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Supporting a “foreign policy of societies” – Strategic Dialogue between Foundations and the Federal Foreign Office

02.12.2015 - Article

On Monday (30 November), Foreign Minister Steinmeier launched a strategic dialogue with foundations active in international affairs.

On Monday (30 November), the Federal Foreign Office launched a strategic dialogue with foundations active in international affairs. At a conference in Berlin, Foreign Minister Steinmeier gave the starting signal for greater cooperation with German foundations from the private sector, thus following up on the findings of Review 2014.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier opening the strategic dialogue
Foreign Minister Steinmeier opening the strategic dialogue© Federal Foreign Office

When Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier returned to the Federal Foreign Office in December 2013 for a second term of office, he announced a process of “self-reflection” on German foreign policy. To this end, he launched the Review 2014 process, which examined German foreign policy in depth. One finding was that the Federal Foreign Office should be more open to dialogue with society.

In his speech at the Federal Foreign Office during the opening of the Strategic Dialogue with Foundations, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said a broad-based debate across society that goes “far beyond the usual suspects” of the foreign-policy scene was needed to address the question of Germany’s responsibility in the world. “And it’s in that broad society-wide debate about Germany’s international role where the foundations really have a crucial part to play,” he continued.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier with conference participants
Foreign Minister Steinmeier with conference participants© Federal Foreign Office

Foreign policy is unthinkable without civil society

The conference marked the launch of greater collaboration between the Federal Foreign Office and private-sector foundations. During the event in Berlin, around 500 participants from the spheres of politics, business, culture and civil society discussed foundations’ role in international issues in seven panel discussions. The idea was to “move from a foreign policy of nations to a foreign policy of societies”, Steinmeier said. “In this interconnected and interwoven world, foreign policy is simply unthinkable without civil society!”

However, as the Foreign Minister noted, there were currently movements in the opposite direction in many parts of the world. Not everyone shared the belief that “diversity of opinions and ideas are the real key to a society’s strength and creativity”, he said. As a result, the scope of non‑governmental organisations and foundations was increasingly being curtailed in many countries.

Opening of the Strategic Dialogue between Foundations and the Federal Foreign Office
Opening of the Strategic Dialogue between Foundations and the Federal Foreign Office© Federal Foreign Office

Debate in society on a peaceful world order

Given the increasing loss of international order, close collaboration between politics and civil society was particularly important, Steinmeier said. In a world that is being unsettled by a large number of transnational crises, internationally active foundations can play an important role in the debate on a peaceful world order thanks to their networks and expertise.

The Ukraine crisis is an example of the potential for collaboration with foundations on foreign policy issues. With the help of the German Bundestag, the Federal Foreign Office ran a programme on greater collaboration with civil society in which over 85 projects were carried out also in cooperation with German foundations. “It was clear to us from the start that this conflict could not be resolved by military means. It ultimately also concerned the establishment of a modern civil society. We approached the foundations and found a new way of working together,” Steinmeier said.

“Foundations are strong when they are free.”

The Strategic Dialogue addresses such concrete examples of public-private partnerships with the aim of learning lessons for future collaboration. Foreign Minister Steinmeier underlined that he regarded foundations’ independence as the particular source of their potential: “Foundations in an open society are strong when they are free. (...) They can do things that the state can’t do – and vice versa. We don’t have to agree with everything they do – and vice versa.”

The Road towards a Foreign Policy of Societies – speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier in full

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