Opportunities and Challenges in the 21st Century: The Future of Europe and the Transatlantic Partnership

May 10, 2011

12th Gerd Bucerius Lecture at the Willard InterContinental Hotel, Washington DC | Speaker: Gerhard Schröder

On May 10, 2011, Gerhard Schröder, Former Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (1998-2005), delivered the 12th Gerd Bucerius Lecture in the ballroom of the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington DC before an audience of more than 450. The annual Gerd Bucerius Lectures, which feature public figures from Germany and Europe, are organized by the German Historical Institute in Washington in cooperation with the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius. Past speakers have included Timothy Garton Ash, Ralf Dahrendorf, Joschka Fischer, Jutta Limbach, Kurt Masur, and Helmut Schmidt.

Gerhard Schröder was introduced by Hartmut Berghoff, director of the German Historical Institute, and Michael Göring, President of the Zeit-Stiftung. In his remarks, Berghoff mentioned two hallmarks of Gerhard Schröder's chancellorship: the "Agenda 2010", a program of social reforms that "confronted the fact that Germany's welfare system had become unsustainable"; and Schröder's refusal to go along with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 despite the urging of the Bush administration.

In his speech, Schröder noted that with the accession of the states of Eastern Europe, the European Union has "become a full partner" rather than a "junior partner" in transatlantic relations. He therefore welcomed President Obama's "paradigm change in American foreign policy: a turn toward multilateral cooperation." He gave a very optimistic assessment of the future of the United States: "Even if the global financial and economic crisis had its origins in the United States and even if the American economy in particular was affected by it," he argued, "the United States is and will remain a superpower" and "will rebound politically and economically."

Schröder's assessment of Europe's future was much more critical. Even though "the European Union has the potential to become a third pole in international politics alongside the United States and Asia," he argued, "political weakness, above all the disunity of the European Union, makes it difficult for the United States to take advantage of the transatlantic partnership's potential." To remedy this weakness, the former chancellor called for a strengthening of European institutions in order to make the European Union "more capable of taking action" and of "speaking with a single voice." He also emphatically argued for the accession of Turkey to the European Union, noting that "democratic Turkey, committed to European values, is a clear proof that there is no contradiction between Islamic faith and a modern society."

Regarding the war in Afghanistan, Schröder insisted that "Germany must hold to its responsibilities. We intervened together with the United States, and we must also end this mission together." Likewise, "in light of current events in North Africa and the Arab states," he urged that "Germany, the European Union, and the U.S. must work together more closely than ever before." With regard to German policy in this area, Schröder said: "I will not criticize the German government from here in Washington", but added: "Let me just say that I would like to see my country take a position that would allow it a stronger influence on goals and strategies within Europe and NATO."

Finally, Schröder made a strong plea for closer cooperation with Russia, noting that "the strategy of containing and encircling Russia has failed." Instead, he argued, "it is in our interest to bind Russia as closely as possible to the European structures. And that is also in the interests of the United States: to secure peace and stability; to politically integrate Russia better; and to be able to influence the country's internal development."

During the extended question-and answer-session Schröder displayed a winning sense of humor as he fielded a wide variety of questions, ranging from the problems of the Euro zone to climate change, energy policy, and relations with Russia. Regarding the troubles of the Euro zone, he argued that the currency union must lead to closer political cooperation with the European Union, in the direction of federalism. On relations with Russia, he reiterated the point that instead of imposing preconditions for integrating Russia internationally, the integration of Russia into a closer association with the European Union and the United States should be seen as a way of positively influencing Russia's political development.