Steinmeier: “We stand for democracy, freedom and an open society”

23.11.2016 - Article

Foreign Minister Steinmeier spoke about the future of German foreign policy in a world in turmoil at the budget debate in the German Bundestag.

Syria, Ukraine, Brexit, developments in Turkey, the election in the United States – the world is in turmoil. In his speech to the German Bundestag today (23 November), Foreign Minister Steinmeier explained how he sees the future of German foreign policy in a time of great challenges.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier during the budget debate in the Bundestag
Foreign Minister Steinmeier during the budget debate in the Bundestag© dpa

Some conflicts, such as those in Syria or Ukraine, are open wounds that do not close for years. Other events, such as Brexit, come as a bombshell. Foreign Minister Steinmeier believes that sudden upheavals and lengthy crises necessitate a particular stance in German foreign policy. “We must not allow ourselves to be shaken by earthquakes. Instead, we need to stand all the more firmly,” Steinmeier told the Bundestag. Germany must become aware of the responsibility it bears, he said. “We stand for democracy, freedom and an open society. We are defending these things now in particular, when others are calling them into question,” he said during the debate on the Federal Foreign Office’s budget.

Defending what others are calling into question

Steinmeier said that foreign policy must live up resolutely to its role, including at times when the outlook is less encouraging. In the conflict in Syria, international diplomacy has achieved very little so far. Are new diplomatic initiatives for Syria still worthwhile? Steinmeier left his fellow members of parliament in no doubt about the answer to this question. “Our position must be that giving up is not an option,” he said.

Developments in eastern Ukraine also do not provide a reason to celebrate. In recent weeks, there has been a significant increase in the number of clashes and breaches of the Minsk Agreement. For people in Donetsk and Luhansk, brutal violence has become a sad fact of everyday life. In his speech, Steinmeier said that waiting and not doing anything cannot and must not be the solution in this case. For this reason, Steinmeier and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault have invited the Ukrainian and Russian Foreign Ministers to a meeting next week. The Minsk Agreement must finally be implemented in full by both sides, Steinmeier said.

Giving up is not an option

Foreign Minister Steinmeier in the Bundestag
Foreign Minister Steinmeier in the Bundestag© dpa

In these crisis-ridden times, preventing the outbreak of new conflicts in endangered regions is more important than ever to Foreign Minister Steinmeier. This is why the Federal Foreign Office has massively expanded its endeavours to stabilise crisis regions. Germany is the largest humanitarian donor in Iraq, where it is working with local NGOs and civil society to draw up strategies to prevent the outbreak of impending conflicts. This work has already paid off in Ramadi, Fallujah and Tikrit, where a return to orderly structures has been largely achieved following the cities’ liberation from the IS terror regime. Structures for reconstruction and reconciliation between the various ethnic groups are now also being put in place in Mosul.

Stabisation and dialogue

Steinmeier believes that the foreign policy of the future should also be based on a further pillar. Given the many upheavals, it is becoming increasingly important to uphold understanding and exchange between countries and cultures. “In a conflict-ridden world, we need room for dialogue,” Steinmeier said. As an example, he mentioned the house in California where Thomas Mann lived during his exile. The building was recently acquired by the German Government and will be used as a new centre for wide-ranging exchange in the fields of art, culture and politics from Germany and the United States. As more and more people have been looking sceptically across the Atlantic since the recent elections, the project has come at exactly the right time.

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