Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle opening the conference: “Europe – New Chance” organised by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry


In his opening speech at the conference “Neue Chance Europa” (Europe – New Chance) organised by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Berlin, Foreign Minister Westerwelle urges his audience to open their ears to good news about Europe.

-- Translation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,

Minister Westerwelle addressing a packed audience at the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry
Minister Westerwelle addressing a packed audience at the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry© AA

Just a few months ago, the world was looking anxiously towards Europe, the “sick man”. For weeks the euro has again been rising against the emerging economies’ currencies. In the first quarter the eurozone’s economy returned to growth for the first time in a year and a half. This was thanks not only to Germany and France, but also to countries like Portugal, where the reforms are beginning to bite. We need to learn again how to take note of good news as well as bad.

The German economy is playing a huge part. Germany is doing better than it has for a long time. Unemployment in our country is at its lowest for 20 years. Youth unemployment is gratifyingly low. We are exporting more than ever. Increasing domestic demand is driving new growth which is also benefiting our neighbours.

We’re not yet out of the woods, but there are increasing indications that the worst is behind us. The three-pronged approach of solidarity, consolidation and new growth through increased competitiveness is bringing success. The ambitious reforms being undertaken by our neighbours deserve our respect and our support. Those countries which stick to the agreed reforms can count on Germany’s continuing solidarity.

Politics is more than just what government does. I welcome the German business sector’s tremendous engagement in helping to overcome the crisis. Similarly, the Chambers of Commerce and their partners are also making an impressive contribution.

Over a thousand German companies are active in Spain alone, creating three and a half million jobs there. In Portugal, companies like Bosch, Continental, Leica, SAP, Siemens and Volkswagen are investing huge sums in new production plants and service centres. In Greece the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau – Reconstruction Loan Corporation is supporting new entrepreneurship.

Together we want to keep up this commitment. And in doing so we are especially keen to give young people some prospect in life, with new jobs and increased opportunities in the dual system of vocational training. This is not altruism. And it is more than mere European patriotism. Europe is in Germany’s interest. Germany will not remain strong in the long term if Europe is doing badly.

Germany is doing well. Rarely before has our country enjoyed greater confidence in Europe and the world. Rarely has our country exerted a greater attraction. This opens up a great opportunity for our economy, our society and for diplomacy. We must not allow our position of relative strength to make us think we have the right to feel superior.

This crisis has taught us one thing: Europe needs enhanced cooperation in the spheres of economic and financial policy. Efficient institutions, effective decision-making procedures and democratic legitimation – these are the things we need to work on in the coming years. It’s not always just about “more Europe”. We want to build a “better Europe”. One aspect of this is respect for the principle of subsidiarity.

The strategic challenge facing our continent is not the competition among the Europeans. The real competition is between Europe and the world. If we look beyond the shores of our own continent, we see a world undergoing sweeping change. Over the past few years China has grown at a speed that generates the economic strength of Spain every twelve months.

Only if we act together will we Europeans be able to uphold our way of live based on freedom and our model of the social market economy. Europe is more than a single market and single currency. Europe is a community with a shared culture and common destiny.

We have to stand together with those of like mind. That’s the strategic thinking behind the comprehensive economic agreement with the United States as well.