During his speech, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is standing at the lectern in our Berlin office.

"Europe is not a menu for choosing what you like"

In a keynote speech given in Berlin, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte invoked the spirit of European cooperation. He had come to the German capital at our invitation to share his ideas on the future of the European Union.

"You must speak if you want to be heard." At the beginning of his remarks, Rutte quoted former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, explaining to representatives of the business community, political arena, civil society and media how Europe should fulfill its promise of prosperity and security.

Invited to Berlin by our chairman and CEO, Aart De Geus, the event's participants took the opportunity to discuss the future of the EU. In his speech, the Dutch prime minister emphasized that Europe must "deliver" on its promise of prosperity and protection, saying that "lofty visions do not create jobs and security."  

"EU member states should not draw 'red lines' but find a 'red thread' for reforms."

Aart De Geus, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung

In his opening remarks, De Geus highlighted the areas in which the EU must take action and implement reforms if it wants to continue offering people employment while responding to current and coming challenges. The EU needs a robust mandate especially in the area of the European Economic and Monetary Union, he said, since that is the only way Europe can offer its citizens stability and prosperity, even in times of crisis. The EU should also play a greater role in the areas of defense, development aid and asylum policy, since that would allow it to respond in unison to global challenges, De Geus explained.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung CEO therefore called on Europe's heads of state and government to take a constructive approach to proposed reforms. "We do not need 'red lines' that cannot be crossed," he said, "but a 'red thread' that allows us to agree on the most important challenges confronting the EU, so we can respond to them without delay." In view of Brexit, it is especially important that all EU member states, not just Germany and France, stand united and actively work together to shape the future of the EU, De Geus said.

Aart De Geus during his opening remarks. (Photo: Sebastian Pfütze)

"Europe is not a menu from which you can choose what you like."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte

In his speech, Rutte also emphasized the fundamental need for all member states to collaborate if the EU is to achieve the goals it has set for itself. "At its core, the original promise of Europe hasn't changed in nearly 70 years: member states working together to bring each other to a higher level of prosperity, security and stability," he said.

He also noted that members must acknowledge this promise and the need for cooperation. According to Rutte, some members seem to believe "Europe is a menu from which you can choose what you like and refuse what you don't like. But Europe is not a menu." Only if the EU keeps its promises will it be successful in the future and accepted by its citizens, he said.

"EU funds are a last resort"

To achieve these goals, Rutte defined nine areas in which he feels reforms should be implemented, including greater cooperation in security policy and climate protection. He also called on the EU to create a new system capable of producing a unified response to asylum- and migration-related issues.

At the same time, he rejected the idea of greater risk-sharing. "European funds are a last resort, not first-aid" when it comes to national financial crises, he said. The more each state puts its own house in order, the stronger the EU will be as a whole, Rutte said.

Despite all the problems and challenges, including those stemming from EU skeptics and nationalists, Rutte said he remains an optimist. As he repeatedly emphasized, he came to Berlin to talk about the future of the EU because he believes in Europe and because talking is important, since simply shouting from the ends of the political spectrum will not move things forward. The bottom line, he said, is that 27 European countries have decided to work together knowing that cooperation is the best way to respond to global problems. According to the Dutch prime minister, that is the principle which will allow the EU to become a more perfect union.