The annual meeting of German-speaking Foreign Ministers from Liechtenstein, Austria, Switzerland and Germany took place in Neuchâtel in Switzerland on Sunday (16 August). Alongside joint efforts to promote the German language, the meeting focused on security‑policy matters relevant to the OSCE. Foreign Minister Steinmeier then stayed on in Switzerland for talks on bilateral topics on Monday (17 August). He also used his visit to award the OSCE’s former Special Representative for Ukraine, Heidi Tagliavini, the Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Partners with many mutual interests
Germany has been a regular participant of the meeting of German-speaking Foreign Ministers since 2012. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier hosted the most recent such meeting in autumn 2014, welcoming his counterparts Aurelia Frick from Liechtenstein, Sebastian Kurz from Austria and Didier Burkhalter from Switzerland to Villa Borsig on Lake Tegel. Amongst other matters, the meeting addressed joint efforts to promote the German language abroad. Moreover, the four countries are so closely connected in political, economic and cultural terms that they have shared interests when it comes to many international matters.
Closer coordination within OSCE engagement
This year’s meeting thus also addressed a wide range of issues alongside promotion of their shared language. These included the conflicts in the Middle East as well as the opportunities opened up by the Vienna agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. The challenges posed by the refugee crisis and possible strategic focuses within the framework of the European Union also featured on the agenda.
With a view to the crisis in Ukraine, a further priority of the talks was the role of the OSCE. In their joint ministerial declaration, the group of four stressed that the principles of the Helsinki Final Act still remained important for stability and security today, 40 years after they were signed. Against the background of the OSCE Chairmanship being assumed by Germany in 2016 and Austria in 2017, the four countries agreed to coordinate their work within the organisation in the D‑A‑CH‑LI format from now on. Their first task is striving for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine. Furthermore, in the long term there was a need to bolster the OSCE’s early warning, crisis prevention and mediation tools.
Steinmeier at Switzerland’s Ambassadors Conference
On the morning of 17 August, Foreign Minister Steinmeier gave a guest speech at the Swiss Ambassadors Conference in Bern. In his speech, he stressed that responsibility and the willingness to engage in dialogue played a key role in both Swiss and German foreign policy.
He thus expressly thanked Switzerland for having created a platform for dialogue between all the actors in the Ukraine conflict, namely the Trilateral Contact Group, during its OSCE Presidency in 2014. Without this, the Minsk peace process would have been practically inconceivable, he said, adding:
Minsk charts the political path out of the conflict. It’s not a perfect process, as we all know, but it is the only one we have.
He said that it was clear that progress would only be made through perseverance and patience. Yet by the same token, the Vienna agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme had been reached – something which had also seemed unimaginable for a long time. Today this agreement had opened up communication channels which offered great potential for the entire region of the Middle East:
Perhaps we can now capitalise on the momentum of the Vienna agreement to de‑escalate the to date seemingly intractable conflicts elsewhere in the region.
Steinmeier continued by saying that Minsk and Vienna were examples of what German diplomacy could achieve thanks to the fact that it was underpinned by the framework of Europe. Germany thus had to undertake a critical self‑evaluation of its own role in Europe:
Germany’s strength in Europe must never be measured solely by how effectively we defend our national interests. Especially as one of the largest countries in Europe, we must measure our strength by how we manage to broker rational European compromises.
Honouring Heidi Tagliavini
On Monday, Steinmeier awarded Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Ambassador Tagliavini has not only made a great contribution within Swiss diplomacy, she played an important role in stabilising the Caucasus within the framework of the OSCE and as deputy to the UN Special Envoy for the Georgia conflict in 1999. Most recently she helped with the efforts to de‑escalate the conflict in Ukraine as Special Representative of the OSCE in the Trilateral Contact Group.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier concluded his trip to Switzerland by meeting President of the Swiss Confederation Simonetta Sommaruga and President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer. Following the talks he returned to Berlin on Monday afternoon.