I was recently appointed president of United Europe and am very pleased to take over this office as successor to Chancellor Schüssel. My thanks go to Wolfgang Schüssel for his valuable work over the past years. I hope that he will continue to provide us with his importance guidance in the future.
My original intention with this address was to share with you my plans for United Europe, but the extraordinary situation which we now find ourselves in demands other measures – which is why I am now making the following request of you: Here in Europe, we must respond to the coronavirus pandemic with determination and solidarity.
Now is not the time for populists and nationalists. Those voices have fallen silent as recent events have unfolded – unsurprising, as those groups are not at all capable of objective policy-making or crisis management.
In contrast, the EU is taking the right steps. Just a few examples: The European Commission is relaxing its debt limits for Member States. The European fiscal rules are to be suspended for a transitional period. And the EU is pushing to keep goods and essential services flowing in our single market. This is the only way to prevent a lack of medical equipment or food.
The fact that, at the beginning of the pandemic, no EU country responded to Italy’s request to supply protective equipment was a huge mistake. Heavily affected countries like Italy and Spain need our solidarity. A pan-European solution must be found – integration must be reinforced and deepened, and we must put a stop to individual countries acting only in their own self-interest.
In times of crisis, the constitution of a society becomes apparent. The answer to all these crises can only be a united Europe in which the Member States show solidarity.
The aftermath of this pandemic will change the world forever. We will all be affected and will have to make cutbacks in many areas. There will be much to rebuild. A retreat into “national egocentrism” is not the solution. The only way to overcome this challenge is by working together; in the end, it also offers us an opportunity.
We must work towards deeper integration of the European Union in order to be better prepared for crises in the future. Now is the time for European solidarity. Short-term restrictions on mobility and freedom of travel must not lead to the death of the European idea. On the contrary, they show us what we all have to gain from a united Europe. This is why the idea of United Europe is more topical than ever. Let us work together and invest all our strength for a Europe that is united, competitive and secure in the face of crisis.
Günther H. Oettinger
President of United Europe e.V., EU Commissioner 2010-2019
It was an honour and a pleasure for me to help shape the destiny of United Europe for seven years. The idea was born during an informal discussion with JG and some friends – we felt it was not enough to complain about the state of Europe. It was high time to encourage like-minded people from business and society to stand up and fight publicly for the idea of European unification.
A lot has happened since then. In numerous Young Professionals seminars, hundreds of future managers were motivated, and an exciting vision of the future was developed in the “Rome Manifesto”. In a Handelsblatt cooperation (series of articles and a book), 30 high-ranking CEOs and opinion leaders called for “Europe can do better”. Digitisation, trade opening, a shift towards Africa, the EU’s security and defence capability, and the completion of the internal market were further focal points in well-attended and intellectually highly stimulating forums. A defeat of United Europe is also to be admitted: despite the manifold efforts of our friends MJ and PM, “Brexit”, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union, will take place on 31 January 2020. We should do all we can to ensure that a viable partnership agreement is reached after the one-year transitional period.
My farewell melancholy is strongly dampened by my successor – Günther Oettinger was unanimously elected President of UE at the last General Assembly. Thus the continuity of United Europe’s work is ensured and strong new impulses can be expected. My thanks go to all members and sponsors as well as to the board and the two managing directors Rieke Schües and Sabine Sasse.
Dr. Wolfgang Schüssel
President United Europe (2013-2019), Federal Chancellor of Austria (2000-2007)