Welcome

Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the National Citizens’ Panel on the Future of Europe in Berlin

16.01.2022 - Speech

Dear Europeans,

Good morning to you all on this Sunday morning. We would all have been delighted, of course, if we could have met here today in person in this wonderful ‘Weltsaal’ to discuss the future of Europe. The pandemic has unfortunately prevented that. But I am deeply grateful to you all – particularly those of you who have already been hard at work discussing this topic in recent days, weeks and months, and who got up early today to help us conclude this Citizens’ Panel that we are holding here in Germany. This is – as has already been mentioned – a National Citizens’ Panel within the context of the European Union. Which means that we are one forum among a great many in Europe. And it is thanks to all of you who have joined in the discussion, who have contributed creative ideas, that such wonderful results are being presented today. You and many people who are here on the stage, who are in the background and in particular who are joining us virtually. And these dialogue events where specific recommendations are developed have been held not just in the four weeks since I had the privilege of joining this great organisation, but since the last Europe Day on 9 May 2021. Because all of us care deeply about shaping our shared Europe together.

I am keen to begin by giving my particular thanks to Ms Hartung, who will take the results of our discussions straight to Strasbourg as the representative of Germany’s citizen dialogue at the Conference on the Future of Europe. I would also like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank my Minister of State Anna Lührmann, who is also on the stage, as well as Franziska Brantner, State Secretary at the Economics and Climate Ministry, the dear members of the Bundestag Mr Schäfer and Mr Krichbaum, who are joining us virtually, and Ms Minister Honé representing the German Länder. And there are others too who are playing an important role, because the ideas that you contribute today are to be passed on to a wide variety of representatives. And many people who work in the ministries – because, of course, every minister has a whole team behind them – who will then feed all of this into our ongoing work, the work of the Federal Government. And on this Sunday morning I would also like to take the opportunity to welcome and thank Ambassador Descôtes who -  as part of France’s Presidency of the Council of the EU - has the very special role within the EU institutions of conveying the recommendations and to Mr Wojahn and Mr Pfeifer, who are also taking part today in this discussion, on behalf of the three EU institutions.

As we heard at the beginning, the pandemic has put us in a quite unique situation – and still an incredibly difficult one, I would say – which means that we are unable to meet here in person today. But this pandemic has also, I believe, brought home to all of us over the last two years what our shared Europe really means to us. That we notice it at the times when it is not so automatically present. I and some of the others here on the podium are of an age where we have really spent almost our whole lives not just in a reunified Germany, but in our shared Europe without internal borders. My daughter – who is also whizzing through the ministry today – has spent her whole life seeing that, when we hop over sometimes from Brandenburg to Poland and back, there are no checks at the border at all. In the midst of this pandemic, it has become clear to all of us who are fortunate enough never to have really felt the impact of borders in Europe, much less of wars, what it really means when these borders close again overnight. Some people are unable to visit their friends, in some families a curtain well and truly descended – particularly in border communities where people travel back and forth on a daily basis. People cannot go on holiday. Some had to come home before finishing their studies. And all of this really brings home to us the fact that Europe did not just spring up of its own accord. It is hard-won and must not be taken for granted. It means that we as politicians, as committed individuals in our shared European home, and as an economy, as a civil society, as sports clubs, must join together to fight for it day after day. Because, first of all, we have not just the pandemic but a situation where Europe is challenged by other forces, too. We have a situation in which the climate crisis is showing us that we can only tackle global issues together, in a world in which we cooperate and one in which Europeans, too, play a prominent role. And I would like to note today that we are in a world which is so much more interconnected than before. We could spend hours now talking about the crises affecting our world, and we will. We will also discuss the challenges that we face. And you have come up with a wealth of specific ideas, suggestions and proposals to address them. But it is clear to see that interconnectedness always has a positive side in Europe as well. The fact that we are able to travel, love, study or simply live across borders every day. And that interconnectedness in the digital sphere, too, is making it possible for climate protests to link up worldwide. Or, indeed, that we can share best practices for vaccination campaigns with one another around the world via the internet. And so it is important to me, when we talk about the future of Europe, that we do not always talk about the challenges alone. But first and foremost about the opportunities that we can shape together. The first major area that we have in mind is the European Union as a European Union of sustainability. We are seeing in this pandemic that the issue of zoonotic diseases – so, essentially, how we interact with our environment – is ultimately also a health issue. The climate crisis is making it clear how vulnerable the life that we share really is, and not just in far-off places. Last summer we witnessed a drastic example here in Germany of the damage that extreme weather can do. And so, when we talk of a strong shared Europe, what we must strive to achieve is first and foremost sustainability, fair competition and an ecological and social market economy. Because, as many of you know just as well as I do and we do here in the Federal Foreign Office, every tonne of carbon emissions that is prevented will contribute to the quality of life of my children, your children, our future grandchildren. And every tenth of a degree less in terms of global warming will contribute to human security, too. Because the climate crisis, as we are seeing primarily in other regions of the world, is continuing unrelentingly to exacerbate conflicts – particularly in fragile regions. And so what I want to achieve, what we in the new Federal Government want to achieve – and what many, many people here in our country also want to achieve, based on what I have heard of the talks that you have already held – is for the European Union to finally reassume a true leading role in climate change mitigation. And not just in order to protect the climate – it can’t be protected, in fact. All we can do is to? bring the climate crisis under control. But to protect our own freedom and to protect our own future. We are hard at work on the ‘Fit for 55’-package and above all on investments in climate change mitigation that will use the many many billions or even trillions of euro, after the pandemic is over, to truly prioritise sustainability going forward. And this is not just our shared goal as Europeans, but – and this was our own new proposal that we brought into the Federal Foreign Office within the last few weeks – it is our goal to fully integrate climate diplomacy into our foreign policy. We want the Federal Foreign Office to play a leading role in organising the Climate Change Conferences in the future, because we can only bring this climate crisis under control together, as an international community.

Something else that is important to me and that has also played a major role in your discussions is reinforcing the European Union’s strategic alignment and, above all, its sovereignty. We must make it clear – and it is not just the situation in Ukraine that shows us this – what is important to us as Europeans. Not just what we don’t like so much in others, but what we truly stand for. For democracy, for the rule of law, for human rights, for sustainability and above all for a European Union that is strong because it acts as one. And on that front we have a great deal of hard work ahead of us. We have to admit that much, I think. Your proposals reflect this. Making it clear, for one thing, that we should really utilise the strength of the European internal market. Utilise competition with other regions. When other countries invest in our European internal market, then it is only natural that they should comply with the rules and standards that we have established together for ourselves. For me the technical-sounding concept of “strategic sovereignty” – who actually understands that? – simply means pooling our strengths and saying with confidence: We can do this and we firmly believe that we can bring others on board. And not just focusing on thinking of foreign policy as foreign policy and saying that the Foreign Office will do this and the Economics Ministry will do that. But pooling our strengths in such a way that different ministries work together, and not least that different stakeholders in our society work together – so understanding health policy as being connected to digitalisation and of course to economic policy. Because we all saw, in the first phase of this pandemic, that if we do not do this then it is not just the heart of Europe that will suffer. When we saw the terrible images that reached us from Italy, the initial reflex was: “Oh, first things first, close the borders.” And then we all saw sense and said: “No, now we really need to help Italy.” Patients were brought to Germany and then, some time later, a few months ago, German patients were brought to Italy. This is our strength! And it is just as important for us to help those who do not have infrastructure or tools to fight the pandemic. Because if we do not do this, then, as we have seen, others will fill the gap. And not just for altruistic reasons, but with a keen awareness of geostrategic dependencies. We have seen this in some European countries in recent years. We are now seeing it worldwide. That it is quite possible to utilise investments to ultimately say to countries: If you don’t do what we want, there will be severe consequences. And this is why it is so important to me to reinforce Europe’s strategic sovereignty. Not as a tool to be wielded against other countries, but as an invitation to form a union of shared values so that we can take joint action in the world. And that means understanding values and interests as inherently connected and, above all, strengthening our European Union internally so that we are credible externally. You have discussed this topic a great deal too, because none of us, I believe, is left indifferent by what we are seeing in some other EU states, the European values that are not always being upheld there in terms of the rule of law, freedom of expression, the activity of universities, or protests and civil society. And so the erosion of the rule of law in the EU is one of the central points that we must find a response for together as Europeans. The principle of the rule of law mechanism is something that we have established together. And you have discussed a range of points regarding how we can move forward with this – and that, to be honest, is one of the things that I am most excited about today. Because Europe is its 450 million inhabitants. It is you, as the representatives of so many people in Germany. And of course this was something of an experiment, too – in that we said we didn’t want to decide in advance that someone will come from each institution and then someone, a minister, can say: “I’d also like to have so-and-so involved in the discussion.” No, the participants were chosen at random. A large number of people in Germany were systematically contacted and asked: “Would you like to take part?” Thank you all for saying yes! Even amid the lockdown, even in situations where you had to work out, what will I do with my kids, if their school isn’t fully open? So thank you very much. But this, precisely, is the heart of the matter when we say that we want to talk about the future. Not to talk about the ideas of people, of citizens, of Europeans, but to reflect together with you on how we can keep on building our European house. I myself and perhaps some of you had the great pleasure of being able to study abroad. Others may have spent time abroad during their school days. Or moved abroad for a few months for a training course. Others have travelled around Europe after retiring, or found their new partner in the European Union. This is our most precious asset. This is what peace in Europe has created and must continue to create. Ties, connections between people, and ties and connections between the huge variety of different stakeholders. Just a few days ago I was in Rome. And that visit really opened my eyes once again to the fact that our strength is – as we saw with Brexit – that we cannot be separated or broken up just like that. There is that wonderful image that Europe and cooperation are like an egg that you crack open and use to make scrambled eggs. You can’t then say: “Now put the egg back together”, and then everyone goes it alone. And this was brought home to us again in the pandemic when we looked at Italy. When the hard lockdown was in place, certain businesses – and by no means the major ones, these were small and medium-sized businesses – said: “We have to do everything we can to help Italy again, so that it can bring this terrible situation under control. Because otherwise our factories here will grind to a halt, and our small trade businesses, because we are so intertwined with one another.” And this is our greatest asset, that we are so intertwined in terms of our shared understanding of values, in terms of supply chains, of products, but above all that people are bound by a sense of community and solidarity within our shared European Union. And I am deeply grateful to you for coming up with so many fresh ideas – and some existing ideas that have never yet been implemented – and feeding them into this discussion. Because we must make it clear that we are shaping this future of Europe together. And I am looking forward to discussing these proposals with you now. We have invited a number of guests whom I mentioned in the beginning and who will also be taking your suggestions on board. And that will not be the end of the road – in fact, it is only the next step in the ongoing debate over our shared European future. I am very much looking forward to it. Many thanks to all of you for taking part.

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