Gerhard Schröder: Don't strangle Europe with austerity
Europe is churning after anti-austerity elections in Greece and France, where Socialist François Hollande ousted Nicolas Sarkozy. Europe must now shift from pure austerity toward growth. It must also keep working toward closer political union. Both moves will help Germany's economy.
The emergence of a united Europe is a process that has been going on for decades, characterized by progress but also by setbacks. There have been crises again and again in the history of European unification. Crucially, Europe has always found an answer to these crises and come out of them strengthened in the end. It will be the same this time if the political actors face up to the great challenges [related to the European debt crisis] and muster the political will to overcome them.Skip to next paragraph
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Since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, the number of participating states has increased from six to 27. The European institutions and bodies of regulations have been steadily enlarged in parallel. For politicians in the nation states, but also on the European level, this complexity signifies a great challenge.
The decision-making processes, the distribution of powers between the European Union and the nation states, and the interaction of the institutions must therefore be simplified and regulated more clearly. Only then will it be possible to continue the integration process needed and make the European Union more capable of action.
This capability, and the ability to react more quickly to the development of financial markets, requires a European policy. The current crisis has plainly shown this. The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, rightly speaks of a crisis of confidence, because people doubt the ability of democracy to solve urgent problems. The European Union can and must overcome this crisis of confidence.
In the past months it has become clear – even in the debate about the fiscal pact – that there are different speeds in the European Union. The gulf between countries that are able and willing to integrate more quickly, and countries that are applying the brakes, such as the United Kingdom, has become wider.
This development is not at all unusual – we have gone through many phases with different speeds. In my time in office, for instance, Belgium, Germany, France, and Luxembourg initiated a debate about security policy in Europe at the “chocolate summit” in 2003.
Today we again need a solid core of states to push the integration process forward. More Europe, not less Europe – that must now be the goal. And the political leadership in the nation states has the responsibility to promote the European idea aggressively to the public.
This is true, for example, for growth initiatives, structural reforms, and proposals to strengthen the European institutions in relation to nation states. And above all it’s about enacting European decisions more democratically, because there is justifiable unease about far-reaching European decisions being made in opaque processes. At the moment the role of parliaments is decreasing, which could result in an erosion of democracy. We must resist this.