A few months ago, the PDU’s Emilie Mendes de Leon caught up with Hans Eichel, Germany’s former Minister of Finance and founder of the G-20, about crisis and democracy in Europe.
EM: What do you see as the relationship between various European crises, particularly the global financial crisis, the sovereign debt crisis and the current refugee crisis?
HE: The global financial crisis is a crisis of the banking sector, the regulated sector as well as the shadow banking sector. It became a sovereign debt crisis because the states saved the banking sector by taking over its debts (the only exception is Greece, its crisis is mainly caused by extreme high sovereign debts). This crisis weakened the economy of many EU-member-states and austerity as main anti-crisis policy and its worse social consequences caused a loss of solidarity. Therefore many of the EU-member-states are now unwilling and often incapable to show solidarity to the refugees and to other member-states which are willing to solve the crisis corresponding to European values and international law. There is a lack of solidarity and common European spirit, especially shown by the governments.
EM: Last fall at PDU’s event in Munich, you spoke about a Franco-German “engine” for the European project. Can you elaborate a bit more on what you meant by this? Do France and Germany have a special duty vis-a-vis other Member States?
HE: Over many centuries France and Germany were the main enemies in Europe, most of the conflicts were above all Franco-German conflicts. Therefore European unification means at first Franco-German harmonization. If this is missed, no European progress is possible. But all Franco-German understanding must include the interest of all other Europeans from the very beginning.
EM: What role do great men (and women) play in the European project?
HE: History after World War II shows a common spirit of citizens and government in favor of European unification. But the European project only made remarkable steps forward, when there were great leaders, who were convinced Europeans by heart and by mind. Examples are Jean Monnet, Alcide des Gasperi, Konrad Adenauer, to speak about the beginning of the European unification.
EM: Is there a “democratic deficit” in Europe? If so, how should it be addressed?
HE: Yes, there is a “democratic deficit” in Europe, and it has increased during the last years, because the heads of state and government were unable and partly unwilling to fight against the crisis with European legislation. They preferred intergovernmental solutions, excluding completely the European Parliament. This was a big mistake. In the centre of European political debates and decisions must be the European Parliament, because it is directly chosen by the citizens of all European countries. We must strengthen its position. Next steps are a European voting right, real European parties and Europe-wide lists of candidates.
EM: What message will inspire Europeans to fight for and believe in a more united Europe?
HE: Looking at the world as it is, we only have one chance to defend our values if we as Europeans aree doing it together. As Germans, as French, as Italians we are too weak. Only a united Europe can be a safe harbor for all European citizens in a globalised world. Only a united Europe possesses power enough to play an important role in favor of fair globalization. That is what many reasonable people all over the world are expecting from Europe.