The EU will survive the Brexit storm, but it should stabilise the eurozone, said former German foreign minister and Vice-Chancellor Joschka Fischer in an interview with euractiv.com, adding that France and Germany should lead the change.
Joschka Fischer was German foreign minister and Vice-Chancellor from 1998-2005. Fischer entered electoral politics after participating in the anti-establishment protests of the 1960s and 1970s, and played a key role in founding Germany’s Green Party, which he led for almost two decades.
Fischer spoke to EURACTIV’s Editor-in-Chief Daniela Vincenti, at a gathering of French and German think tanks in the Abbaye des Vaux-de-Cernay, which marked the launch of the Think Tanks tandem, aimed at mobilising new thinking to restore a sense of purpose in the EU.
Is Brexit the perfect storm?
For the UK, it’s a hurricane, for the EU it’s a storm. The EU will survive that storm, but for Britain, it’s a grim outlook.
Do you think it could have been avoided?
I have no idea, because I don’t know British domestic policy enough. But from the very beginning, I thought it was a bad idea to go for a referendum. I criticised Cameron in 2013 saying that he had launched a process, which he would not be able to control in the long run. Now we see the result.
Is this recourse to a referendum proving the limits, or current ineptitude, of parliamentary democracy?
I am not a friend of a referendum and I praise the founding fathers of the German constitution that based on their experience of the Weimar republic, they completely rejected a referendum on the federal level.
It is all about emotions and kicking the ruling government in the ass. Emotions are always unpredictable at the end.
What we see now is that one of the most dynamic economies, a flourishing economy, one of the biggest economy in the world was crashed against the wall for no real reason. And the guys who are responsible of this misery have disappeared in a miraculous way.
It is a political drama. To accept that Britain is not any longer a member of the EU is very hard.
Did the march for Europe in London last Sunday give you any hope? Can young Brits start a May ’68?
Europe should not abandon these young people. Not only for the British, but also for the others in Eastern Europe.
I think if there is a generation, which is committed to the idea of a united Europe, committed to the values of a democratic Europe, peaceful Europe based on the rule of law and with a culture of openness, we should not let them down and we must work with them. We need to keep doors open for them. We need to develop programs to welcome them in Europe.
Do they have the strength to organise themselves into a movement for Europe, such as ‘May 68’?
I don’t know. I am not a prophet. But whoever thought that we would see young people march under Westminster waving European flags and banners bearing slogans like ‘EU forever’ (would be disappointed). This is a clear message.
You said it will be a ‘storm for Europe’. What will be the impact you anticipate on the EU?
Europe is a strange animal. Under the pressure of crisis, usually it moves forward. I guess this time again it will move forward. Because what we are talking about, it’s not about an ideological construction.
There is a big misunderstanding here: Europe is the answer to two world wars, it’s the answer to the need of a new state system in continental Europe.
Let me be clear: We don‘t have the alternative to say we want and we don’t want in a globalised world. Britain was always, in its specific role, undecided.
Still Brexit has exposed the EU’s weakness. Where do we start to strengthen it?
We need to start by stabilising the eurozone. At the moment, we can’t afford this lack of stability.
We need a new beginning in the eurozone. That needs a new consensus between North and South. Without a new consensus the eurozone will remain weak.
You don’t need a different Treaty change. It’s all about politics. There I think France and Germany could move ahead, reconciling their economic visions.
Do you think the Franco-German couple can lead the bloc into a new phase of its construction, despite the many divisions between Merkel and Hollande, at a time when they will both be distracted by elections?
Sure, we have challenging times ahead of us. Italy is one of these serious challenges. The banking crisis is putting the EU once more at risk. We need to be open and find quickly solutions to the Italian problems. I think Renzi is doing an excellent job under the existing conditions in Italy.
We need to be inclusive with others, but we should start with better cooperation between France and Germany.
We have the impression that France and Germany don’t speak frankly, but if they do and cooperate better, they will get others to follow.
Challenges from the Visegrad countries?
The Visegrad countries need certain patience. They are mostly poorer countries, highly dependent on European funds, and in a completely historical different situation.
These are mostly countries that sent immigrants to other countries, but that are not receiving immigrants. So it is really a new experience for them. Also, the national identity issue needs time.
When I was young, France and Germany were very different countries with a very different mindset and set of values. At that time it was a different world. The Eastern Europeans need time but we surely need a discussion.
Nationalism is creeping up and luring voters. How do we address it so that rather than adding oil to the fire, we can pour water on it, and extinguish it?
Brexit is a huge opportunity to confront them. These people have been lying to voters, going around with a bus saying that they would pour 350 million into the NHS. They have lied. This is a huge opportunity to confront them. If I am listening to Marine Le Pen, she is promising the moon. Now it’s the time to confront them.
Do you still believe in a federal Europe?
Yes. What is the alternative to a federal Europe? A centralised Europe. I don’t believe in a centralised Europe.
If sovereign states are coming together peacefully and on the basis of the rule of law and a balanced interest, what would we call it?
In Germany, federal is not a terrible word. Others should realise federalism is the solution.