Europe is the future and it is in our hands

MK – 09/2022

Olaf Scholz's Europe speech was given on 29 August at the Karlova University in Prague. And with good reason. The city used to belong to the Eastern Bloc and it was the scene of the Prague Spring. In his speech, Scholz referred to the university's almost 700-year heritage and he sees it being closely linked to the history of Europe.

Reforms for Europe

French President Emmanuel Macron's speech at the Sorbonne five years ago, in which he proposed reforms for the EU, was not addressed by German politicians at the time. Scholz is now seizing the opportunity - at least indirectly - to take up these proposals and expand them through his visions for Europe's future. Due to the "turning point" with regard to the war of aggression in Ukraine, he is seeking reforms within the EU, which he did not present as "ready-made German solutions", but divided them into four conceptual approaches.

First concept: Enlarging the EU to the East

Scholz's first train of thought dealt with enlarging the eastern part of the EU. This includes the Western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova and, in perspective, Georgia. The EU would then grow from 27 to 36 member states. Scholz is seeking reforms to ensure that the EU remains capable of acting despite the large number of member states. In particular, he sees the fact that countries can presently block important decisions with a veto through the unanimity principle as a problem. He offers the majority principle as a solution to this. Neither should the number of MEPs in the European Parliament continue to grow when new member states are admitted.

Second concept: European sovereignty

According to Scholz, European sovereignty means taking responsibility for one's own security and close cooperation between member states in order to present mutual values and interests worldwide. He wants to introduce a "strategic update of the internal market” to realise this. The EU should become a pioneer in key technologies, such as energy, defence, mobility and space. He continues to see joint cooperation in procuring and producing armament projects. The EU also needs an independent Council of Defence Ministers - especially against the background of the war of aggression in Ukraine.

Third concept: Overcoming conflicts and finding new solutions

Scholz wants deadlocked conflicts within the EU to be resolved. He cited the migration policy as an example. He would like to reform it based on foresight. Scholz envisages preventing illegal migration whilst still enabling legal migration. Scholz would like to see more binding partnerships with the countries of origin and transit. Furthermore, this will rely on effective border protection that meets the standards under the rule-of-law. Finally, he wants a solidarity-based and crisis-proof asylum system that will provide legal migrants an early opportunity to take up work. According to Scholz, freedom of movement should not result in the social systems becoming overloaded.

Fourth concept: No tolerance for value violations

Democratic values are fundamental to the EU and they guarantee its continued existence. Violations of rule-of-law principles will not be tolerated, said Scholz. The majority of citizens would like to see a stronger commitment to freedom and democracy in their member states. Scholz attaches appropriate importance to consistent sanctions for any violations. EU payments should also be linked to the rule-of-law.

The extent to which the reform plans will be taken up is not foreseeable at present. Czech President Petr Fiala currently holds the Council Presidency and he might put the issue on the political agenda in Brussels. However, he has expressed reservations about the German Chancellor's concepts.