Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the opening of the conference “International Scientific Cooperation for the World of Tomorrow: Global Centres for Health and Climate” of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

06.09.2022 - Speech

I believe we all know what it’s like to have an irritating mosquito bite in summer. We’re annoyed for two hours, if we’re allergic perhaps three days – but we forget all about it very quickly.

Unfortunately, others around the world have a very different experience – for this tiny mosquito bite can be lethal where they live. And it’s not just a few individuals that are killed – half a million people die as the result of a mosquito bite every year. People in Africa, especially children there, are at particular risk.

For mosquito bites transmit malaria, still one of the deadliest infectious diseases around the globe. According to the WHO, more than 90% of all malaria infections are on the African continent. And 80% of those who die of malaria in Africa are children – mainly small children under the age of five – because their immune system is weaker.

These figures not only illustrate much suffering but also a massive injustice. For we know that research is carried out and investments made wherever people can shout out loud. And that’s seldom children.

These figures mean suffering not only for half a million people, mainly children, but also for their families, their fathers, their mothers, their brothers and sisters.

During the past decades, scientists and doctors have made considerable progress in the fight against malaria, with new drugs and treatments, and most recently with a vaccine.

However, the figure of more than half a million malaria fatalities every year shows that we’re not yet where we should be.

CAIDERA, the Central African Disease and Epidemics Research Alliance, one of the eight Global Centres funded by the German Academic Exchange Service represented at today’s conference, wants to contribute to the fight against malaria and other diseases, from HIV to tuberculosis, which have proven deadly – especially in Africa.

CAIDERA brings together leading scientists from Africa and Europe, who research and teach together. One of them is Professor Ntoumi, who will speak as a member of the panel in a moment. She was recently awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for her work as an infection biologist in the Republic of the Congo and in Central Africa. I’d therefore like to take this opportunity to congratulate you most sincerely – not so much on receiving this honour but on the important work you have done over the years.

I’ve heard, Ms Ntoumi, that one thing is especially important to you: the fact that CAIDERA has established new M.A. and PhD programmes so that more young African researchers can learn together, be trained together and research together. For Africa and the entire world need a new generation of scientists to carry on your fight against malaria and against potential new dangerous epidemics and pandemics.

That’s not only important for research and for saving lives. For this form of collaboration also highlights something else – and that’s why it was important to me to be here today. It makes clear that this is not about research being done in Europe and the findings then being taken to other regions of the world. Rather, we have to research together and make use of the experiences and knowledge, as well as the excellent scientific competence, of all regions of the world.

Your work makes a difference to millions of people. Your work can save lives, especially because such impressive researchers from Africa are involved. All of you who have come together here today as researchers personify what makes the Global Centres so special.

The Centres not only bring together outstanding scientists and young researchers from Europe and Africa but also from Asia and Latin America. They work together to tackle the major challenges facing humankind today. To find answers to global health issues and to the biggest threat to security in this world: the climate crisis. Their research and training are aimed at finding practical solutions, especially for the Global South: new therapies and vaccines against tropical diseases – or innovative arable farming methods which enable farmers to revive parched soil in African savannahs.

Although the Global Centres were established only a year ago, they have all already achieved much. They have set up M.A. and PhD programmes, recruited students and doctoral candidates and equipped laboratories for new research projects.

And although you’ve been working together for a year and have achieved so much, today is a premiere for you. For most of you only know each other from online seminars and video links – due to the pandemic. This conference has now brought you all together in one place for the first time: to get to know each other and to network. I’m very proud that you are meeting in Berlin. I’d like to extend a warm welcome to you all!

For me as German Foreign Minister, it’s crucial to make precisely this possible: to enable you to come together to research in an international dialogue across borders, to engage in scientific exchange – and thus to make it possible for us to learn from each other and to work together to make our world a little bit better.

That’s the aim of the Global Centres, of today’s conference – and of Germany’s research and academic relations policy as a whole. For it’s clear that in the 21st century foreign policy no longer only takes place among ministries and governments. Rather, it also takes place at universities and in research laboratories when students meet and study abroad for a semester – or when scientists discuss the latest trends in research at international conferences.

Modern foreign policy has to be more than traditional diplomacy today. Indeed, it has to deliver answers to global challenges, from the pandemic to the climate crisis. And that also means that modern foreign policy is not about simply handing over money. Rather, it’s about empowering people.

We ministers and diplomats depend on you to help create such a comprehensive foreign policy. We’ve seen in the last few years what international networks of researchers like your own can do for humanity.

During the pandemic, international research teams have shared their study findings with the rest of the world and have not only researched within national confines. That was one of the factors which made it possible to develop vaccines together at high speed.

And the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and of other climate researchers also relies on scientists from around the world coming together to share their findings and send a wake-up call to the entire world.

That’s why research and academic relations policy – science diplomacy – remains one of the key pillars of our cultural relations and education policy. And, in particular of course, the German Academic Exchange Service as the world’s largest promoter of international academic exchange.

At the same time, a range of institutions have pooled their resources and expertise in our research and academic relations policy. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has also made a major contribution here. I believe that can show the way forward for further cooperation.

With beacon projects such as the Global Centres, with tens of thousands of scholarships every year, with more than 400,000 alumni worldwide, the German Academic Exchange Service is a pacesetter for global scientific progress – and the reason why many people around the world feel a connection with Germany.

I would like to thank you, Mr Sicks, representative for the many other professionals who are engaged in promoting cultural and academic ties, for your outstanding work – as an institution but in particular those who work in your networks around the world as scientists or students.

I’m stating this so clearly because we in the German Bundestag are currently negotiating the budget. And at a time when Russia is waging a war of aggression, we’re very much focused on Ukraine, on the European peaceful order. That’s why we’re having tough debates and discussions about the funds available in our federal budget.

However, I want to stress that cultural relations and education policy plays a key role in our work and in fostering peace around the world. We take the view that global problems, such as the climate crisis or pandemics, require global solutions.

Nevertheless, it’s also true that Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is a watershed in our foreign and security policy which also affects our research and academic relations policy.

Russia’s war is the brutal demonstration of a fundamental conflict between two worldviews. On the one side are the countries that believe in a rules-based international order. On the other, there are regimes that oppress their own people and other countries and want to use imperialist means to subjugate others.

It was therefore right that the German Academic Exchange Service and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and the German academic community as a whole, reacted resolutely to Russia’s war of aggression.

Together we have frozen academic cooperation with Russian state institutions and those with close ties to the Russian state. When Russian bombs and missiles fall on Ukrainian cities, children die – although they’ve done nothing to justify this suffering. We believe that when that happens there can be no normal academic contact with state actors in Russia.

At the same time, however, we’ve done something else: we’ve expanded our assistance for students and researchers fleeing the war in Ukraine. Through scholarships and programmes run by the German Academic Exchange Service and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, thousands of Ukrainians have already received support at our universities and research institutions.

For that I’m very grateful to everyone who has played a part in this – because it shows that we will not accept Putin’s brutal war preventing Ukrainian researchers, but also critical Russian scientists and academics, from thinking and working freely, or their decades-long work being destroyed by this war.

Especially now that the Russian regime has curtailed the freedom of the scientific and academic community with draconian laws and threats, it’s important to work together to uphold scientific freedom around the world.

It’s important to me that our scientists are mindful of all the consequences of cooperation with colleagues in autocratic states and act with appropriate caution.

When autocratic states enter into partnerships with German or European or African universities or research institutions, that doesn’t necessarily automatically foster liberal values in their societies. Instead, they perhaps import technological know-how which enables them to compete internationally with our companies. Or technologies they can use to oppress their own population and carry out mass surveillance.

As researchers, as liberal democracies, simply as people who believe in a rules-based international order as well as in the freedom of research and teaching, it’s important to us that science promotes freedom and that we use it for and not against people.

Especially at a time when the freedom of science is being increasingly curtailed, our science policy has to create spaces.

It has to create spaces in which researchers can freely put forward their theories and – this is important when it comes to research – discard them again in discussions when they notice that the findings they had perhaps initially believed in are not corroborated by tests.

And we need to create spaces in which bold theories are disproved or confirmed by facts and experiments rather than the interests of the state.

Such a free science community reaches out to people around the world, inviting them to work together and to make this world a little better, as well as to tackle the global challenges of our time together. For our children and future generations.

That is exactly what the Global Centres and their staff do every day with their work: in the fight against malaria and future pandemics, in the fight against global warming and in the fight against the climate crisis.

And the next time we’re bitten by a mosquito, especially here in Berlin, we should perhaps not get so annoyed. Instead, we should all be grateful to researchers and students around the world, just like you here today, for working to ensure that nobody anywhere in this world, especially children, have to be afraid any longer of losing their lives due to a mosquito bite.

I therefore want to sincerely thank you for your work and wish you and all researchers every success at the Global Centres, as well as with your efforts in your own countries.

Thank you very much.


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