Opinion | Ralf Horlemann

The future of the EU and the trans-Atlantic partnership: a view from Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with President Trump at the White House on March 17.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with President Trump at the White House on March 17.

Sixty years ago, the Treaties of Rome laid the foundation of the European Union and an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe. After centuries of wars — two of them world wars — the leaders of Europe were determined to bring peace to the continent. Today, we are proud of the European Union as the most successful peace project in the world, uniting 500 million people living in freedom and prosperity. Europe has been the closest and most reliable partner for the United States of America, with Germany being a motor for European integration and a rock-solid pillar in the trans-Atlantic relationship.

And yet, as we reflect with pride on our achievements, the European Union is facing historic challenges. Many people in Europe – and America – have doubts about the benefits of globalization. Fears over the threat of terrorism and the challenges of migration are rising, leading in turn to rising populism and nationalism in a post-factual world. A world in which the United States has started to rethink its global role.

As the 27 leaders of the European Union meet Saturday in Rome, they can open a new chapter for a united Europe that shapes its own destiny and carves out a vision for its future. It is time to face the challenges of our times and to safeguard the EU as a beacon of freedom, democracy, and social justice in the world.


What needs to be done for this vision to become a reality? First, the EU needs to live up to its promise of prosperity and solidarity. Europe is not only a common market, it also holds a promise of social justice and security. Second, we need a European answer to the migration issue. If we want to uphold the freedom of movement within the EU and the Schengen system of open borders — one of the greatest achievements of European integration — Europe’s external borders also have to be protected and safe. Third, in the face of conflicts and instability on our doorsteps, Europe needs to strengthen its internal and external security and do more to defend peace and stability in Europe and the world. Fourth, we must stand up for the idea of Europe and against the rising tide of populism and blind nationalism. In a world of “fake news” and false promises, we must fight for freedom, tolerance, and respect. These values remain the foundation of the European project. The EU must stick to these common values internally and promote them beyond European borders.

Get Arguable in your inbox:
Jeff Jacoby on everything from politics to pet peeves to the passions of the day.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

For us, having all EU members on board is a priority. We will keep this as a principle: the EU, all 28 member nations (soon to be 27), first. In the face of the enormous challenges of the moment, some EU countries who want to do more can go ahead and work for a deeper integration, while other EU members can join these efforts over time, as in the case of the Euro or the Schengen Agreement. But the overall inclusiveness of all member nations is essential to the purpose of the of the EU.

From day one, Germany has been among the strongest proponents of the European idea in order to overcome nationalistic rivalries between European powers. We have learned the bitter lessons of our own history, which has led to war and destruction in Europe, and we will not forget it. In a world that has gone from bipolar to multi-polar to almost nonpolar, and with the international order at stake, the European Union must live up to the challenge as an anchor of stability, prosperity, and values. Not “Europe First,” but Europe as a leader for a safer and better world. For this, we also need a strong and close trans-Atlantic alliance, based on common interests and shared values. Seventy years ago, the United States helped Europe to rise from the destructions of WWII with the Marshall Plan. It is now time to renew the trans-Atlantic partnership and work for peace, human rights, and development everywhere in the world.

Ralf Horlemann is consul general of Germany to the New England States and is the local president of the EU for the first half of 2017.