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Lunch debate with Norbert Spinrath, MP, European Affairs Spokesman of the SPD group in the Bundestag

On 18 October 2017 a Lunch Debate with Norbert Spinrath, European Affairs Spokesman of the SPD party in the Bundestag, took place in the European House in Berlin on the topic of: “Devel­oping Europe socially and in solidarity”. At the outset of the event, Richard Kühnel, Head of the Repre­sen­tation of the European Commission in Germany, gave some intro­ductory remarks, as well as greeted the speaker and the guests. Prof. Dr. Mathias Jopp, Director of the Institute for European Politics (IEP), chaired the event.

Within his commencing remarks, Richard Kühnel set the attention on the approaching Social Summit that is taking place on the 17th of November 2017 in Gothenburg with the aim to gather heads of govern­ments, social partners and key players to work together on a more social Europe and the promotion of fair jobs and growth. In addition, he expressed his gratitude towards Mr. Spinrath for his close cooper­ation over the years and his dedicated commitment for a social and stable Europe. After his intro­duction, Mr. Kühnel handed the floor to Professor Mathias Jopp for his moderation.

At the outset of his speech, Mr. Spinrath referred to the funda­mental problem of Euroscep­ticism and the lack of confi­dence of European citizens in a number of EU insti­tu­tions. As a conse­quence of these negative tendencies it is of outmost impor­tance to initiate a dialogue with these citizens to demon­strate the possi­bil­ities and chances that have erupted for many people within the European Union. Within this context, the sustain­ability of the concept shall be at the centre of attention. Partic­u­larly the reassurance of confi­dence in European insti­tu­tions and the promotion of long-term solutions are of great necessity for a sustainable future of the EU. In recent years, mistakes have been made during the management of crisis and turmoil, especially as measures were based on short-term adaption rather than long-term stability. Hence, concrete strategies have to be developed in order to promote Europe, prevent the renation­al­i­sation of EU politi­cians within Member States and to counter populist movements.

To achieve these aspira­tions in the future, the European Single Market will need to be strengthened, cross-border cooper­ation will have to be deepened and free movement be further developed. Additionally, to guarantee the stability of the EU in the future, the European citizens will need to realize the personal benefits of EU regula­tions and policies. Only if this change of perception will cause a shift in the mind-set of many individuals will it be feasible to reassure the achieve­ments and benefits of the EU. However, the afore­men­tioned measures are by far not suffi­cient: Not solely within Germany can one identify the expansion of a social gap, but also within many other European states. Therefore, Mr. Spinrath empha­sized the impor­tance of conver­gence and compa­rable European living standards. As a conse­quence of this imbalance, it is not surprising that within Eastern European states, many prefer to retire early rather than to rely on an insuf­fi­cient system of social assis­tance. This has tremendous conse­quences: In European regions, where an efficient social security system is missing, the willingness to accept refugees is rather low; hence, a fair redis­tri­b­ution is made more difficult which enhances the divisions within Europe. Therefore, Norbert Spinrath empha­sized that if compa­rable living standards and a common European security system, including a European minimum wage, are to be enacted in the future; a decrease of intra-European migratory flows is achievable.

For the achievement of these aims, the partic­i­pation of Germany and France is of outmost impor­tance. In recent months, French President Macron succeeded in creating a pro-European atmos­phere within his state. However, in the wake of the federal German elections in September, this atmos­phere has not been similarly achieved within Germany. In addition, Mr. Spinrath reminded that the immense influence of Germany on European decision making processes should not lead to hegemonial percep­tions. Germany must under­stand itself as an equal member among others and should prevent any tendencies of national selfishness for the devel­opment of common visions for the future of Europe.

In the subse­quent lively discussion with the audience, the partic­i­pants and Mr. Spinrath debated on the financial and social policy devel­op­ments in Europe. Hereby Mr. Spinrath noted that in order to achieve more efficient and equitable social policies, more compe­tences must be created for the EU and existing treaties shall be modified.

The Institute for European Politics would like to express their gratitude to Mr. Richard Kühnel for his intro­ductory statement, Norbert Spinrath for his extensive speech on a social and solidary Europe, as well as to all guests for the lively discussion.

Author: Philipp Maluska
Trans­lation: Lea Michel