Challenges for 2014
24 January 2014
The upcoming year will be a very significant year. Important events will be remembered during the course of it; the huge enlargement of both the EU and NATO which occurred 10 years ago; the shot in Sarajevo 100 years ago which triggered the First World War and the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe which occurred 25 years ago.
These anniversaries are undoubtedly a powerful incentive to ensure that not only political leaders but also people outside of politics contemplate the future of our continent and the world. For political leaders the aforementioned anniversaries are inspiration to responsibly shape the future architecture of the once again reunified Europe.
So it is home, a cosy abode for all countries, nationalities and ethnic groups — an inclusive home for all its inhabitants. The specified milestones in the history of our countries, of Europe and of the world, will be marked at the same time while the EU is working intensively on new rules for mutual coexistence in the common European house. The new rules have in part been forced to be implemented due to the economic and financial crisis, and also as an effort to succeed in intensifying global competition.
We need new rules and effective tools so we can overcome the consequences of the financial and economic crisis with minimal cost to our citizens. And also to help us avoid the repeating the same errors and mistakes that led to the crisis into the future.
It will not be easy to fine tune an orchestra of 28 players, of which many are convinced that they are the virtuoso. But many of us feel that change is necessary, that further development cannot be stopped. Personally, I believe there are still a number of areas suitable for deeper integration.
However, there are also areas in which power should be left in the hands of member states. I think we need more effective European cooperation, but also efficient internal competition that will stimulate the development of a united Europe. It is not just the issue of the consistent application of the principle of subsidiarity, but also artfully creating tools that could and should inspire leaders at national level to form effective economic and social models according to local, regional, historical, cultural, and geographical conditions. Obviously, in strict compliance with the agreed rules. In my experience and in my view: cooperation, competition and solidarity should dominate in the EU.
We all feel that these new rules at the European level are needed. For example, in the banking sector. The banking sector should be more durable, less vulnerable, but also sufficiently conducive for business development. It should be more effective, for example in helping small and medium-sized enterprises. We should not even prevent stricter scrutiny of compliance with the agreed rules.
Personally, I support the legal enforceability of compliance with these rules. Equally I consider structural reforms at the national level, in other words in the individual member states to be as important. The world is changing and changing fast. Previous sources of employment are no longer as strong as in the past, meaning Europe has to begin to look at new areas for growth and employment, like in renewable energies and in the science sector for example.
With innovation and creativity, new opportunities can be born for EU citizens. So I think, in Europe, it is not only more discipline and accountability that we need, but more creativity and the courage to make the required changes. Only then can we stop the threat of unemployment, particularly among the young. Only then can our economy create the conditions for the creation of new jobs, which I consider the largest challenge in the New Year to a common Europe.
I consider a great challenge in 2014 to be how to manage migration and its implications. The EU and its member states will continue to intensively apply itself to the areas and regions from which refugees come (it will continue to be Africa, particularly the north, but it will also be Syria and other Middle East countries, it will also be regions and countries and military conflicts).
To help solve problems in the regions where they arise is by far the best solution even though it is not an easy prevention migration. I think, however, that there is also an urgent need to adopt new rules in this area. So that, for example, the institutes of political asylum is not misused for economic objectives and that the accepted migrants integrate effectively with the citizens of the countries that accept them. At the same time, we must ensure a convergence of our asylum systems and a proper application of existing rules by the member states. Finally, Europe needs a much better system to regulate labour immigration, to ensure that it does not lose out in global competition for the bright minds that can bring dynamism and new ideas to our societies.
Today it often seems that the project of multiculturalism in Europe is failing. This is also true because instead of making use of individual opportunities, immigrants are sometimes promoting their interests collectively. Some groups of immigrants set themselves apart. Instead of contribution to the common good, we sometimes witness abuses to the social system of the country. Europe should continue to show migrants its kind face. However, it should also show the necessary courage and determination against those who would want to abuse this kindness. In order to prevent problems with integration, European political parties should make a strong effort to bring immigrants into the political and public life. Otherwise, we are risking even deeper problems with integration.
Undeniably great, maybe even the dominant challenge to the free world, and also for our European community, is the challenge of security and the duty to prevent attacks like the one of September 11.Likewise, atrocities such as the attack on marathon runners and spectators in Boston, and most recently the residents of Volgograd. I want to highlight just three essential key factors of our European security:
• First, is the transatlantic alliance. A steadfast alliance of the EU and the US; effective cooperation in the NATO environment is and must remain a fundamental element of our European security as well as global stability;
• The second major element I consider to be, is the creation and development of European defence capabilities which will strengthen the partnership element of the European transatlantic alliance and will be complementary to the existing capacities and capabilities of NATO;
• Finally I consider as necessary the modernisation of our armies at national level and the cooperation of national armies at a regional level, which should be dominated by the principle of sharing and pooling, as well as smart defence.
Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall the then US President George Bush senior stated his dream, his vision, to make Europe whole and free. Much of that vision has come true. It is amazing how Europe has changed in 25 years. But the work is not yet completed, not in the Western Balkans, or in the countries of the Eastern Partnership.
I believe that this year will continue to see the success story of Serbia, as well as the normalisation of its relations with Pristhina. That Macedonia and Greece will manage to unravel the Gordian Knot and further progress will be recorded in Kosovo and Albania and that Bosnia and Herzegovina will also see improvements. Montenegro is already on the right track. 2014 is a year of opportunities for these countries and the challenge for the EU is to develop wise, active and responsible policies to contribute to the realisation of these opportunities.
The big challenge for us all is the movement that is taking place on our eastern borders, especially in Ukraine. The EU should take an interest in the positive and in particular the sustainable development of Ukraine. It should not however compromise on its principles and criteria. Only then can the citizens of this country properly orientate themselves. Because, ultimately, only Ukrainian citizens can decide on their future.
The same as we decided our future ourselves, we, Slovaks, but also Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and the other countries of the former communist bloc 25 years ago.
I believe that this year we will also collectively protect and promote human rights not only in our countries, in those countries that aspire to EU membership, but everywhere in the world. The EU will be consistent and principled with any country in the world. That we will develop strategic partnerships also with countries where human rights are t limited, but that we shall be courageous and consistent in the protection of human rights in these countries.
We enter the New Year as a rule always with hope, with optimism, with positive expectations. It is good and natural. However, one should admit that we live in troubled times. The previous levels of prosperity are over but yet some people are expecting someone to come along to sign a cheque to get ourselves out from these troubled times. For some time it seemed that the answer to the challenges of the 21st century would be globalisation.
Technological development and significant social movements in all corners of the world have indeed led to rapid globalisation. Of growing concern and anxiety for people in today’s world is the frequent feeling that there will be ever less space in it for them.
People feel that they are becoming ever more lost in the labyrinth of communication highways and gigantic corporations. That they are losing their identity, their roots, and their traditions. Young people especially nowadays find it hard to find a job and fell confident about their future.
The number of people who place the blame for their own problems on politics is dangerously increasing. Many blame the so-called standard political parties. In my country – and I think it is not an exception – it is fashionable to vote for extremism. Elections are becoming manifestations of revolt, not choice. Militants, extremists and populists are winning recognition. The challenge of the EU is to offer answers to such trends, to such developments. The answer to the current difficulties cannot be extremism or chaos, as suggested in some circles. The answer cannot be collectivism as suggested by many, even by reasonable people.
We are rich in experience of collectivism in Central Europe: we all had the same, but the same was very little. The answer is the protection and promotion of individual freedom, individual rights, but also of the individual responsibility of every person.
The answer is politics that allows for individual opportunity, individual assertion of oneself, individual dignity. In other words, politics that puts a focus on quality education, on science, research and innovation. Politics that prefers and honours a healthy lifestyle, but also a real solidarity for those who are able to aid those whose handicaps prevent or limit them from creating these values.
I think an important and serious test for all responsible European leaders ahead will be the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament. To join in the efforts of combating populism and shining a light on their rhetoric, regardless of whether it comes from the left or right. The ways to respond to the challenges of today are various but must be offered in the values of our Western world which are also universal values.
These values should be unconditionally returned to, and these values are to be held onto. As did Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi, Robert Schuman, and Helmut Khol for example.
If we stick to these traditional universal values, we can find the right answers to the challenges of not only the present, but also to those we will face further down the road.
[Speech given at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Annual Reception ‘European Challenges 2014’, 22 January 2014]