Ladies and gentlemen,
Never before has Europe been as safe and prosperous as in the past seventy years.
Never before has Europe been as negative and divided as in the past seven years.
We lived through the Cold War, of course. And we witnessed the war in the former Yugoslavia. But the almost routine destruction that plagued the Old Continent for centuries, the ongoing cycle of war and the many cases of ethnic cleansing – that all came to a halt at the end of the Second World War. Europe traded in war and hate for peace and solidarity. It is no wonder that the European Union received the Nobel Prize for Peace in twenty twelve.
The distraught continent built a dream of its own on the ruins of two horrific world wars. A dream of reconciliation, of safety, of prosperity. That dream first took shape on the ninth of May nineteen fifty with the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community. One of the Community’s founders, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, articulated that dream as follows: “World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”
The dream continued to take on more concrete form. The Coal and Steel Community became the European Economic Community; the European Economic Community became the European Community; and the European Community became the European Union. That final transformation took place in Maastricht with the world-renowned Treaty on European Union, signed on the seventh of February nineteen ninety-two. The Treaty’s most important feat was the introduction of the euro as Europe’s single currency.
Thanks to the process of unification, Europe was able to spread its wings and fly. Since nineteen fifty, the number of jobs has increased by more than sixty million; the Union is the biggest economy in the world – bigger than the United States and China – and the biggest export bloc, the euro is stronger than the US dollar, and of the one hundred and forty biggest corporations in the world, sixty-one are European and only fifty are American. And what is even more important: the five hundred and eight million people who populate Europe have the highest standard of living in the world, and live without the direct threat of war.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Creative efforts – that is what Robert Schuman asked of Europeans. It is now our turn to make those efforts. And combined, we represent the post-war generation, Génération Maastricht and the Millennials. Peace and prosperity cannot be taken for granted, after all. They must be defended, day after day. But we must be honest: things are different now than in Schuman’s time. Instead of creative efforts, unsettling noises are dominating the discourse about the European Project. Noises based not on arguments, but on emotions. Ultranationalism prevails. Deliberate disruption instead of well-grounded construction. The tone was set in two thousand and five, when the Netherlands rejected the European Constitution. And we reached a new low last week with Brexit.
In November, European Union Commissioner Frans Timmermans – renowned for his ability to build bridges – issued a dire warning. He spoke in no uncertain terms: “The only alternative to Europe is war.” These are stark words. And they come only three years after Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, said that the Nobel Prize recognised the European Union as the “biggest peace-making institution ever created”. And he was not, by any means, exaggerating. From biggest peace-making institution to the threat of war in just three years. I am shocked by this.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The European Dream is in danger of disintegrating, of descending into a European Nightmare. And all this is happening just when we are commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty, the Union’s birth certificate. Are we going to let that happen? No, we must not. Is Maastricht, which gives its name to the Treaty, too small to make a difference? No, we are not. Every fire begins with a spark. So why shouldn‘t we, here in Limburg, in Maastricht, rekindle the fire of a united Europe? From the bottom up, by the generations that make Europe what it is today? That is the task that we have taken on as we commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty. We are making a collective appeal to Europe. We call on Europe’s government leaders to ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for all of its peoples.
But we must not remain blind to the causes of Euroscepticism. After all, the House of Europe has its defects. Let’s start by asking ourselves whether recent global events are really the cause. I am referring, of course, to the flood of refugees, to terrorism, to the recent credit crisis, and to the uninterrupted stream of cheap labour from the new Member States. All these things would have happened even if there had not been a European Union. It is an illusion to think that without the Union, no one in Syria would have fled the war there. The cause is therefore more deep-seated. It is a breeding ground where dissatisfaction grows. And that breeding ground is distrust of Brussels, which is constant.
The opposition that has emerged across broad segments of the European population is, for the most part, the result of a years-long quarrel between two camps about the route Europe should be taking. It is a quarrel at government level. One camp consists of the Euro-federalists, who support a supranational European federation. They believe they can speed up the process of European unification by concentrating power in Brussels, since all attempts at cooperation have ended in failure. The other camp consists of the Euro-governmentalists, who see European unification as a process of consultation. They want to retain power at the national level. The two camps have been bickering and arguing about this for years. And what happens when leaders bicker and argue? They forfeit all trust. And so it may well be that the people of Europe have come to regard the European Union as a problem rather than the solution.
The House of Europe is in urgent need of repair. After twenty-five years, that is not so surprising. But we don’t demolish a house because it has a leaky roof. We fix the leak. What we need is a new European model, one that is in tune with the times. We went from Coal and Steel to Economic Community, European Community, and European Union. Why not embark on a new step? What worked in nineteen ninety-two doesn’t really work anymore in two thousand and sixteen.
So we will commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty not by looking back, not by being nostalgic. We will celebrate mainly by looking ahead to the next twenty-five years, with hope. That is the gigantic task of the Europe Calling programme. We will bring together Europeans of every denomination, every age, every class and sector of society, with their many different views, to chart a new course for Europe. And where better than in the birthplace of the European Union: Maastricht. Because we all share one purpose: to keep the European Dream alive.