IEP Lunch Debate with Richard Nikolaus Kühnel, Representative of the European Commission in Germany

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On 14 September 2017 a Lunch Debate with Richard Kühnel, Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Germany, took place in the European House in Berlin on the topic of: “the future of the EU-27 with respect to Juncker’s State of the Union and the release of the White Paper”. Prof. Dr. Michael Kreile, Humboldt University of Berlin and Chairman of our Academic Advisory Board, greeted the speaker and our guests.

At the beginning of his speech, Mr. Kühnel emphasized the relevance and importance of Jean-Claude Juncker’s fundamental speech on the State of the European Union from the 13th of September 2017. In current times of change and turmoil, during which many individuals fear a sway and shift of the global political order, the European Union resembles an “anchor of stability”, not solely for its own benefit, but as part of Europe’s global responsibility. Juncker’s guiding principle “the wind is back in Europe’s sails” embodies a European upswing, able to master the crises of the past and guide through the challenges of the future. Particularly the economic recovery, the recent electoral success of pro-European parties and the recuperation of trust in European institutions significantly contributed to this upswing. Richard Kühnel accentuated that not even the consequences of the Brexit will decelerate these positive developments. In fact, the 30th of March 2017, the day the United Kingdom will exit the European Union, shall go down in history as a point of departure towards a brighter future, rather than a European day of mourning.

One significant aspect for the future of the EU-27 is, according to R. Kühnel, “the harnessing of globalization”, which includes the compression of European principles and moral values. Additionally, it is of great importance that, both European and non-European states will benefit equally from the dynamic process of globalization. Furthermore, Mr. Kühnel stressed the tremendous significance of the process of digitalization for the future of the EU-27, particularly with regard to the need for a coherent European digital cooperation and comprehensive reforms against cyber-attacks.

In addition, Mr. Kühnel emphasized the vital necessity of ensuring that all 27 EU Member States will operate homogeneously and in a collaborative manner, especially to avoid the formation of a “core Europe”. These measures correspond to Juncker’s five future scenarios. A sustainable and future-oriented EU shall therefore take enhanced and collective decisions, in order to guarantee the accessibility of the monetary union and the Schengen area to all member states. However, Richard Kühnel also emphasized that this access will only be granted, if the respective states meet the criteria and requirements. For clarification on the aforementioned matter, he discussed the cases of Romania and Bulgaria. These two states have been of significant European importance for an enhanced control of migration flows. Therefore, the EU perceives a strong interest in providing access to effective measures of data exchange to these respective states through the Schengen Information System (SIS).

In conclusion, Mr. Kühnel stressed that Europe always works well in situations where EU investments are accentuated and functioning. Hence, criticism on the EU refers primarily to scenarios, in which the unanimity principle does not function adequately. Accordingly, Mr. Kühnel argued for the complete utilization of the Passerelle clause. He demanded a transformation of the unanimity principle into a principle based on qualified majority. In addition, the European citizens’ initiatives should finally be used for the strengthening of democracy within the European Union.

Lastly, the EU constitutes and remains a Union, constructed on pillars of freedom, equality, fairness, humanity and solidarity. The European Union will therefore continue to lead with confidence, optimism and a desire for future improvements.

In the subsequent lively debate, our guests discussed a number of specific topics and key aspects with Mr. Kühnel. Particularly the future developments of the monetary and economic union, the rise of populism and the creation of unified strategies for a European security union were part of the discussion.

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Mr. Kühnel for an interesting and enlightening speech and Professor Kreile for his guidance throughout the event. Thank you very much for your participation and the lively discussion.

Author: Paul Leon Wagner
Translation: Johannes Weiß