Written by Ralf Drachenberg.
‘This is Europe’ – an initiative proposed by the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola – consists of a series of debates with EU leaders to discuss their visions for the future of the European Union. In his address to the European Parliament on Europe Day, 9 May 2023, a geopolitical EU was a central theme for the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz. He stressed that, in a multipolar world, the EU needed ‘a genuine partnership with the countries of Asia, Africa and South America, without Eurocentrism’. He called for an enlarged EU with an honest enlargement policy, also in the context of a geopolitical Europe. He supported Parliament’s calls for EU reforms, notably the use of qualified majority voting in the Council on foreign policy and taxes, and promised to promote such changes within the European Council.
We need a geopolitical European Union, an enlarged and reformed European Union and, last but not least, a European Union that is open to the future.
Roberta Metsola launched the ‘This is Europe’ initiative shortly after her election as president of the European Parliament in January 2022. Olaf Scholz is the ninth EU leader to have addressed the Parliament since its Conference of Presidents endorsed the initiative on 28 April 2022. These debates will continue during subsequent sessions.
A similar Parliament initiative, ahead of the 2019 European elections, saw a number of EU leaders speak in Parliament’s plenary sessions about their views on the future of Europe. A 2019 EPRS analysis of those future of Europe debates pinpointed similarities and differences in EU leaders’ views.
The ‘This is Europe’ initiative is particularly relevant in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), a bottom-up exercise that allowed EU citizens to express their opinions on the EU’s future policies and functioning. On 30 April 2022, the CoFoE plenary adopted 49 proposals (see EPRS overview), including more than 300 measures by which they might be achieved. As a follow-up, Parliament adopted a resolution, by a large majority, calling for a convention in accordance with Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union. This call was backed by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen in her State of the Union speech on 14 September 2022.
At the June 2022 European Council meeting, the Heads of State or Government ‘took note’ of the CoFoE proposals. While calling for ‘an effective follow-up’, they did not provide specific guidelines in this respect. Instead, they merely stated that each EU institution should follow up on the proposals ‘within their own sphere of competences’, rather than acting jointly. EPRS research has shown that there is significant convergence between the results of the CoFoE and the priorities of the European Council, as expressed in the latter’s 2019‑2024 strategic agenda and its conclusions over the past 3 years.
Main focus of Olaf Scholz’s speech
Scholz addressed a wide range of topics in his speech to Parliament (see Figure 1). In terms of words, he devoted most attention to i) a geopolitical Europe, ii) migration, and iii) the war in Ukraine.
Without using the expression, his vision of a geopolitical EU resembles the concept of strategic autonomy. He stressed that Europe needed to ‘invest more in our security and defence – in civil resilience, technological sovereignty, reliable supply chains, our independence in critical raw materials’. For Scholz, a geopolitical EU is one which knows its place in the world, and is aware of its global responsibility. Cooperation with other countries, including trade agreements, is crucial for the future, both for them and for Europe. For him, an honest enlargement policy and keeping the EU’s promises is also part of the concept.
Chancellor Scholz stressed that EU Member States were ‘united by the goal of better managing and ordering irregular migration without betraying our values’. The solution must be based on European solidarity; however, in his view, one cannot wait for this solidarity to materialise out of thin air. Therefore, he called for the work to be finalised in the Council before the next EP elections. Given the demand for workers in many parts of Europe, linking regular migration opportunities with the call for countries of origin and transit to take back those who do not have the right to stay in the EU would increase the acceptance in the EU population for regular migration.
War in Ukraine
The Chancellor underlined that the Union had seldom been more united than after this ‘despicable breach of the European and international peace order’. He called for the EU to remain steadfast in its support of Ukraine – as long as necessary. He indicated that the reconstruction of Ukraine would require political and financial capital for a long time, but stressed that a democratic Ukraine, a European Ukraine, was the ‘clearest rejection of Putin’s imperial, revisionist, illegal policy on our continent’.
Specific proposals and positions
The German Chancellor used the opportunity to present his views on how the European Union should advance in specific policy areas. He reiterated earlier proposals, and made new ones, summarised below.
|Policy issue||Priority action and proposals (quotes)|
|Rule of law / EU reforms||‘To strengthen the European Commission’s ability to launch infringement procedures when our fundamental values are violated: freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights’.|
|EU reforms||‘A reformed Europe should take decisions on foreign policy and taxes by qualified majority. It is not unanimity that creates the greatest possible legitimacy, but the democratic competition for majorities, and compromises that also do justice to the interests of the minority’.|
|Trade||‘It is more than reasonable to quickly conclude new and fair free trade agreements – with Mercosur, with Mexico, with India, Indonesia, Australia, Kenya and, in the future, with many other countries’.|
|Security and defence||‘The EU needs a closer integration of our defence efforts, and to build an integrated European defence industry’.|
|Energy and climate||‘Probably the greatest task is the departure of our countries, our economies and societies into a climate-neutral future’.|
Read this ‘at a glance’ note on ‘‘This is Europe’ debate in the European Parliament: Speech by Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of Germany, 9 May 2023‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
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