Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Building Bridges in Europe

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By State Minister Katja Meier, Saxon State Minister of Justice, Democracy, European Affairs and Gender Equality

The European Union’s eastern enlargement in 2004 also signalled a paradigm shift for the Free State of Saxony. Saxony is now located in the middle of the European Union, which puts us in a position where we can serve as a bridge between the West and the East of Europe.

Therefore, we try to promote trans-European, cross-border and interregional cooperation wherever we can. As part of the Conference on the Future of Europe, we hosted an event together with five other European regions (Baden-Württemberg, Lower Silesia, Grand Est, Karlovy Vary, and Ústi), inviting people living in Europe’s border regions to discuss the future of the European Union. The participants drew on their own experiences to come up with various practical suggestions, including the foundation of a trinational broadcasting station and a European recycling system.

Copyright Daniel Meißner SMJusDEG Dignitaries: State Minister Katja Meier and Mathias Weilandt, State Secretary for Justice and Europe, Saxon State Ministry of Justice, Democracy, European Affairs and Gender Equality at the Conference of State Ministers in charge of European Affairs of the German Federal States (Konferenz der Europaministerinnen und -minister, -senatorinnen und – senatoren der deutschen Länder- EMK) in Chemnitz, Germany, September 2021

Clearly, the border regions are vivid centres of European integration. The people there enjoy all the benefits of the EU citizenship on a daily basis. If we were to develop this further into a fully-blown European state citizenship, this could lead to more political and economic alliances within the EU, as the border regions and their inhabitants would grow closer together. To form long-term alliances of this kind, we must involve the people themselves in this process, and the Conference on the Future of Europe provides plenty of opportunities to do that.

As far as transnational cooperation is concerned, I am always amazed how far we have come in the last few years. Saxony, Poland, and the Czech Republic share strong economic and cultural ties. As we remain committed to strengthening these ties, Saxony has been running liaison offices in Wrocław and Prague for ten years. The cross-border cooperation is not yet on the same level as in West-Germany; French-German relations having developed over a much longer period of time. Nevertheless, we are catching up. Not only are we working on a concept that will deepen our relations with the Czech Republic, we also managed to reach a unanimous vote regarding German-Czech cooperation in the Conference of the Ministers for European Affairs of the Länder (EMK).

Copyright Agata Władyczka Dignitaries: State Minister Katja Meier und Olga Tokarczuk (writer and Nobel Prize in Literature laureate) after a debate on Gender Equality and Feminism in Poland, July 2021.

As current Chair of this Conference, as Minister of Justice, Democracy, Europe and Gender Equality, and as a former citizen of the GDR who grew up in a repressive system, I am committed to the ideas of cosmopolitanism, democracy, and of close neighbourly ties. To me, this entails not just a deeply-felt respect for the individual member states of the EU, all of whom have their own and very distinct political history. It also means that we must defend the foundations of the European Union.

The European Union is seen primarily as an economic alliance, but ultimately, it is a community based on shared laws and values. These are the very foundations of the European integration, and if individual member states deviate from this shared basis, the foundation itself becomes fragile. Individual member states and various European institutions have recognised that it was a major oversight not to protect the EU’s core principles better against violations in the past. All over the world, the foundations of democracy, such as an independent justice system, freedom of the press, and the fight against corruption have come under attack.

Copyright Daniel Meißner SMJusDEG Dignitaries: State Minister Katja Meier und Clément Beaune, Secretary of State for European Affairs of the French Foreign Ministry with their delegations in Paris, October 2021

Since we took over the Chair of the Conference of the Ministers for European Affairs of the Länder, it has been all the more important for us to speak up for rule-of-law principles in the EU, for human rights, and against discrimination. We stand by these values, which is also reflected in the thematic scope of the Trinational Conversations on the Rule of Law taking place in Leipzig on January 27th and 28th, 2022. Together with the Czech Republic and Poland, Saxony plans to act as a mediator to support a pan-European understanding of the rule of law, and to establish a long-term trilogue between Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany.

As State Minister for Democracy and European Affairs but above all as a convinced European, I am committed to protecting and deepening the fundamental values of the European Union. Democracy, the rule of law, and friendly relations between the people are integral when it comes to shaping Europe’s future.

For further information:

EMK – European Ministers Conference:https://www.europa.sachsen.de/EMK-aktuelles-und-programm.html

Saxon State Ministry of Justice, Democracy, European Affairs and Gender Equality (SMJusDEG): https://www.justiz.sachsen.de/smj/staatsministerin-und-staatssekretar-in-3990.html

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