This election was about much more than the single market or the euro. Of course, economic interests also played a role. France is Germany’s most important trading partner in Europe, with a trade volume of more than €167 billion ($182 billion), and our second-most important export market worldwide. Our economy operates in the world’s largest joint free-trade area, which provides the basis for global success. But Europe is much more than that. It is a strong and absolutely competitive community of values.
Why did enthusiasm for Europe, which makes logical sense based on the advantages it provides, begin to wane? It isn’t just the poorer classes and those who feel left behind who are afraid and who assign some of the blame to Europe itself. People from the center of society are also anxious. First, there is growing competition within countries, but also between them. Jobs are being exported, and people are anxious about their futures. And then there are the increasingly complicated, non-transparent regulations and the growing sluggishness of democratic decision-making structures.
Only France and Germany, in mutual respect, are both capable of and suitable for continuing to enhance Europe and bring it together. What kinds of answers do we have in the age of globalization?
Even more than shared values, Europe needs success. It needs success that is tangible for all member states and for all social classes.
We are forced to jointly manage certain things that individual nations cannot manage on their own. First, there is the confrontation with an increasingly aggressive Islam. And no country will be able to cope with the influx of refugees alone. Terrorists will not respect national borders. But other issues, such as growth, jobs, the energy supply, digitalization and telecommunications, can and must be resolved at the European level.
Europe also needs renewal, and it has always been work in progress. We will only make headway if some set an example on integration. These countries will then form the core of a free, strong Europe. We should be pragmatic now and tackle two or three of the urgent tasks that no member state can solve on its own: migration and cultural integration, external and internal security, preserving the common currency and economic integration.
Europe now needs to demonstrate efficiency in solving pressing problems to gain more approval from European citizens. This can be achieved in the fight against terrorism, for example, if intelligence services finally cooperate instead of holding onto their own information. It also makes sense to provide more latitude again for regional characteristics, in food labeling, for example. Only Europe offers competing economies the opportunities to utilize the common market and create new jobs, so that the underprivileged classes can also find work, as long as they are suitably educated and trained. This is why the British made the wrong decision. The belief that a country with a population of 58 million can compete with the rest of the world may have been possible in the past, in the British Empire.
Even more than shared values, Europe needs success. It needs success that is tangible for all member states and for all social classes. It is critical that new jobs are created for young people. If we look closely, we can see signs that this is already happening, albeit to a modest extent.
Emmanuel Macron’s election victory is likely to reignite the debate over German export surpluses. But higher German consumption is not a viable solution, because there is nothing that can convince Germans to consume more. I also do not believe that a European fiscal equalization scheme would get us any further. The best way would be to focus on a shared European approach against China and the United States instead of national concepts – in the telecommunications infrastructure, for example. Then we will no longer be talking about investments of €100 billion but of €1 or €2 trillion, and Germany’s export surpluses will then be pumped back into the economy.
In these unsettling times of change, our future is to be a part of Europe. It doesn’t work without everyone’s commitment. The world needs us. I am firmly convinced that the European age is just beginning.
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