Statement to the European Parliament


President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz,
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker,
Distinguished colleagues at the European Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The last time a French President and a German Chancellor jointly addressed the European Parliament was in November 1989. François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl spoke together here in Strasbourg shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Both of them felt that great changes were about to sweep Germany and Europe. Both of them were deeply moved by this wind of change. Both of them clearly expressed their commitment to responding with joint European solutions. And so the healing of the divide in Germany was ultimately followed by the healing of divisions in Europe.

Today we can look back with gratitude and some pride on the historic achievements that we Europeans were responsible for over these years of continental bonding. And now it seems a matter of course to us that Europe is free and united. But this historic achievement required tremendous exertions.

The old member states were, for example, visited by fears and scepticism regarding the plans to almost double the number of European Union member states. Many people viewed freedom of movement for millions of new EU citizens as a threat to their own jobs. New decision-making structures had to be created. European funds had to be redirected towards the new member states.

Today we can see that these efforts have paid off for us all. They have not brought us less prosperity, but more prosperity. They have not brought us less freedom, but more freedom. They have not brought us less diversity, but more diversity. In brief, they have brought us more Europe, because we Europeans have learned in the course of our history to make the most of our diversity. The quality that has enabled us to do this, that has allowed us to combine freedom with responsibility, is tolerance. This is a precious asset.

Overcoming the fault-lines between East and West has proven to be a massive success story. It has shown us what we Europeans can do if we only want to, if we are bold and stick together. It has also shown that there is no reason at all to be discouraged by the set-backs that are bound to come every now and again. In a nutshell, it has shown us what is possible.

This has also been shown by the drafting of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Lisbon Treaty. This has been shown by the lessons of the international financial crisis, which we mastered together and from which we emerged stronger than we had entered it. This has been shown by the European debt crisis, during which we acted together. François Hollande mentioned the difficult negotiations. But by acting together we were able to preserve the cohesion of the eurozone.

Ladies and gentlemen, today the French President François Hollande and myself have been given the privilege of addressing you. I would like to thank the President of the European Parliament for this kind invitation. Now, again, Europe is facing a tremendous challenge. We are facing a test of historic proportions.

I am talking of course about the many, many people who have set off on dangerous journeys to Europe to seek refuge here. People who are crossing the Mediterranean to reach Italy, or who are crossing the Aegean from Turkey to Greece. People who are fleeing civil wars, especially the war in Syria, which has already claimed more than 250,000 lives and made refugees of more than 10 million individuals. Refugees from Iraq and refugees from Africa who cross the unstable state of Libya to reach us.

They all know too well that our diplomatic and political efforts and those of our transatlantic allies have not yet brought peace in Syria. It proved impossible to prevent the terrorist organisation IS from gaining strength in Iraq and in Syria. The power vacuum in Libya has not yet been filled. Giving these people the chance to live their lives in dignity, in their home countries, without being scared to death by bombs and terrorists – managing that is a European task, and ultimately a global task.

Today’s message is that it will take a determined contribution from Europe to solve this crisis – by taking action against war and displacement, terrorism and political persecution, and against poverty and despair.

Germany and France have endeavoured resolutely to resolve the terrible conflict between Russia and Ukraine. We have seen the Crimea annexed, and eastern Ukraine destabilised. To be quite frank, it is fortunate that we in Europe acted together, that we imposed sanctions together and said that Russia’s actions constituted an impermissible violation of our principles. We are now working in the “Normandy” format to resolve this conflict. Just last Friday we held talks in France, in Paris, which give us cause to hope that at least the ceasefire could hold. The elections in Donetsk and Luhansk have indeed been postponed. But, ladies and gentlemen, this is only one of many conflicts.

I’m convinced that we have to tailor our foreign and development policy far more closely to the goals of resolving conflicts and combating the factors that cause people to flee their homes. We will also have to provide much more money than we have done to date. The necessary decisions to this end will have to be taken quickly. All of these things will change Europe again, just as Europe was profoundly altered by the revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe 25 years ago.

Of course we will continue to work on improving our competitiveness. Of course we will work on the digitisation of our societies, on sustainable development, on a joint energy policy and on free trade agreements with other countries in line with our principles. Now more than ever, there is a need for an economically strong Europe, which uses the opportunities of the single market. To this end we have to improve economic policy coordination within the eurozone and, on that basis, correct the mistakes that were made when the European economic and monetary union was created. Germany and France will play their part in this endeavour.

But the truly massive number of refugees is changing Europe’s agenda in yet another way – and permanently, because they challenge our values and interests as Europeans and worldwide in a unique way. If the aim is to regulate and ultimately curb the flood of refugees, there is no alternative to addressing the issues which cause people to flee their homes. This will obviously require time, patience and a long-term strategy.

In these past few months in particular, we in Europe have seen how closely connected we are to these global events, directly, whether we like it or not. We can no longer shut ourselves off from what is happening in the world. Not since the Second World War have so many people fled their homes as today – the number has now reached around 60 million. This figure alone highlights the dimension of the task.

Nobody leaves their home lightly – not even those who are coming to Europe for economic reasons. But we have to say to these people that they cannot stay, to make sure that we can truly help those who genuinely need our protection from war and persecution. We need a political process involving all regional and international actors to resolve the crisis in Syria – with a greater role for Europe. We have to help Syria’s neighbours so that they can offer the millions of refugees decent prospects. The European Commission has thus put forward proposals on an improved financial framework. I would also like to thank the European Parliament for supporting these proposals. The national states must also play their part.

Turkey has a key role to play. It is our direct neighbour and a gateway for irregular migration. Turkey is doing amazing things for more than two million refugees from Syria. But it needs more support from us – to feed and accommodate the refugees, to secure borders, and to fight human traffickers. For this very reason, the dialogue on migration policy that the European Commission has launched with Turkey is of vital importance. Germany will work bilaterally in support of the Commission’s endeavours in this regard. Equally important are the efforts to form a government of national unity in Libya. Europe supports the efforts undertaken by UN Envoy León.

The entire European Union is called upon to address these challenges. In the refugee crisis we must not give in to the temptation to fall back on national government action. On the contrary, what we need now is more Europe. More than ever we need the courage and cohesion that Europe has always shown when it was really important. Germany and France are ready to act accordingly.

We are in full agreement on this with the President of the European Commission, who has put many important proposals on the table, proposals that we now need to implement systematically. We are in full agreement on this with the President of the European Council, who is working tirelessly to improve cooperation with the countries of origin and transit. And we are in full agreement on this with the European Parliament, which in its resolution of 10 September reminded us that national go‑it‑alone efforts will not solve the refugee crisis. Mr President, we would also like to thank you for adopting unconventional, fast-track decisions. These were important.

For only together will Europe succeed in mitigating the root causes of flight and displacement worldwide. Only together will we succeed in effectively combating criminal human trafficking rings. Only together will we succeed in better protecting the external borders of the European Union with jointly operated hotspots and manage not to jeopardise our internally border-less Europe. – I will say it explicitly: we will only be able to successfully protect our external borders if we do something in our neighbourhood to overcome the many crises that are happening on our doorstep, as it were. – Only together will we succeed in concluding EU‑wide returns agreements, in order to get those people who will not be allowed to stay here back to their countries of origin. Only together will we succeed in distributing the refugees fairly and equitably among all the member states. A first step has been taken. For this too I would like to thank the Parliament, or rather a majority thereof.

Let’s be honest, the Dublin procedure in its current form is obsolete in practice. The intention behind it was good, of that there can be no doubt. But, all in all, it has not proven viable when faced with the current challenges at our external borders. I therefore advocate the adoption of a new approach based on fairness and solidarity in sharing the burdens. I welcome the Commission’s work in this regard. I think it is good that Germany and France are in agreement on this point.

Equally, it is only together that we will succeed in tackling the huge job of integrating so many refugees. We can rightly expect the people who come to us in Europe to become integrated into our societies. This requires them to uphold the rules that apply here, and to learn the language of their new homeland.

But, conversely, we also have a duty to treat the people who come to us in need with respect, to see them as human beings and not as an anonymous mass – regardless of whether they will be allowed to stay or not. That is why it is so important to uphold the minimum humanitarian standards we agreed on for feeding and housing refugees and for conducting asylum proceedings. We owe that to them, the refugees, and to ourselves.

For Europe is a community of shared values, a community founded on shared rules and shared responsibility. In my opinion this means that we must be guided by the values we have enshrined in the European treaties: human dignity, the rule of law, tolerance, respect for minorities and solidarity. In my opinion it means that pan‑European challenges are not to be solved by a few member states on their own, but by all of us together.

We need to realise that it wouldn’t help anybody for us to try to completely isolate ourselves, to knowingly allow for the fact that people could come to harm at our borders – certainly not the people concerned, who would still find ways and means of getting here, and not even ourselves in Europe. Retreating from the world and shutting ourselves off is an illusion in the age of the Internet. It would not solve any problems, but would create additional ones, for we would be abandoning our values and thereby losing our identity. If we forget that, we betray ourselves – it’s that simple. But if we remember it, we will manage to pass this historic test and will, moreover, emerge stronger from this crisis than we went into it. Then we will manage to persuasively stand up for our values and interests at global level, too. By the way, that is what people outside of Europe, too, expect of us.

Ladies and gentlemen, the reasons why people leave their homelands are all too familiar to us from our own European history. For centuries, our continent was not the destination, but first and foremost the starting point for refugees, displaced persons and migrants. – Jean-Claude Juncker reminded us forcefully of this fact in his state of the Union address. – Today Europe is a region on which many people from all over the world pin their hopes and aspirations – a region that people dream of, in the way that, 25 years ago, I and millions of others in Central and Eastern Europe dreamed of a free and united Germany and Europe.

We have to deal responsibly with Europe’s gravitational pull. In other words, we have to take greater care of those who are in need today in our neighbourhood. If we view this challenge as a joint European and worldwide challenge, we will also be able to identify and seize the economic and social opportunities that this historic test brings. And we will, incidentally, see that the opportunities are greater than the risks.

We will have to continue working hard to convince people of the value of our Europe. François Hollande, after centuries of war and hatred between our two peoples we are today fighting together for shared objectives. I would like to invite all of you here in this distinguished House to work together to convince people of the value of our Europe. Every single MEP can play an important role – in your home states, in your constituencies, and across Europe vis‑à‑vis the pan‑European public.

Let us work together on this, in the manner that Helmut Kohl suggested back in 1989 here in the European Parliament with an eye on the revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe. I quote: “with judiciousness and moderation, with creativity and flexibility”.

Thank you very much.