‘I’m certain that Europe has a positive future’
Europe must take the wake-up call of the UK referendum seriously, argued Germany’s Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, at a high level meeting in Bucharest organised by the Romanian Ministry of Public Finance and GlobalCapital.
The EU must make itself more visible and accessible to the people, and demonstrate that Europe can resolve problems in a way that no single country would be able achieve on its own.
The strong co-operation between Romania and Germany shows that the EU can make a difference — Romania needs more investment to address the economic differences between European regions and the EU Budget should focus more on implementing country-specific recommendations of the European Commission.I believe Romania and Germany have a close relationship. There are close ties between our two countries, also thanks to significant portions of the population, and we have a great deal of respect in Germany for everything Romania has done and achieved over recent decades, most of all the results they have attained in their political sphere over the past few years.
Romania is a dependable partner for cooperation within the European Union. As with joint work in international organisations, such as the Atlantic Alliance, we in Germany understand and we will never forget that we owe a debt of gratitude to Europeans and their desire for unity in helping restore the good fortune of our country after the Second World War and overcoming partition — these positive developments would not have been possible without the support of our European partners. This is why we will never forget. Our country’s history and central location in Europe also encourage us to engage with others — we want to form the strongest possible links between north and south, as well as east and west.
Romania has one of the most dynamic growth rates in the European Union, which is no small feat, given the difficult times in which we find ourselves. Romania also performs well in terms of its national debt, which is less than 40% of its GDP. For the German Finance Minister, this is always of the utmost importance. I would suggest that we try and preserve this rather than putting it at risk.
Youth training vital
Romania has a relatively low level of unemployment. In some regions, there is even de facto full employment. As with other European countries, there are problems with youth unemployment, which is why I believe that dual vocational training is very valuable. Of the specific advantages enjoyed by Germany, the system of dual vocational training is the most significant and is linked to the fact that both vocational training and university qualifications are regarded as important in Germany. The range of qualifications provided by a differentiated dual training system also leads to good career prospects.
We have very close bilateral relationships. Our finance ministers enjoy close and trustful cooperation. We have a wide range of close-knit relationships. Germany is Romania’s number one trading partner and we are experiencing strong growth in bilateral trading volume and the number of investments being agreed.
I also think it’s very important for you to avoid a discussion between foreign investors and other individuals, just as we should avoid any form of dispute arising between small, medium and large scale investors. At the end of the day, the dynamism of the economy comes from small and medium-sized companies but, of course, we still need large, successful companies. During the economic crisis 10 years ago, it became apparent that when large companies go through difficult times, such as the car industry in Germany, then small and medium-sized companies soon start to experience a whole range of problems.
Help from KfW
German companies know — and we promote and try our best to support this understanding — that Romania is an attractive and successful location, and are working through partnership to make Romania an even more attractive place for investments.
This is why we collaborate very closely with our development bank, KfW, which has a very good reputation in our country and works closely with Exim Bank and the Romanian development bank.
We provide support — irrespective of whether the relationships should be formalised — and provide consultancy.
Furthermore, from next year I will once again chair the administrative board of KfW — provided my colleague, the Minister for Economic Affairs, and I are in agreement. You can rely on the KfW remaining a committed partner.
My Romanian colleague and I will work towards improving funding and more European investment for Romania. I am prepared for this challenge because I have always been aware that investment needs to be specifically requested in areas where we still have some catching up to do in comparison to other economies. This is in addition to the impetus given by the Juncker Initiative and the large scale funds on offer. The purpose of such funds is not to enhance differences within Europe, rather they should achieve the exact opposite.
Breaking down economic
The more the economic differences between the various regions of Europe are dismantled, the stronger Europe can be. I also believe — as does the Prime Minister of Romania — that we Europeans can join together to work on achieving this.
I already know and understand that countries such as Romania need many years and sufficient investment to make the changes needed. But I believe it is also important that in using European funds from the EU budget, we commit ourselves more fully to achieving true added value in the centre of Europe — such as using them to support the country-specific recommendations by the Commission — and also to ensure that we actually implement what we have agreed on.
This is important and we all know that we need to consistently follow this path throughout Europe. Even in my country, we cannot rest on our laurels. The changes in global markets are so breathtakingly fast — and they affect us all in every part of Europe — that we can only progress if we work on maintaining what we have and increasing our resilience and competitiveness.
What does Europe mean for people?
You asked me to comment on the situation in Europe from the German Finance Minister’s perspective. We should not fool ourselves: Europe is not in the best situation and the fundamental problem is that the people in Europe do not fully understand what Europe means for them, what it does for them. The connection between European institutions and what people experience in everyday life is far too small.
Of course, the decision made in the British referendum on June 23 — which we all regret deeply — has given us a wake-up call. The statement this referendum made, aside from all the other factors which characterise the British, is being increasingly reflected in other European countries, and we need to take this seriously.
This is why it is crucial that we make Europe more visible and accessible to people everywhere and demonstrate that Europe can resolve problems which no single country would be able achieve on its own.
Need to co-operate on migration
I want to quickly cover six points here and you will understand that I, as a German and a member of parliament, will first of all mention migration based on our experiences over the last year. I will not touch upon the debates held over the course of the past year, but we did see how fragile European unity can be if errors are made, or we do not react appropriately to challenges that arise. The movement of people experienced recently in our neighbouring countries, about which some are more pleased than others, comes primarily from nearby crisis regions in the Middle East, but there is also a risk posed to our eastern neighbours by migration from all across Africa.
Only by joining forces as Europeans can we control these movements without risking our inner stability. This is why we need to protect our external borders jointly and distribute the burden in a fair manner.
I know that proportional distribution of refugees coming from a variety of different situations into 28 member states is no simple task, but we need to be flexible and more generous. We also need official procedures and to work jointly with our neighbouring states to ensure that traffickers — one of the worst forms of organised crime — do not get to decide who comes to Europe. We should be the ones making that decision.
The second point is closely related and it concerns neighbourhood policy. We need to provide more support to our neighbours in the east and south, which can only be achieved by working together. This is a Europe-wide challenge and we will only be successful if we all do our part.
EU indispensable for security
Now I come to my third point. If we want internal and external security in the 21st century, with its diffuse threats, new forms of fundamentalism, the spread of violence and other more general changes, then Europe is indispensable. Only when working together can Europe achieve this. In my home country, particularly in the western part — the former West Germany — we have become very accustomed to not feeling truly responsible for external security and we were content with this state of affairs. This is what our allies were for and, ultimately, we knew that the Americans would not leave us high and dry. I am speaking here in very simplified terms of course.
However, over the coming years, the Americans will not be taking the same level of responsibility for our external and internal security, contrary to what many of us had hoped for. We need to take more responsibility and no single European country, not Romania, not France, not Germany, can manage this alone. Together, we can manage it while demonstrating how important Europe is.
And now I come to my fourth point. Changes in global economic trends, which can rapidly be destructive, can only be conquered through the joint effort of all Europeans. The Juncker Initiative called for both a digital union and an energy union, and these are the right points to be focussing on.
Without a large, single market, we will not meet the basic conditions needed for economic development under digitalisation, nor will we be competitive, especially when we look at the speed of innovation in other parts of the world.
And that is why this point of becoming stronger and more efficient Europeans is so important — we cannot achieve it by working alone.
More mobility needed
The fifth point is the workplace and training. I understand that there are bilateral activities between our two countries, we have partnerships — including professional training — also including at the federal state level such as with my home region, Baden-Württemberg. This is by far the most beautiful part of Germany. The ambassador will agree with me, but this is more intended for German listeners.
When I see the unacceptably high rate of youth unemployment in many parts of Europe, and then I contrast this with the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of training vacancies in Germany this year which are not being filled by young people wanting to undergo training but unable to find the right opportunity, I feel that Europe needs to be more flexible if we want the younger generation to feel included and be more mobile.
This does not need to follow a single direction; we know that we need more mobility, especially amongst younger people. For example, I live near Strasbourg on the German-French border and I spoke to a young French person in Strasbourg who said that the French people working in Germany were older than the rest. The willingness of older French workers to seek work in Germany is higher than in the younger generation. This is crazy but it is how things stand. The figures back it up. This means that promoting mobility across all qualification stages in young people eager to learn in Europe is crucial.
Keep the euro stable
Now, I would like to move on to the next point: you are not yet members of the European Currency Union, but the euro is naturally the currency of the European Union, as we know from the Lisbon Treaty, and we will not be able to hold Europe together if we cannot keep the euro stable. That much is clear.
In this light, our efforts in the Eurogroup as finance ministers are important to all our friends and partners in the European Union.
We’ve come a long way since the banking crisis. We have managed to keep the euro currency stable, despite much scepticism. We need to keep fighting and pushing towards this. But we need to ensure that the rules are complied with. A federal structure, particularly a currency union, cannot function indefinitely if rules are not adhered to. As German Finance Minister, I do not receive much sympathy for this position, but it has to be this way, otherwise stability cannot be ensured.
We’ve advanced the Banking Union and reduced risks. This will be demonstrated in the discussions of the European banking sector which we will be holding, and it will be shown that we are much more resilient. We are working towards a Capital Markets Union which will gradually stabilise the key aspects of economic integration within the EU in general.
No Europe à la carte
A final word on the British referendum: I believe we all regret it deeply. We need to take note of it. Ultimately, it is up to the British to decide how the process of departure plays out, but it is clear that it cannot be an à la carte process. We have been steadfast in putting this across very clearly to the British. Cherry-picking will not be permitted. If they want access to the Single Market, they need to follow the rules of the Single Market and accept all the four basic freedoms — if they do not want this, they cannot be part of the Single Market.
That much is clear and there will not be much flexibility on offer. The decision is up to the British. We want to minimise the damage to Great Britain as much as possible, as well as to Europe as a whole. There is no point in punishing Great Britain. But we must keep Europe together, which is why there are no rights without obligations. Europe is not à la carte, the rules apply to everyone, even in testing times.
If we do this and work resolutely to demonstrate to the people that Europe has real value, that we can resolve problems which would otherwise be insurmountable, then I am certain that Europe has a positive future.
For this reason, we should not exhaust ourselves in day-to-day rivalries between individual institutions and we should not place the blame on each other — on the Commission, or on the European Parliament, or on the individual member states. European citizens are not interested in hearing this. They want to know that we are pushing ahead with key areas and that this will also have a tangible effect on their own lives.
Europe and its abundance, European diversity in its manifold forms, its great contrasts which we do not want to lose — giving them up would be a stupid move; it would make Europe far less interesting. The true task we face here in Europe is to properly combine diversity, freedom and unity. We should not lose sight of the huge amount we have achieved, and we should not be pessimistic but rather continue to work resolutely toward our goals. s