‘We Need to Look for Harmony in Our Everyday Relations’
What lies at the core of the European integration? What motto keeps Europe alive? Has European model become outdated and is it capable of adapting to the changing reality? These and other questions were the focus of the online talk delivered by Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Russian Federation Géza Andreas von Geyr at the invitation of HSE University. The lecture was attended by students, scholars, and members of the press from around the world.
HSE University Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov delivered opening remarks, stressing that HSE university has been enjoying long-term and fruitful cooperation with a large number of German academic institutions. ‘I hope we could not only continue our academic links, student exchanges and research cooperation but also develop and expand our cooperation in the coming years. The academic as well as cultural links between different nations are the basis of global stability. The cooperation between German and Russian students and academics could support the joint efforts of our nations to stay together in Europe.’
The Ambassador likewise underscored the importance of scientific and academic cooperation as a strong investment in the common future of the nations. He emphasized that HSE is one of the best and most prestigious universities in Russia and said that it is definitely a suitable venue to talk about Europe. ‘From the beginning, HSE has established strong cooperation with European universities and institutions. The ties in education and science between Russian and Europe go far back in history. We can say that the DNA of so many universities in Russia is very much European. We, Europeans, learnt a lot from Russian science and academic expertise. Russia is quite attractive for German students who come to Russian universities because they offer great conditions and high standards.’
Among some examples of scientific collaborations that produce excellent results the ambassador cited the work on European XFEL, the biggest x-ray laser research facility in the world, and MOSAiC, the largest Artic research expedition, successfully completed recently. ‘This bond continues to grow with the Year of Germany in Russia, which includes a multitude of education and research-related events and projects.’
Ambassador von Geyr is convinced that if all of the many layers of the relations between Russian universities and Europe are added up, European-Russian partnership in education and science will turn out to be one of the strongest worldwide. However, in certain aspects EU-Russian relations are not in the best shape as the parties tend to disagree on a number of issues and a lot of work needs to be done to rebuild trust and achieve better mutual understanding. It is essential to reflect on such questions as ‘are we still both convinced that good European-Russian relations are in both of our long-term interests?’; ‘do we give this relationship a strategic depth it should have?’; ‘do we explain our views well enough?’; and ‘are we attentive enough when listening to each other?’. All these issues constitute the essence of diplomacy.
Core Ratio of European Integration
Offering his personal view on Europe, the Ambassador stressed that he means a wider scope of countries than 27 EU member states. ‘The EU as such is not only part of this Europe but it has a decisive role. It has reached an unprecedented degree of integration that European continent in modern times has never seen.’
Sometimes, it is possible to think that Europe is a lost cause as statements are made creating an image of a continent all but united. The EU is often portrayed as having lost its moral compass. Some claim that with Brexit European integration has run out of steam and that migration would put an end to European identity.
In Dr. Géza Andreas von Geyr’s understanding, the European integration has its roots in the countless military cemeteries all over Europe. After the devastating WWII, western European countries decided to integrate step-by-step so that wars amongst them would no longer be possible or even thinkable. Proud nation states, hundred years old, started to merge parts of their sovereignity and handed them over to shared institutions.
The community of European nations was built that was committed to the values of democracy, freedom, and the rule of law. Out of this spirit evolved what is now the European Union.
This community succeeded in creating a region of enormous economic prosperity. But first and foremost it remains a unique peace project which encouraging effects reach out far beyond the boundaries of the EU.
Motto That Keeps Europe Alive
Ambassador von Geyr reminded the audience that in the former times Europe did not define itself by borders. People were trading their talents and goods across the continent. This reflection of the past could offer a hint of the future—a Europe with boundaries is not a given or a must. Since 1990, big steps have been taken in this direction, with almost 30 countries introducing the Schengen system, de facto abolishing boundaries. Erasmus programme, which enables young people to study and live wherever they want, is in effect an example of Europe growing together.
Another exciting success of European integration is the Euro, which is well appreciated in the world. Despite the national strength of such economic powerhouses, as Germany, France, or Italy, trade agreements with Tokyo or Washington are not negotiated by Berlin, Paris, or Rome, but by Brussels alone, which has far more leverage to protect the joint interests of member states than any of the states individually. Some other successful European entities include the Council of Europe that protects human rights of all citizens and OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), which provides a mechanism for transparency and confidence building and verification.
What generated European integration and what pushes it further is the culture of compromising, said the ambassador. Every day EU member states meet on different levels on a multitude of issues to decide together.
Readiness to compromise is effectively the motto of European integration, even though sometimes it means that decision making is slow and requires a lot of patience.
Compromising is possible because all member states are convinced that peace and prosperity are best preserved in togetherness and because they all are bound to democratic values and the rule of law.
Is EU Able to Adapt?
The culture of compromising is demanding. Searching for common positions is not easy but the solutions found are sustainable. Drawing on the example of corona response, Dr. Géza Andreas von Geyr observed that EU has been successful in finding a common approach to maintaining the flow of goods and providing support to those who suffered from the pandemic. The EU was also able to reach consensus on the European Green Deal as well as to quickly adapt to Brexit.
Is the European Model Outdated?
In addressing this question, the ambassador first stressed that Europe has the necessary industrial, scientific, and human capital, as well as open society, which allows it to keep up with the technological vanguard. The EU is intensely working on the ‘Digital Compass’ roadmap, which will lay down a rules-based framework for the digital sphere. In addition, the EU is making significant progress in fighting climate change and poverty and launching health union initiatives.
Ambassador von Geyr also emphasized that in the face of modern challenges, it is vitally important to ensure fair access to more and more limited natural resources and to establish rules in the information and cyberspace. ‘Solutions to these challenges can only be found in more togetherness across nations, countries, and continents.’
European Union aims to cherish and promote unity and diversity—a high degree of tolerance is needed for Europe to exist.
A croissant in France, a cappuccino in Italy, and slivovets in Zagreb—on this small continent we enjoy diversity. Our cultures will never melt into one, and that is good. Diversity is at the core of our history, culture, arts, and languages. At the same time, there is something that strongly unites us beyond the joint code of legislation—our understanding of freedom and dignity of every single human being.
But this does not mean that everything is possible. The protection of dignity is defining the limits of freedom. In this respect, the virus has been a tough challenge to the democratic society with countries trying to find the balance between freedom and security.
An upcoming major contemporary art exhibition, which will bring together artists from 35 European countries, including Russia, to express themselves on Europe under the slogan ‘Diversity United’, will be a perfect illustration of the idea of respecting and promoting cultural diversity.
Is Europe Ready for the Globalised Future?
Europe does not claim to be a world power. However, it strives to build peace and stability in the world, which is becoming more and more globalised and where problems can bridge any distance and cross borders. An example of this would an enormous influx of immigrants a few years ago, or a ‘rendezvous with globalization’ as it was called by some politicians. What seems to be far away has become part of the national security interests. Similarly, climate change and the pandemic demonstrate that global problems require global solutions.
European answer is not building a fortress to be shielded from the outside world.
Our own well-being and security depend on the well-being and security of our neighbours. We protect our external borders but at the same time we have to intensify opening borders to like-minded countries.
Dr. Géza Andreas von Geyr stressed that the big strategic trends shift towards Asia and away from Europe. ‘As a consequence, Europeans have a choice of acting more nationally (and becoming more irrelevant) or intensifying our unity and staying relevant together.’
Future for EU-Russian Relations
As the ambassador stated, no country can escape two things—its history and its geography. ‘In this sense, we already live in one common European house. We make friends outside, seek best possible relations with neighbours but moving out is not a realistic option.’ This implies that both sides have to find the best way to relate to talk and relate to each other. The relations need strategic depth. It is necessary to work on solutions to the problematic questions Russian and the EU disagree on. At the same time, it is important to identify areas where and how cooperation could make sense, for instance, on climate change and international health.
Ambassador von Geyr expressed his conviction that strong and powerful EU is the best partner Russia can find in coping with challenges of globalization. He added that Europeans and Russians are close to each other and there is great mutual affection for each other’s culture, so it is best to intensify contacts. He concluded with a metaphor: ‘There is only one bed for two dreams – we might have different dreams, but waking up, we realize each day that we live together and we need to look for harmony in our everyday relations.’
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