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Goals and Prospects for Germany’s EU Presidency

Voltaire once said: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” These words epitomize the character of Europe. In declaring that principle, Voltaire pointed to a distinctive feature of Europe: our tolerance for our inherent diversity. It took centuries to get here. Given their history, Europeans are not in a position to lecture the rest of the world on how best to practice tolerance. But our long experience with the core values of the Enlightenment brings with it an obligation to support tolerance both in Europe and elsewhere—and to assist people in their struggle to exercise it.

As German Ambassador to the United States, I have ample opportunity to experience the strong bond of common values that we share on both sides of the Atlantic. Freedom, tolerance, and diversity are pillars of our societies. They are also the origins of our goals and visions for the global community. Freedom and rule of law are cornerstones of today’s democratic nations and it is essential for us to be constantly aware that they are never achieved once and for all. They have to be defended on a daily basis and are inextricably linked to responsibility for ourselves and for others.

Germany assumed the European Union Council Presidency from Finland on January 1, 2007, at a time when the EU faces major challenges both internally and externally. We need a strong and united Europe—this is clear. But the public’s enthusiasm for the “European Project” has waned. At this moment, our task is to “rethink” Europe in order to bring it closer to its citizens. We can no longer see Europe from the perspective of the postwar period, nor can we view Europe exactly as we did immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The challenge now is to explain the necessity of today’s Europe and to point out the chances it offers for the future, while not overlooking the historical roots of Europe’s integration. The origins of the EU will be commemorated this March, when we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. This will be an important occasion to reflect on the mission of Europe. The EU undoubtedly is a unique success story, but this day should also be an occasion to imagine what Europe should look like in the future.

Many fundamental challenges facing Europe today originate in foreign and security policy. Peace and stability have always been a main raison d’être of European unification. Over the last two decades, new risks to international stability have emerged and the European Union has become an important player in the international arena. The EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) has only been in existence since 1992. The Balkan wars during the 1990s put a great deal of strain on the new CFSP, and the EU had to learn many lessons from some painful experiences. One important lesson was the creation of the European Security and Defense Policy in 1999 at the Cologne European Council.

Since the end of the Cold War, the traditional policies of deterrence and mutually assured destruction have been replaced by asymmetric threats, not by nation-states but by extremism, terrorism, regional conflicts, and failed states. Given the diverse problems in the international context, it is vital for the EU to act resolutely on the basis of a common foreign policy.

The European Union’s foreign policy horizon, which originally focused on European matters, has widened over the years. One of the most important foreign policy issues today is the Middle East. The Middle East peace process needs sustained engagement and active support. All of us have a stake in promoting stability in this region, as shown by last year’s decision to reinforce the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) mission. In this mission, a large number of EU members are making major peacekeeping contributions. This underlines how Europe has expanded its influence—as well as its responsibilities—in the region. In this context, one should also not overlook the EU border mission at the crossing in Rafah (Palestine) and the EU police mission. The EU also will continue to promote the peace process as part of the Middle East Quartet.

Crisis management in the area must also include Syria and Iran. Developments in Syria have to be closely watched. As for Iran, the E-3 (France, Britain, Germany) and the European Union need to concentrate all efforts to implement the relevant Security Council resolutions and to adopt further appropriate measures under Article 41, Chapter VII of the UN Charter should Iran fail to comply. It goes without saying that close cooperation with the United States, Russia and China is key, while keeping the door open should Iran decide to come back to the negotiating table. The European Union has been instrumental in building international solidarity against Iran’s enrichment activities.

Europe and the United States have been working together on many issues worldwide. The EU has focused its role in international conflict resolution in a way that brings together military tasks with civilian crisis management and reconstruction. This combination of military and civilian elements has been particularly important for Afghanistan. Through Provincial Reconstruction Teams, European countries and the United States have been engaged in rebuilding the social and economic foundations of the country. As continuing security challenges demonstrate, our commitment must remain strong. Europe has a fundamental interest in lasting effects when it comes to Afghanistan’s development.

Another important challenge to master is the future of Kosovo. European contributions to the Kosovo Stabilization Force have become the backbone of the mission, and the EU will take the lead in the future civilian structure. The EU partners are working with the United States and Russia to hammer out a solution on the status question, so a sustainable situation can emerge. Stability in the Western Balkans is in our common interest. The prospect of Euro-Atlantic integration remains crucial for the region as a whole.

Both Kosovo and Afghanistan underscore the importance of close cooperation between the EU and NATO. The European Security and Defense Policy, based on the so-called “Berlin Plus” arrangements, complements and reinforces the Alliance and vice versa.

The European Union also will continue to intensify its relations with countries in Eastern Europe and beyond. We want to enhance Europe’s vital relations with Russia and prepare for a new era, when the decade-old Partnership and Cooperation Agreement expires in November 2007. During our EU Presidency, we will begin to prepare a new comprehensive agreement with Russia—along with the new enhanced agreement with Ukraine.

In the same vein, we are working to fully capitalize on the possibilities of the European Policy of Good Neighborly Relations vis-à-vis the countries of the Southern Caucasus. Expanding relations with the countries in these regions—also taking into account the crucial question of energy—will help further stabilize the political and economic situation there. We also have started to intensify political and economic ties between the European Union and the countries in Central Asia. We aim to finalize the details of a deeper cooperation before the European Council in June. The overall objective is the establishment of stable, independent and prosperous countries adhering to democratic values and principles of market economy in Central Asia.

Given the current situation in Darfur/Sudan, and Somalia, the EU Presidency has been actively involved in marshalling EU support to end these crises in Africa. The successful peacekeeping mission in support of the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo has demonstrated the readiness of the EU to contribute to crisis-management tasks on the African continent.

Undoubtedly the most challenging project on the EU’s agenda is the European Constitutional Treaty.  Without enhancing its capability to act, Europe will not be ready for the future. EU decision-making especially in the area of foreign policy must be made more efficient in order to meet the demands of an enlarged community. After the failed referenda in two member states in 2005, the debate on the future of the EU is gathering momentum again.

After the ratification by Finland in December 2006, 18 or two-thirds of all member states have ratified the Constitutional Treaty. Seven countries have suspended the ratification process for the time being or not yet decided on it. Germany stands by the Constitutional Treaty and wants to maintain its substance.

As EU Council President, Germany will listen, consult and make a procedural proposal towards the end of our term.  We are fully aware that the question of the future structure of the EU will not be solved by the end of the German Presidency.  But we know that a final decision should be made by 2009, in time before the election of the European Parliament. The French EU Presidency in 2008 will help finalize the solution to this important question.

Some challenges remain but the European Union has developed mechanisms and instruments over the past 50 years that are unique in the world. We must mold these instruments efficiently to be ready for future challenges. But above all, we need confidence, energy, and optimism. Europe deserves our unflagging commitment. Germany will vigorously work towards the European project and its future.

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Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United States