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French-German Day. Ambassadors Laurence Auer and Cord Meier-Klodt: Europe was made possible because two countries decided to reconciliate. The spirit of the Elysée Treaty shaped EU’s recovery fund

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© Photo Collage (Official Embassy images)

Interview conducted by Dan Cărbunaru and Robert Lupițu

As everywhere in the world conflicts and tensions multiply, the main achievement of France and Germany is still to have brought more peace and prosperity to our European continent, and based on a living legacy of historical ties with Romania the three countries are building a common European future today, Laurence Auer and Cord Meier-Klodt, ambassadors of France and Germany to Romania said in an joint interview given exclusively for CaleaEuropeană.ro on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of the historic Franco-German reconciliation.

58 years after the signing of the Elysée Treaty by President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who laid Franco-German relations on new European foundations, and two years after the new impetus for this partnership by the Treaty of Aachen, signed by President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel in the presence of President Klaus Iohannis as representative of Romania’s Presidency to the EU Council, France and Germany offered a new show of unity, friendship and cooperation when Europe needed it most: a compromise that formed the basis of the € 750 billion recovery fund to relaunch the European Union following the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest crisis since the European project was founded.

“The plan is called Next Generation EU because we believe that we need to address the future of all European citizens, not only short term consequences of the pandemic” said Laurence Auer, France’s ambassador to Romania, praising the work of the German presidency of the EU Council, which ended on 31 December 2020.

“It was not easy and the road was difficult, but at the end of the road there was consensus. (…) We can even say that the spirit of the Elysée Treaty was the one that drew the course of the agreement later”, Cord Meier-Klodt added, in a symbolic reference to the fact that the historical milestones of Franco-German cooperation materialized through the “spirit of the Elysée” and the “spirit of Aachen”.

The two ambassadors also set out their countries’ views on the Conference on the Future of Europe and the fact that it “aims to build on the 10 commitments for the future of the EU that were agreed in the 2019 Sibiu Declaration”, also arguing for a continuation of the close relations with Romania.

Referring to the future ambitions of the French Presidency of the EU Council, which will begin on 1 January 2022, Laurence Auer welcomed Romania’s support in including the rule of law as part of the future Multiannual Financial Framework: “The rule of law in the EU is not an ideology, it is a set of legal rules, it is the heart of the political contract that binds us”. Equally, Cord Meier-Klodt stressed that France and Germany would be happy to welcome Romania among the eurozone member states.

Laurence Auer and Cord Meier-Klodt also emphasized the importance of the European Union’s strategic autonomy, as well as the broad transatlantic agenda between Europe and the US with the inauguration of the Joe Biden administration.

Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle at the signing of the Elysée Treaty, 22nd of January 1963. © Wikipedia

CaleaEuropeană.ro: It’s been 58 years today since the signing of the Élysée Treaty that brought the Franco-German reconciliation at the heart of the European construction. Two years ago, stepping on the foots of presidents de Gaulle and Mitterrand and chancellors Adenauer and Kohl, President Macron and Chancellor Merkel reinforced the European cooperation between the two EU powers with the Aachen Treaty. What are the main milestones born from this historical reconciliation and what can the future possibly lie ahead?

Laurence Auer: As we celebrate the anniversary of the Élysée treaty, it is important to remember that Europe was made possible because two countries which fought in devastating wars decided to reconciliate and build a system that would forever prevent new wars. Attention was paid to cross-border relations, to a better mutual understanding, to the learning of each other’s language. Today, as everywhere in the world conflicts and tensions multiply, the main achievement of France and Germany is still to have brought more peace and prosperity to our European continent.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron a the signing of the Aachen Treaty, 22nd of January 2019 © Bundesregierung

The 2019 Aachen Treaty on Franco-German cooperation and integration represents a new step in deepening the links between the two societies. It created an Economic council of experts, a joint information platform, a Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly and a new fund for citizens that fosters projects between civil societies.

Moreover, as we face the multiple effects of the health crisis, I must stress that it is after a Franco-German initiative that the European recovery plan was proposed. We should praise the immense work of the German Presidency of the EU that made possible the decision of all member states to allocate €750 billion in order to rebuild our economies. The plan is called Next Generation EU because we believe that we need to address the future of all European citizens, not only short term consequences of the pandemic.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: The signing of the Aachen Treaty in 2019 took place in a broader European context with Romania at the helm of its first EU Council Presidency. The spirits of Élysée and Aachen were adopted by President Iohannis under “the Sibiu Spirit” inked in 9th of May EU Summit Declaration. Has the European Union and its member countries lived up to the commitments enshrined in these spirits across the most difficult challenges in its history – the COVID-19 pandemic?

© Administrația Prezidențială

Cord Meier-Klodt: First of all, I particularly liked that the reaffirmation and revision of the Elysée Treaty in 2019 took place during Romania’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, thus benefiting from the special appreciation from a partner state in Southeast Europe.

Secondly, no one says that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic went smoothly and without crises. Neither in Member States nor at the level of the European Commission. Especially in the early stages! In fact, no one was prepared for a crisis of this magnitude.

Taking all this into account, I believe that Europe has proved its capabilities in this very crisis. Only if we look at the unprecedented € 750 billion post-COVID-19 “Next Generation Europe” Economic Recovery Plan adopted during the German Presidency of the EU Council. The procurement of vaccines by the European Commission has also been particularly important.

Who would have thought in the spring of 2020 that Member States would be able to agree on € 390 billion in non-reimbursable funds? It was not easy and the road was bumpy, but at the end of the road there was consensus.

This was only possible because Germany and France, Federal Chancellor Merkel and President Macron, had already agreed in May 2020 on a compromise that was the basis for the agreement that followed. We can even say that it was the spirit of the Elysée Treaty that shaped the course of the agreement later.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: The 750 billions EUR recovery fund is the most recent and tangible result of Germany and France being the engine that fuels a compromise between the EU-27. What kind of example does this EU-27 agreement set for the future of the European integration in political terms but also in the perspective of an in-depth fiscal and economic integration?

Cord Meier-Klodt: The German-French initiative, which has resulted in an unprecedented recovery package for Europe, has made it very clear that European solidarity is not just an empty word. Romania alone obtained 30 billion euros for the post-pandemic economic recovery. Of course, this financial aid also imposes political obligations: the rule of law and democratic values ​​are basic conditions for being able to use European funds. In this context, I welcome the announcement made by Prime Minister Florin Cîțu to quickly fulfill the remaining recommendations regarding CVM. 

With this compromise – difficult to negotiate, as we must admit – the EU has shown that it can reach an agreement and that it is fully operational, despite the very different positions initially expressed. This is also an important signal regarding our capacity for action on the international stage.

In terms of financial and economic integration, we all know that for deeper integration we need greater convergence between Member Sates. That is why the EU offers Romania massive support in order to stimulate economic development. But it is obvious that this development cannot come “from the outside”, but that Romania must take decisive steps in this regard. The new government has made it very clear that it wants to continue on this European path.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Deals on the Multiannual Financial Framework, Next Generation EU fund, link between EU money and the rule of law, compromise on EU climate goals, post-Brexit agreement, a principled agreement on investments with China and a political debate on EU’s strategic autonomy. All these have in common one thing – the German Presidency of the EU Council. One year from now, the French Presidency will lead the EU Council. What will be the aim for Paris and Berlin for the key European files like the Single Digital Market, the Economic and Monetary Union, the Banking Union and the resilience of the Internal Market in the years ahead?

Laurence Auer: While the German Presidency’s slogan was « Together for Europe’s recovery », we are now, for the next six months, under the guidance of the Portuguese presidency with the motto « Time to deliver: a fair, green, digital recovery ». After the difficult and uncertain times of the pandemic and after Brexit, we need to transform our budgetary decisions into concrete results for the citizens. Never was it more important to preserve unity and cohesion among the now 27 Member states and to put into force the historical decisions which were taken on December 10th.

 The French Presidency will come in 2022 with priorities, of course, in due respect of what our Portuguese and then Slovenian partners will have achieved in 2021. I should mention the rule of law, a key element of the new financial framework, adopted with the support of Romania. The rule of law in the EU is not an ideology, it is a set of legal rules, it is the heart of the political contract that binds us. Furthermore, the French Presidency will of course follow up on the implementation of the green and digital agendas. As you know, we set ourselves the goals of reducing carbon emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. But no ecological transition will be possible without handling a big digital transformation of the European economies. I should add the social dimension : Europe will be stronger if we reaffirm that sustainable development goes along with innovation and inclusion. We are very happy that the Erasmus and « Horizon Europe » education and research programmes were reinforced for the next period.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: There is one special subject that was intended to be framed between the German and French Presidencies of the EU Council, namely the Conference on the Future of Europe. Mainly because of the pandemic the launch of the Conference has been postponed. What is the hope for the French-German close partnership in regards with the foreseeable results of this Conference with respect to scenarios such as treaty changes, QMV in the Council or multi-speed Europe?

© Ambasada Franței în România

Laurence Auer: The Conference on the Future of Europe is a tripartite initiative between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament to promote dialogue between citizens, experts and institutions. It aims at building up on the 10 commitments for the future of the EU that were agreed in the 2019 Sibiu declaration. The German Presidency of the EU has accomplished a lot of work on its preparation but indeed, due to the pandemic the official launching of the conference has been postponed to the Portuguese presidency.

Fundamentally, the conference is not about experts meetings on treaty changes. It will promote a collective reflection on the meaning of «le vivre ensemble européen », on our common destiny. Its objective is to set up new priorities for concrete advances in terms of training, education, culture, mobility, etc. We want the conference to reaffirm the way of life we want to promote for the EU citizens, and reinforce our global European project.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: While thinking to the EMU and the BU we see that the highest level of EU integration today is the single currency. What would be the benefits for Romania in joining the euro area, a path already half-completed by other new member states such as Bulgaria and Croatia?

Cord Meier-Klodt: Economic and Monetary Union, as well as the Euro, aim to make the European economy work better and create more jobs – in short: to give European citizens access to more prosperity. Joining the eurozone therefore comes with economic benefits. Of course, this path must be accessible to all EU Member States.

However, membership of the eurozone also involves many responsibilities and challenges. It is a complex process, and the changeover to the euro requires extensive preparation. So any country needs to be well prepared for this transition to truly become an asset for their own development. Sound public finances and a robust and competitive economy are essential. The accession process already brings many benefits and a package of measures for economic improvement.

Of course, we would be happy, as eurozone countries, to welcome Romania, as soon as all the conditions are met, because that will strengthen the eurozone. The fact that Romania is very intensely concerned about joining the eurozone is a very good precondition for all other stages.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Back in the 2017, when the European Parliament building in Strasbourg hosted the funerals of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Jean-Claude Juncker recalled the tears of Kohl in 1997 when the European Council decided to enlarge the European Union to Eastern and Central Europe. “Europe at its best”, he said. As founding countries of the European dream, how would you describe the benefits of the European integration for a country like Romania and for the European Union as a whole?

Cord Meier-Klodt: I consider that it is of a special symbolism that Romania joined the European Union in 2007 during and with the concrete support of the then German Presidency of the Council of the European Union. And I am deeply convinced that this affiliation of Romania (and of other Eastern European partners) represents not only a success for Romania, but also for Germany.

Let us remember that in the post-war period, Germany was the only Western and Eastern European country in the political sense. It was in this spirit that the “Eastern policy” (Ostpolitik), significantly promoted by Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt, emerged in the Federal Republic of Germany in the early 1970s, with its slogan “Change through rapprochement” (“Wandel durch Annäherung”).

In the same spirit, the treaties of good neighbourhood and friendship with the countries of Eastern Europe were signed at the beginning of the 90s, after the Fall of the Wall, among them Romania. These treaties were later followed by NATO and EU accession.

In short, for post-war Germany, Europe has always meant East and West, together as much as possible. And this is true to this day.

On September 25, 1984, 70 years after the start of the First World War, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met the French president François Mitterrand in Verdun. Mitterrand extended a hand to Kohl – a gesture of friendship symbolizing the lessons learned from a frightful past. © Source: EC – Audiovisual Service/ 1984

CaleaEuropeană.ro: There is one key issue on which Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said “our French friends” were pleased during the German EU Council Presidency: putting forward the political debate on EU’s strategic autonomy. This seems like an objective of paramount importance for President Macron, who acknowledged unrest induced by terms such as “EU sovereignty” or “strategic autonomy”. In this part of Europe, it is regarded as a tendency to decouple from our allies in Washington. How do France and Germany see Europe building its strategic autonomy?

Laurence Auer: Since 1963, France and Germany have discussed a lot on these issues, at the highest level and not only to prepare EU Presidencies ! In the Aachen treaty for instance, we included a mutual defence clause, at a bilateral level.

 I want here to avoid being misunderstood : there has been a lot of debates on the concepts and of course this is an important track for the future of collective security in Europe. Security is a field with very quick evolutions, if you take for instance the cybersecurity domain.

Today, both countries are strongly committed at EU level on the implementation of the European defence fund, which was created under the new Financial Framework to build common capacities.  Romania is part of many projects designed under this fund. As a whole, I can say that France aims at strengthening Europe’s strategic credibility, and we have the same goal in a bilateral context. We have concrete challenges and we want to provide concrete answers to them. In a context of growing threats, and relations governed by power relations, we should be able to defend our interests.

© Ambasada Germaniei în România

Cord Meier-Klodt: And, if I may add, reaching even beyond the field of security policy, a sovereign Europe should entail all aspects of our European foreign policy and be reflected in a truly multilateralist approach.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: European unity cannot replace transatlantic unity. This is often said by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg while it was diminished during the difficult and tense relations between Europe and the Trump administration. However, with the oath of the Biden administration comes a signal of hope. Do France and Germany expect a “New transatlantic deal”, as it was phrased by Foreign Ministers Maas and Le Drian, and what are the hopes coming out from NATO, EU-US and G7 summits in the future months?

Laurence Auer: The arrival of a new American administration means a lot to France on all global issues, climate change, conflict resolution under the UN Framework, global governance, for instance of the pandemic under WHO, or the regulation of digital platforms, but also on all regional crises. Remember that Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a great European President, gave birth to the G7 in 1975, just one year after the European Council was created. As a former Finance Minister, he believed in a better wold regulation of the economy after a monetary crisis. At a European level we have a large agenda of transatlantic discussions. We also need to talk to our American allies about security challenges as I mentioned above. The EU and the US have many issues to work on together, including multilateralism, development, trade or conflict prevention issues. Together, the French and German ministers of Foreign affairs laid out a possible roadmap for these transatlantic discussions in the coming years.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Finally, a zoom in your countries bilateral relations with Romania. Adding to the common European destiny and the economic exchanges, between France and Romania there is a powerful cultural and francophone link, while the Romanians in Germany and the German ethnics in Romania play a key role in our special ties. In which areas do you believe the relations between France and Romania, respectively Germany and Romania, will continue to develop in the new decade?

Cord Meier-Klodt: Both France and Germany have close historical ties with Romania. For France, the common position in the francophone world is especially important, while Germany emphasizes the traditional bridge represented by the German minority in Romania, and today by the growing community of Romanians living and working in Germany. Based on this living legacy, the three countries are building a common European future today.

In this sense, the commitment of Romanians to Europe is extraordinarily useful. Within the EU, Romania is a very important partner, which can reach compromises and convince other Member States of their need. I saw this both during Romania’s presidency of the EU Council in 2019, and, in full, during Germany’s recently concluded presidency.

I would like Romania to consciously develop this potential, because the EU needs a lot of support to face the current challenges: reinforcing democracy, tackling climate change, continuous digitalisation, foreign policy issues, relations with China and much more. We will only succeed if we agree. Partners who are able to reach compromises are more important than ever.

Laurence Auer: And if I may add, I would also insist on the fact that we share with Germany a total commitment towards the European project, a strong capacity and a will to build consensus with all our European partners, that we respect and with whom we developed strong historical ties. We will need in the next period of time to be innovative as the stakes are high. Between France and Romania, we will rely on the strong strategic partnership we have built in all sectors at the bilateral level and we will develop paths of concrete cooperation and convergence everywhere we can. I am personally fully committed towards this objective for the next three years.

Robert Lupițu este redactor-șef, specialist în relații internaționale, jurnalist în afaceri europene și NATO. Robert este laureat al concursului ”Reporter și Blogger European” la categoria Editorial și co-autor al volumelor ”România transatlantică” și ”100 de pași pentru o cetățenie europeană activă”. Face parte din Global Shapers Community, o inițiativă World Economic Forum, și este Young Strategic Leader în cadrul inițiativelor The Aspen Institute. Din 2019, Robert este membru al programului #TT27 Leadership Academy organizat de European Political Strategy Center, think tank-ul Comisiei Europene.

ENGLISH

INTERVIEW German Ambassador to Bucharest: Romania is at the “finish line” on Schengen accession; The lesson we have to learn the hard way is that we cannot trust Russia

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© Ambasada Germaniei la București

The lesson Europeans need to learn more than three decades after the peaceful reunification of Germany is that we cannot trust Russia, a lesson that needs to be learned “the hard way”, as Moscow is not a reliable energy supplier and is not a reliable political actor, German Ambassador to Bucharest Peer Gebauer said in an interview for CaleaEuropeană.ro on the occasion of the 32nd anniversary of the reunification of Germany and the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendly Cooperation and Partnership in Europe between Germany and Romania, marked this year in the context of the Russian war against Ukraine at the EU and NATO borders.

During the dialogue, the German diplomat expressed optimism that Romania is at the “finish line” regarding Schengen accession and that EU member states could vote in favour of this wish by the end of this year. Furthermore, Peer Gebauer confessed that German companies in Romania complain about waiting times at the borders for their trucks because Romania is in Schengen, and said he wished Romania had been part of the free movement area from the beginning of the year, given the support provided to Ukraine.

The German ambassador to Romania spoke in this interview about lessons learned and less learned in Berlin and in European capitals about Russia, about the intensification of cooperation between Germany and Romania in the economic, cultural and security policy spheres, about the right of each EU state to determine its own energy mix, but also about the importance of EU enlargement in order not to leave a vacuum in the great European political family for others to fill, considering that NATO Alliance ensures that no one dares attack us in any way.

 

The lesson we must learn, the hard way, is that Russia cannot be trusted. Russia represents everything we despise

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Your Excellency, 32 years ago today, the reunification of Germany became a reality after almost half a century, when Germans in the east were separated from their fellow country men and women in the West because of the “spheres of influence” logic. Today, we celebrate the German Unity Day, a moment of peace, reconciliation and respect for democracy at a time of war caused by Russia in Ukraine, at EU’s and NATO’s borders. What are the lessons that we have and have not learned in the last three decades?

Dr. Peer Gebauer: German Reunification Day, the Day of German unity is indeed a cause of joy for us. As you’ve rightly pointed out, it was a peaceful unification and we are proud today to have achieved this in peace and unity – not only for Germany, but for all of Europe. We are more united than ever in our history. And when it comes to the lessons learned or not learned, I think these last 30 years have shown us, first of all, wonderful developments within Europe as I’ve pointed out. Unity is a great achievement and one key lesson that we have learned is that we have to work together, that we have to be united in solidarity in order to move forward and to achieve things. And I think the development within Europe has been a very, very positive one. But you’re right, the recent developments, the brutal Russian aggression against Ukraine, raise questions. We had hoped that we would never again see such a war on our continent or in the perimeters of our continent, but now here we are. So there are lessons to be learned. I think one lesson that we all have to learn the hard way right now is that you cannot trust Russia. It’s not a reliable energy supplier, and it’s not a reliable political actor. On the contrary, Russia stands these days for everything that we despise, for breach of international rules, for aggression, for trying to bullying around weaker partners or presumably weaker partners. Of course, Ukraine is proving to be actually much stronger than Russia had hoped for. So these are lessons we have to learn. But again, the main lesson of the last 30 years is that together we are stronger and I think this is what we are showing right now.

German companies don’t come to Romania to make a “quick euro” and then leave again. They come here and stay, they invest in the hearts and minds of the people

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Under these extraordinary circumstances we also mark this year the 30th anniversary of German-Romanian Treaty on Friendly Cooperation and Partnership in Europe. And a lot have happened this year – a joint declaration signed by German and Romanian Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the visit of President Steinmeier in Romania, the joint visit of President Iohannis and Chancellor Scholz with the leaders of France and Italy to Ukraine and the co-initiative of Germany, Romania and France to launch a support platform for the Republic of Moldova. How would you describe the state of bilateral relations and, if there is room for future deepening of our relations, how do you see Germany and Romania working in the future?

Dr. Peer Gebauer: Our bilateral relations are excellent. And I think it’s fair to say they’ve never been better in the past. We are connected politically, economically, culturally in many aspects. Politically, as partners in the EU as allies in NATO, we rely on each other and we benefit from one another. We can see this in the current crisis, obviously, where Germany and Romania are very directly liaising and cooperating in so many fields. You’ve mentioned the various high ranking visits that we’ve seen this year that also underline the great partnership. Economically, I think it’s a fantastic partnership for both sides. There are more than 7500 German companies active and present in Romania. Germany is by far the largest trading partner for Romania. More and more German investments are coming and what is particularly positive is the fact that German companies that invest are not here to make a „quick euro“ and then leave again. They come here for good and they stay. They invest not only in production sites, but also in the hearts and minds of the people. They focus strongly on dual education and know-how transfer. So, this economic partnership is a very, very fruitful one for both sides. Culturally, of course, we are linked through the historic existence of a German minority in Romania that had a relevance for centuries and it has a great relevance up until today. And we are proud to have a German heritage here in Romania, which has also translated, for example, into a very strong interest in German language education. Just these last weeks I’ve been at openings of two German schools, of new campuses of these schools. There are many more in the country, we are supporting German education through various programs. And of course, the interests of not only ethnic Germans but of Romanians in German language education is another element that connects us strongly. In addition to that we have an ever growing Romanian community in Germany, which also underlines the closeness of our two countries.

Is there more to come? Yes, I think that these bilateral relations we enjoy offer many more areas where we can intensify our cooperation. One element certainly is the sphere of security policy, which is obvious these days. We are already in line to check where we can further broaden our cooperation. When it comes to the economic sector there’s a lot of room for improvement and for enlargement of our cooperation in the field of the green transformation, the transformation of our economies into carbon free, renewable-focused economies. There’s a lot of potential for German-Romanian cooperation in the future. And also culturally, I think this element of German minority, of German language here Romania offers a lot of possibilities to be brought in the future.

Russia cannot be perceived as a partner. Europe is strong and united in its response, much to Putin’s despair

CaleaEuropeană.ro: As we’ve set the stage with the German Unity Day, with the challenges that we face, with the important relationship between Romania and Germany, I would like to come back to President Putin’s war against Ukraine, Germany has shifted its view on Russia. From the Zeitenwende speech of Chancellor Scholz to the decision to halt Nord Stream 2 approval and the support offered to Ukraine. However, Western countries faced criticism because of its conciliant position on Russia over the years despite being cautioned by their Eastern partners and allies, like Romania. Do you see EU unity and solidarity towards Ukraine, towards sanctions against Russia and towards the difficult winter that lies ahead as remaining rock solid or backlashing?

Dr. Peer Gebauer: I remain very optimistic that the European Union will not fail and will not crumble. We will stay together. And there’s a simple reason for that. I think everybody can see that you cannot trust Russia. A country that is not only moving forward with this brutal aggression against one of its neighbours, but spreading fake news and pretexts, a country that is openly threatening the world with the use of nuclear weapons. I think a country like that, Russia, cannot be in any way perceived as a partner or one that you could somehow cope with or accept. We are united in Europe in our response. We have been very strong and united in our response, much to the despair of Putin, if I may say so. He had believed that the European unity would just not be there, that we would only discuss. The contrary is true. We’ve been very strong in our united answer when it comes to sanctions, when it comes to fully supporting Ukraine also with weapons and of course financially and with humanitarian aid. So this unity has been key in the past and it will continue. Of course, you’re referring to the fact that within Europe, within the EU we are discussing, we are openly discussing. This is a trademark of the European Union based on democratic values. It’s not one part or one leader deciding for everybody else. No, everybody has its own voice and this voice can be heard. And of course, when it comes to shaping a policy approach, there can always be different views. That’s natural. There’s no absolute truth. It’s good that we have the possibility to speak and discuss openly. And that’s what we are doing so far. And I remain confident that this will not change in the future. So far, we have always managed to come to common terms, to come to a compromise and move forward on that base.

Energy security: It is correct that each country should have a degree of independence in the type of energy it focuses on, renewable, nuclear or other

CaleaEuropeană.ro:  The question of EU solidarity has some key topics to be addressed, like energy security. And this topic needs to be tackled from different angles – energy prices soaring, eliminating dependency on Russian gas, common purchasing and creating European gas reserves, each member states entitled to create its own mix, renewables, the dispute on nuclear energy. What is the approach of Germany on this and what would be a good European compromise to get through this winter and to reach the middle term targets under RePowerEU?

Dr. Peer Gebauer: We are facing great challenges. This is obviously true and it’s particularly true when it comes to this winter. The rising energy costs are putting a very heavy burden on both households and the industry and the companies. That’s why we have decided within the EU to find joint ways of coping with the situation. RePower EU, you’ve pointed out to that initiative, which is aimed at cutting the dependency on the supply of fossil fuels from Russia to Europe as quick as we can. There are various elements to this approach from saving energy to diversifying our energy supply and buying from other partners to focusing stronger on renewable energies. And of course, we also have to take measures on a short term base when it comes to rising energy prices. There are a number of instruments in discussion right now. Gas price caps, for example, which would protect consumers from paying too high prices and of course, you will have to compensate energy companies to a certain extent. It’s good that we have the EU as a platform to discuss these elements. You’ve touched upon a few elements in your question on what kind of energy we should be focused on, whether it’s renewables and/or nuclear and others. It’s an element or a trademark of the EU to be united in diversity. We have all different historical backgrounds and of course, different approaches to certain angles, and that’s why it’s only correct to let every country also have some sort of independence in terms of how to move forward. To give you an example in Germany, we have for quite some time now decided to get out of nuclear energy. I know that a lot of countries in Europe see this differently. That’s the way it is. I don’t think we have to cover up these differences in approach. We have set course for our approach, we’re moving out of nuclear energy, despite the fact that we will have our nuclear power plants potentially run a bit longer than expected, not stopping them by the end of the year, but potentially running them a few months longer. But again, the course has been set. And in the end it’s this mixture of approaches also within the EU that makes us strong.

NATO – the transatlantic defence alliance that is the strongest in the world and ensures that no one dares attack us in any way

CaleaEuropeană.ro: If we speak about energy security, we have to speak about security as a whole and I would like to move a bit on NATO. Under the same image of Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, the Euro-Atlantic unity has the same importance and Germany proved that by sending fighter jets and military personnel to NATO’s Air Police Mission in Romania and the Black Sea. How does Germany see NATO’s presence in the Black Sea and does Germany intend to enhance its cooperation with Romania on defence, under both NATO and EU umbrella?

Dr. Peer Gebauer: We are all very, very glad to have NATO, particularly in these days. A few years ago, there has been a discussion on the relevance of NATO. Do we need it any longer? Does it have to shift its approach completely? And we now know and appreciate the fact that we have it as it is, as a transatlantic defence alliance that is the strongest in the world and that makes sure that nobody dares in any way attack us. And it’s great to have Romania as a partner in this endeavour for Germany. The increased focus on the Eastern Flank, on the South Eastern Flank, the Black Sea region, is against the backdrop of this Russian aggression, a very, very great necessity. It’s not being disputed in Europe and in NATO. And that’s why NATO has decided in the wake of this war to beef up its presence in the South Eastern Flank, in the Eastern Flank with new battlegroups to be established in all bordering NATO countries, including Romania. I’m very glad and proud that Germany contributed to securing the south eastern flank by sending Eurofighters in the framework of NATO’s air policing mission in spring of this year. And we, Germany, have also moved forward in increasing our presence along the border, the Eastern border of the Allied territory. We lead a battlegroup in Lithuania. We will have a strong footprint in the new battlegroup to be established in Slovakia and we have been present in Romania. So there are various parts where we do our part and other NATO partners do their part. With regard to bilateral cooperation between Germany and Romania, I think there is a lot of room for increasing the cooperation in the security fields when it comes to the procurement or the production of weapons. It is a key element for European sovereignty in this sense. In Europe, I wouldn’t say we suffer, but it’s a matter of fact that we have way too many different weapon systems, which make it difficult in times of crisis to interact and to liaise. We have therefore decided within the EU to cut back the number of weapon systems and to focus on producing joint new systems for the future. And I think, in this respect, Germany and Romania are natural partners and I would be very glad to also do my part to move projects forward. There are a few elements of this cooperation in the pipeline, not to be discussed here yet, but it’s something where we move strongly forward.

EU enlargement to the Western Balkans, Ukraine and Moldova: We cannot leave a void in the European family, a vacuum for others to fill at our expense

CaleaEuropeană.ro: We all saw the speech that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave in Prague this August. I personally called it his first major speech on the future of Europe since taking office. Two important subjects crossed our interest – EU enlargement and the accession into Schengen for Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia.

First, on enlargement. Both Germany and Romania support this. When everyone was talking just about Ukraine, which seemed fair given the context, Berlin and Bucharest were advocating also for the European cause of Republic of Moldova, Georgia and Western Balkans. But in his speech, Chancellor Scholz spoke about a geopolitical EU, also from the point of view of the political community proposed by President Macron, and he also mentioned the idea to reform the right of veto and the treaties in respect to enlargement. Therefore: how can we build a geopolitical European Union with 36 nations one day, while we will also need a treaty reform, a topic that now, together with the veto power, is still a Pandora’s box?

Dr. Peer Gebauer:  You’ve rightly described that there is a challenge in making sure an enlarged European Union is still able to act decisively. And that of course, points to the question of majority voting, unanimity necessity or the possibility to use qualified majority voting, which we have in certain areas. So the question is where we can broaden the use of the qualified majority. First of all, yes, enlargement is a key element when it comes to the EU and we fully agree with Romania and the Romanian government on the need to not only give the Western Balkans a clear European perspective, but also to three countries of the Eastern Partnership: Ukraine, Republic of Moldova and also Georgia. I’m very happy that together within the EU we managed to make clear that now Ukraine and Moldova are candidates and Georgia is shortly behind them also moving in that direction. We cannot leave voids in the European family. We cannot leave a void that others would fill, which would all be detrimental to us and to the EU in general. And that’s why it’s important to move forward there. I’m glad that we, for example, solved the issue with Albania and Northern Macedonia and were able to move forward with starting accession negotiations with them. When it comes to Ukraine and Republic of Moldova, you are right. It is also a strong message that was sent by both Romania and Germany. And yes, we have to find ways to cope with the fact that a larger EU needs more effective decision making procedures. A number of proposals are on the table also in the wake of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which has included the public in all European Union member states. And I think we will find ways forward. It’s delicate as, of course, a broader, a bigger and a larger Union means that an individual country is smaller in comparison to the whole group. It’s natural that every EU member state has a great interest that its voice is still being heard. But we will manage to find ways to ensure that this Union is both strong, but also representing individual countries nevertheless.

Romania’s Schengen accession: a vote could be taken by the end of the year. I remain optimistic that we are truly at the finish line

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Second, on Schengen. Chancellor Scholz said that Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia fulfil all the criteria to join the Schengen area. This was seen as a major breakthrough and a signal that a political vote in the Council could happen soon, maybe by the end of the year. Are we on an irreversibly finish line or our EU partners are still waiting for the evolution of judicial reforms?

Dr. Peer Gebauer: To start with the judicial reform, I think this is a clear need. And it’s clearly in the interest of Romania to move forward on that. And I know the Government is putting a lot of effort into to judicial reform. We encourage our Romanian friends and partners to move forward with ambition in this respect. A reliable and trustworthy judiciary system is key for everybody: for societies, for economy, and of course, politically as well. And that’s why again, we encourage every ambitious step forward in this respect. And if I may say so, it’s also an effort that’s never over. Neither in Romania nor any other country. Also not in Germany. We always have to constantly work to ensure that we have a functioning judiciary and functioning institutions in all areas of government and state. So this will be a continuous effort to come. But anyways, it’s something that’s being addressed right now in Romania, and when it comes to Schengen, I think the message of our Chancellor, you’ve quoted it, indeed, is a very strong one. He will work to see Romania and the other two countries becoming part of the Schengen area. This is very, very important, I think, a very strong message. How will this translate into procedure? You are right, there could be a Council vote on this even by the end of the year.

It’s not easy for me at this position here to exactly determine how other countries are voting, but I think our’s has been a very strong message from obviously a big Member State. A Member State that in the past maybe has not expressed its support explicitely. So in this sense, I think it’s great news for Romania. And I remain optimistic that we are really on the finish line. But again, I cannot see the future to exactly tell you how it’s gonna go.

“There is no visit to a German company where I am not told that things would be better if Romania were in Schengen/ In terms of support for Ukraine, it would have been better to have Romania in Schengen”

CaleaEuropeană.ro: At the beginning of our interview you talked about the powerful economic relationship and partnership that lies between Germany and Romania. The accession into Schengen would come at a moment when Romania’s action have proven crucial for food security and humanitarian support to Ukraine and Ukrainians. But it would also significantly boost the economy and the circulation of goods in the single market. Do you see the economic relations between Romania and Germany improving and deepening after Romania’s accession to Schengen?

Dr. Peer Gebauer: Oh yes! Schengen accession of Romania would certainly boost the already excellent economic relations between our two countries. There’s hardly any visit that I do at a German company site somewhere, mostly in Transylvania, where the CEOs don’t tell me: Listen, if Romania was in Schengen, things would be even better for us in terms of not having our cars and trucks wait at the border for being allowed into the Schengen area. So certainly this would have a tremendously positive economic effect and it would further improve the quality and the value of Romania as a site for the industry, both from Germany and other countries across Europe. Just a word on what you said because I just want to stress, indeed, the fact that Romania has been super constructive and important in the framework of supporting Ukraine. Being the EU member state with the longest land border with Ukraine geographically, Romania plays a crucial role when it comes to providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine, when it comes to helping Ukraine export its grains, when it comes to, for example, in the beginning of the crisis, taking in refugees from Ukraine. In all these areas, Romania has been there as an extremely reliable partner and we are very, very grateful to Romanian Government and yo the Romanian people for delivering when it was most needed. And, of course, also in this respect, Schengen membership of Romania would have been better to have already at the beginning of the year. But again, Romania managed very well. And personally I would be happy to see Romania in Schengen.

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MEP Vasile Blaga: EPP Group adopted a position paper on solutions to fight inflation and rising energy prices

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MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP) presented for CaleaEuropeană.ro a series of EPP solutions to the crisis generated by inflation and uncontrolled energy price rises, following his participation in a meeting of the European People’s Group in Athens.

The MEP reports that an EPP Group position paper was adopted on the solutions the European People’s Party is proposing to the European Commission to combat inflation, rising energy prices and the cost of living.

  • In the fiscal area, the EPP group proposes that the Commission create the conditions for Member States to introduce new temporary exemptions or reductions in energy taxes and excise duties to mitigate the negative impact on households and businesses. The group also recommends, in the event of a prolonged crisis, exempting basic foodstuffs from VAT in order to reduce the daily living costs of citizens.
  • The EPP Group calls for the use of voluntary joint procurement of energy products to reduce prices in negotiations and ensure security of supply for all Member States.
    In the area of the energy market, the EPP Group supports the Commission’s proposals for an emergency temporary cap on market revenues from the sale of electricity, as a gesture of temporary solidarity aimed at reducing energy costs for households and businesses.
  • In parallel with these emergency measures, the EPP Group supports accelerating investment in renewable energy production units, energy efficiency, but also infrastructure, especially in cross-border projects to avoid future energy shocks to the EU economy. On the installation of renewables, especially for households, Member States must strive for de-bureaucratisation – removing administrative barriers and simplifying permitting.
  • In this respect, the installation of rooftop solar panels, heat pumps and small wind turbines across the Union needs to be stepped up to reduce gas consumption. All administrative barriers should be simplified or removed and significant subsidy schemes should be made available by Member States.
  • Last but not least, the EPP Group calls for more support for renovations. Major renovations, such as insulating buildings, involve high costs that most households cannot afford. The EPP Group therefore calls for easier access to bank loans for homeowners.

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CoR: Newly elected chair of COTER Commission, Emil Boc will focus his mandate on efficient use of EU budget and cohesion funds

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© EPP Group CoR/ Twitter

Emil Boc, Mayor of Cluj-Napoca and former Prime Minister of Romania, was elected chair of the European Committee of the Regions’ commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER) for a mandate of  two and a half years, according to a press release of EPP-CoR Group.

Emil Boc (RO/EPP) has been a member of the CoR since 2019 and was rapporteur of many opinions on topics related to education, such as the European Education Area, the European Strategy for Universities, and how the EU is addressing the brain drain challenge. In his new role as chair of the COTER Commission, Mr Boc will focus his political activity on the use of the EU budget and cohesion funds, the decarbonisation of transports and the start of a forward-looking reflection to secure a strong and efficient cohesion policy also in the future.

Emil Boc commented on his election saying: “As COTER chair, one of my biggest priorities is to make sure that we will have an efficient sustainable and qualitative implementation of the current cohesion programmes and a strong cohesion policy in the future. We will dedicate a lot of attention to the upcoming debates. I will meet soon with the EU Commissioner for Cohesion Policy and Reforms Elisa Ferreira to discuss about our Joint Action Plan: we have to work closely with the Commission on how to provide the necessary support for local and regional authorities to speed up the implementation.”

He added that: “There are many EU Funds that are linked to Cohesion directly or indirectly and this impacts negatively the capacity of regional and local beneficiaries to use the EU in general and the Cohesion Fund in particular. Concrete support is needed from the European Commission and Member States national governments in boosting the administrative capacity of regional and local authorities as main beneficiaries of the Cohesion Policy.”

Addressing the members of COTER Commission he highlighted: “I want to ensure that our work as COTER and institution has a real impact in our territories, and that no region is left behind, no matter the size, demographic or geographic challenges. We must work together with all EU institutions and make sure that the voice of cities and regions and of our citizens is heard”. Cohesion is not a technicality but a political principle, it is the glue that keeps Europe united. The democratic future of Europe depends on the future of Cohesion policy. Especially in these difficult moments we need cohesion and solidarity to be able to properly and efficiently respond to our citizen’s needs.”

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