The heads of Germany’s missions abroad meet once a year to discuss current foreign policy issues. The focus of this year’s Ambassadors Conference was “A Fresh Look at German Foreign Policy”. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened the conference together with the former High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union Javier Solana and Swiss President Didier Burkhalter.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier opened the 13th Ambassadors Conference at the Federal Foreign Office on 25 August with a broad debate about the future of German foreign policy. The former High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union and former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana as well as the Swiss President Didier Burkhalter were invited to the opening panel discussion, which was chaired by ZDF television presenter Claus Kleber.
“A Fresh Look at German Foreign Policy” is what we need now
The title of this year’s conference, “A Fresh Look at German Foreign Policy”, sums up the approach we need to take in times of crisis, said Steinmeier. In his opening statement, Burkhalter also stated that he was following the “Review Process” regarding the future of German foreign policy and the debate about taking on more international responsibility with interest.
In addition to neutrality and solidarity, responsibility is one of Switzerland’s foreign policy principles. Neutrality, he added, is not a question of doing nothing, but rather synonymous with a commitment to peace. The OSCE, currently chaired by Switzerland, is the ideal framework for translating these principles into reality, he said.
Javier Solana likewise underscored how important the discussion about the direction of German and European foreign policy is: since leaving his post at the EU in 2009, he has observed how the world is becoming increasingly fragmented. Panel chairperson Claus Kleber pointed out that the German Foreign Minister had been very much “thrown in at the deep end” of a veritable “witches’ cauldron” of foreign policy issues when he took office.
Active foreign policy as an absolute necessity
Steinmeier himself then began his keynote speech on German foreign policy by saying that there are so many foreign policy crises at the moment that he hardly knew which one to address first. With this in mind, he first talked about an object that he stumbled across recently, which for him symbolised the situation in western societies: the so-called “anti-homeless spike”, which is increasingly being put outside luxury apartments in European capitals and which, to his mind, stands for a “feeling of permanent threat” and the “lack of confidence” in our remedies.
After nine months of crisis policy, he added, one thing in particular has become abundantly clear to him: “An active German foreign policy isn’t simply something which is nice to have but, rather, an absolute necessity!” International crises are closer to us than ever before, he continued, which is why Germany should dare to shoulder greater responsibility internationally. Many partners are demanding a level of engagement from Germany that is commensurate with its expanded status, he said. The Foreign Minister continued:
Today, an intelligent and active foreign policy is no longer merely an option but an obligation. It’s a must in the light of the responsibility we share with our partners and, what is more, it’s in our own interest in this dangerous world.
New tools for diplomacy
In these times of crisis, we must resist the temptation to batten down the hatches, said Steinmeier. Instead, we “need to have the courage to play an active part in areas that are in line with our responsibility”.
Moreover, the Foreign Minister made it clear that calls for “more responsibility” on the part of Germany in the world are not an argument for embarking on military adventures, but are more about “creating new and better tools for diplomacy”.
Europe is still the hub of foreign policy efforts
A fundamental requirement for this must be borne in mind, said Steinmeier:
We can only have active German foreign policy in and through Europe. We can only have an impact along with our partners and in our alliances. (...) Europe remains the hub of our foreign policy efforts.
Steinmeier concluded by saying that a decisive resource for active and conscientious foreign policy was sitting right in front of him: the heads of Germany’s missions abroad. They should all see the current foreign policy challenges as a “huge opportunity”, he continued: “Let us roll up our sleeves, put responsibility into practice, and use our diplomatic tools wherever we can.”
Steinmeier ended his address by saying that he, for one, would dearly love to melt down the spikes he mentioned at the beginning of his speech and turn them into bolts and rivets – to build bridges in today’s world.