATO partner – to serve as a leading European power, next to France and Great Britain. Success stems from the ability to harmonize our own interests with the interests of others. It is fortunate that France, with Emmanuel Macron, once again has a president who has placed Europe’s future at the top of the country’s political agenda. We should not hesitate to take advantage of this opportunity, as a German-French team, to promote the expansion of the euro zone and the strengthening of Europe, in particular in terms of its foreign and security policy.

But Europe cannot rely on Europe alone. Even if the trans-Atlantic relationship is currently under strain, this cannot turn into alienation. The goal of liberal foreign policy must remain the attempt to exert German influence on Washington’s important strategic decisions. We will be all the more successful at achieving this objective if we prove to be a reliable partner in security and defense policy in the future.

To be able to stand up to today’s growing uncertainties, we must join London and Paris in promoting the “Europeanization of NATO.” The American Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) should be replaced with a European, NATO’s military expenditures should be adjusted accordingly. The times when Germans were tolerated as “security policy freeloaders” in Washington and within NATO are definitely over. Together with other partners, we now have to assume a leading role in global security policy.

Cooperation with Russia is also key to achieving peace in conflict regions like Syria. We need a fresh start in our relationship with Russia. Yes, the annexation of Crimea was a violation of international law. But we are being presumptuous if we, as Europeans, believe it is up to us to impose sanctions on major powers. All major powers act – regrettably – in violation of international law, admittedly some more than others. As a first step, we should allow Moscow to return to the G8. At times of substantial differences of opinion, it is critical the dialogue be continued more intensively than ever. This applies to our dialogue with Washington, Beijing and Moscow. European hypocrisy is inappropriate. It only strengthens populists.

 

To contact the authors: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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