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Speech by Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe, at the Berlin Security Conference Europe at risk – what are our answers to common threats?

29.11.2016

-- Translation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,

“Put together, five or six predicaments make up a pretty tolerable state of affairs,” Voltaire once said. Now, as we know, the French are rarely wrong. But would Voltaire still come to the same conclusion today if he looked at the world in 2016? I have my doubts about that.

There are more and more predicaments, but with the best will in the world, the state of affairs cannot be described as tolerable. On the contrary! Wherever one looks, the world in 2016 is characterised by crises, conflicts and uncertainty.

Russia is calling fundamental principles of the European peaceful order into question through its illegal annexation of Crimea and its actions in eastern Ukraine.

Problems such as Islamist terrorism, as well as migration, refugee flows and displacement, have arrived here in Europe from Libya, Syria and Iraq.

The US election result creates great uncertainty for transatlantic relations. This result is an historic watershed. In the future, will NATO members only be able to count on solidarity if they pay up?

However, uncertainty is not only the order of the day in other parts of the world – we are also experiencing it here in Europe. In voting to leave the EU, the UK put European integration into reverse.

All over Europe, populists and nationalists are on the rise. They are spreading a web of fear, lies and half-truths across Europe with the aim of redefining fundamental political tenets.

In the coming months, elections will be held in Austria, France, the Netherlands and Germany – and here, too, right-wing populists may gain further ground.

There are also many unanswered questions in Europe as regards security, some of which I would like to address this morning. If I were a populist, this speech would soon be over. But I have to tell you that unfortunately there are no simple answers to all these questions on security in and around Europe, as some people would have us believe. On the contrary, the situation is actually very complex and complicated.

Closing the borders, breaking off relations, leaving NATO – anyone who thinks that this is how responsible foreign and security policy works has not understood the world of 2016.

Perhaps I will not be able to provide an exhaustive answer to all of the questions raised by this brief tour d’horizon on security policy – but I am definitely sure of some things and I am guided by certain principles. I would like to share these things with you today in the form of four hypotheses.

Firstly, the current threats and crises can only be contained and overcome with reliable partners. The EU is our life insurance policy in these turbulent times of crisis.

It is currently confronted with a higher threat level and new security risks. There are more external crises than before and they have moved closer to us geographically. The fact is that no country in Europe can meet these global challenges on its own – even a country as large as Germany.

In the future, we Europeans will only be heard on the world stage if we speak to an even greater extent with one voice. The EU is our life insurance policy in these turbulent times marked by globalisation and crises in our neighbourhood.

We cannot allow ourselves to become paralysed by anxiety about the state of the world. Now in particular, we need responsible European foreign policy. As regards foreign and security policy, the EU cannot allow itself to simply stand on the sidelines and do nothing.

The past months in particular have brought home to us that we cannot just seal ourselves off from problems in other parts of the world by building walls and fences. Refugee flows do not stop at national borders – they keep moving right up to our doorstep.

War and terrorism also catch up with us sooner or later when we have to send soldiers to the trouble spots or when terrorists unleash violence and destruction in our midst in Europe.

This is why now, more than ever, the EU must take on responsibility for peace and security in the world as a crisis manager and mediator and, yes, if necessary, in a military capacity. We would be well advised to use our comprehensive definition of security as a benchmark and to do so with self-confidence. After all, it combines political, diplomatic, economic, social, ecological and military aspects in an intelligent way.

Incidentally, we have the support of a large majority of the people on this. Two-thirds of Europeans want “more Europe” in foreign and security policy. As many as 74 percent are in favour of additional steps to further develop the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). We need to make use of this positive mood. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and to create a better Europe, a Europe that is more capable of taking action. As regards external security, we have laid an important foundation for this in adopting a new security strategy.

Times of uncertainty also always mean times of self-reflection. What are we prepared to deliver in terms of security policy? How do we want to get involved? And what can we do? In Washington, too, the answer will be clear to the new US Administration when it asks itself who is more reliable than its European partners across the entire spectrum of common interests.

However, one thing is of particular importance to me in this context. In our security and defence policy, it is not just a matter of interests, but above all of our stance and shared values. Democracy, the rule of law, tolerance towards minorities of all kinds, freedom of the press and freedom of opinion are all key hallmarks of Europe.

We need to include these shared values in the CSFP and CSDP in order to make the world a safer and fairer place. We need to put these values into practice every day in the EU and to defend them against attacks so that we are credible when we call on third countries to adopt them. The EU is a community of shared values – and this is also why the German Government made very clear after Donald Trump’s election that our future cooperation must always be based on the foundation of our common values. Transatlantic relations are underpinned by values, not power.

Secondly, the topics of security and defence remain at the very top of the European agenda even after the Brexit referendum.

Until recently, I could not have imagined that the UK electorate would actually vote for the country to leave the EU. Now we have to deal with this difficult result and its consequences. There is no doubt that Brexit will be painful. The UK was always one of our particularly close EU partners, especially in the field of foreign and security policy.

So, what now, Europe? Do we all sink into depression now? On this question, I advise we remain calm and do not allow ourselves to be paralysed by shock. After all, the Brexit vote will scarcely have a direct impact on the further development of European foreign and security policy in the short term. On the contrary, we are following the path to closer security and defence policy cooperation with even greater determination.

Only a few days after the Brexit referendum Federica Mogherini presented her concept for a global strategy, with which the EU aims to redefine its foreign and security policy ambitions. At the Foreign Affairs Council on 14 November, the ministers welcomed the 13 concrete implementation steps suggested in the plan for the fields of security and defence. By the way, the UK Foreign Secretary was also present at this meeting.

There is also no doubt that we want to continue working closely with the UK on security and defence policy issues. There will certainly have to be new formats and forums for this, but it is in the interests of both sides that we continue discussing matters in depth with our British friends.

The priority now is to organise the process for one of the largest EU Member States to leave the Union in a way that does not harm Europe and at the same time makes the EU more capable of taking action.

This is the aim of the road map agreed a few weeks ago in Bratislava by the Heads of State and Government of the other 27 EU Member States. This road map includes important tasks that we want to work through step by step in the coming months. And these tasks also include external security and defence. We agreed that we want to strengthen our CSDP cooperation further, partly because the difficult current geopolitical environment leaves us with no other choice.

But no matter how determined we are to further European security and defence policy despite Brexit, it is also self-evident that times of crisis are not necessarily the best time for special requests. Naturally, we need courageous ideas.

For example, a joint European army remains a goal for the future, but is hardly something we can achieve in the short term. Our initial focus should therefore be on what is absolutely necessary and politically feasible in order to ensure that in the future the EU will be taken even more seriously as a security partner.

Thirdly, Germany and France are working hand in hand to foster security in Europe.

As you all know, important elections will take place in the two countries next year. Unfortunately, the crises and conflicts in the world do not make allowances for election dates. We simply cannot allow a situation whereby the two largest EU partners are unavailable or incapable of taking action for months as regards foreign policy during the election campaign and the period when a government is being formed.

In these difficult times of crisis, the Franco-German partnership is needed now more than ever as a driving force for Europe. This has a long tradition, especially as regards European security policy.

However, very different national traits and traditions can be seen at times in these fundamental issues of national sovereignty. For example, as Germans we need to explain to our French friends why we are so reluctant to get involved in military missions abroad. Scepticism about such missions remains widespread among the German population.

The lesson from this – that is, an army mandated by parliament – sometimes means our solutions are cumbersome.

But the public debate in the German Bundestag creates the necessary legitimacy in our country for military missions. The fact that German soldiers are currently serving in 14 missions around the world aimed at safeguarding peace and stability shows that this approach works well. I often ask our French partners, who take a different approach, to understand our way of doing things.

In recent years, we have always been able to count on one thing, namely that although there are often differences of opinion at the start, the political willingness to overcome them and to reach a joint position usually prevails in the end in Paris and Berlin. It is this willingness to compromise that makes Franco-German cooperation so valuable for Europe. After all, once Germany and France have reached agreement, this generally also serves as a good basis for pan-European understanding.

When it comes to security and defence, our governments work together constructively and in a spirit of mutual trust. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault made suggestions in June on how a strong Europe can assert itself in an uncertain world. The two ministers called for a European security agenda. Our ministries of defence also made concrete suggestions in September. Our coordinated positions helped to further consensus in the EU. Moreover, we also work very closely with the Italian Government on security issues.

The solidarity shown by Germany at the time of the greatest terrorist threat in France shows how vital Franco-German cooperation has become. Following the terrible terrorist attacks of 13 November 2015, France asked its EU partners for military support.

Germany took on responsibility as one of the largest contributor of troops and by taking on the command of EUTM Mali last year. This does not only ease the burden on our French friends – it also helps to foster security in Europe and thus in our own country.

Fourthly, NATO remains the basis of its members’ collective defence.

We expressly support realistic and concrete steps towards a European security agenda. The implementation plan on security and defence by the High Representative of the Union was adopted on 14 November 2016 and is due to be endorsed by the European Council in December.

However, the EU needs better civil and military capacities in order to be able to take on CSDP tasks on its own. And in this context, it needs to develop “strategic autonomy”. But, the aim is not to make transatlantic cooperation superfluous. By no means does strengthening CSDP structures imply weakening NATO.

On the contrary, the EU and NATO’s action must complement each other. That is the message of the EU-NATO Declaration from the Warsaw Summit in July. Mutual defence is and will remain NATO’s core task. However, joint deterrence and dealing with hybrid threats provide an opportunity to raise the strategic partnership between NATO and the EU to a new level.

All of this makes it clear that we need NATO as the basis of our collective security and do not want to abandon it. NATO is also the outcome of our transatlantic community of shared values.

The concerns of our partners in Poland and the Baltic states about the future of this alliance show how important it still is today. I trust that this viewpoint will ultimately be shared by the new US Administration.

If we Europeans want to live in peace and security, we must take on responsibility and do what is necessary. We need to speak with one voice. Decisions are not only made in Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen or Riga – increasingly and primarily, they are made in Brussels. The EU Member States must work more closely together on security and defence. We need autonomous capacities, particularly as regards crisis management. We do not want to replace NATO, but rather to supplement and strengthen it. Germany and France are setting a good example courageously, innovatively and in a spirit of solidarity.

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