The 'State of Europe' 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall

5 November 2009

Thomas Fischer, Head of the Brussels office, Bertelsmann Stiftung, said all the panellists had played a role in tearing down the Berlin Wall and are active in building a united Europe.

Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, said this anniversary symbolised the European project’s core theme: reconciliation. This must continue, with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe building bridges with their Eastern neighbours. Twenty years ago people behind the iron curtain liberated themselves, showing walls cannot stand if people do not want them; and Europe must tear down the walls that cut off its Eastern neighbours.

Professor of European Studies Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford University, said 1989 was the best year in European history. Europe is now a stronger political, economic and security power, but Western and Eastern Europeans are not equal partners, and there is little enthusiasm for Europe as a global actor.

Beijing learned from the collapse of Communism in 1989 and developed itself into a ‘Leninist capitalist’ world economic power, so Europeans must decide if they want a world dominated by the US and China, or whether they want to develop into a global power, where they also play a leading role.

Rita Süssmuth, former President of the German Bundestag, said the fall of the Berlin Wall heralded a new order; no one had expected the regimes in Eastern Europe to collapse, and it became clear that German unification in 1990 was just the beginning of European enlargement. 1989 has shown that people will no longer accept repression, so change could come about in countries like Iran. We need a more cooperative way of thinking and a more united Europe that fulfills its potential to make a social and ethical contribution.

Alexandr Vondra, former Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, said ordinary people in the Czech Republic are more upbeat than 20 years ago. 1989 was one of the best years of his life, but 2009 has been very difficult, as the EU Czech Presidency was faced with external problems, the Czech government is in turmoil, and the world situation less positive.

People are tired of battles over institutional reform and of enlargement, so future EU reforms must ensure all people benefit as “We must not to loose our freedom”.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves described the end of the bipolar, militarised set-up in post-war Europe as a “reordering of the world order more significant than in 1918”. However, no Eastern Europeans hold, or are considered for, important positions in the EU institutions, as Western Europeans see Eastern European as dull and socially underdeveloped, but their experience has given them a stronger commitment to European values.

After the end of the iron curtain, countries thought free markets and freedom of expression went hand-in-hand, but they have learned that capitalism can be authoritarian, so to prevent this Europe must develop as a law-based entity.