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Speech by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel bidding farewell to H.E. Philippe Etienne, outgoing French Ambassador to Germany

01.06.2017

Ambassador Etienne,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Colleagues,
Distinguished guests,

Today, we are honouring and bidding farewell to not only a great French diplomat, but also a great friend of Germany and Europe.

Ambassador,

Some time ago, there was a debate, at least here in Germany, about whether there is still any reason to employ ambassadors in European member states.

Important issues – so the argument went – were debated directly by the capitals anyway, or in Brussels.

You, dear Etienne, are clear proof that this theory is totally mistaken. For, now more than ever, we need people like you who can build bridges in Europe, so that we can truly understand what is happening in neighbouring countries, and why it is happening.

Dear Etienne, you were one of these people, an interpreter between France and Germany – and you interpreted in both directions! For this, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

You truly do know our country.

Because today is not the first time you are bidding farewell to Germany. You had a previous “posting” to Germany, as we say in diplomatic jargon.

You took up your work at the French Embassy in the summer of 1985, which back then was still located in Bonn. You did not stay long, though, only two years.

That is why the Federal Foreign Office noted in its diplomatic records, slightly taken aback: “He did not meet the minimum requirement of a two‑year posting.” Meanwhile, you’ve certainly made up for this.

Maybe you cut your stay short because your beloved Blaupunkt radio was stolen out of your car. No one can tell me now that the capital city of Bonn was a quaint and sleepy town!

However, and more to the point, already then you worked on the key issues that our two countries continue to focus on today.

I looked at the files that France and Germany were working on at the time.

East‑West relations, relations with Turkey and, unfortunately, the issue of international terrorism. The chief item on the agenda was Franco‑German cooperation on security policy.

All of these issues continue to demand our attention – more than ever. Well, almost all of them. Because one of the items at the time was “introduction of mobile telephones...”.

Ambassador,

Although the big issues appear similar, you returned to a different Germany when you took up your duties as French Ambassador here in 2014. And you came to a different city – to Berlin.

You are thrilled to be living in Berlin. You love this city, with its vibrant culture, its rich history and its very different neighbourhoods. You love the Berliners, this city’s energy and the fact that there is lots of nature everywhere.

Many envy the fact that your office is on Pariser Platz, right at the heart of the city.

Moreover, the Ambassador’s residence is located on the top floor of the Embassy building.

This means you have a front‑row seat from which to observe everything that goes on at Pariser Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. And there’s lots to see:

New Year’s parties,

the World Cup celebrations (I hope watching the last one was not too painful),

celebrations on the Day of German Unity,

as well as those on 14 July, marking France’s national day,

Berlin Fashion Week,

and, only last week, Barack Obama’s visit during the Kirchentag.

I also will say that, during your tenure as ambassador here, it must at times not have been easy looking at the Brandenburg Gate.

When the Gate was lit up with the Tricolore, this unfortunately signalled that, once again, a barbaric act of terrorism had been committed in France.

However, when thousands of Berliners gathered here at Pariser Platz, as they did after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, then this also sends a strong signal that our societies stand shoulder to shoulder and will jointly defend our values, that we are not alone in the fight against all forms of extremism and marginalisation.

Ambassador, during your time in Germany, you have taken special care to emphasise that it is not only our governments, but also our people, who must remain close and familiar with one another.

These close ties between our societies include the ability to speak each other’s language.

As you’ve put it, “when we are bilingual, we can have an exchange. This is how friendships are formed that can last for many years. This in turn makes it hard for the nationalists to drive us apart.”

I think you’re not only correct, but you’re also setting an example – by speaking truly excellent German!

Ambassador,

This morning, you were awarded the Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit by the Federal President, as a symbol of our special appreciation. This of course occurred in recognition of what you have already done in Germany to promote Franco‑German friendship.

I hope, however, that this award will also be a bridge to the future.

A bridge to your personal future – because you’ve been appointed the new French President’s top foreign policy adviser.

This is a great opportunity for you to be a key actor in the effort to build our common European future.

Because I think that our two countries, France and Germany, must now ensure that Europe will again become a unified continent that is capable of action.

For this to happen, two things are necessary:

First, Europe must become unified in terms of a strong and fully operational foreign and security policy. Europe’s opinion must carry more weight in the world.

Second, this means we must finally resolve our great EU‑internal conflicts, especially concerning our economic and monetary policy.

We have only a small window of opportunity. Realistically speaking, we have at best the next French and German electoral terms to make Europe future‑proof. Many indicators suggest this is our only chance to do so.

With Macron as French President, we can finally revive the Franco‑German engine of European integration, and begin to move away from politics that merely reacts to crises.

A first step in this cooperation is the upcoming Franco‑German Council of Ministers, which I am currently preparing together with my new French colleague. We should seize this opportunity to take specific steps in terms of our joint efforts in and for Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are losing a great French Ambassador to Berlin.

But we are pleased to be gaining a new friend of Germany at the Élysée.

So, dear Mr. Etienne: Merci beaucoup, et à bientôt!

Thank you.

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