Close cooperation between Poland, Germany and France could strengthen the EU – writes Hans-Gert PÖTTERING.
.“The law of solidarity between the peoples is a must for the modern conscience. We feel solidarity with one another to maintain peace, to fight poverty, in the respect of treaties, in safeguarding justice and human dignity, or protecting ourselves from aggression.”—wrote Robert Schuman in his book For Europe published in 1963 just before his death. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall it seemed that these values would triumph as the world moved towards cooperation and Europe became ever more united.
Sadly, this conviction has proved to be short-lived. For some time now it has been evident that the world is again a very dangerous place as tensions that seemed long buried have come to the surface. It is enough to look at Poland’s eastern border where authoritarian Russia is taking increasingly hostile steps. In addition, the totalitarian Chinese regime exercises more and more influence on global affairs and new threats are emerging that are typical of the 21st century. Finally, there is the enormous challenge represented by climate change and the need to complete the digital transition.
All these circumstances have sparked the discussion about the future of Europe. We must find the European answer to those challenges and, at the same time, build a new platform for cooperation with the United States now that Joe Biden has been elected president. The paradigm shift in Europe and its neighbourhood requires that the EU set out a new course of action.
As an MEP I have been able to witness great developments that have taken place on our continent. I remember the fall of communism in Eastern Europe when the “Solidarity” movement and John Paul II brought about the colossal transformation of the political system in the very heart of Europe. It became obvious then that Europe rests on the values mentioned by Schuman: freedom, peace, human dignity and liberal order. It is these values that make our continent unique and the role of the EU is to stand guard over them.
The most important value of all is the dignity of each human being as well as the related value of tolerance for others. There is only one exception to that—there can be no tolerance for those who are intolerant. Our job is to defend human dignity against authoritarian and totalitarian systems. Europe provides the best conditions for everyone to choose their preferred way of life and supports people in the choices they have made. This is partially the aim of the Recovery Fund worth 750 billion euro. The Fund is the best proof of how the inhabitants of 27 member states can combat the pandemic and, together, look for solutions that help overcome crises.
The scourge of COVID-19 will eventually pass. We will then have an opportunity to take on some key, systemic problems. Europe needs to reconcile the economy and the environment. It is a very difficult challenge that calls for a great sense of responsibility. On the one hand, we need to ensure that our economy is competitive compared to rest of the world, and on the other hand, we have to inspire others to take good care of our planet. We can only achieve this if we remember about the principle of solidarity among EU member states. We cannot have a situation where those states oppose and compete against one another. It is only by standing together that we are strong, as it is evidenced by the progress made in the Community over the last years. Europe is of course no paradise. Many problems are still left unresolved and we have not managed to avoid mistakes. However, the difficulties we have pale in comparison to those that are currently confronting such large countries as Russia, Brazil, USA or China. This demonstrates perfectly that European solidarity is profitable to us all.
“Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity”—wrote Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet in their declaration of 9 May 1950. Their great ambition was that European countries would be able to solve their problems together. They also saw crisis as an opportunity for it was during times of hardship that the countries of Europe understood clearly that it was easier to go ahead by working together rather than separately.
Bearing in mind this thought by the Community’s founding fathers, it is worth identifying the areas where we can cooperate more closely. Undoubtedly, we will be better equipped to face present-day challenges if we start pursuing a common foreign policy. Among others, this would enable us to establish a European policy towards Putin’s Russia. This is precisely why a common policy would be in the interest of all EU member states.
I strongly encourage the Polish government to become involved in the development of a common foreign, security and defence policy. One of the pillars of European cooperation might be the Weimar Triangle. It is worth brining the concept back. Close cooperation between Poland, Germany and France might be a source of strength for the EU. Notably, this approach is advocated by Armin Laschet who has been nominated by the CDU/CSU to run as candidate to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel. He is among those who set great store by the European common defence policy which is also in the interest of Poland.
One important element of cooperation within the EU could be closer cooperation in the area of defence. However, this should not be treated as an attempt to rival the North Atlantic Alliance. I do not subscribe to Emmanuel Macron’s opinion about NATO’s “brain death”. Anyway, his words have to be put in their context. They were said when the White House was inhabited by Donald Trump. This is no longer the case.
.Europe and America share many values and it is because of them that we should be thinking together about ways of strengthening NATO instead of dismantling it. Doing so, Europe also needs to be prepared for the future in which the USA may again elect a president who will be as averse to the continent as Donald Trump was. One day America may decide to leave NATO and we need to be ready for that, too. The right step in that direction would be to create a European military alliance. We can protect our countries more efficiently with a European umbrella spread over them.