Our an­swer, more than ever, must be Europe


This is al­ready our se­cond meet­ing in Athens as our coun­tries’ heads of state. This place com­pares to no other in Europe with re­gard to our deep, com­mon roots, which ex­tend far be­yond re­la­tions between Ger­many and Greece. To­day’s Europe would be in­con­ceiv­able with­out the Greek legacy or with­out the Athe­nian democ­racy of Per­i­cles.

How­ever, we are meet­ing un­der spe­cial cir­cum­stances to­day. Cir­cum­stances that make us re­al­ize com­pletely that democ­racy, which has its ori­gins here and which we took for granted in its con­tem­po­rary form in years past, as the foun­da­tion of our so­ci­eties, is be­ing chal­lenged to­day, and that we have to fight for democ­racy – and some­times we have to lit­er­ally de­fend it – ev­ery day anew. Our val­ues and con­vic­tions have been un­der pres­sure to an ex­tent not wit­nessed since the end of the Cold War. Au­thor­i­tar­ian think­ing, which we thought we had over­come af­ter the col­lapse of to­tal­i­tar­i­anisms, has come back to the sur­face again and is, un­for­tu­nately, be­com­ing a source of fas­ci­na­tion for many peo­ple. The re­treat to na­tion­al­ism and Euroskep­ti­cism is on the rise in many quar­ters of the Euro­pean Union. Fur­ther­more, many peo­ple no longer con­sider the Euro­pean Union to be a his­toric achieve­ment, a guar­an­tor of peace and hu­man rights, pros­per­ity and so­cial jus­tice. Mem­o­ries of the long and dif­fi­cult path from the abysses of the world wars to a united, demo­cratic and peace­ful Europe and the at­trac­tive­ness of this united Europe are at risk of fad­ing on the side­lines.

This should be a loud alarm sig­nal for Greece and Ger­many in par­tic­u­lar. For both coun­tries, the peace prospect guar­an­teed by Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion was the re­sponse to – cer­tainly very dif­fer­ent – aber­ra­tions of our his­tory. For Ger­many, it rep­re­sented the path back into the fold of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, af­ter the unimag­in­able be­trayal of all the val­ues of our civ­i­liza­tion by Na­tional So­cial­ism. In Greece’s case, it was a ques­tion of con­sol­i­dat­ing democ­racy fol­low­ing the bru­tal mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship. This gives rise to a spe­cial and most per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity for en­sur­ing that this unique project is a suc­cess. Our two coun­tries have al­ready forged ex­tremely close ties over the course of decades. We have de­vel­oped har­mo­nious close eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions. And, be­yond other things, the unity between our two coun­tries is strength­ened even fur­ther by many friendly re­la­tion­ships. This friend­ship was any­thing but a mat­ter of course, how­ever. Our com­mon his­tory has had many high points, but also, un­for­tu­nately, catas­tro­phes that plumbed the depths. The fact that we have man­aged, in aware­ness of the past, to cre­ate a com­mon Euro­pean present is a pre­cious gift that we are called upon to pre­serve. Our re­spon­si­bil­ity to stand up for free­dom and the dig­nity of each and ev­ery hu­man be­ing and to op­pose in­jus­tice, despo­tism and crime, as well as to pro­tect democ­racy, emerges from pre­cisely this painful chap­ter of our re­la­tions. It is also the ba­sis for our re­spon­si­bil­ity to sup­port this in­valu­able goal of peace for which we firmly be­lieve there is no ef­fec­tive al­ter­na­tive. In the world of to­day, we are very much in need – ur­gently – of this united Europe, more than in the past. Threats as dis­parate as sup­pos­edly ide­o­log­i­cally mo­ti­vated ter­ror­ism and cli­mate change, which may be evolv­ing at a slow pace but loom large, do not stop at na­tional borders. Par­tic­u­larly when tra­di­tional al­lies drift away from us and with­draw from mul­ti­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion, our an­swer, more than ever, must be Europe. We must pro­tect and, wher­ever pos­si­ble, re­in­force this united Europe. In other words, we have an obli­ga­tion to do this that stems from our na­tional and our com­mon his­tory.

We are also aware, how­ever, that we will only man­age to per­form this task if the Euro­pean idea of a lib­eral and demo­cratic so­ci­ety that tran­scends na­tional borders re­mains strong and con­vinc­ing at its core – if it shows peo­ple once again that it will find an­swers to the most press­ing prob­lems of cit­i­zens in the Euro­pean Union and that as a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem it can guar­an­tee po­lit­i­cal or­der, se­cu­rity, pros­per­ity and so­cial jus­tice, while at the same time tak­ing de­ci­sive ac­tion to con­front ex­ter­nal threats. Af­ter all, the Euro­pean Union can of­fer fu­ture gen­er­a­tions bright prospects, all the more so be­cause its des­tiny lies in the hands of th­ese gen­er­a­tions.

For this, the Euro­pean Union needs ef­fi­cient mech­a­nisms for de­ci­sion mak­ing, and strong in­stru­ments to im­ple­ment their de­ci­sions. And we should re­call what it was that helped the Euro­pean Union achieve so much over the past decades: the foun­da­tion on which it was built, namely shared cul­tural and in­tel­lec­tual roots, and the sol­i­dar­ity of its mem­bers. Only then can the Euro­pean Union con­tinue to carry the torch of hope for a more just and peace­ful world, just as it did for our gen­er­a­tion. We both want to con­tinue to do our part to sup­port this prospect. It is up to us all to keep the Euro­pean dream alive and at­trac­tive, for us and espe­cially for our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. * Greek Pres­i­dent Prokopis Pavlopou­los and Ger­man Pres­i­dent Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier wrote this ar­ti­cle on the oc­ca­sion of the lat­ter’s state visit to Greece from Oc­to­ber 10 to 12.

Ger­man Pres­i­dent Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier (left) speaks with Greek Pres­i­dent Prokopis Pavlopou­los dur­ing a visit to Athens in De­cem­ber 2016.

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