“We are the biggest democratic community in the world”

Interview with Peter Bauch

, by translated by Vincent Lohkamp, Hannah Illing

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

“We are the biggest democratic community in the world”
The European Parliament in Strasbourg. Foto: European Parliament/ Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Lizenz

Opinion polls are predicting big wins for anti-European parties. Peter Bauch, who was head of office at the Bundestag under German chancellor Helmut Kohl, explains in an interview with our sister edition treffpunkteuropa.de why young people should vote.

Treffpunkt Europa: What is the origin of the European project?

Peter Bauch: The horrible experience of the war and the millions of victims supported the idea of unity between the European peoples and nations, especially in central Europe. Shortly after the first world war, the “Paneuropa” movement was formed in Austria, calling for a united, democratic and peaceful Europe. The governments did not show much support for this idea.

After the Second World War, many politicians from the West and Italy took up this idea and, one by one, the European project took shape. France played a central role in this process and strongly supported German participation in the founding process – inclusion instead of isolation. What a change in foreign policy relations with Germany compared to the end of the First World War!

What is the European Union for you: an economic union, a union of values or a political union?

European unification serves the permanent pacification between Member States and enhances their cooperation on the basis of shared beliefs. Economic integration has always been used as a means to this end. Before anything, the EU is thus a project of peace and values with the goal of shared cooperation. Not only do we have the longest lasting peace in Western and Central Europe, but we are also the biggest democratic community in the world!

The common market led to a previously unseen conjunction of national economies and this created significant growth and palpable prosperity, and therefore acceptance among citizens for this path of Europeanisation. The goal of “political union” has been formulated after the fall of the Berlin Wall by the then 12 Member States, but does not really play a role anymore, unfortunately. Right now it is important to maintain and strengthen the cooperation between the soon 27 member states. A difficult task in these uncertain times.

How do you see the Franco-German relationship until today?

The Franco-German relations have and always will be of utmost importance to the process of European unification. France and Germany have been the motor and source of inspiration for the European project for decades. Europe flourished whenever the leadership of both countries cooperated well with each other; for example during the seminal period and during the second half of the 1970s. Once again, we experience this now that Macron and Merkel are trying to strengthen the Franco-German friendship and creating momentum for the European project. This is very positive. We have to be aware, however, that in a European Union with more than 25 members, the weight of France and Germany has become smaller than it used to be.

What do you think about a "multi-speed Europe“?

I have a positive view and this might become more and more important for Europe. A multi-speed Europe is a crucial remedy for stagnation! A number of countries can decide on a new project and realise it. This already exists for a long time! Not every Member State is part of the Schengen area, only 19 Member States have the euro as a currency. Right now some projects are launched in the field of defence and not every country is participating. The important thing is the door remains open for every country to join in.

Do we young Europeans have to fight for Europe – and if so, how?

The democratic and peaceful Europe we know cannot be taken for granted! Many young people do this – a misjudgement! Right now we are confronted with an increasing number of political actors and groups who are attacking the foundation of our European house, our European values. Populists and nationalists are putting us under pressure. We are in need of young people who not only know about and share our values, but who are also motivated to actively promote them. This is why groups like JEF are so important. Also Pulse of Europe is doing a good job because they are emphasising the positive aspects of our common Europe. We need clear and active support from young people for Europe and we surely need a higher voter turnout. Europe is not a side issue!

How would you convince Europeans to vote in the next elections?

Those agreeing with our European principles should definitely head to the ballots and vote for parties vowing to continue working on a better future in a united Europe – which will also be a sign of encouragement for really anyone who is working to promote Europe. We are indeed at a turning point! Europe is under pressure, internally as well as externally. If European cooperation becomes weaker or falls apart, European nations – competing with autocratic forces like Russia, Turkey or China – are set to lose influence both politically and economically. Voicing support for a united Europe, that is the task for young and motivated people. Off we go, right towards the elections!

Ad personam:

Peter Bauch worked as research assistant and head of office in the field of foreign and defence policy as well as European affairs in the German Bundestag from 1990 to 2002. Since then, he worked as a lecturer and advisor for questions on foreign and security policy and was also a speaker at the European Commission’s “Europe Direct” service for some years.
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