EM Germany: Farewell to an exemplary European | Event to mark the end of Jo Leinen’s term of office
A story of two committed Europeans on the left and right bank of the river Saar
Taking place in the Belgian Embassy, the event bid farewell to the President of the European Movement International, EBD’s parent association. More than 80 guests filled the room, among them ambassadors and diplomats, as well as many Berliners from the network of Brussels alumni. His Excellency the Ambassador Mr Ghislain D’hoop emphasised in his welcome address the relevance of a close exchange between federal government and the diplomatic corps, and cited as an example the very good relationship between the Belgian Embassy and the EBD.
The evening did not only have a political side, but was also dedicated to an active and successful European in appreciation of his accomplishments. Jo Leinen has been a champion for European integration since his youth and a huge expert of the European political system and democracy. As scheduled, his presidency of the European Movement International, the largest democratic network for European policy, is now ending after six years. The host of the evening, EBD President Dr. Rainer Wend, referred in one remark to Leinen’s great successes with regard to democracy and the codetermination of social forces at a European level. He also welcomed another Saarlander in the room, who has known Leinen for many years in the realm of German regional and European politics. Federal Minister for Special Affairs and Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery, Peter Altmaier, came to speak in praise of Leinen; not only to acknowledge his work, but also to share personal experiences and tell stories of their earlier minor conflicts at the level of regional Saarland politics.
— Europäische Bewegung (@NetzwerkEBD) October 12, 2017
Underlying the whole event, however, was the question “What does Brussels expect from Berlin now?” After all, European politics was very much focussed on the German national election this year. Nevertheless, it remains unclear what the coming coalition is planning in terms of its European policies. At the same time, two big speeches this year have put wind in the sails of European consciousness: Juncker’s “State of the European Union Address” and Macron’s “Initiative for Europe”.
In his tribute, the Chancellery Chief of Staff touched upon Macron’s European policy keynote address at the Sorbonne University, during which the French president had presented a comprehensive catalogue of EU reform proposals. The Finance Minister-designate Altmaier also took a stand against a transfer union and posed the question whether the deliberations over a European Finance Minister were simply a case of one person being assigned two hats, whereby the existing offices of the EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs and the Head of the Eurogroup would be merged. Altmaier underlined that the debate on the future of the EU was ultimately not about the instruments but rather about an agreement on the political content. As an example of meaningful future investments, he cited the field of artificial intelligence, which is currently being driven by internet giants such as Google.
— Eike Paulun (@eikepaulun) October 12, 2017
Among the proposals Macron made which Altmaier endorsed was the French head of state’s idea to reduce the current size of the EU Commission from 28 women and men to 15 members. The Chancellery Chief of Staff recalled that this ultimately tied in with a reform proposal from the past, which had failed as a result of opposition from smaller countries such as Ireland. Altmaier himself had belonged, as had Jo Leinen, to a convention which at that point more than a decade ago was preparing an EU constitution. The Minister did not want to rule out in the long term the possibility of another general convention of national and European parliamentarians, governments and Commission addressing a fundamental restructuring of the EU, such as Macron is clearly seeking. In the meantime, however, Altmaier maintains that reforms will have to be carried out at a level below EU treaty change.
Following his remarks on grand-scale European politics, Altmaier went on to describe an amusing impression of the Member of European Parliament and former environmental activist that nonetheless contains very high praise. During the 80s, when Leinen was the Saarland Environment Minister, the then junior Union party member Peter Altmaier wanted to stand against him. In his usual humorous style, Altmaier recounted among other things the political struggles with Leinen at the expense of fish released into the Saar. Today both men represent standing together for a common cause, and each with his own means: for European integration! And if Altmaier sees his role as sitting at the negotiating table, then he sees Leinen as a campaigner for Europe on the streets with a megaphone in his hand.
Thank you, Jo Leinen, and all the best!