Speech by Karl-Ludwig Kley,
President of the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI),
Chairman of the Executive Board
The Permanent Representation of the European Commission
Berlin, May 6, 2014
– Abridged version –
Dear Mr. Oettinger,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On your way here today, you probably saw a lot of European election campaign posters. On billboards, in buses and trains, and on the lamp posts of city streets. They all advertise for people and party positions. And they advertise for Europe. Which is what they should do, since the Europe of today is a success story that we can be proud of.
Here, of course, I am speaking firstly as President of the one the largest core industries in Germany – and thus in Europe. Europe is the German chemical industry's most important market. But Europe is more. Yes, it is our economic home. But it is also our political and cultural home.
Of course we could easily do without one or the other EU regulation. No doubt, some regulations dictated by Brussels are ideal for polemics or satire shows. But please allow me to add one thing: Many regulations are driven by national governments or by the specific interests of business, NGOs or other social groups. As regards public opinion, the EU sometimes has to lie in the bed made by others.
No, Europe does not deserve to be rejected. For my generation, European integration has been the guarantee of lasting peace and freedom in Europe. The ruins of the second world war have become our present-day political environment. Enemies have become partners. First with coal and steel, and now in present-day European Union. At the end of long road, former enemies have become friends.
Many of us have experienced European integration first-hand. Since the 1970s, young people armed with backpacks and Inter-Rail tickets have been filling up long-distance trains every summer to explore our continent. I was one of them. And since the 1980s, it has become standard practice for most students to spend time abroad in another European country. We have the Erasmus program to thank for that.
Yet do these experiences made by my generation still elicit a feeling of integration, of belonging today? And vice versa: Is Europe keeping its promise of peace, democracy, wealth and unity to the next generation? What is the current status of the European project?
There are grounds for concern.
Before the crisis, youth unemployment did not exceed 25% in any member state. Today, this level has already been exceeded in 11 member states. And rapid improvement is not in sight. The situation is the most severe for Greek, Spanish and Croatian young people. In Greece, Spain and Croatia, more than one-half of 16 to 25 year olds have neither an apprenticeship nor a job.
For these young people, Europe does not represent a promising future. It is difficult to become enthusiastic for the future-oriented ideals of the European Union if it's not clear what tomorrow will bring. For instance, when people are worried about their vocational training and education or are unable to find a permanent job. When the Lisbon Strategy is only being realized on paper.
Are we producing a "lost generation" on our wonderful continent?
We need to ask ourselves how can Europe win back trust? How can we create enthusiasm for Europe among young people?
The first part of this answer is actually pretty simple. Young people need work.
Jobs do not fall from the sky. And they aren't created by politicians, but rather by the economy. That is why we need the clear commitment of all Europeans to the economy. A commitment to industry. To research and development.
Europe needs courage, not fear.
This is a task for everyone. After all, even if the economy creates jobs, politics must help with the framework conditions.
- Firstly, political decisions must be more industry-friendly than in recent years. Politicians must acknowledge the tremendous importance of industry. Not just at the meta level, but in the form of concrete actions. If we want to achieve our goals and increase the share of the European economy accounted for by industry to 20% by 2020, political symbolism alone will not suffice.
- Secondly, in contrast to a lot of election rhetoric, in some areas we need more Europe, not less. Take energy policy for example. We do not have a functioning single European energy market. There is no binding EU strategy. There is not even a consensus on where we want to go. Therefore, we need to quickly have a plan for the European electricity market. We clearly need more Europe here.
- Thirdly, we Europeans must set foreign and trade policy accents. For instance through a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement with the United States, we could launch an economic stimulus program free of charge. What’s more: We can set common standards for the future world trade system.
I therefore call on our politicians in Berlin to give Europe more support in these negotiations. Public displays of skepticism may appeal to your own constituency. Yet they harm Europe, they harm the economy – and they harm Germany.
So is this the right way to regain the confidence of young people in Europe?
No. Jobs are important. Yet man does not live on bread alone. We, meaning all of those who bear responsibility, must feel and spread enthusiasm for Europe.
We lost neither our culture our intellectual wealth simply because an economic crisis hit us. We can be self-confident. We can be courageous. We must be courageous.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The European election campaign is underway. This is not just an election about the way the EU Parliament votes this month, but also one that is about Europe itself.
Therefore I call on you to get out and vote on May 25! I will do so. And let's elect those who will shape the Europe of the future. For our young people