News | PenguinRandomHouse | Brussels, 07/01/2014

George Soros: ‘The World Needs Europe And Its Values’

Bertelsmann CFO Judith Hartmann, Belgium’s Vice Prime Minister Didier Reynders, famous investor George Soros, former French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, and the Chairman of the BOZAR Board of Directors, Viscount Etienne Davignon (r. to l.)

Yesterday evening 1,400 guests attended a debate on the future of Europe organized by Bertelsmann at the Brussels Palais des Beaux-Arts (Bozar). Even Gregor Peter Schmitz, the moderator of the evening and EU correspondent for "Der Spiegel" in Brussels. The event was organized to mark DVA’s publication of the book "Tragedy of the European Union: Disintegration or Revival?" (German title: "Wetten auf Europa: Warum Deutschland den Euro retten muss, um sich selbst zu retten") by Peter Schmitz and noted investor George Soros. The other panelists were equally prominent: President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and the former French finance minister Pierre Moscovici. The panel discussion was the first public political debate following last weekend’s EU summit in Brussels about the new President of the EU Commission.

Bertelsmann CFO Judith Hartmann also attended the event. Beforehand she made it clear how important Europe is for Bertelsmann: “Bertelsmann generates 80 percent of its turnover in Europe. Therefore, it is essential that we be can continue to rely on a strong Europe with a stable business and legal environment. With regard to investment security, above all we require up-to-date media regulation and a copyright law that reflects the digital realities.”

The EU summit and the negative attitude of the British Prime Minister David Cameron towards designated Commission President Jean Claude Juncker was also a subject of the debate at Bozar. In his opening statement, Van Rompuy said Cameron’s attitude was difficult to understand: "It is important that we do not return to earlier structures within the EU, but work together." Europe currently finds itself in a difficult situation, said Van Rompuy. George Soros went a step further and said: "One can speak of a political crisis." He said he was pinning a lot of hope on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany as the strongest power in Europe during this period. Pierre Moscovici agreed with the previous speakers and stressed: "The European elections have a made ​​it clear that the Euro-skeptic group has grown and if we make no changes by the next election, for example in relation to the labor market, the situation for the pro-European faction will become even more difficult than it already is."

All concerns about the electoral successes of Euro-skeptics or right-wing parties like the National Front in France aside, the pro-European group is still much larger, said Herman Van Rompuy. "We still have to contend with the consequences of the financial crisis, which we still have to do something about." As long as the EU does not succeed in improving the job situation and peoples’ standards of living again, the critical voices will not be silenced, he said, adding that the EU Member States must become competitive again. Gregor Peter Schmitz asked Pierre Moscovici whether he considered France to be competitive. "There is no question that France urgently needs reforms to be able to compete with Germany again," said Moscovici, but added that he believed his country was on the right track; it just needs a little time and confidence. "Within the EU Germany is the country with the highest gross domestic product, directly followed by France," said Van Rompuy agreeing with Moscovici. "Without a strong Germany and a strong France, the EU would be in a fix." George Soros admitted that he had always been very critical of Germany. "The German economy is moving further and further forward, and there has been a significant change in recent years, particularly because of the change in the coalition. I see a new openness there."

One central theme of the panel discussion was the current situation in Ukraine. When asked what he thought of the thesis that the EU had been naive in its approach towards Ukraine, Herman Van Rompuy said: "I think that's a completely wrong view." He said that back in 2004, the then Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko had made it clear that his country aspired to EU membership and that talks were held and Russia put massive pressure on Ukraine because of this pro-EU stance. But "even in the early days of the current unrest we saw people waving the EU flag at demonstrations," said Van Rompuy: "The revolution has shown that a large proportion of the Ukrainian people yearns for Europe." George Soros agreed with the Council of Europe President and said: "Russia is trying to weaken Ukraine. We must, therefore, be more on the side of Ukraine." Soros said the EU could save itself if it saves Ukraine. "The EU's fundamental idea is peaceful coexistence; so it has to stand up for that."

The panelists also agreed on the question of whether the EU still needs Britain as a Member State. "Definitely" said Herman Van Rompuy with conviction. "Partly for historical reasons – after all, Britain was part of the great European tragedy, the two world wars, in which it lost thousands of young men and women." However, he said Britain voted against the euro and against the Schengen Agreement, which means the country is not wholeheartedly part of the EU. Despite these decisions, Pierre Moscovici said there was no doubt as to whether the United Kingdom should be part of the European Union or not. "But, just like France, Britain must carry out the necessary reforms."

At the end of the debate, George Soros emphasized once again that all the criticism of the European Union aside, one thing was clear to him: "The world needs a strong Europe, and the values ​​for which it stands."