Willkommen auf den Seiten des Auswärtigen Amts
I am delighted to be speaking to you today at the opening of the 12th German-Nordic-Baltic Forum 2020. This year’s forum is taking place under the special circumstances of a global pandemic that were impossible to predict just a year ago. These circumstances have shaped our joint challenges and also the priorities of the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union. And, I think we can all agree, they will most probably shape also those of the Presidencies of our Trio partners Portugal and Slovenia.
Because of the pandemic, we not only had to adjust our priorities, but also to reorganise planned events. I am therefore extremely grateful to the Institute for European Politics and the Finnish Institute of International Affairs for organising today’s online event: I am very happy to be able to discuss with you from afar.
The pandemic has accentuated the competition between major global powers and, as a consequence, has highlighted the need for Europe to be more resilient and independent. We must strengthen our healthcare systems, diversify our supply chains and minimise dependencies in particularly critical areas. In particular, we need to ensure the availability of essential goods such as protective equipment and medicine.
The fact that, in July, the EU member states came together to agree an unprecedented financial package to tackle the economic and social consequences of the pandemic gives cause for optimism. The package consists of the next multiannual financial framework and the recovery plan Next Generation EU. This agreement is an important manifestation of EU solidarity. This joint effort will help all member states to alleviate the challenges posed by COVID-19 and at the same time sets the course for the future of Europe. The current negotiations with the European Parliament are complex, but I can see a spirit of common purpose on all sides. As our Presidency motto puts it: Together for Europe’s recovery.
Although we are still in the middle of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, we should already start to learn the lessons from this crisis. We have to make sure our economies recover in a sustainable manner, in line with the Green Deal and with a focus on social cohesion. Even though COVID-19 is putting our economies, our health and our social life under considerable strain, with regard to climate change, we should use it as an opportunity: a chance to foster the green transition of our economies, a chance for a real ecological turnaround that reconciles economic growth with environmental needs. It is important to stress that this is not about an either-or decision between the Green Deal and recovery programmes. It is essential that the EU remains on track to achieve substantial emissions reductions by 2030 and actively supports the goals set by the Paris climate agreement. We need to act now for the future.
Especially in these difficult times, it is important not to lose sight of our common goals and values. And, for me, the fact that we are managing to make progress on important issues even in times of crisis is yet another cause for optimism. Especially in times like these, when democracy and the rule of law are coming under pressure, Europe needs to defend these fundamental values to protect our common democratic achievements past and present. The new format of the Rule of Law Dialogue, based on the Commission’s Rule of Law Report, is a major step forward in regaining a common understanding of the rule of law in the EU. With the first horizontal debate in October, and with the exchange on individual country chapters, which are due to start on November 10th, hopefully, a precedent will be set. We are looking forward to consolidating it together with our Trio partners.
What we also need in this changing world is resilient societies – both online and offline. And it is paramount that in our Union of common values, the EU preserves and even strengthens its commitment to the rule of law in all of its member states – an issue very dear to my heart.
The EU is also facing an increasing number of external challenges. Only together can we be a strong advocate for European values and successfully face these challenges on the global stage. And here Europe must not allow itself to be divided. Recent developments in relation to China, Russia and Turkey, but also the US, are testing our capacity to act and will continue to do so in the future. We therefore have to improve our capacity to act together on foreign and security policy issues. Furthermore, we need to accelerate the building of our technological sovereignty and digital transformation, as the pandemic has shown. Today’s online conference is a perfect example of the degree of innovation we need in shaping this change.
These are only some of our key priorities that are also part of today’s discussion and that we will be working on until the end of the year – and beyond,with our Trio partners Portugal and Slovenia. Let us not see this crisis as a setback. Rather, let us view it as a wake-up call to stand up for our European approach to current challenges, based on our common values and led by our joint interests.
I am happy that we are sitting (virtually) together now and are able to discuss all these important issues. Together, we will be able to find solutions. We need to set the course for the future now. Twelve years of the German-Nordic-Baltic Forum is quite a legacy; this just underlines the importance of these valuable exchange formats. I am convinced that an in-depth exchange between Nordic, Baltic, and German representatives will bring positive and progressive ideas to feed into this debate on the future of a united and resilient Europe. I hope for new ideas and inspiration from your discussion today and I very much look forward to learning more about your perspectives.