A fragment of concrete from the Berlin wall sits in Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation Director for Spain and Portugal Thomas Bernd Stehling's office in the heart of Madrid. In November 1989, when thousands of Germans gathered around the wall that divided the city (and the country), Stehling climbed to the top and with his own hands tore off a piece of the grey stone that had divided Europe for decades. That block of granite serves "to not forget what happened," he said.
Today, nearly 26 years after that pivotal moment in history, Europe is going through some tough times. “We're still in the middle of one of the worst crises in our history and we're already facing another: millions of refugees are fleeing war and poverty. We as Europeans must work together to solve the problem," said Stehling during a special session on Europe organized by the Center for Public Leadership & Government at IESE.
Well versed on the intricacies of German politics and the EU, Stehling urged European influencers and decision makers to do some analysis. And seek solutions to the new challenges facing the continent. For Stehling, these include solidarity, democracy and the defense of human rights "while staying true to the principles that have defined Europe. There is no other system in the world that safeguards our security and values like the EU. That is why we must work to improve it," he insisted.
The refugee crisis is not the only problem afflicting the old continent. The long list includes: Greece, Ukraine, the looming referendum in the United Kingdom on remaining in the EU, nationalism in Scotland and Catalonia, the threat of the Islamic State and global terrorism, the rise of populism and xenophobia, high unemployment rates in some countries and the general public’s aversion toward the political class.
"The only possible response to an increasingly complicated world is to make the European system viable. We must strive to improve the EU, because weak governments will not guarantee a strong European Union. Leadership is vital, and Europe cannot shrug that off," he said.
In the opinion of distinguished lawyer and jurist Antonio Garrigues Walker, in a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, Europe must find its place. To do so requires, among other things, new democratic and ethical values. And strengthening its position as ally and friend to the United States. “Europeans have an inexplicable anti-American sentiment. But if we distance ourselves from the US, we are goners. The Pacific region is increasingly important for American interests, to the detriment of Europe," he explained.
As Garrigues Walker sees it, Europe is currently facing two major problems: demographics and refugees. "We are an aging continent and this issue is not part of the political agenda," he said. He spoke clearly on refugees: if the EU countries do not establish common rules to welcome refugees, the issue will never be resolved. “These days, people don't want charismatic leaders — they want effective leaders," he said.
“Without ethics there is no future, and the change will always be whatever creates opportunities. We must put an end to the greed, which has been — and still remains — at the root of this terrible crisis. And work hard on regeneration," he said.
Garrigues Walker stressed how important it is for civil society, which is "vital to the quality of democracy," to get involved with these issues. He also called for a return to forward-thinking politics, “without a solid political foundation, democracy will die.”