“Reconstruction instead of disintegration” – that’s what Johannes Rao wanted. What does the former federal president’s goal mean to you when you look at the EU?
For me, this is a purpose and a goal. Across Europe, communities are moving away. Popular parties are fueling the movement. That’s why it’s important to remember Johannes Raw’s goal and fill it with life. This also applies to the relationship between the states of Europe. Here, it is about uniting people and making sure we move forward together.
At the beginning of the Corona crisis, the EU threatened to return to the old nationalisms. At the end of last year, it decided on the largest joint reconstruction project in its history. How did this change come about?
2020 was a very important year for the EU. Member states have responded differently to this major crisis than ever before, that is, together. For me, it is important to bring a response to the corona crisis, which shows solidarity and controls the economic and social consequences of epidemics across all EU countries. We also have a vested interest in this in Germany because the economies of Europe are closely intertwined. That’s why we decided early on to work with France to propose a restructuring plan, which would include financial assistance and direct subsidies for future investments. This is possible because the EU has been given the opportunity to borrow large sums of its own. That has never happened before. The biggest improvement is that the EU is earning its own income to finance these loans for the first time.
What made this system different than the 2008 financial crisis?
Germany did not act with a raised index finger, but rather developed a general European response with great vigor. It also has a lot to do with the fact that we Social Democrats have exerted a decisive influence. We have confirmed in the Federal Government that Germany is leading the way in this issue in the EU.
Will it strengthen the EU?
I firmly believe it. This is a huge step, beyond what we can measure in a few years. The EU may enjoy its “Hamiltonian moment”: Alexander Hamilton has been the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury since the founding of the United States, and has given the federal government the right to raise its own taxes, thus contributing to the transformation of the shaky federation of 13 former colonies into the real “United States of America”.
At the same time, Great Britain was the first member of the European Union to leave the Union.
Britain’s exit is a disgrace, there is no question about it. This is changing the balance in Europe. The importance of Germany with a population of over 80 million and its strong economy at the center of the continent is automatically growing whether we like it or not. A new responsibility grows out of this importance, which we now want to fulfill.
The tasks are also excellent. Governments in Poland and Hungary are openly questioning the rule of law as the basis of the EU. How can divisions be overcome – the spirit of Johannes Rao?
It is important that we address and express ourselves openly. It happens often. A good example of this is the discussion of the historic reconstruction project we decided on. All conflicts that arose in Europe, including the importance of the rule of law, were openly dealt with and eventually resolved. That’s progress.
The question of a common refugee policy has not been answered. Where do you want to provide inspiration as a federal president?
Material is very important to me. I elaborated on this four years ago in my book The Land of Hope. This is not about pointing your finger at others. We need a deeper understanding of the common challenges in developing common European goals. We have a duty to protect refugees just as we have a duty to protect our outer borders. We owe it to non-EU countries to take refugees from their neighbors. It is clear that this challenge will be with us for a long time. But we must not avoid it.
In addition to unity in Europe, you are always emphasizing a sovereign Europe. What do you expect about the United States under new President Joe Biden?
Joe Biden’s choice was a huge relief, I will say it frankly. Four more years with Donald Trump would have weighed heavily on international relations. There is now an opportunity to start a new chapter in Atlantic relations. The United States has national interests. The European Union has its interests. Not all enemies disappear into the wonderfully thin air. But what unites us are our common traditions and beliefs regarding the rule of law and democracy. These values are reinforced with Joe Biden, and it makes it easier to come to common solutions. I firmly believe it.
The German Social Democrats at the Heidelberg Party Congress in 1925 formulated the vision of “Europe America.” Is it still up to date?
I would like to use a phrase from the United States: We work in a “very good union” – a great EU.