and I am very honoured to receive
the GLOBSEC European Award.I am all the more pleased as this award is given
for efforts to keep Europe strong and united.
This is a topic that is very close to my heart.
I have spent most of my political life
thinking about Europe,
about the EU.
For much of that time,
my efforts have been focused on how to build
the European house,
how to make sure that the foundations are stable.
it seems that most of my time is spent
not on building the house,
but on repairing it!
The EU is a unique project.
It is an achievement unparalleled in the world.
Sometimes we tend to forget
how lucky we are to be part of it.
I cannot imagine where Germany would be today,
without the EU.
In a similar way that the EU helped Germany after the war,
I think that it was also a great force
in helping countries –
following the defeat of communism –
transition into functioning,
prosperous, democratic market economies.
When I think about how these countries
have developed in the years since,
I am full of wonder at the strength of the human spirit,
and proud to be a European.
The Slovak Republic is one of the best examples of this.
Not only does your country post
consistently good rates of growth
(2015: 3.6 percent; 2016: 3.2 percent; 2017: 3.3 percent – KOM 2016)
your sound fiscal policy has allowed you to keep your public budgets under control.
This has meant a healthy fall in unemployment
in recent years
(2014: 13.2 percent – 2017: 9.5 percent; KOM 2016)
Slovakia is now a highly industrialized country.
If I am informed correctly,
you even produce more cars
per head of population
than any other country in the world.
And I thought we Germans were the car experts!
(German Foreign Office Website, Länderinformationen, as of March 2016).
But more importantly,
the Slovak Republic is firmly embedded
at the heart of Europe.
Year for year,
the Tatra Summit grows in importance.
And it was here, last month, in Bratislava,
that the EU set out its agenda
to bring us out of the critical situation
we are currently in,
especially following the disappointing vote in the UK.
As one prominent attendee (Chancellor Merkel) said:
“The spirit of Bratislava was the spirit of cooperation”.
But I do not envy you.
Your first ever Presidency of the EU –
and you are doing a marvelous job by the way –
comes at one of the most difficult times
in the EU’s history.
Many people seem to be increasingly disillusioned.
What was once a source of great hope and optimism,
is now a source of disagreement and frustration.
The EU has to return to what it once was.
It has to prove that it is relevant,
that it is capable of acting as one,
and solving the big questions facing us.
Otherwise we risk fading into insignificance.
This does not mean Treaty change –
we do not have time for that.
Now is the time to concentrate on
the key areas where the EU can make a difference,
using the instruments already available to us.
And here are the six key areas,
as I see them,
where the EU can,
make a difference.
We have to ensure
that our external borders are protected,
and follow up our agreement with Turkey
with corresponding repatriation agreements
with other countries.
We have to have to be the ones to decide
who can come to the EU,
and not murderous people-trafficking gangs.
And we need to find a fair
and political acceptable way
of distributing refugees.
Two: External affairs.
We must do more
to stabilize our neighbouring regions,
including the Ukraine.
We have to develop the investment conditions
and to improve the prospects
of the people in these troubled regions.
If we don’t,
the people fleeing to the EU
to escape famine, war, violence and poverty
will only continue.
This is why we are currently discussing
a European Fund for Sustainable Development,
to create incentives for investment in these regions,
and to fight the causes of migration
by improving local perspectives.
Europe can no longer afford
fragmented military structures.
We need to strengthen our cooperation here.
We need shared military forces
with their own command structures.
And we urgently need to improve collaboration
between our intelligence services
to tackle the terrorist threat.
We have so much potential still untapped in the EU,
such as a real digital union, or a proper energy union.
We have to be more intelligent with our investments,
as we are doing with the European Fund for Strategic Investment.
In the EU budget,
we should move away
from path-dependent spending patterns
and use the money instead,
in a forward-looking way,
to help finance the implementation
of the political priorities
agreed in the European Semester.
We urgently need structural reforms in the EU.
many would prefer to delay making these decisions.
But delay today only means more pain tomorrow.
That is why it is essential that we stick to the rules
we have jointly agreed in the euro area.
Five: Employment and education
The situation with youth unemployment in the EU
are desperately looking for people to train.
And many young people
are desperately looking for on-the-job training.
We need to bring these two sides together,
perhaps with a common European initiative.
And finally: The euro.
We have already done a lot to stabilize the euro.
Now, we have to continue our work
to minimize risks in the banking sector
and push on with the capital markets union.
But above all,
we have to ensure that we stick to the fiscal rules
we have agreed together,
The rules are there to ensure stability in the euro area.
We can clearly see that those who implement them
are those that are doing best.
Normally, implementation is the job
of the European Commission.
The current Commission has chosen to be more political –
as it has every right to do.
But this makes it more difficult to impose compliance.
We should therefore start thinking about how we can ensure
that the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact
are actually enforced.
Perhaps the European Stability Mechanism
could play a role in budget compliance,
in those cases
where the Commission cannot.
What we have created in the EU
is something that we can all be proud of.
Yes, we are going through a crisis.
But we will come out of it stronger.
As we always do.
Our European house is currently in bad need of repair.
We need to become more economically competitive
and get our institutions functioning correctly again.
Borrowing and throwing money at our problems
will not solve them.
We need to make our foundations more stable
And we need to do this now.
This is the best way to combat the skeptics,
to reassure those who have always looked to Europe
for peace, prosperity and freedom,
and to ensure that we still have a voice in the world
with a strong, dynamic, unified Europe
as we move through the twenty-first century.