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"More initiative is needed"

Sigmar Gabriel, former German government minister, calls for greater European responsibility during an online discussion at ESB Business School

Quo vadis Europe? - On December 15, more than 300 students, professors and employees of ESB Business School at Reutlingen University listened spellbound to the words of former Foreign Minister and Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel. The former German deputy chancellor is now chairman of the Atlantik-Brücke (Atlantic Bridge) association, which promotes cooperation between Europe and the United States. Gabriel spoke primarily about Europe's role in a world of change and transitions. In this context, he called for greater European initiative.

Right at the beginning of his talk, which was moderated by ESB Professor Stephan Seiter and four ESB Business School students - Julie Biem, Nils Zarn, Leonard Wolter, and Simon Nagel - Sigmar Gabriel made it clear that the signs are pointing to upheaval. “I believe we are living in a time in which we are experiencing a tectonic plate shift in the world order,” he said. He said it was no unique phenomenon. Using the example of the former global trading city of Venice, he outlined what happens if leaders do not react promptly to such changes.

According to Gabriel, the U.S. has long understood that the poles are shifting. To prevent imperial overreach, the U.S. now tends to focus on the Indo-Pacific and China. Gabriel said that “600 years of Europe-centred world affairs have come to an end.” The U.S. is no longer willing or able to play the role of the world's policeman, he said.

Gabriel sees Europe and the Europeans in an ambivalent position due to their long-standing focus on the USA, adding that European states would therefore have to show much more initiative, take responsibility for their own immediate neighbourhood and consider their common values and interests. Gabriel expects a more far-sighted course to be charted by a self-confident Europe.

In the concluding Q&A session, Gabriel returned to this topic. Addressing the possibilities of what’s being called the new Silk Road, he expressed a wish for a project of similar dimensions from the European Union. In this way, he said, China's efficiency could be matched by Europe's transparency.

Professor Christoph Binder, Dean of ESB Business School, sees practical lectures like Sigmar Gabriel's as a crucial building block in studies at ESB. “Mr. Gabriel's words opened up completely new perspectives for many participants, for which we are very grateful. Especially since we want to our students to think internationally, it is important to sensitize them to upcoming global changes and challenges,” he said.

Sigmar Gabriel has been chairman of the Atlantik-Brücke association since 2019. The primary goal of the non-profit group is to intensify cooperation between Europe and Germany on the one hand and between Europe and the United States on the other. Atlantik-Brücke is committed to multilateral solutions, open societies and free trade between nations. Originally, Sigmar Gabriel was scheduled to visit the ESB Business School's Economic Forum last spring. Unfortunately, that event could not take place due to the pandemic.