Viviane Reding: Germany needs a stronger Europe

Viviane Reding: Germany needs a stronger Europe

A strong Europe means a strong Germany and vice versa, says Dr. Viviane Reding. The next German chancellor faces unprecedented challenges and must show real leadership.

Ahead of federal elections on 24 September, Germany is thriving. Its economy remains a point of reference for its neighbors. Its Energiewendeand its refugee policy command respect. Angela Merkel has demonstrated Stateswomanship.

During the latest G7 and G20 summits, the chancellor stood as the longest-serving Western leader. With the United States and the United Kingdom retreating, France and Italy recovering, Russia and Turkey drifting towards authoritarianism (followed by Poland and Hungary), China and India rising, the next chancellor will face unprecedented challenges and hence increasing responsibilities on all fronts.

Both inside and outside European borders, instability is all-pervasive. A ring of friends has become a ring of fire. Seldom has the imperative for common European action been so clear.

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Over the past decade Angela Merkel has transformed Germany from the sick man of Europe to an engine for growth. Berlin must now help Brussels turn Europe from recovery to an anchor of stability in the world. The stronger Europe is, the stronger Germany is, and vice versa. This requires leadership!

The good news is that there is room to move Europe forward, due to a break in the electoral cycle until the 2019 European elections and a positive outcome in recent elections. Euroskeptics have been defeated in Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, France and hopefully soon in Germany.

Confronted with the unsettling consequences of the Brexit referendum as well as the election of Donald Trump, European citizens are changing their mindset. Polls show that support for EU membership is substantially increasing. Tens of thousands are taking to the streets for the "Pulse of Europe."

This is a defining moment. The European Commission and the European Parliament have many proposals up their sleeve, awaiting Member States' approval. We must seize this window of opportunity to undertake reforms.

There are three main pillars of reform in the coming months.

First, security and defense. We must intensify information exchanges between law enforcement authorities, create joint defense-capabilities and empower a truly European Foreign Affairs Minister.

Second, jobs and growth. We must achieve Eurozone governance, ensure social and fiscal convergence, and have a European budget worthy of the name. We must also shape globalization and digitalization, the two main factors behind the disenchantment of many people.

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Third, values and democracy. We must make European funds conditional on respecting EU rules including the rule of law and bringing the EU closer to its citizens.

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Viviane Reding served as a European Commissioner between 1999-2014 and is now an MEP

In the recent past, Europeans have created visionary policies, like the Eurozone and the Schengen area, without the necessary institutional and financial resources to make them work properly. It is high time to fix these flaws. More than three-quarters of EU citizens believe the EU should do more in the fight against terrorism and against unemployment. What are we waiting for?

The European Union was, is and will be the best way to protect our way of life. The European Union is a unique project of peace and prosperity, security and solidarity. To live up to our ideals, it is vital to act now and deliver concrete results.

We all share the same ambition. Namely to re-launch the European project. Only a strong, self-confident and vibrant European Union can defend its geostrategic interests. In Merkel's own words, "we Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands." Let us join forces to make Europe fit for the future, to make sure Europe leads the free world, to make Europe first!

Dr. Viviane Reding is a Member of the European Parliament and former Vice-President of the European Commission

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Welcome to Gadheim, soon the center of the EU

Its handful of houses are set in the rolling hills of Bavaria's wine country, clustered around a solitary road that winds its way through fields overlooked by a cluster of wind turbines.

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Typical Bavarian village

Gadheim's locals are proud to see some attention paid to their home and the vineyards, endless fields and the winding Main River that make it up.

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Gadheim the center of Europe? Must be a hoax

"Most people here first heard the news on the radio," said Jürgen Götz, mayor of nearby Veitshöchheim - Gadheim itself is too small for a mayor of its own. "We thought it was an April Fool's joke at first," Götz said. Here, the mayor spreads out the EU banner together with farmer Karin Kessler, who wasn't aware why her town came to fame overnight.

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The rapeseed at the heart of the EU

After thinking her neighbor would have to cope with being in the middle of the EU, Karin Kessler's son sent her a message with a map of the exact coordinates and a message they were for a spot in her field of rapeseed. "The fact that it's only happening because of this Brexit is a bit of a shame for me," she said.

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Another village bemoans the loss, sort of

In Westerngrund, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Gadheim, people also rue the British decision - it will cost the small town with a fondness for Apfelwein its status as the center of the EU. It claimed the title when Croatia joined in July 2013. Local pupils checked that around 6,000 people from 93 countries had signed visitors' books kept at the neat lawn laid down to mark the spot.

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Tourists weren't that enthusiastic after all

German and EU flags overlook tranquil hillside fields in what is still the center of the EU. "We thought Chinese buses would be coming there every week. It didn't really turn out that way," said local Westerngrund baker Christoph Biebrich, who crafted ring-shaped loaves with the hole representing the navel of the EU, surrounded by stars.

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Frexit would have shattered Gadheim's dream of being the center of EU

Baker Biebrich's advice for the people of Gadheim? Don't get too attached to their place in the sun. "It will move again. That's just the way it is," the baker said. People in both Westerngrund and Gadheim hope that the next time the center of the EU moves, it will be because of a new member, not another exit.