The prime minister of Lower Saxony in Germany, David McAllister, is looking to build links between the region and Scotland after a visit to the north-east. Writing exclusively for the Press and Journal, Mr McAllister, whose father was born in Scotland, tells why he thinks there are plenty of common bonds and gives his views on Europe’s debt crisis
The purpose of my three-day visit to Scotland was to strengthen the relations between our countries. Above all, I would like to see a closer co-operation in the energy sector.
Both Scotland and Lower Saxony play leading roles when it comes to the development and use of renewable energies. They have set themselves bold objectives for 2020.
By that date, Scotland wants to source all of its electricity requirements from renewable energies, above all wind and marine power. Lower Saxony aims to produce a quarter of its final energy demand from renewable energies – or 90% of its electricity. This figure does not include power from the offshore wind parks still to be constructed in the North Sea.
This focus is not just a reaction to climate change. Climate change is already making itself felt today and could easily become a new threat for mankind if we do not take it seriously.
This strategy is also required to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. And above all it is vital for Germany – because by 2022 we have decided to phase out nuclear power.
I had a very positive response in Edinburgh and Aberdeen – for instance in my discussions with First Minister Alex Salmond. The willingness is there, not just on the part of the governments, but also at the universities and in the companies.
Therefore, I am optimistic that we might succeed in forging a new bond between Scotland and Lower Saxony. I am convinced that we will be in a better position to achieve reliable, attractively priced, environmentally and climate-friendly, sustainable energy supplies if we work together throughout Europe.
It is a good sign that Brussels views the issue in the same light, because the formation of a European North Sea Energy Alliance (ENSEA) has been welcomed in Brussels. Scotland and Lower Saxony are involved in this project, as well as other European partner countries such as the Netherlands and Norway.
Speaking of Europe – we are living in troubled times right now. The situation in Europe is very serious. Europe is facing a crucial decision.
The details of the national debt crisis in Europe, our worries about the stability of the euro, and our fears about the stability of the European Union as a whole are issues in both British and German politics.
We know about the high expectations all around the world. But Germany’s strength isn’t endless, Germany’s power is not unlimited, as Chancellor Angela Merkel has pointed out.
The German government has been accused of imposing austerity measures that are far too severe. The truth is that the excessive debt levels and lack of competitiveness in some individual member states of the European Union are the main causes of the present crisis.
These huge debts have resulted not only from recent economic stimulus programmes to counteract the international financial and economic crisis – but primarily because many countries continued to live beyond their means for far too many years, or because their economies were too strongly focused on certain sectors of industry, such as the real estate or financial markets.
Germany is often harshly criticised because of its strong export performance, claiming in particular that the comparatively low wage costs have given Germany an advantage in terms of international competition, under which other countries have suffered. But is that really the case?
Other countries also benefit from our strong export industries, because this also means a simultaneous increase in our import levels – often by a same high percentage. This year has seen significant pay rises in Germany. There is an aspect that people from all walks of life in Germany cannot understand: the low interest rates for Germany are not a gift of god, but the reward for years of going without pay rises and without increases in social welfare benefits such as pensions and unemployment benefits.
Many Germans would, therefore, inevitably consider it a social injustice if they were asked to pay up once again. That is why we believe in the principle that no aid can be given without something in return.
And that is why those member states in need of help have to implement comprehensive reforms to regain stability and become competitive once again. This includes contributing some of their – in many cases – considerable state assets towards the reorganisation of their public finances.
Of course, I was concerned that the attempt to amend the European treaties failed, among other things, because of the objections of the British government.
This was all the more difficult to comprehend as the UK itself wouldn’t have been affected by the amendments, since it is not a member of the euro group.
Nevertheless, I canvassed support for my opinion that the decision of the British government had to be respected. And, to be honest, I was annoyed at the “anti-British undertone” that could be heard from some of my colleagues in the German debate. I always raise my voice when it comes to Britain for one reason: we Germans should never forget what Britain did for us when its forces bravely liberated our nation from national socialist dictatorship.
Germany should now set a good example. Consistent budget consolidation and sustainable stimulus packages for growth and employment go hand in hand. This is a view that the Scottish Government shares, and I quote: “The Scottish Government believes there are two key issues – 1: providing short-term stability and balancing austerity alongside growth; 2: promoting the long-term re-balancing of the Euro Area economy.”
With regards to additional stimuli for growth our position in Germany is that instruments already exist at European level to encourage growth. Take, for instance, the EU 2020 Strategy, the EU Structural Funds, the European Social Fund and the European Investment Bank.
We need further structural reforms to promote growth in all EU member states – including Germany and the United Kingdom. I believe that the governments headed by David Cameron and Angela Merkel are on the right track.
The target has to be to improve the efficiency of our job centres, to adapt the retirement age in line with higher life expectancy and to create a flexible framework for employment contracts which reflect the individual situation.
The wrong track, in my view, would be to borrow more funds for economic stimulus programmes. In view of the economic stimulus programmes which were funded by borrowing just three years ago, I believe this would be unrealistic.
Europe needs to send out one central message to the globalised world: we are united in combating the crisis, we can agree on adequate instruments and we will demonstrate our ability to act together.