Welcome

Inaugural speech by Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on 27 January 2017

Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,
Esteemed colleagues,
Frank‑Walter,
Ms Wallat,

Thank you very much for the warm reception for my family and for myself here at the Federal Foreign Office.

I’m sure that for very many of you the departure of Frank-Walter Steinmeier today from the post of German Foreign Minister is, on the one hand, a source of great regret and, on the other perhaps, a source of pride.

Regret because he really was a brilliant Foreign Minister who gave back to the Federal Foreign Office the status within the Federal Government to which this Office is entitled given its importance. And not only within the Government but also publicly and internationally.

In the oath of office, the Minister declares, “I swear that I will dedicate my efforts to the well‑being of the German people, promote their welfare, protect them from harm”.

I believe that only a few Foreign Ministers of the Federal Republic have contributed to this welfare and to our country’s international reputation in such a convincing way as Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Above all, this was due to his persistent, unwavering and tireless efforts to contain conflicts and to make peace possible.

I remember media reports in which commentators asked: What do they actually do? They just talk. The authors forgot the conclusion drawn by the book “The Sleepwalkers”, namely that not talking enough is dangerous.

When the Federal Foreign Office takes its leave today of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, it does so with great appreciation for his achievements, both political and personal.

However, that’s most likely not the only reason you’re so sorry to see him go. For he had an inimitable way of treating staff. He was people‑oriented and cooperative, never talked down to anyone and always had a sense of humour. There’s one quality in particular I’ve noticed over many years: whenever you go to him, you always have the impression that he’s been waiting for you all day and that nothing is more important to him at that moment than having a good conversation with you. And that was even true when it was absolutely clear that he was under great strain and enormous time pressure.

It’s these skills, along with his aptitude for precision work, which have gained him the support of those around him in all of his posts to date – certainly also here at the Federal Foreign Office.

As I said, however, perhaps you’re also a little proud that in all likelihood “your boss” will be the next President of the Federal Republic of Germany. For without the excellent work in two Federal Cabinets, also at the Federal Chancellery, which – after all – you as his staff made possible, he would not now be on the brink of entering Schloss Bellevue.

Calling to mind a headline from the Bildzeitung, you couldn’t now say, “We are Pope” but you could say, “We are Federal President”. I think you’re entitled to be a little proud of that.

And I’m certain that foreign policy will remain one of his passions as Federal President.

The time is very much “out of joint”, as Frank-Walter Steinmeier used to say. You can see that he knows the classics. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the quote continues with the lament, “O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!”

Being a modest man, he would never have quoted that bit. But it is indeed the case that the German Foreign Minister’s job during the last few years has been to counter the dangers of many different conflicts.

Germany’s standing as an anchor of stability and a reliable partner today is due in no small measure to Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The fact that many people are convinced he’s the ideal Federal President has a lot to do with this. I, too, would like to take this opportunity to express my respect – and to sincerely thank a man who has been a comrade-in-arms for many years.

Frank, I thank you for the time we’ve spent working together.

I don’t know if you remember. But we’ve known each other since the days back in Lower Saxony. You were the media affairs officer in Gerhard Schröder’s State Chancellery, who by the way has always maintained that he employed you and Brigitte Zypries because you were the only ones who contradicted him during your interviews.

I still remember drafting Lower Saxony’s budget under the apple tree in my garden in Goslar along with you and Brigitte Zypries. You and I were in shorts. It says a lot for Brigitte Zypries that she could cope with that.

I want to express my sincere thanks for everything we’ve managed to achieve during the last 20 years. I’ve learned much from you. But, above, all, I wish you a steady hand, stamina and good health for the great office that lies ahead. All the best!

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m very much aware that you were probably expecting a lot of things, but not Sigmar Gabriel as your new boss.

In my personal experience, however, you can get used to such ideas in a relatively short space of time.

And you may rest assured that I’m not nearly as bad as they say in the papers. Except for the ban on entering Iran which the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran threatened to slap on me after I pointed out Israel’s right to exist, none of my trips to any of the difficult countries in Arabia, Asia or Russia on the one hand, or Poland on the other, resulted in diplomatic relations being broken off with Germany.

So I’m quite confident that things won’t be as bad as some sections of the media have predicted. Now some people will think: not as bad is bad enough. But, after all, you’re here to prevent that!

I think we’ll manage. Part of the reason I’m so keen to get things right is that I know the true message of your speech, Frank, was: “Don’t do anything stupid! Don’t destroy my legacy!” You can be certain that I aim to work with you here at the Federal Foreign Office to carry on tackling the challenges facing us.

No, seriously: during my stint as Economics Minister I benefited greatly from the assistance and guidance of the Federal Foreign Office. Representing Germany’s economic interests and, at the same time, not sidelining human rights issues isn’t always easy, but it was necessary. It was thanks to the unwavering support of the Federal Foreign Office that I found the right way and was also able to strike the right tone.

Our Ministries also worked well together on other difficult issues. And given the new protectionism, not only in the US, it was certainly especially important that Europe set a very different example and that it has laid down modern standards in world trade with the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada. That, too, is the result of good cooperation.

In the weeks following the election of Donald Trump, I asked myself what the world would have said about Germany and Europe if we hadn’t managed to conclude this agreement with Canada. And how little credibility our calls for an end to protectionism would have today if we Europeans hadn’t even been able to conclude an agreement with Canada – a country which is more European than some EU member states.

I’m therefore aware of this Ministry’s outstanding quality and I know that I can rely on it. I would be very grateful if I could count on your expertise and dedication so that we can steer our country through troubled waters in what are certainly not easy times.

We should concern ourselves as little as possible with the fact that this is a federal election year. For the times as so rough that it’s essential that foreign policy is not focused on the election evening of 24 September but, rather, on our country’s medium and long‑term interests.

I’m therefore especially dependent on your expertise and advice. I’m counting on it and I’m grateful for it. And I firmly believe that you will give it to me.

As you know, I will continue to act as the Federal Chancellor’s number two – as Deputy Chancellor. My remit includes political coordination with the Federal Chancellery, a task which is now coming here from the Federal Economics Ministry. In the forthcoming budget negotiations, that won’t necessarily be a bad thing for the Federal Foreign Office. State Secretary Dr Sontowski and his team will be transferring to the Federal Foreign Office to deal with this task. He certainly earned his reputation at the Federal Ministry of Finance. And that should not change.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

Despite this being an election year, much is expected of our foreign policy. For a world which is so much in flux poses a challenge for us.

I believe we’re witnessing a recalibration of the world at this moment. What stands out in my own mind is the rise of the new economic powers in Asia, which don’t feel the need to ask us what share of world trade belongs to them.

And when we host the Digital Affairs Ministers for the first time in April as part of Germany’s G20 Presidency, we do so in the awareness that the era of digital technology is changing our industrial model of prosperity and has thrown up new questions about common rules for fair competition and cyber security.

I’m saying this because alongside the well‑known changes which are unsettling us there are very different changes taking place. We in Europe are diminishing in terms of numbers, while Africa, Asia and Latin America are growing. In economic terms, the balance is shifting, the technological balance is changing and, of course, we’re also – unfortunately – witnessing a recalibration in the question of liberal and social democracy around the world. Authoritarian answers are on the rise and liberal and social democracies are, at the very least, on the defensive. Domestic and external affairs can no longer be separated in our interconnected world. This world offers a great many opportunities, but there are also many conflicts, sources of friction and threats.

Refugee issues and migration, terrorism, wars and conflicts, as well as climate change, environmental disasters, cyber attacks – the international challenges are growing.

So is the resistance of the embattled middle classes, who see these trends as unacceptable. There are calls for isolation, for countries to go it alone, for them to withdraw into their national shells. People fear losing control over their lives and they are attracted by movements which have reverted to nationalist answers and want to create the impression that these answers would enable ordinary citizens to take back control. As we know, this is a big mistake and that’s why it’s so important that we combine domestic and external affairs.

At any rate, the cornerstones of Germany’s foreign policy are more important today than ever before: Europe – and, no matter how difficult this may be for some – the transatlantic partnership, multilateralism.

Foreign policy today means conducting international politics aimed at creating more equitable and stable globalisation with more winners and fewer losers. We will only generate more security if we strengthen global justice on a durable basis. I’ll never forget that just a few days after the devastating attacks of 9/11, I took part in an ecumenical service where a Catholic bishop, Josef Homeyer, said: “Those who want to contain the situation once more must remember that globalisation must mean justice for all and not wealth for the few.”

Global justice and international security are two sides of the same coin. My work in this office will continue to be guided by the idea that both must grow in importance at an equal pace.

We have an answer for this: Europe. Even though it’s in a difficult state today, Europe remains the biggest civilisation project of the 20th century. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to preserve a project built by people who suffered great hardship. Listening to some of the moaning about the difficulties facing Europe, I’ve asked myself time and again how it must have been for the French President, for the Belgians, Dutch, Luxembourgers and Italians to invite Germany to join them at the European table just a few years after a horrendous genocide. How much courage these men and women must have had, for this decision can’t have been especially popular among ordinary citizens. I believe we need this courage again today and there’s every reason to have it. For in no other part of the world do people – despite all our tribulations – enjoy more democracy or live in greater security than they do on the European continent.

So much is at stake in Europe this year. Indeed, the future of European integration as a whole is at stake in the presidential elections in France. We can’t remain neutral here, for this will affect us all! We will have to fight for this Europe. That is one of the reasons why my first trip as Foreign Minister will take me to Paris tomorrow.

And I’m certain that Europe will be a main focus of my work in the coming months.

The close transatlantic partnership is another fundamental principle of German foreign policy. Regardless of the tone of the comments we are hearing from the US: we must remain oriented towards maintaining this principle!

That’s why I’m looking forward to meeting Rex Tillerson as soon as possible. I’m keen to hear his views on the challenges we face on both sides of the Atlantic.

Our hand should remain outstretched. We have to offer cooperation in a spirit of respect based on the values which have shaped transatlantic relations during the last few decades: openness, honesty and defence of the ideas on which our constitutions are founded: democracy, freedom and the rule of law. And always responsibility for one another.

However, we will have to show self‑confidence and fill the space which may be created if the United States turns away from international cooperation and in international trade. We will have to place the partnership with China on a new and fair footing, offer Europe and Germany as an alternative to the ASEAN states following the termination of the TPP trade agreement and use the Indo-German intergovernmental consultations and the G20 summit to present our country and Europe as a still fair but self‑assured partner. All of this will open up ground which we have to enter and use with determination and resolve.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let’s enter into this new chapter in a constructive spirit!

You, my colleagues, demonstrate in your day‑to‑day work the effectiveness and diversity of the instruments which Germany uses in foreign policy and which we can employ to move things forward.

– Germany is one of the world’s biggest donors of humanitarian aid today.

– Germany is leading the way when it comes to fostering stability and post‑conflict peacebuilding.

– Where political communication is lacking, Germany builds bridges through an active cultural relations and education policy.

– Germany is therefore a respected and constructive mediator in conflict management.

In all of these fields we know that we cannot resolve anything by going it alone. By contrast, we can achieve a lot if we work together.

That was illustrated not least by the work of my predecessor. Let us build on that.

Thank you very much for your warm welcome.