Joachim Gauck: Speech on prospects for the European idea

Schloss Bellevue, 22 February 2013

ladies and gentlemen,

There has never been this much Europe! I say that as someone who is profoundly grateful to be able to look across this room and welcome guests from Germany and from all over Europe.


There has never been this much Europe. A lot of people at the moment have very different feelings about that when they, for example, open the German newspapers. There we find Europe reduced to four letters – euro – and read about crisis. Time and again, the stories centre around summit diplomacy and rescue packages. We read about difficult negotiations, and partial successes – but the main theme is a sense of unease, even unmistakeable anger, which cannot be ignored. In some member states, people are afraid they are the ones footing the bill in this crisis. In others, there is growing fear of facing ever harsher austerity and falling into poverty. For many ordinary people in Europe, the balance between giving and receiving, between debt and liability, responsibility and a place at the table no longer seems fair.

Add to that the litany of criticism we have been reading and hearing about for a long time: annoyance with Brussels technocrats and their mania for regulation; complaints that decisions are not transparent enough; distrust of an impenetrably complex network of institutions; and, not least, resistance to the growing significance of the European Council and the dominant role of the Franco-German tandem.

Attractive though Europe is, the European Union leaves too many people feeling powerless and without a voice. I hear this and read it on almost a daily basis and can tell you: there are issues in Europe that need clearing up. When I see all the signs of people’s impatience, exhaustion and frustration, when I hear about polls showing a populace unsure about pursuing “more” Europe, it seems to me that we are pausing on a new threshold – unsure whether we should really stride out on the onward journey. There is more to this crisis than its economic dimension. It is also a crisis of confidence in Europe as a political project. This is not just a struggle for our currency; we are struggling with an internal quandary too.

All that being said – you still see before you an unabashed pro-European, and a man who feels the need to reflect on what Europe has meant in the past, what it means now, and what potential it still has for the future. Let me take you through these things as I see them today.

This is also a chance for me to reassess what I said so euphorically shortly after I came to office. I said straight out that we wanted to go for more Europe. These days, I would no longer put it quite so impetuously. When we talk about “more Europe”, we need to know what it means, we need nuance. In what areas can and should more Europe help our joint venture succeed? What do we want Europe to look like? What do we want to develop and strengthen, and what do we want to keep in bounds? Last but not least, how can we engender greater confidence in more Europe?

Let us look back. The beginning was full of promise. Only five years after the end of the Second World War, France’s Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed to his partners in Europe that they found a European Coal and Steel Community. France and Germany thus became the major drivers of European development – and wartime enemies became close partners. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty this January, we realized anew how valuable a friendship this has become for Europe, and how fortunate we are to have the friendship live on through the next generation.

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