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.
Op-ed | President of the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change at the European Economic and Social Committee: Without critical raw materials resilience, there will be no green or digital industrial revolution
Opinion by Pietro Francesco De Lotto, President of the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change at the European Economic and Social Committee
Whether we are talking about a fourth, fifth, or even sixth industrial revolution, we often see public debate take place. Despite the different views on the issue, one thing we can say with certainty is that our industry is undergoing a profound revolution, which comprises a twin challenge: becoming greener and more circular, as well as going through a digital transformation. It is a revolution that is driven by several factors: our commitments under the Paris Agreement, the pursuit of global competitiveness, the need to adapt labour markets, consumer sensitivity and, last but not least, public opinion.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals and the fight against climate change are clearly essential pillars of the EU’s action, and we need to ensure that they are perceived and experienced more and more as an opportunity rather than a burden by all parts of society and industry. The European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan, the recently updated New Industrial Strategy for Europe, the Fit for 55 package presented in July, and the related activities and legislation are essential tools to transform public debates into an everyday reality, everywhere in Europe, leaving no one behind in this collective effort.
Raw materials, and especially critical raw materials, are at the core of this process. Digitalising and greening EU industries and society require technologies that depend on raw materials. Wind power, for instance, comes from turbines that contain, among other materials, rare earth elements. The EU relies almost 100% on China to supply such elements. Similar scenarios exist for many technologies that are essential to the green and digital transition, from batteries to photovoltaics, from robotics to fuel cells. The EU Critical Raw Materials Action Plan and the Updated Industrial Strategy identify 30 materials and 137 products respectively that are essential for our industry and society and on which the EU is highly dependent.
These are worrying figures, but they also provide a necessary reality check. The past few months have brought these dependencies to the public’s attention even more clearly, as the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need for EU industry and society overall to become more resilient and strategically autonomous, especially in areas such as vaccines, medicines and medical devices. The time to act on these critical factors is therefore ripe, and we must make use of all instruments to address our dependencies with a strategic vision.
The Commission’s Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials, on which the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) recently published its opinion CCMI 177, is a good instrument that combines measures to fix current shortcomings with actions to mitigate possible future problems. The EESC believes that the actions envisaged by the European Commission are essential if we are to maintain and strengthen the EU’s industrial base. This is a very important first point: for too long, we have left this issue up to the free market and industry, hoping that it would regulate itself. We must however now acknowledge that, as much as companies should be free to build their supply chains, we need to secure some parts of these chains that we deem of strategic importance to the European Union.
More specifically, the EU needs support instruments for sustainable primary sourcing in Europe. Financial instruments for sustainable projects, as well as streamlined authorisation processes are needed, as is the greater involvement of and public acceptance by citizens and local communities. This is also very much linked to the need to maintain extractive and processing capacities in the EU. We need to support workers and regions through better training and a deeper link with higher and vocational education, including investment in training and retraining workers, and in the teaching of specialist disciplines such as geology, metallurgy and mining, even at undergraduate level.
At the same time, and this is the second point, we need to invest in activities that can foster substitution; something that will only be possible with significant, constant investment in R&D programmes to discover new materials and processes for ensuring justified substitution.
Together with primary sourcing and substitution, the third key element is that of circular reuse and secondary sourcing from waste. To do this, we need to invest in research and development, but we also need to carefully assess the waste we ship outside Europe, while at the same time mapping – as soon as possible – the potential supply of secondary critical raw materials from EU stocks and waste.
As for the external dimension, the EU needs to diversify its trading relations, while supporting developing countries. These two objectives go hand in hand, as our efforts should be aimed at forging strategic partnerships with like-minded nations in a multilateral framework, which can both help avoid supply disruptions for EU industry and contribute to the well-being and development of developing third countries. In this regard, there are three very specific elements to be underlined: the mutual advantages of integrating the Western Balkans countries into the EU supply chain; the urgent need for an increased role for the Euro in critical raw materials trading and the need to take greater account of the ethical dimension when drawing up Europe’s critical raw materials list.
Overall, we want to see EU industry flourish in a green and digital way, but we do not want to see our industry and society shift from one dependency (for instance on certain fossil fuels) to another full reliance on certain critical raw materials. To avoid this, and to ensure that the green and digital transitions increase resilience, competitiveness and social justice, we need to invest in research and development, sustainable domestic mining exploration, recovering valuable materials from waste, training and retraining a skilled workforce and creating a multilateral level playing field. This is essential in order to ensure that the green and digital revolutions are successful and benefit EU industry and society as a whole, and do not leave any worker, region and country of the world behind.
Pietro Francesco De Lotto
President of the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change at the European Economic and Social Committee
MEP Vasile Blaga: Romania has fulfilled for 11 years all the Schengen requirements and our acceptance is still delayed
MEP Vasile Blaga, member of the Committee on Civil Liberties of the European Parliament, took the floor during today’s reunion of the LIBE Committee, June 15, and with this occasion touched, during his intervention, upon a “political aspect” throughout the debate on CMV.
“This political aspect refers to the integration of Romania in the Schengen area and the connection between CMV and the postponement of our entry into Schengen. I was the Minister of Internal Affairs who dealt with the removal of the safeguard clause and securing the frontiers regarding Romania’s adherence to the EU”, mention the MEP during the reunion.
Moreover, the liberal MEP pointed out that Romania administers almost 2000 kilometres of EU borders and has fulfilled for 11 years all the Schengen criteria: “nevertheless, Romania’s admission is delayed without openly specifying why. Of course, it was denied on multiple occasions that the integration in the Schengen area would be related to the criticism from the CVM reports. However, reality contradicts this. I believe that the postponement of a decision regarding Romania’s admission to Schengen is an unfair treatment which the European Union applies to my country”, he added.
“I would like to express my hope that the finalization of the CVM for Romania will remove any obstacle, declared or undeclared, to Romania’s integration into Schengen”, concluded Vasile Blaga.
The entire intervention of the MEP can be followed here.
The European Parliament adopted on July 8, with 505 votes for, 134 against and 54 abstentions, the annual report regarding the functioning of the Schengen area which claims, again, that Romania and Bulgaria have to be integrated with full rights into Schengen, while a specifying that Croatia meets all the technical requirements as well.
MEP Vasile Blaga: The Romanian Government, determined to finalize all the necessary reforms for the suspension of the CVM
MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP) participated today, July 15, at the reunion of the Committee on Civil Liberties of the European Parliament and specified Romania’s direction following the last CVM report.
“The last CVM report for Romania clearly shows that in Bucharest exists political volition the effective implementation of the last steps towards reforms which will lead to the suspension of this mechanism for Romania. During the 14 years of evaluation, we found ourselves in the thankless position of repairing the inherited matters from the previous governments, the case being the same today. The last CVM report puts forward Romania’s positive progress from the last 2 years. I emphasize the fact that in Bucharest we have a governmental coalition determined to finalize all necessary reforms”, explained Vasile Blagato his colleagues.
Moreover, the liberal MEP notes that Romania still campaigns for averting the double evaluation regarding the Mechanism of the rule of law: “I want to point out the fact that there is a true expectancy for the finalization of the Mechanism for cooperation and its verification and evaluation based on the same criteria applied to all member states, meaning through the Mechanism regarding the rule of law. Romania still pleads for the prevention of this double evaluation.”
The entire intervention of the MEP can be seen here.
The European Commission adopted on June 8 its most recent report regarding the evolution of the situation in Romania concerning the reforms of the judicial system and fight against corruption, in the context of the responsibilities assumed within the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), noting that Romania registered developments regarding all the recommendations of the CVM and that the fulfillment of all recommendations is essential for the closure of this mechanism.
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Op-ed | President of the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change at the European Economic and Social Committee: Without critical raw materials resilience, there will be no green or digital industrial revolution
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