Brexit, the rise of populism in Europe and growing conflicts with the USA and China: Things could get a little uncomfortable for the EU with European elections coming up this year. At our event in Berlin, EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger made a case for a strong, united Europe.
"A cold January evening with prospects of a heated debate" was the forecast of Aart De Geus our Chairman Executive Board in his welcome speech before EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger's address on Europe on Monday evening in Berlin. He was proved right, too, as a number of controversial topics – including Brexit, or the possible election of an unprecedented number of nationalist-populist MEPs in May – were on the agenda. EU Commissioner Oettinger was also quick to state that the forthcoming elections were taking place in a "critical time" in history, in which we must all stand up for a free, strong Europe.
In his introduction, Aart De Geus explained the starting point for the European Parliament elections in May: "Many Western democracies are undergoing a stress test. Our system of values is being challenged", said the Executive Board Chairman, adding that many people preferred to withdraw into private life at times of rapid social and political change. According to Aart De Geus, this is dangerous for our democracy and Europe as a whole, which are dependent on its citizens' commitment and enthusiasm.
How can we spark more "EU-phoria"?
Günther Oettinger underlined how important it is to inform more about the European Union, including increased media coverage: "Sometimes I wish there were fewer cookery shows and more reports on what’s happening in Brussels." News from Brussels obviously carries less weight for many Germans than decisions made by the Federal Parliament in Berlin, but he believes this should change: "European elections should be as important to us as parliamentary elections for the German Bundestag", said the EU Commissioner.
The best way to kindle and rekindle enthusiasm for the European cause is to experience what Europe really means – on holiday, on a business trip, as an exchange student, or on a visit to Brussels to take a look behind the scenes at what makes Europe tick: "Everybody is most welcome to come to Brussels at any time to see for themselves that the EU works openly and transparently", said Oettinger.
Europe: A Union built on peace and shared values
In a passionate speech, Günther Oettinger stressed the importance of a united Europe for our joint futures by stating the case for more investment and an expansion of the EU: "Europe must not be allowed to turn into an open-air museum. More joint investment is needed in areas such as education and research if we want to compete with China and Silicon Valley."
"In recent years, the EU has succeeded in exporting peace, liberty and economic stability to numerous European countries, such as Lithuania and Latvia, but also the Czech Republic and Slovenia", Oettinger went on. The Commissioner warned that other value systems based on autocracy and repression could gain ground more easily if we stopped now, so EU citizens and politicians must seriously consider expanding the EU to include the West Balkan countries.
Watch the entire footage of the event, including Günther Oettinger’s Europe speech, here.