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Heinrich August Winkler on Europe, democracy and the financial crisis

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Heinrich August Winkler on Europe, democracy and the financial crisis

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The West, for him is an idea, an idea of liberty and democracy a concept that Germany failed to grasp until almost too late. Heinrich August Winkler, one of Germany’s most renowned historians, gives his thoughts on the risks and opportunities for European democracies, in the wake of the financial crisis.

Sigrid Ulrich, euronews:

Let me begin with some headlines:

“People believe they are being made fun of”

“Money rules the world-who rules the money”

“The financial crisis is a test for democracy”

“What is the value of democracy to capitalism”

Many things have been saved recently, the banks, the euro and finally Greece, without any democratic debate or discussion. What has the financial crisis done to democracy in Europe?”

Heinrich August Winkler:

“The financial crisis has shown us that it is difficult to create a monetary union without political union. This route was decided on in 1990 during the historic changes…a new era beckoned after 1989. German unity became possible.Then French President Francois Mitterrand decided that monetary union must be achieved and everyone wanted it…political union could wait.

Kohl’s government gave the green light. And now we are playing catch up, if we want financial stability intergovernmental cooperation is not enough. Europe needs a new integrative thrust-under democratic control.

The currency crisis has spawned an internal European debate. We are now interested in the retirement conditions in other countries…what’s the age of retirement? is there fiscal discipline? what is the weight of public debt?

If Europe is under discussion in national parliaments and not only in the European parliament then it could trigger a new wave of democratisation.”

Sigrid Ulrich, euronews:

“ Are politicians still able to take decisions independently or are they under too much external pressure?”

Heinrich August Winkler:

“European governments and the commission have come under huge pressure and they reacted nervously to the stock markets in Asia. But the EU is now aware of the necessity of a binding international framework to monitor financial markets, sadly there is no European consensus for the moment.”

Sigrid Ulrich, euronews:

“What kind of Europe will the financial markets enforce in your opinion?”

Heinrich August Winkler:

“We have accepted for too long this intermediate confederation as the final step in the process of political integration. We have stopped thinking whether further development towards a federal Europe might be necessary. Should it be widely accepted that more political integration be required, and that appears to be the case, then we will have to add to the economic union a political union, which has to include fiscal, economic and social policy making. I do not believe we are now in a post-national period, but Germany as well other EU states are no longer traditional nation states. Today’s European countries exercise some of their sovereign rights collectively or transfer them to supranational bodies. That is the nature of a political union.”

Sigrid Ulrich, euronews:

“Europe is therefore something new -neither a federal state nor a real federation. Financial markets are conservative. How long will be before they take Europe seriously?”

Heinrich August Winkler:

“If one day Europe speaks with one voice on important issues. Then it will be taken seriously in the political world and not before. It is not a question of size whether Europe is seen as a powerful player on the world stage. It is a question of the willingness to create the institutions and the foundation of a European mentality, a European identity and European public opinion. It is essential that EU states go beyond making foreign policy decisions on a national level and move towards majority decision making. It is already the case that different parts of Europe are developing at different speeds. And this is likely to continue…but some moves towards more federalism, not a genuine federation, is likely. Personally I would like to see something like a federation one day…it must not be imposed but grow from the bottom up.”

Sigrid Ulrich, euronews:

“ You were born in 1938 and saw with your eyes Europe’s terrible decline during World War II. Later you wrote lots of books , heavy tomes…like German history, which for you and other German intellectuals was a heavy burden. At what point did you begin to believe once again in Europe? “

Heinrich August Winkler:

“For me the fall of the Berlin Wall was the highlight on the way to European integration. I think that 2004 when eight eastern and central European states joined the EU as kind of European reunification. It is a huge challenge to contemplate what European states have in common at this moment in history. This cannot be done without considering the horror Europe has endured because of differences within it. We must also learn from the damage European powers have done to others during the colonial and imperial eras.”

Sigrid Ulrich, euronews:

“Was it avoidable? Was part of it? Was there no other way?”

Heinrich August Winkler:
“ To be honest, I am afraid one will have to come to the conclusion that this was not an accidental mistake, but the dark side of a misguided European or western sense of mission. Yes it is possible to learn from Europe’s experiences. Others can learn from it, but most of all we must learn from it ourselves.”