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“Responsibility, interests, instruments” – Foreign Minister Steinmeier opens 2016 Ambassadors Conference

29.08.2016 - Article

The central theme of the 2016 Ambassadors Conference is “Responsibility, interests, instruments” of the German foreign policy.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier with his Weimar Triangle counterparts, Witold Waszczykowski (centre) and Jean-Marc Ayrault (right)
Foreign Minister Steinmeier with his Weimar Triangle counterparts, Witold Waszczykowski (centre) and Jean-Marc Ayrault (right)© Thomas Imo/photothek.de

Twenty-five years after the foundation of the Weimar Triangle, Foreign Minister Steinmeier opened the fifteenth annual Ambassadors Conference accompanied by his French and Polish counterparts, Jean-Marc Ayrault and Witold Waszczykowski. The central theme of the 2016 conference is “Responsibility, interests, instruments”. The Ambassadors Conference has drawn not only the 200-odd heads of German missions abroad to Berlin. The guests also include numerous high-level representatives of politics, business and the cultural sphere from Germany and abroad.

Renewed self-assurance and direction

The heads of Germany’s missions abroad assemble once a year for the Ambassadors Conference.
The heads of Germany’s missions abroad assemble once a year for the Ambassadors Conference.© Thomas Imo/photothek.de

During his opening speech given in the Weltsaal at the Federal Foreign Office, Foreign Minister Steinmeier make it clear that “renewed self-assurance and direction” were all the more important in times of global unrest. That, he said, was exactly what the participants would be focusing on together in the coming days when discussing responsibility, interests and the instruments of German foreign policy in a number of themed workshops.

The three-fold focus of German foreign policy

In order to provide orientation and to shape policies responsibly in these times of unrest, the German Foreign Minister said, German foreign policy needed to focus on three areas. Firstly, he named the need for an active and dedicated crisis policy, citing as examples Germany’s work in the Ukraine crisis, in the international Syria contact group, in Mali and in Colombia. He also pointed out that the complex crises of our time would clearly require a lot of stamina. Secondly, Steinmeier mentioned the need to look beyond the frantic pace of crisis diplomacy and think about what issues and forces would shape the international order of the future. With regard to Germany’s responsibilities, Steinmeier pointed to its assumption of the 2016 Chairmanship of the OSCE, a new arms-control initiative and its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2019-20 term.

Thirdly, “and above all” in the Foreign Minister’s words, “we need a strong and united Europe”. The European Union, he said, was and would remain the crucial framework of German foreign policy:

As regards German foreign policy, I say that Europe is not something to play around with, as it represents our one and only chance to actively influence the global order. A united Europe can be a magnet, whereas on their own the member states are little more than iron filings in tomorrow’s world.
The Ambassadors Conference revolved around dialogue on the responsibility, interests and instruments of German foreign policy.
The Ambassadors Conference revolved around dialogue on the responsibility, interests and instruments of German foreign policy.© Thomas Imo/photothek.de

Steinmeier emphasised the need for the EU to be flexible and capable of taking action in the crucial questions of our time, that is, on security and foreign policy, the challenges and opportunities of flight and migration, and economic, growth and currency matters.

Germany’s role in the world: a reflective power

On the subject of Germany’s role and responsibilities, Steinmeier explained that, in his view, the important question was not whether Germany was the key power in Europe. The crucial issue, he said, was whether Germany in cooperation with its closest partners managed “to create and uphold a political centre from which a common and strong Europe could act”. The Foreign Minister recently described Germany in a journal article as a “reflective power”. What he meant by “reflective”, he explained, was a “keen awareness of the ongoing special aspects of Germany’s role”.

But it also implies self-awareness in the best sense of the term, that is, reflective self-awareness. We are willing to take on greater responsibility beyond our own borders, including globally. Even if we did not actively seek out this status and it was more the changes in the world around us that led us to this role, we are taking on this foreign policy responsibility. Our special historical experiences are reflected in the ways and means we are doing so. These experiences and the lessons we have learned from it form the foundation of our values and of the way we use our foreign policy instruments.

Find out more:

Speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the opening of the 2016 Ambassadors Conference

"More security for everyone in Europe: A call for a re-launch of arms control" (An article by Foreign Minister Steinmeier on project-syndicate.org - 26.08.2016)

"Germany's New Global Role - Berlin steps up" (An article by Foreign Minister Steinmeier published in Foreign Affairs in July/August 2016)

Germany's OSCE Chairmanship in 2016

Germany's candidacy for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2019-20

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