He’s been the president of the European Parliament since the end of January, and he certainly has his work cut out for him. At the end of this week, German Hans-Gert Poettering will play a crucial role at a summit in Berlin that marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Europe. EU members will draw up what’s known as the Berlin Declaration, a strategy to try to end the impasse over a stalled constitution. In Strasbourg, Poettering spoke to EuroNews about his vision for the bloc’s future.
EuroNews: Before coming into existence, the Berlin Declaration has faced severe criticism. According to you, will it manage to be a useful document for Europe?
Poettering: I think it’s very positive that the three European institutions are planning to adopt this declaration – if we all agree. But I do believe this will happen. At a dinner during the European summit in Brussels, the heads of state and governments, and the president of the European Commission and I, discussed the declaration. The result – and I am certain about this – is that we will achieve a consolidated text, which is able to serve as psychological and political preparation for the summit of heads of state and government on the 21st and 22nd of June. This is where we will hopefully get a roadmap and a mandate, so we know how to continue with the constitution. We have to see this as something ongoing, one step at a time: the successful Brussels summit on the climate; the solemn Berlin Declaration on the 25th of March; and then the Summit on the 21st and 22nd of June in Brussels. That’s development. If trust between all parties increases and Europeans have more confidence in Europe, then we will achieve European unity. We will end up being successful.
EuroNews: You said the Berlin Declaration should refer to European values. Could you be more precise about what those values are?
Poettering: Yes, I think it’s very important that we talk about our success, which includes our European values. If we have different opinions, we don’t attack each other. We are making use of the European institutions. They are founded on law. We are having political debate and reaching decisions. The perception of solidarity is important for the future of Europe. All of these should be written in the declaration – of course – as well as challenges like globalisation, climate change, dialogue between cultures, questions of immigration and asylum. Also, questions more far-reaching, such as the energy supply, must be included in the declaration, the biggest challenges of the 21st century. And it’s also very important that we find commitment from the European institutions and member states, that we’re able to start with necessary reforms in order to cope with these challenges.
EuroNews: Should a special stress be put on the social dimension of the European Union?
Poettering: I think this is an important point, since we are discussing globalisation mainly from the economic perspective. We cannot only limit it to the market or competition – that is important too, but we do have to preserve our European social model and this should be part of the declaration.
EuroNews: And should we speak about a new Treaty or a new Constitution?
Poettering: At the end of the day it’s more important to preserve the substance of the treaty and bring it to reality, than to stick strictly to the words. If we can keep the substance of the constitution, then there is no need to call it a constitution. Because, anyway, the name doesn’t carry the same importance, in terms of meaning, as the content.
EuroNews: Do you consider – as many do – that the French presidential election is currently the main obstacle to any progress on a European level?
Poettering: It’s not only the French question and, unfortunately, the French “no” in a referendum. Other countries are also hesitating. I don’t want to mention the countries in particular, because I want results. And you can’t get results if you’re blaming or accusing other governments or countries, instead of coming closer together. We have to come closer together. Europe is about agreement, compromise. If we’re not able to agree, then we don’t get results. And if a country blocks the agreement we achieve with a veto, then the country isolates itself and doesn’t have the right anymore to ask for solidarity from the others.
EuroNews: Looking ahead 50 years, how should the first century of the Rome Treaty be celebrated?
Poettering: I do hope that at that time we will have a European Union capable of acting, a European Union that is strong, democratic, and that we can defend our values and interests in the world. I hope Europeans will be proud of the last one hundred years and they walk with confidence into the second century of a unified Europe.