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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
MEP Vasile Blaga: Jobs are a top priority for the EPP Group
MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP) argues that jobs are the zero priority for the largest political group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Group.
“The discussion about jobs is even more important as a result of the effects of the health crisis of the last year which, according to studies, has directly affected one in five jobs in Europe. No less than 15 million EU citizens are unemployed and this is directly reflected in their standard of living and the EU’s economic performance. It is also dramatic that 18 percent of young Europeans under the age of 25 do not have a job. The EU must find solutions for them, to make the employment of these young people a priority, we cannot afford to lose a generation “, mentioned the MEP Vasile Blaga.
The European People’s Party wants jobs to become the top priority of the European Union and all European institutions and the governments of the Member States.
A debate organized by the EPP Group in the European Parliament entitled “Jobs, jobs, jobs” will take place on Wednesday, with the participation of the President of the European Commission and representatives of national governments.
Vasile Blaga also mentions that the EPP expects concrete proposals from the European Commission and not general ideas on how to create more jobs at European level.
“There is a great need for an economic and social transformation and the crisis we are going through has made this reality all the more urgent. We are in a year in which the economic effects of 2020 will be even more obvious and the impact on jobs even stronger. How many companies in the fields directly affected by the health crisis will still have the resources to recover, to reopen, to keep their employees? The EU Member States must give up selfish impulses and we must all accept that together we are stronger. Any decision taken at the European level must answer positively to the question of whether it leads to the creation of new jobs “, underlines MEP Vasile Blaga.
MEP Vasile Blaga: “Like the common vaccination strategy, the EU needs a unique strategy in implementing vaccination certificates”
Like the common vaccination strategy, the EU needs a unique strategy in implementing the vaccination certificate, according to MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP).
Vasile Blaga proposes the development of a common EU policy on vaccination certificates leading to the elimination of uneven traffic restrictions in the EU.
”The economic revitalization of the European Union cannot be achieved without a solid strategy on the free movement of EU citizens, and this can be done much faster by implementing vaccination certificates. For example, the relaunch of tourism could be directly helped by the success of the European vaccination campaign in conjunction with the implementation of vaccination certificates at the Union level. In practice, a common EU policy on specific vaccination certificates is a much more viable alternative to the current restrictions on free movement – restrictions that are currently heterogeneous at Member State level “, says MEP Vasile Blaga.
Leaders from the European Union’s (EU) 27-member states came to together for a virtual summit on Thursday with the aim of solving pressing coronavirus-related health and logistical problems confronting the bloc.
ITRE Chair Cristian Bușoi calls on EC Vice President Frans Timmermans to make sure the Guidelines of the Single Used Plastic Directive will not go beyond the Directive’s scope
The ITRE Committee Chair, Cristian Busoi, (EPP) has addressed two written parliamentary questions to Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of the European Commission regarding critical concerns about the Guidelines of the Single Used Plastic Directive.
“The latest version of the Guidelines shared with the Member States shows a tendency on Commission’s side to widen the Guidelines’ scope compared to the Directive text. Our goal is to help the Member States to implement the Directive at national level effectively. Given the concerns raised by member states, the industry, and civil society, all preoccupied with the European citizens’ interest, I expect the European Commission to offer more clarity on this process and make sure the Guidelines do not go beyond the scope of the Directive. ” stated ITRE Chair, Cristian Busoi, according to a press release.
The two questions are:
1) According to the latest version of the Guidelines, the Commission intends to go beyond the Directive’s scope and objectives. Can you confirm that this will not be the case? When the Commission plans to issue the Guidelines having in mind that they are essential for implementing the SUPD.
2) What are the economic costs of replacing the single-use paper packaging in quick-service restaurants with other materials, which use 0% plastic?
Subsequently, together with 32 colleagues from the European Parliament belonging to four European Political Groups, EPP MEP Cristian Busoi signed a joint letter addressed to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President European Commission in charge of the European Green Deal, Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, and Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, expressing their concerns about the long-waited Guidelines meant to support the Member States for effective implementation of the Single Used Plastic Directive (EU) 2019/904
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