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Angela Merkel in Luxembourg and Belgium

We need to bring Europe closer to the people again

It is important to convince people "that it is more beneficial to work together within Europe". That was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s message in Brussels, where she was awarded an honorary doctorate jointly by Ghent University and the Catholic University of Leuven.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is awarded an honorary doctorate from Ghent University and the Catholic University of Leuven. The universities awarded the honorary title in recognition of Angel Merkel's commitment to strengthening Europe in political terms Foto: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

Specifically because of Brexit and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the EU, "We must hold Europe together now more than at any time in the past; we must make it even better, and bring it closer to the people of Europe again". That was the message of Chancellor Angela Merkel as she thanked her hosts for the honour conferred. She encouraged the students present to become involved in and for Europe. Europe, she said, is not the European Commission or the European Council. "Every one of us is Europe!"

In "The Egg" in Brussels the Chancellor was awarded an honorary doctorate jointly by Ghent University and the Catholic University of Leuven. The award ceremony was also attended by Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel and the Premier of Flanders, Geert Bourgeois. Angela Merkel was awarded the title in recognition of her "courageous and humane response" with respect to refugees and for her work for Europe.

Better European cooperation

  • Five points are crucial, said the Chancellor, if we are to convince the people "that it is more beneficial to work together inside Europe":

  • EU member states must stop congratulating themselves when things go well, and pointing the finger of blame at Brussels when difficulties arise.

    In Brussels, the EU and its member states should concentrate on tackling issues that can be best solved at European level. At the same time they should respect diversity in member states. Diversity brings additional benefits.

  • The European Union must make rational decisions more swiftly and in more concrete terms.

  • Once decisions are made, they must be respected and implemented.

  • All that Europe has achieved must be better explained "so that the people understand why we would be much worse off without Europe".

Readiness to compromise needed

The EU and its member states, said the Chancellor, must also become better at finding compromises and thus achieving better results. Specifically, readiness to compromise is needed on the issues of illegal migration, the fight against international terrorism, and in the field of security and defence policy, said the Chancellor. 

Working together to resolve the problems in hand

 Angela Merkel visited Luxembourg earlier in the day. After a meeting with her counterpart Xavier Bettel, she stressed, "I believe that we are a good example that demonstrates that problems in Europe can be resolved if we are open for one another, if we listen to one another, and if we do not try to sweep problems under the carpet".

Freedom of movement and protection of external borders are cornerstones

The free movement of people within the Schengen Area presupposes that the external borders are secure, so that "it is not the traffickers and smugglers who are calling the shots, but that agreements between the states ensure proper control of borders" said Angela Merkel. She agrees with Prime Minister Xavier Bettel that they should urge for a register of people entering and leaving the area to be put in place as swiftly as possible. In addition to this, the border management agency Frontex must be fully operational. "We have achieved a lot over the last year in this context."

The sharing of information between the various databases in Europe must also be organised reliably. The Chancellor declared that it must work such that "those who want to destroy our way of living really are punished and are forced to leave our territory again".

Extending the use of migration compacts

Europe has a "major agenda" ahead of it with African states. Accords like the agreement entered into with Turkey are needed, along with assistance for the affected countries. She thus welcomed the trip of the heads of government of the three Benelux states to Tunisia for talks "in a spirit of mutual respect and good neighbourly relations". We all know what problems these states are facing themselves, said Angela Merkel. "Nevertheless we must cooperate closely on the issues of migration and refugees."

Digital single market extremely important

In view of the imperative of tackling the high levels of youth unemployment in the EU, the importance of developing the digital economy cannot be overstated. "Where are the jobs of the future being created? The question of whether we can keep up with the pace of digitalisation will determine whether or not Europe remains a competitive location for business," declared Angela Merkel with conviction.

On the matter of Brexit the Chancellor stated unequivocally that she agrees with Xavier Bettel, "that we must not allow rifts to develop in our ranks". The EU-27 must take a joint position in the negotiations to come. "First of all though, we are waiting to hear how the UK visualises the process of leaving the EU." 

Learning from Europe’s history – celebrating 60 years of the EU

Angela Merkel was very moved by a visit to the house where Robert Schuman was born. Schuman was one of the founding fathers of European unification. She said that for her Schumann epitomises the fact that in spite of our history in Europe "we managed to find the strength to found a common Europe". Today’s generations, who have had it "very much easier" should never lose sight of this fact, said the Chancellor.

Now we must carry forward "what those who laid the foundations have given us". The Malta Summit, to be held in a few weeks, reflects one of the major challenges currently facing the EU: the question of how to deal with refugees and migration.

The Malta Summit on 3 February will prepare the celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary in March of the signing of the Treaty of Rome which founded the European Community. "We need a concrete agenda with a clear timeline that lays out what we intend to achieve by when. That is our unequivocal goal," said the Chancellor, at the close of her visit to Luxembourg.

Donnerstag, 12. Januar 2017