“Lack of Trust and Mutual Accusations Have Divided Europe”

An Interview with Matthias Platzeck, Chairman of the Board, German-Russian Forum, in the run-up to the International Conference “Europe: Lost in Translation?”

What do you expect to come out of the “Europe: Lost in Translation?” conference?

I hope a successful conference will provide new impulses. Impulses for our European self-conception, and for how we present ourselves in the cooperation with America and the new major winners from globalization. The idea for this conference was born at the World Public Forum on Rhodes in 2013, long before the Ukrainian crisis. However, it was already clear at the time that in concentrating on strengthening the EU, too little had been done to develop a sustainable European-wide concept that would include the largest European country, Russia.

How important is it that we now discuss European identity?

The answer to this question is provided by the conflicts following the Ukrainian crisis and in Crimea. The consequences of such a lack of dialogue and action are now becoming alarmingly clear. The dramatic situation faced by the Ukrainian people can only be solved with the joint assistance of both Russia and Europe. However, we must recognize that a lack of trust and mutual accusations have divided Europe and paralyzed us. This must serve as a dramatic warning to us all.

What in your opinion speaks in favor of the idea of a greater Europe?

In a sustainable Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok, power struggles and conflicts such as those in Ukraine would have no place and make no sense. However, above all, they could be resolved quicker, i.e. deescalated. In my opinion, a greater Europe should not be reduced to the economic aspect alone. At every event of our forum we experience the enriching, close cultural and historical links between our countries. We are connected by economic activity and Christian and humanist heritage that extends back over a thousand years. However, we should not fall prey to any illusions. We should not become disheartened by any setbacks we may experience on the road to a peaceful greater Europe. Our history over the last 100 years has demonstrated that not even two world wars and the Cold War have been able to drive us apart. For me this is a great source of hope when facing the coming tasks.

How severe is the current EU crisis? How can these problems be resolved?

As you know, the EU crisis is currently assessed very differently, even amongst economic experts. However, without doubt, we have succeeded in carrying out an initial crisis management at great cost to the ECB. Nevertheless, the elections on May 25th will give an indication that many EU citizens are uncertain as to whether the crisis has been finally brought under control. Here too, a clear concept as to how the EU can convincingly combine a stable Euro with the very different economic speeds of its members is needed.

Must Europe really decide between East and West?

No, naturally not. I have already explained that this impression is generated by a much deeper lack of dialogue. In talks with Ukraine the necessity of a choice between the Association Agreement and the Customs Union should also have been avoided. However, this would have required much effort and willingness to make concessions on both sides. By the way, a serious willingness to come to an agreement on the EU-Russian agreement or liberal visa regulations with Russia has been lacking for years. Once again: This can all be resolved. The hope remains that we will ultimately seize the crisis as a turning point and an opportunity, leading to a path of understanding and cooperation in a common Europe.