Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the Occasion of the Inauguration of the Fritz Stern Chair at the Brookings Institution

09.03.2021 - Speech

Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the Occasion of the Inauguration of the Fritz Stern Chair at the Brookings Institution

It is an honor for me to inaugurate Brookings’ new Chair on Germany and trans-Atlantic Relations – especially as I deeply respect and admire the man whose name it will bear: Fritz Stern.

It was Fritz Stern who, despite the suffering inflicted on him and his family by Germans, encouraged the world to place its trust in a re-unified Germany. Our country could not have wished for a better friend, a more clear-eyed analyst or a more generous companion.

So, let me thank all of you, and of course the generous donors, for supporting the Fritz Stern Chair.

None of this would have been possible without you, Constanze. I know how many days you spent talking to donors, reaching out to politicians and parliamentarians on both sides of the Atlantic. Today, we are harvesting the fruits of your labor. So, thank you very much for all that you did!

The German Parliament and the Federal Foreign Office are proud to support you.

For me, this broad alliance of supporters is also a reminder of how vibrant our trans-Atlantic partnership is. And of what we can achieve, when we work together.

Ladies and gentlemen, Next week marks the 30th anniversary of the Two Plus Four Agreement, which handed back full sovereignty to Germany. Fritz Stern famously called that historic moment “Germany’s second chance.” A chance to build a strong, lasting European Union and an even stronger, more resilient democracy at home.

We know to whom we owe this chance: to our friends and allies, and especially to the United States.

But Fritz Stern also reminded us about what that second chance depended on: embracing what he called “a policy of reliability and reason.” That is what we should keep in mind when we talk about Germany’s global responsibility today.

Reason, reliability, and responsibility must go hand in hand. Because only together do they make German foreign policy possible.

Let me begin with the most aspirational element: reason.

Reason in politics, ladies and gentlemen, is threatened today – in all of our liberal democracies. We are all experiencing how “alternative facts” are eroding trust in our institutions.

The attack on the U.S. Capitol may have been a shocking culmination. But it was not the first time that the forces of conspiracy theories and the preachers of hatred have attempted to divide us. Only last summer, protesters tried to enter the Reichstag in Berlin.

We must not let this happen, dear friends. Summoning the power of reason is essential for the survival of democracy in the digital age.

I say this as Germany’s foreign minister, and because President Biden is right: “There is no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy.” Indeed, our credibility and strength abroad are measured by our unity at home.

We should have paid more attention to this in the economic and financial crises of the last decade. We rushed to help banks and corporations that we deemed “too big to fail” – Wall Street and not main street. That left a bitter taste among many in our populations. Populists exploited that.

But we have learned our lesson. Today, we are putting our people – workers, business owners, families – at the heart of our response. We are supporting those companies that don’t lay off their employees. And, for the first time, we have created a common European program to mitigate unemployment risks. This is a way to narrow the divides at home.

Abroad, we must strengthen international cooperation with other democracies. President Biden’s proposed “Summit for Democracy” can revitalize our bonds.

Hate speech, manipulation, and disinformation are eroding the faith we have in each other. We need better regulation, also internationally. And we clearly can’t leave that task to Big Tech alone.

In the past four years, we Europeans often stood alone in holding this view. In fact, we stood alone quite a bit. So, I joined with my French colleague and friend, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to create an Alliance for Multilateralism – a group of dozens of partners and like-minded countries from around the globe to protect the rules-based international order.

Together, we looked at how to make our societies more resilient. And how to protect human rights online as much as offline.

My hope is that we can build on this work in the coming months – with the United States back at the table. And that we can use the force of reason – to revitalize our democracies at home and bring back stability to international affairs.

This brings me to the second element – reliability.

For Germany, with its history marked by terrible failures, reliability means knowing where we stand – and with whom.

In a speech 30 years ago, Fritz Stern described what this should mean for us. “Germany,” he said, “must use its power, its wealth, its pursuit of peace and reason, not just to invoke Europe rhetorically, but to help turn it into a reality.”

That benchmark is as valid today as it was 30 years ago.

  • This is why we agreed, in the midst of the pandemic, to set up a 750 billion euro rescue package – together, as the European Union.
  • And this is why we decided to jointly purchase COVID vaccines. Mistakes have been made during that process. But we were right to act as one Europe. The alternative would have been a continent divided, with bigger states outbidding smaller ones. Instead, the European Union has so far vaccinated twice as many people per capita as Russia or China.

Ladies and gentlemen, European solidarity is the basis for keeping Europe together. And European sovereignty is the precondition for making our voice heard in the world.

The goal is a Europe that is capable of bringing stability to its neighborhood.

And only this strong, open, and united Europe will remain a relevant partner for the United States. Investing in European sovereignty means investing in the trans-Atlantic partnership.

Some argue that this partnership lost its purpose when the Cold War ended. Because our common enemy had disappeared. This is profoundly wrong. Our partnership was never built on fear, but on freedom and shared values. And these persist.

The Soviet Union has disappeared, but we are facing new common challenges together. The COVID pandemic and climate change are the most existential ones. They require trans-Atlantic leadership and unity.

  • We know that we can only defeat the pandemic by working together. However, mask and vaccine diplomacy have turned this fight into systemic competition. That is why the U.S. commitment to COVAX was so important. Germany and the United States are now its two biggest supporters. And our multilateral solutions must succeed, if we don’t want to lose our ground to those who argue that authoritarian regimes are better at dealing with a crisis like this.
  • Ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, the European Union has committed to cut its carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030. And we welcome the recent new commitments from Washington. We are already discussing with John Kerry’s team how to re-activate the trans-Atlantic climate bridge and bring our decision-makers, civil societies, and best scientists together. And why don’t we start discussing now how to design and harmonize a carbon border adjustment, before the European Union proposes its plans later this year?

Speaking of trade, ladies and gentlemen, we should also break the cycle of tariffs and punitive measures. This is not how partners treat each other! The suspension of the Airbus-Boeing dispute tariffs announced last week is a crucial step to build on.

Europe and the United States can join hands to build an economic model that puts people at the center. Protecting jobs and the middle class is a shared task for us – Tony Blinken just explained this last week.

But that should not keep us from discussing fair sectoral trade agreements. In fact, such agreements could raise social standards – and increase our global leverage.

Ladies and gentlemen, How do we create a level playing field with an ever more challenging, confrontational China? And how do we deal with an ever more aggressive and repressive Russia?

Answering these questions will be central to the future of our alliance. Strengthening NATO’s political role will be an important step. But what is even more important is that we commit to a joint approach.

To me, that means pushing back, wherever Russia, China, or others are threatening our security and prosperity, democracy, human rights, and international law.

  • Over the last years, we have massively invested in European defense and security. Our defense spending has risen by 50 percent since 2014. And we will stick to that path.
  • We have strengthened our laws to protect our digital infrastructure against foreign influence – especially our 5G networks.
  • We have responded to Moscow’s and Beijing’s crackdown on civil society and their violations of international law. And I hope that we can return to a joint trans-Atlantic approach on targeted sanctions, after that approach fell apart in the last four years.
  • And as a trading nation, we are committed to upholding free seaways. Only a few days ago, we decided as the German government to send a naval unit to the Indo-Pacific for the first time.

Ladies and gentlemen, When our interests and values are at stake, we must stand up for them.

But President Biden was also right when he pointed out in Munich that “pitting East against West” is not in our interest. We told the previous administration many times that “de-coupling” doesn’t work in an inter-connected world, since we all face the same global challenges.

Diplomacy means engaging with difficult actors, especially where this is in our interest.

Arms control and the extension of the New START Treaty is one example. Trade policy, climate change, and clean energy are others.

Of course, European and American interests won’t always overlap. Geography alone is part of the reason. But we should never again allow those differences to call our partnership into question.

Ladies and gentlemen, This brings me to my third and last point – Germany’s responsibility.

A few days ago, a major American newspaper wrote: “America is Back, but Europe has Moved”. Yes, Europe is on the move. But that only means that Europe is taking on greater responsibility. That we are doing our part to share the burden.

  • We are doing more to stabilize our neighborhood. In the Western Balkans, EU integration is the key driver for reforms and reconciliation. And it remains on the table.
  • With the Berlin process, we have invested in diplomacy to end the war in Libya. Lasting peace is still far away. But the new transitional government and the plans for national elections later this year are encouraging results.
  • Germany, France and the United Kingdom went out of their way to keep the JCPoA with Iran afloat. And we are glad that President Biden and Tony Blinken have expressed their readiness to return to diplomacy and the full JCPoA, provided that Iran is prepared to do the same.
  • Preserving the agreement is key, not only to keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. It would also provide a basis to address other pressing issues, such as Iran’s missile programs or its destabilizing regional behavior.
  • And, finally, for 20 years now, German soldiers have been standing shoulder to shoulder with their American partners in Afghanistan. “In together, out together” – that was always our guiding principle. And I agree with Tony Blinken that certain conditions need to be met before we leave. Because we didn’t make all these great sacrifices over the years just to see Afghanistan descend into chaos once more.

Ladies and gentlemen, “America is back” was President Biden’s message two weeks ago in Munich.

“And Germany is by your side” is our answer today.

In his book on the “five Germanys” he had come to know in his lifetime, Fritz Stern concludes that “German-American understanding was a dictate of history, politics, and my own life.”

Let me just add that this Germany is looking to conclude a transatlantic New Deal with you:

  • As a voice of reason in our joint fight for democracy.
  • As a reliable partner in Europe and the world.
  • And as a responsible ally and friend, working with you to make this world a better place.

Thank you very much again for having me today!

And all the best to the new Fritz Stern Chair and to all of you!


Top of page