The European Union is at a critical point. Without decisive action, it will inexorably evolve from its original vision into a loose, business-centered formation. Scholz and Marcon are now responsible.

“The European unification process has reached a critical point. If we do not succeed in finding a solution to the causes of this dangerous development in the next two to four years, the Union will inevitably develop into a loose formation with various subgroups, essentially limited to economic aspects. Such an ‘upscale’ free trade zone would not be able to overcome the existential problems of European societies and their external challenges.”

This description of the situation is 30 years old. Long before 9/11, the global financial crisis, the migration crisis and Brexit, and long before the war in Ukraine and the powerful rise of China, Karl Lamers and Wolfgang Schäuble wrote a breathtakingly visionary plan of action for Europe.

Today, in 2024, their proposals are more urgent than ever. The strengthening of the EU’s foreign and security policy capabilities outlined by Lamers and Schäuble, its institutional development into a federal confederation of states and the consolidation of the core are closely linked and are based almost exclusively on decisions in Paris and Berlin.

If Europe’s national governments are serious about what they promised last December, namely the enlargement of the EU to include Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, all Balkan countries and Turkey, then far-reaching new steps in the architecture of the EU are inevitable. Especially if you want the EU to become a powerful geopolitical player. But for this the EU needs a core.

The core function of this core is to provide a strong center to counter the centrifugal forces in the ever-growing Union. The accusation at the time that Lamers and Schäuble were encouraging a directorate was the exact opposite of what both wanted: that France and Germany, following their shared responsibility, would build a platform for other Europeans to participate.

Sylvie Goulard, a French political scientist, politician and essayist, served as a member of the European Parliament from June 2009 to 2017. She was briefly Minister of Defense in the Philippe I cabinet from May to June 2017.

Markus Kerber, a German economist, was State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community from 2018 to 2021. He previously served as General Manager of the Federation of German Industries from 2011 to 2017 and before that headed the policy department in the Federal Ministry of Finance.

Therefore, before the Union is expanded to include the above-mentioned accession candidates, it will have to become an inevitable part of European policy to define the core and anchor it institutionally.

The Russian aggression in the east of the Union and its security policy consequences for the entire EU are also forcing a de facto core of states capable and willing to act. And in the event of a – which cannot be ruled out – withdrawal of the USA from NATO, a Europe that is sovereign in terms of security policy needs this core in order to be able to include militarily strong and politically different partners such as the United Kingdom and Turkey.

However, the question of the architecture of the solid core can only be answered if the “core of the core”, namely France and Germany, begin to act unified and together on these issues.

30 years ago, Schäuble and Lamers clearly demanded that Berlin and Paris find each other and avoid all national ambiguity. But unfortunately this is exactly where the problems persist.

In the euro crisis, Germany may have taken responsibility for Europe and its currency – even with partners who had not fully kept their earlier promises. But Germany’s solo efforts in the areas of energy (gas from Russia and the phase-out of nuclear energy) and in migration have unfortunately shown that, even in Berlin, national temptation wins out in case of doubt.

In their paper, Schäuble and Lamers explicitly mentioned the risk of a German special approach to Russia policy at the expense of its European partners. This special route would prove to be the most disastrous of the many German solo attempts.

What Germany has failed to do in the military field for years as a result of this strategic misjudgment will damage Europe’s defense capabilities and threaten the security of Eastern Europe for many years to come.

But France is not always clear about its goals either. Emmanuel Macron coined the term “European sovereignty” in his Humboldt speech in Berlin in January 2017. Since then he has been promoting a powerful Europe – without saying how this goal will be achieved. For thirty years, people in France have been dreaming of European power without wanting European structures. And Macron remains as ambiguous as his predecessors.

In 2024, more than ever, there is too much that is unspoken, hidden and unclear at the core of the core. And nothing shows the contradictions of Europe – and how we are weakening ourselves – better than the separate trips to China by President Macron and Chancellor Scholz.

As if it were not crucial to defend the fragile EU foreign policy and the EU’s internal market in third countries, our political leaders travel on their own and vie for national advantages surrounded by national CEO teams.

After three lost decades, the time has now come to finally implement the proposals of Karl Lamers and Wolfgang Schäuble. This is our deep conviction. Because we have reached the limits of the current system.

In many personal conversations with both of us over the past few years, Wolfgang Schäuble and Karl Lamers have repeatedly emphasized how necessary it is to resolutely further develop the European Union, especially now. The global competition between political systems and the tendency to form regional spheres of interest force us to do this.

Many skeptics will immediately emphasize that there would be no majority for such a program. We don’t believe that. In view of the military threat to the EU from Russia, a new, multipolar world disorder, and also the enormous climate policy challenges, this change will find its majority.

Germany and France, as the core of the core, should set up a strategy committee made up of strategists and foresight experts (editor’s note: futurologists) from both countries who will develop scenarios and bold proposals in the areas of defense, energy, migration and… society as well as on an economic, social and budgetary level.

The deliberations of this small group should be free from administrative and political routines, with a perspective that transcends national approaches. Looking at the world from your neighbor’s perspective and drawing conclusions for a united Europe is the necessary counterpoint to dwarfism. This will take courage.

But this effort is worth it in order to actually create a stronger Europe, the only one capable of defending the freedom and interests of Europeans in the world. This cannot be achieved using the logic of small steps. The European Union is the best proof that cooperation brings more than the will to dominate, voluntary cooperation more than nationalism.

Karl Lamers saw the EU as our contribution to “a better world”. Wolfgang Schäuble recommended reading Pericles in difficult times: “The secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom is courage.” Berlin and Paris need this courage. For cooperation and leadership in Europe.