A Tale of Two Speeches, Part II- Joachim Gauck

In my previous post, I dissected PM Cameron’s speech about his vision for the future for Europe.  Now, I want to compare that speech with the one given a month later by Germany’s President Joachim Gauck, “Europe: Renewing confidence- strengthening commitment.

The similarities between the two speeches have more to do with the buildup to their respective visions than anything else.  Both speakers address the past and how far Europe has come since 1945.  Gauck, however, spends much more time addressing the visions of the so-called founders.  Also similar to Cameron, the German President mentions the complaints that have been directed towards the EU- too much regulation from technocrats, not enough transparency, and the complexity of trying to even understand how the EU works.  This is pretty much where the similarities end, because while Cameron focuses on the Single Market and the UK in the EU, Gauck talks about the larger picture of Europe as a whole.  And, whereas PM Cameron’s speech has a bit of pessimism throughout, Gauck seems fairly optimistic about the future of the EU.

Before he begins looking forward, however, President Gauck reminds listeners of two important points: 1) The crisis in Europe is more than economic, it is “also a crisis of confidence in Europe as a political project,” and 2) when discussing the idea of “more Europe,” people should know what exactly that means.  Despite these issues, we see that Gauck is still convinced that the EU is a worthy experiment, as he outlines some of the advantages and benefits of belonging to the EU.

What comes after is perhaps a more philosophical discussion about European identity and values.  Gauck believes that it is “hard to pinpoint what it is that makes [a] European, what it means to have a European identity.”  In addressing these issues, however, Gauck lays the foundation for bringing Europeans closer together.  While there a multiple levels of identity among Europeans, they must look for “unifying bonds.”  Those bonds can be found in the shared values- “peace and freedom…democracy and the rule of law…equality, human rights, and solidarity.”  If those values truly “bind [Europeans] together,” as Gauck argues, then shouldn’t those form the basis for a European identity?  Perhaps his strongest point follows, when he says that “European identity grows out of our deepening cooperation and the conviction of those who say we want to be part of this community because we share common values.”  (As a side note, you may want to read my previous post on American Values and European Values).

Once he finishes the section about values and how they can bring Europeans together, Gayck begins dissecting the problems facing the EU and some possible solutions.  Similar to Cameron, Gauck mentions the issue of the extent of regulations coming from Brussels.  Whereas Cameron lays out a specific solution (giving power back to the national parlimaents), Gauck proposes further discussion about the European project.  Another similarity between the two is found in their argument that, in Gauck’s words, “only a united Europe has any chance of holding its own as a global player” (this is similar to Cameron’s principle of competitiveness).  Gauck differs from Cameron, however, in his solution- he calls for “further harmonization.”  Additionally, unlike Cameron, Gauck mentions the necessity of unity in the context of “foreign, security and defence policy.”

So, how do Europeans get there from here?  The answer, according to the German President, is with the consent of the people- “The pace and depth of European integration will ultimately be determined by Europe’s citizens.”  It seems to me, however, that if the citizens are going to be integral in the decision-making process, then the institutions of the EU need to address the perception of the existence of a democratic deficit.  Gauck proposes that one way to do this is by improving communication.  His solution is to establish some sort of forum (perhaps a news channel) devoted to promoting more Europe.  The forum would “disseminate knowledge, help to develop a European civic spirit and also act as a corrective when nationalist media adopt a nationalistic approach and report on neighbouring countries without sensitivity or real knowledge, thus encouraging prejudices.”  I understand where Gauck is coming from, and I applaud the efforts at reaching out to people, but it seems to me that such a forum, coming from the technocrats in “distant” Brussels, might be seen as propaganda and as a top-down measure.  Would it make more sense to promote citizens’ initiatives that encourage diversity and European unity?

In his closing remarks, Gauck puts forth three calls for action to those who want to see a better Europe- 1) “do not be indifferent,” 2) do not be lazy,” and 3) “recognize your ability to make a contribution.”  This is one of the biggest differences with PM Cameron’s speech; Cameron never really encouraged the people to get involved.  I hope that people do get more involved, and I hope that the EU institutions give them platforms to voice their opinions.  I am encouraged by President Gauck’s vision for the future of Europe and the EU, and I wish continued success on that worthy project.

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