A strong Europe means a strong Germany and vice versa, says Dr. Viviane Reding. The next German chancellor faces unprecedented challenges and must show real leadership.
Ahead of federal elections on 24 September, Germany is thriving. Its economy remains a point of reference for its neighbors. Its Energiewendeand its refugee policy command respect. Angela Merkel has demonstrated Stateswomanship.
During the latest G7 and G20 summits, the chancellor stood as the longest-serving Western leader. With the United States and the United Kingdom retreating, France and Italy recovering, Russia and Turkey drifting towards authoritarianism (followed by Poland and Hungary), China and India rising, the next chancellor will face unprecedented challenges and hence increasing responsibilities on all fronts.
Both inside and outside European borders, instability is all-pervasive. A ring of friends has become a ring of fire. Seldom has the imperative for common European action been so clear.
Over the past decade Angela Merkel has transformed Germany from the sick man of Europe to an engine for growth. Berlin must now help Brussels turn Europe from recovery to an anchor of stability in the world. The stronger Europe is, the stronger Germany is, and vice versa. This requires leadership!
The good news is that there is room to move Europe forward, due to a break in the electoral cycle until the 2019 European elections and a positive outcome in recent elections. Euroskeptics have been defeated in Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, France and hopefully soon in Germany.
Confronted with the unsettling consequences of the Brexit referendum as well as the election of Donald Trump, European citizens are changing their mindset. Polls show that support for EU membership is substantially increasing. Tens of thousands are taking to the streets for the "Pulse of Europe."
This is a defining moment. The European Commission and the European Parliament have many proposals up their sleeve, awaiting Member States' approval. We must seize this window of opportunity to undertake reforms.
There are three main pillars of reform in the coming months.
First, security and defense. We must intensify information exchanges between law enforcement authorities, create joint defense-capabilities and empower a truly European Foreign Affairs Minister.
Second, jobs and growth. We must achieve Eurozone governance, ensure social and fiscal convergence, and have a European budget worthy of the name. We must also shape globalization and digitalization, the two main factors behind the disenchantment of many people.
Third, values and democracy. We must make European funds conditional on respecting EU rules including the rule of law and bringing the EU closer to its citizens.
In the recent past, Europeans have created visionary policies, like the Eurozone and the Schengen area, without the necessary institutional and financial resources to make them work properly. It is high time to fix these flaws. More than three-quarters of EU citizens believe the EU should do more in the fight against terrorism and against unemployment. What are we waiting for?
The European Union was, is and will be the best way to protect our way of life. The European Union is a unique project of peace and prosperity, security and solidarity. To live up to our ideals, it is vital to act now and deliver concrete results.
We all share the same ambition. Namely to re-launch the European project. Only a strong, self-confident and vibrant European Union can defend its geostrategic interests. In Merkel's own words, "we Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands." Let us join forces to make Europe fit for the future, to make sure Europe leads the free world, to make Europe first!
Dr. Viviane Reding is a Member of the European Parliament and former Vice-President of the European Commission