„I was not born a politician”, Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth said at the residence of Germany’s ambassador in Bucharest in the beginning of his speech held at the conference organised by the Romanian-German Forum, a non-profit association that seeks to consolidate Romanian-German cooperation and whose president is former Foreign Affairs Minister, author and philosopher Andrei Plesu. Nevertheless, during the almost two hours of discussions moderated by Plesu and attended by Romania’s Deputy Prime Minister Vasile Dincu, Foreign Minister Lazar Comanescu, Lower Chamber Speaker Valeriu Zgonea, members of the diplomatic corps and journalists, Michael Roth proved that he is a close observer of the international political scene and a diplomat that places communication and an optimistic touch above everything else. As expected, the European crisis caused by the influx of refugees from Syria, security in Eastern Europe and the relations with the US and Russia were among the topics tackled.
“Bilateral relations are like flowers, they need to be watered and nurtured in order to grow”
Roth, who has been Minister of State for Europe since 17 December 2013, expressed his delight with the hospitality extended to him and with the “very friendly atmosphere” at the meetings he had during his brief visit, meetings with high-level Romanian officials such as President Klaus Iohannis, Premier Dacian Ciolos, Foreign Minister Lazar Comanescu and Secretary of State George Ciamba.
“The excellent relations between our countries are much more than the result of regular governmental meetings. They are based on a foundation of close interpersonal connections, thanks in part to the very active German minority in Romania. This group has influenced important aspects of the country’s history and culture and is held in high regard in Romania. And it certainly contributes to the positive image that Germany enjoys in Romania. The close connections also include the over 400,000 Romanian citizens who live and work in Germany. It may come as a surprise to some of you to hear that Romanians form the third largest group of EU citizens in Germany. These daily contacts between Romanians and Germans show how harmonious and valuable coexistence can be in Europe. Even if the links between Germany and Romania are so strong, be this on the level of politics or civil society, we must not allow ourselves to be lulled into a sense of false security. We should not take the closeness and intensity of our relations for granted. On the contrary: we need to constantly make an effort and engage in close dialogue in order to maintain good relations. Bilateral relations are like flowers, they need to be watered and nurtured in order to grow. And that’s why I came to Bucharest today,” Michael Roth said in his speech.
“The Cooperation and Verification Mechanism highlighted significant progress”
“Common solutions for new European challenges,” the title of the event that took place at the residence of Wener Hans Lauk, who has been German ambassador to Romania since July 2013, turned out to be very appropriate against the backdrop in which the two countries are facing many common challenges on which they have to cooperate. “Only so will we find solutions,” Roth pointed out.
“I am well aware that I am coming to Bucharest at a time when Romania is in a period of political transition. In Germany we see that this Government is very determined to present Romania as a partner country that seeks to foster domestic stability and is willing to play an active role in addressing our common challenges in Europe. We respect and welcome this very much! From our many talks with our Romanian partners since the start of the year, we have gained the impression that the Government is serious about modernising the country and implementing reforms.
The European Commission’s Report on Progress in Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, which was published a few days ago, highlighted significant progress. It also showed where further work is needed. In Germany, we have been following these efforts to implement reforms very closely. The German Government stands ready to provide support where desired and where possible. We have a great interest in a stable Romania, in a country strengthened by internal modernisation that is able to play an even greater role in the European process. At a time when the concept of Europe is increasingly being called into question, we need Romania as a pro-European force,” the Minister of State for Europe pointed out.
“We want the UK to remain in the EU as a dedicated partner”
The official did not hesitate to present himself more than concerned with the future of our continent, which faces possibly the most important crisis in the modern age, the refugees’ crisis. At the same time, he also referred to the UK referendum that could take place this June.
“Allow me to speak frankly. I am very worried about our Europe. The EU has rarely had to fight fires on as many fronts as it does today. The challenges include both internal and external ones: the refugee issue, the forthcoming referendum in the UK, and the deep scars left in many member states by the financial, social and economic crisis. But they also include shared security policy challenges, some of which are right on our doorstep, if we think of Ukraine, or Syria, or the terrible impact of international terrorism, such as the attacks in Paris or Istanbul. No country will be able to deal with these challenges on its own. We will only be successful if we find common European solutions,” Roth said in Bucharest.
In what concerns the future of Europe, Roth stated in Bucharest that he is aware that populists and eurosceptics, who want more control in their national capitals and less in Brussels, are currently proving popular with their simple slogans.
“We don’t need less Europe, or even more Europe. What we need is a better Europe!”, the official emphasized.
“We want the UK to remain in the EU as a dedicated partner. But the decision is entirely up to the UK. The country must define for itself what relationship it wants to have with the EU. We are willing to conduct constructive talks on this. The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has made an ambitious proposal which is now under consideration by all member states. The outcome must be a package that the UK Government can put to its electorate. But this package must also be acceptable to everyone else. I, too, do not believe the EU should decide on everything down to the smallest detail – but the Union’s fundamental principles are definitely not up for discussion,” Michael Roth said.
“We need to adopt a fair and permanent solidarity mechanism to distribute refugees”
Minister of State for Europe admits that Germany, “as the biggest member state with a strong economy, bears special responsibility for Europe,” and is prepared to “play a leading role in Europe,” however for this he invites practising solidarity and team spirit because “we must also honestly admit to ourselves that there is no simple formula that will solve all problems.”
“The European Commission has presented various proposals to resolve the refugee issue. Our overall concept must include various components. We need to improve the protection of our external borders by strengthening Frontex. Romania is setting a good example in this respect. It is vital that the hotspots in Italy and Greece work well so that all arriving refugees can be registered and identified properly. This is the only way that we will be able to maintain the Schengen system of open borders in the long term. Apart from fundamentally reforming the Common European Asylum System, we need to adopt a fair and permanent solidarity mechanism to distribute refugees. Each member state has to play its part here, and I am pleased that the Romanian Government has signalled its solidarity by taking part voluntarily in the distribution of refugees,” Michael Roth said.
Romania has accepted to take in 1,785 refugees, but for the time being none has arrived in the country. Thos who did arrive did it by accident and have asked to be allowed to continue their road to the West, as Andrei Plesu emphasized during the conference. He joked saying that the two refugees recently caught by border guards cried and begged not to be kept in Romania.
In what concerns the situation in countries from which most refugees are coming, the official stated that we have to tackle the reasons why people flee and that this includes addressing the causes of conflict and human rights violations in the countries of origin in “a more strategic and focused manner” and through a “new diplomatic push on the conflict in Syria.”
“We should never forget that we are not merely talking about facts and figures. Each number represents a human tragedy, a person who had to leave his or her home and who may have experienced horrendous suffering on the journey to Europe. We cannot turn our backs on these people,” the Minister of State for Europe stated.
Asked whether it is not a bit late for “a new diplomatic push,” Roth said that “it is never too late” and admitted the fact that “the international community failed twice,” that it was impossible during difficult negotiations and conferences to find a stable and peaceful solution in Syria, and the ordinary people in Syria “had to pay an immense price.”
The official pointed out that “it’s probably our last chance.” Still, in his opinion the fact that the representatives of many states, including Russia, are now willing to sit at the table of negotiations is a very good sign.
“But let’s not delude ourselves here. This is a process that will take quite some time. Until we achieve lasting success in this area, Europe will remain a place of refuge for people in need of protection,” the official emphasized.
“We all live in mutual dependence”
Toward the end of his speech, Michael Roth hit the nail on the head and openly expressed his country’s dissatisfaction with the fact that not all countries are showing solidarity in the face of this great crisis Europe is experiencing.
“During the last months we have realised that there are different perspectives and expectations with respect to solidarity in Europe – depending on countries’ individual problems, experiences and challenges. Let me give you a few examples. States like Greece, Portugal and Cyprus are suffering from insufficient growth and high unemployment.
These countries justly expect European support in order to overcome their economic and social crises. In contrast, member states in Central and Eastern Europe, like the Baltic States, worry about their security and about their energy supplies after Russia’s attack on Ukraine’s’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. They expect European solidarity on security and energy issues. Other countries like Greece and Italy, as well as Germany, Austria and Sweden, are confronted with the influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa who are fleeing civil war, hunger and poverty at home. Those countries expect assistance in order to cope with the challenges of migration. All these examples show that we all live in mutual dependence. At some time or other, certain member states will need more assistance than others. No single EU member state – not even Germany – is able to master these challenges alone. Only joint European action will do the trick,” the official underscored.
“When we talk about being a team, we also have to act like team players. Solidarity is not just a theoretical construct – it must be lived in concrete terms. Unfortunately, during the last months this has not always been the case,” Roth pointed out.
An avowed optimist, he concluded by expressing his conviction that “in the long run ‘going European’ is always better than ‘going solo’”.