For David McAllister, member of the European Parliament and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the European idea of progress goes hand in hand with constant change. We spoke to him about the internal and external challenges facing Europe, the EU’s crucial role on the global stage and the fight for peace that has become a reality at the heart of Europe.

What does progress mean to you personally, particularly in the context of your work as an MEP?

Progress for me means not losing sight of the bigger picture. When we discuss a law or a resolution in the European Parliament, analysing it word for word, it is important to sometimes take a step back and ask yourself: What is the long-term goal? How much has already been achieved since the project started? If the answer is positive, then that for me is progress. The European Union is constantly in a state of change. The governments in the Member States change. There are numerous changing external and internal challenges that the EU has to manage. The major crises of recent years have shown that our community of states is capable of learning and rising to these challenges. The “NextGenerationEU” recovery programme and the European Stability Mechanism are good examples of this. Even though it – quite rightly – takes tough negotiations in democratic processes to hammer out the details of these measures, behind them is the desire to make our Europe stronger for the future.

Every project needs indicators that enable the project team to measure progress and the achievement of objectives. What indicators do you use to measure progress in politics?

The big leaps forward in European integration are proof of progress. The introduction of our common currency, the single market, the Schengen Agreement and the promotion of innovation and cutting-edge research across borders are specific examples. Positive survey responses from the younger generation on their identification with a united Europe and the increase in voter turnout at the European elections are further indicators that European policies bring about real improvements.

In his speech to the European Parliament in January, President Macron said that, for him, Europe represented a promise of democracy, progress and peace. What do you think of these three principles?

Absolutely. The European project started with the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. By establishing the common management of the resources necessary for war, the aim was to make it impossible for the countries of Europe to go to war against one another in the future. Building on this cooperation, the European countries went on to establish a customs union, a European single market and a common currency. The political union was formed in parallel to this, and is founded on the fundamental values of democracy, human dignity and the rule of law. So the European Union itself is a story of gradual progress, of increasing integration of the Member States. It is now up to us to continue this story of success and add a new chapter. The Common Foreign and Security Policy, climate protection, digital policy, the Health Union and energy are key policy areas.

In foreign policy in particular, we are currently seeing that progress isn’t always easy and conflicts cannot always be resolved. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a current example of a Europe that is quite literally approaching the limits of progress. What can the EU do to provide greater security?

The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is a turning point in history in every respect. It marks a sea change in European foreign, security and defence policy. We Europeans need to do more for our own security and defence. There needs to be a stronger, genuine political will among all Member States in the European Union to pool forces. We also need massive investment in additional equipment and operational capabilities. Significant improvement is required in both areas. We need to work in close collaboration with NATO to develop a concrete plan for how we can become a European defence union. The Strategic Compass can support these efforts.

How relevant is this idea of progress in terms of a peaceful Europe?

In light of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, it’s more relevant than ever. We are currently seeing a war being waged with conventional weapons in our immediate neighbourhood, right in the heart of Europe. This completely unjustified invasion is in violation of international law and must be stopped immediately. The images of air strikes, dead and wounded soldiers, destroyed residential buildings, crying children, packed underground stations and floods of refugees that we are seeing are terrible proof of just how important peace and freedom are. These principles form the foundation of our coexistence on the European continent.

It is not just in foreign policy that the idea of progress is being called into question: 2022 marks the first anniversary of Brexit, an event that some see as a step backwards. What are your thoughts on the decision in terms of the future viability of the EU?

Brexit is and remains an historic mistake. Right from the start, the main aim was to minimise any negative consequences. There are no winners of Brexit, only losers. At the same time, the exit process has brought the EU 27 closer together. No one wants to follow the UK.

The new Trade and Cooperation Agreement provides a solid and legally secure basis for our future partnership. It is unprecedented in its scope and goes far beyond a traditional free trade agreement. As the European Union, we would have liked the British government to have been even more ambitious with regard to our future cooperation, as there are some important policy areas that are not covered in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, such as institutional cooperation in foreign and security policy. Despite the current challenges we are seeing in the practical implementation of the contractual agreements, particularly the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, the EU is and remains closely linked to the United Kingdom. This country is our neighbour, an important trade partner and a reliable ally in NATO, OSCE, the United Nations Security Council, the G7 and G20 and on the Council of Europe.

In today’s complex circumstances, where is the EU leading the way and where is there a need for action?

The European Union is an international trading power and the largest donor in international development cooperation. We can be proud of that. The EU has contractual relations with more than 70 countries in the form of economic partnership agreements, free trade agreements and treaties of association. This broad network allows us to expand our diplomatic and economic engagement around the world, to set global standards, to drive the fight against climate change and to overcome the pandemic.

The challenges of the 21st century require more EU engagement on the global stage – not less. Europe needs to be bigger when it comes to the big issues. For example, the Common Foreign and Security Policy needs to be stronger, more efficient and more effective. The European Union also needs to position itself as a leader in the fight against climate change. This is something we are already doing. We have set some ambitious targets for ourselves with the European Green Deal and the Climate Law. It is important to align ecological goals with the economic reality and global competition. Climate policy must not become a regulatory competitive disadvantage for our businesses – it should be a starting point for sustainable, innovative and exportable solutions. Africa offers a lot of opportunities in this respect, provided that we view our neighbouring continent as an equal partner. Africa and Europe are pursuing the same goal: We want sustainable national economies and future-proof jobs. We must therefore improve cooperation between the European and African economies and create better framework conditions for investment, as well as for the development and deployment of new technology.

Where will the EU be in ten years’ time?

Young people encourage me. This generation is more pro-European and more mobile than any generation that came before them. We have EU programmes like Erasmus+, DiscoverEU and the European Solidarity Corps to thank for that as well. The temporary closure of borders during the pandemic and the war in the east has shown this generation how important the fight for peace and for European understanding and unity really is. There is only one future for the European continent – and that’s in a united Europe.

The interview was conducted by Johanna Fleger.

David McAllister was born on 12 January 1971 in Berlin. He is married and has two daughters. Between 1991 and 1995, David McAllister studied law at Leibniz University Hannover and passed the first state examination in law. After completing his traineeship at Celle higher regional court, he took the second state examination in 1998 and has been a lawyer ever since. He joined the CDU in 1988. From 2008 to 2016, he was Chair of the CDU in Lower Saxony. He was a member of Lower Saxony state parliament until 2014, where he served as Chair of the CDU group from 2003 to 2010 and Minister-President of Lower Saxony from 2010 to 2013. David McAllister has been a member of the European Parliament since 2014. He is the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Co-Chair of the UK Contact Group. He is also Vice President of the European People’s Party (EPP).