Strengthening Europe – from Berlin
European integration over the past 50 years has undoubtedly been a great achievement for Europe which has brought good fortune to Germany. The European Union stands for peace, security and solidarity, and for democracy and the rule of law. It has freed its Member States from the threat of aggressive nationalism and war. It has overcome authoritarian regimes and dictatorships in Europe, and enables countries to embark on new forms of cooperation in more and more policy areas, both within the EU itself and with its neighbours.
The integration process has come a long way. The lesson to be learned from the major financial and economic crisis in recent months, however, is that the existence and the future of the European Union cannot be taken for granted. The EU suddenly found itself poised on the brink of an abyss, and the causes of the crisis have still not been addressed. European economic and monetary union faces an unprecedented challenge. In this situation, a sense of responsibility and solidarity are essential. Europe must now introduce further integration measures. The EU needs a more rigorous common economic policy.
In the face of global challenges such as climate change, resource scarcity and poverty reduction, combined with shifting configurations within the international community, Europe's opinion will only carry weight if it speaks with one voice. Now more than ever, commitment and European engagement are required. With its 27 Member States and a population of half a billion, the EU has considerable authority, for it establishes many of the frameworks for policy-making at the national level. Europe carries weight in the international arena, too, especially when it comes to making globalisation more equitable and establishing new environmental and social standards for global markets.
The EU as a global player
We need a strong European Union as a global player and advocate for peace, equitable and sustainable globalisation and human rights worldwide. With the Lisbon Treaty's entry into force, a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy was appointed, and a European External Action Service (EEAS) is being created to provide her with support. These are important steps in strengthening, pooling and improving the coordination of the EU's external action. Over the long term, however, we Greens want even more: we want a genuine common European foreign and security policy (CFSP) and a European Foreign Minister, not merely a High Representative. We also want to achieve more than the lowest common denominator which is all too often the outcome of the unanimity requirement for the CFSP.
One of the European Union's most successful peace policy instruments is its enlargement policy. This has provided crucial support to numerous countries making the transition to stable democracies and functioning market economies. Many of the painful reforms that they have undergone have been supported and eased by the prospect of EU accession. We Greens support the accession negotiations with Croatia and Turkey. Turkey's progression towards the EU is a contribution to peace and stability in the region and to democratisation in Turkey. The EU also has a particular responsibility towards the Western Balkans. We Greens want to support these countries' closer links with the EU, which must include visa-free-travel and the establishment of economic and environmental partnerships. It is also in our interests to support peace and democracy in non-accession neighbouring countries. To that end, the EU created the European Neighbourhood Policy, which we Greens want to expand. Through closer cooperation and equal partnership, we want a neighbourhood policy which supports sustainable economic, social, democratic and ecological development in the partner countries.
Breathing life into the Lisbon Treaty
We Greens have been firm advocates for the Lisbon Treaty for many years because it introduces important reforms. With the Lisbon Treaty's entry into force in December 2009, these reforms must now be implemented and must take on tangible form:
- Consolidation of all EU citizens' basic rights in accordance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is now legally binding. One example is the freedom of movement of minorities such as the Roma.
- A stronger role for the European Parliament - so that MEPs in Brussels have co-decision rights in far more areas and have largely equal status with the Council. One example is the SWIFT agreement.
- Further development of the European Citizens' Initiative so that citizens can get directly involved in European politics with minimal bureaucracy. As one example, online support should be provided.
Bundestag must fulfil its new role with confidence
In its judgment on the Lisbon Treaty, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court called for the German Bundestag's rights and responsibility to be strengthened in the context of European integration. The judges in Karlsruhe took the view that "tacit consent is not enough" and assigned Parliament a central role in safeguarding the democratic legitimacy of further steps in the integration process. The task now is to ensure that the Bundestag can fulfil its new European policy role with confidence. This is the only way to explain European policy to citizens. The traditionally low turn-out at European elections is indicative of the gap which exists between policy-makers and the general public. In order to address this situation, we urgently need a new approach to European politics. We must focus more of our efforts on explaining the political decisions adopted within the European Union framework, make parliaments the focus of political debate, and make it much clearer who is responsible for the decisions that are taken. Key posts such as the Presidency of the European Commission should no longer be the subject of wheeling and dealing behind the scenes, but must instead be allocated in a clear and open political competition.