While the Russian ruler Vladimir Putin was inspecting his military parade in Moscow, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg in front of a crowd that was not exactly full. His clear message: “Let’s not be intimidated by such a display of power! Let’s remain steadfast in our support of Ukraine – as long as it is necessary! After all, none of us want to go back to the time when the law of the strongest prevailed in Europe.” The German Chancellor represents the largest member state of the EU and it was no coincidence that he chose the highly symbolic Europe Day, which commemorates the origins of the EU, for his appearance. Olaf Scholz said an open, united Europe was the best insurance against the forces of the past, against revisionists who dreamed of national glory and hungered for imperial power. He received applause from most MPs for condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine.
MEPs agree with the Chancellor’s condemnation of Russia, but criticize parts of German politics in the EU as slowing down
Faster joins needed
The Federal Chancellor repeated his commitment to enlargement of the EU, which must proceed more quickly. “It’s really embarrassing that we promised the Balkan countries accession 20 years ago and we’re still no further.” The six Western Balkan states, Ukraine, Moldova and, in the future, Georgia, belong to the Union. “And it’s not about altruism. It’s about our credibility and economic sense. And it’s about permanently securing peace in Europe after the turning point that Russia’s war of aggression means.” Turkey, which has been governed increasingly autocratically by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in recent years, was no longer mentioned by Scholz. Ankara has been formally negotiating accession with the EU since 2005, so far without any significant progress.
Olaf Scholz (left) and President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola: finally reform migration rules
Faster trade deals
Olaf Scholz did not say how the accession procedures should be accelerated and what periods of time he is thinking about. Other proposals also remained vague, criticized Green MEP Daniel Freund after the speech to DW. Scholz announced that he would continue to support majority decisions in foreign and tax policy. The Chancellor also wants to strengthen Europe geopolitically: “It is more than sensible that we are now quickly concluding new free trade agreements – with Mercosur, with Mexico, with India, Indonesia, Australia, Kenya and in the future with many other countries,” said Scholz. This can protect supply chains and make you more independent of China. These are “fair agreements that promote, not hinder, the economic development of our partners.”
In his first appearance in the European Parliament, the German head of government reiterated the goals for EU policy that he had already outlined in a keynote speech at Charles University in Prague in August 2022. Olaf Scholz formulated three guiding principles: “1. Europe’s future is in our hands. 2. The more united we make Europe, the easier it is to secure a good future for us. 3. Not less, but more openness, more cooperation are the order of the day our time.”
In August 2022 at Charles University in Prague: Olaf Scholz formulated the principles of his European policy, and the continuation followed in Strasbourg
Green politician Freund told DW after the speech that he missed new ideas. “It was a little disappointing that he only announced debates but didn’t contribute anything,” said Freund. Given the war in Europe and other geopolitical challenges posed by China, that is not enough. You don’t know who will be sitting in the White House after the next US elections. “We have to make Europe fit for this future. Little did the chancellor say about how we could do that.”
Settle migration issues quickly
Olaf Scholz called on the EU to agree on rules for migration and asylum procedures by the end of Parliament’s legislative period in just over a year after years of discussions and blockades. Speaking to reporters, the Chancellor spoke out in favor of deciding on asylum procedures at the EU’s external borders – i.e. in Italy, Greece, Malta and Croatia. The borders should be better secured. Migration must be better managed. “Then there will be more acceptance of intelligent, managed and controlled immigration in our countries. And then we’ll take away the basis for those who use fear and resentment to make politics,” said Scholz after a conversation with Parliament President Roberta Metsola. “Old problems must finally be solved,” said Scholz.
“Europe needs leadership”
The leader of the largest group in the European Parliament, the German Christian Democrat Manfred Weber, criticized the Chancellor’s speech. “We don’t need any more keynote speeches, Europe needs leadership now,” said Weber in view of the many unresolved practical problems in EU politics. Germany is more of a brakeman in the EU. “Your government is often too late and not ambitious enough. That’s not enough,” criticized the CSU politician. Sitting in the front row, Olaf Scholz accepted it with a smile. He dismissed criticism that Germany was too hesitant to support Ukraine. Germany is the biggest supporter and the biggest arms supplier to Ukraine in Europe and will remain so.
“France can be satisfied”
Despite disagreements with the French government over the right EU policy, the German chancellor made no mention of France or the Franco-German locomotive in the EU. But that’s not really surprising, Georgina Wright told DW. She is an expert on Franco-German relations at the Paris think tank Institut Montaigne. Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron more or less agree on the rough lines. Macron also did not mention Germany in his speech in the European Parliament in 2022. “They go hand in hand on 85 to 90 percent of broad political issues. But there are big differences in the concrete implementation of these visions. For example, it’s all well and good to talk about an integrated defense industry, but how is that supposed to work in concrete terms? ‘ Wright wonders. The Chancellor also did not mention the controversial budget and fiscal policy in his speech. France wants looser debt rules, Germany more thrift. But the Parisian expert is certain: “In the end there will be a consensus, even if it still seems a long way off.”