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Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle opening the first Walter Scheel Forum

04.12.2012

-- Translation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be able to take part in this the first Walter Scheel Forum for German-Russian relations.

Few politicians have had such a positive, profound and durable impact on German-Russian relations as Walter Scheel.

Walter Scheel is one of the Federal Republic of Germany’s truly great statesmen. His “Ostpolitik" from 1969 to 1974 heralded a turning-point in German foreign policy. A European dialogue sprang up across the Cold War borders, which at the time had seemed impregnable.

The conclusion of the “Ostverträge” (Eastern Treaties) laid the foundations for reconciliation and cooperation with Russia and the other states of Eastern Europe.

Looking back now, it all looks quite simple. But the policy was terribly controversial at the time. Some people even regarded it as a betrayal. But Walter Scheel and Willy Brandt, with great persistence and strength of conviction, overcame all resistance.

And history proved them right: Germany’s policy of détente helped pave the way for multilateral cooperation within the CSCE framework.

Recognition of the status quo led to the breaching of the lines dividing Europe. 20 years after the famous “Letter on German Unity”, which bears Walter Scheel’s signature, that unity became reality.

And democracy became established in the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe as well. The European Union enlarged eastwards, and with it the common area of freedom, prosperity and the rule of law. Walter Scheel’s political farsightedness was later borne out by the tangible improvements in the lives of millions of people on our continent.

All the European peoples profited from the end of the East-West conflict, including Russia. The increasing integration of our continent brings Russia, too, greater stability, security and economic opportunities.

However, the vision of a pan-European area has only been partially realized to date. There are still conflicts and dividing lines on our continent. The old bloc-based way of thinking has not yet been completely erased.

Germany is working towards drawing Russia even closer to the EU.

It is not possible to complete the process of European integration in the broader sense without Russia.

Europe cannot grow together without trust. Trust is founded on the European values to which Germany and Russia are committed and which must be reflected in our actions.

The German-Russian intergovernmental consultations in November made it clear:

Our cooperation with Russia today is broad and diverse. Never before have our economies and societies been so closely linked.

Trade between Germany and Russia grew by 30 percent in 2011, reaching a record volume of 75 billion euros. More than 6000 German businesses are active in Russia.

Russia and Germany are strategic partners. That’s why the slogan of the German Russian Year is “Germany and Russia – shaping the future together”.

We have numerous common interests. The fight against international terrorism, for instance, and nuclear non-proliferation are challenges to us both.

We can only resolve the conflicts and crises in the world if we work together. We are pulling in the same direction on Iran. We are working together for peace in the Middle East.

Our partnership for modernization is in the political and economic interest of both sides.

The wide-ranging, intensive exchange between civil society stakeholders in the two countries is essential, and we would like to strengthen it further.

German-Russian legal cooperation is bearing fruit and has become a key element of the partnership for modernization.

Similarly, both countries will benefit from the exchange of experience regarding promotion of the middle class, for which we are currently preparing. A broad, healthy middle class is indispensable as a pillar of society. The middle class links rich and poor. Where a middle class grows up, fairness emerges too.

The intergovernmental consultations also showed:

Close partnership and constructive criticism are not mutually exclusive. The fact that we trust each other is exactly what enables us to engage in a fair and open exchange on controversial topics.

I have talked with Foreign Minister Lavrov about developments in Russia that I find worrying. How to deal with the political opposition and with civil society, respect for freedom of the press and of opinion, respect for artistic freedom: there are areas in which we do not agree. We’re not hiding that.

When it comes to controversial foreign policy issues, like Syria, it makes perfect political sense to keep the lines of communication open between Germany and Russia.

Beyond day-to-day politics, cultural exchange forms a sound tie between Germany and Russia. Over time, we have been able to establish a host of university cooperation agreements, student exchanges and town twinning arrangements.

We would like even more young people from our countries to get to know each other. That’s why Foreign Minister Lavrov and I have agreed to make youth exchanges easier.

There is great interest in the German language in Russia. There are 2.3 million Russians learning German. That’s the second-highest figure worldwide. We are promoting the teaching of German as a foreign language at over 90 Russian schools.

There are 13,000 young Russians studying in Germany. It is the programmes run by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation that make this impressive development possible. That means we have 13,000 enthusiastic ambassadors for our country.

I am delighted with the positive image the Russians are getting of our country. The tremendous interest being shown in the current German-Russian Year is a fine indication of this.

The German-Russian Year, with its 1000 events, is a huge success. At its heart are cultural projects created and implemented in partnership by artists from the two countries.

Art and culture can play a crucial part in a society’s development. The measure of a country’s respect for democracy and human rights is reflected in the way its government treats its artists and intellectuals.

Not least for that reason is the promotion of cultural exchange a fixture in our foreign policy. Cultural relations and education policy is not a niche issue, but a central element of German foreign policy.

The exhibition “Russians and Germans – 1000 Years of Art, History and Culture” opened a few weeks ago in Berlin’s Neues Museum. The exhibition tells the story of the ups and downs in German-Russian relations – fascination and attraction, rivalry and exchange, war and peace.

There is one thing in particular of which this exhibition on our nations’ chequered history again reminds us: peace and prosperity have reigned on our continent only when the Europeans and Russians were open to each other.

Focusing on the strategic opportunities inherent in cooperation with Russia does not mean that we can’t engage in a frank and sometimes critical dialogue. What we need now is more openness and exchange, not less. The Walter Scheel Forum is an ideal format for that.

It’s not always an easy road, but it’s the right one.