Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the Night of European Business during the Business Summit of the Süddeutsche Zeitung: Germany and the War

22.11.2022 - Speech

There are still a few weeks to go before the year draws to a close, however I think we can already predict how the papers are going to describe this year: 2022 was no ordinary year. And above all it was for the most part a dreadful year.

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine catapulted Germany, Europe and the world into a new age. War returned to Europe – something none of us could ever have imagined. It brought in its wake unbelievable suffering to millions of people in Ukraine.

At the same time, we are experiencing a climate crisis which is accelerating rapidly – with floods, heatwaves and droughts striking with unprecedented intensity.

We are in parallel witnessing the end of political and economic globalisation, a process which began in the 1990s.

Horrendous as this all is, it signals that we are on the threshold to a new age without actually wanting to be there. Yet we are seeing a determination and a desire for a brighter future, a yearning which we to my mind have not seen for some time.

That is why I believe that, no matter how horrendous this year has been and next year presumably will be, we should always bear in mind that this is now our time and the responsibility is there for us to shoulder.

As Europeans, we have seen time and again that crises make Europe grow. It is our responsibility as Europeans to shape the coming year with the same degree of determination and unity that we displayed when reacting to this brutal war of aggression.

What is more we need to do so with the many people all over the world who thankfully stand shoulder to shoulder with us as we defend our peaceful order in Europe, a situation which is not to be taken for granted.

We need to see their concerns as well. For many countries at this time, concerns centre on the climate crisis. In so many places in the world, I have heard, “we understand your concern about the war of aggression against Ukraine, but our greatest security risk is the climate crisis.”

I heard this at the Climate Change Conference I have just come back from.

During this Conference, I was on one of the many podiums held there and read in my briefing notes, “Like 1.4 million of her compatriots, Habeebat Lawal from Nigeria had to leave her home due to flooding.” When I read this figure, I asked one of my staff members if that was really true. How can it be that I had heard nothing about 1.4 million people who have fled their homes in Nigeria? But it was true. We have talked a lot about the floods in Pakistan, about droughts elsewhere – but reports on Nigeria were in the papers and yet somehow passed us by.

That is just one example of the dramatic events experienced by so many people in our world due to the climate crisis. And we are not even registering the worry, the need and the suffering this causes.

That is why this Climate Change Conference was so important to me as Foreign Minister as this year draws to a close, despite or perhaps precisely because of Russia’s brutal war of aggression.

After all, we will only end Russia’s brutal war of aggression together and only ensure that Ukraine wins if we have international partners at our side and make just as plain to them that we stand by them as they fight their biggest threat, the climate crisis.

That is why we as Europeans worked all out in recent weeks to move forward with CO2 reduction. And as you know, any number of major emitters and oil producers tried to throw a spanner in the works.

Yet we did manage to move forward. As the European Union, we resolved not to shrug our shoulders and say it won’t work. On the contrary, we clearly named the cause – named the countries who are blocking the way in efforts to deal with the climate crisis.

I also address this in talks with larger countries because to my mind we must not forget that it is not us, the fourth-largest economy, who is suffering most from the impact of the climate crisis. On the contrary, it is the many small countries who do not have anyone fighting their corner.

For far too long, we failed to listen to small countries – for example to our eastern neighbours in Europe who have long been warning us to take threats from Russia seriously. And with our response “let’s try and get on well with Russia”, we hurt them time and again.

The fight against the climate crisis is similar. If we do not clearly articulate that the largest countries and largest CO2 emitters of course need to do more, then we are denying the major security concerns of so many small island states, African states and Latin America states.

And as I see it, the fact that we opened a new chapter on climate justice at this Climate Change Conference under the somewhat technical heading of Loss and Damage means more than just filling a pot with money. For me, it testifies that we have finally started to bridge the North-South divide that dominated the 1990s.

Initially, this might sound like a merely technical issue. But I believe this can also be a real turning point illustrating that we need to work on the climate crisis above all with those who, like us, believe in a brighter future as part of an international order.

From a geostrategic point of view, we need to recall the approach of the so-called Group of 77 at the Conference. It is made up of rich countries such as China and Saudi Arabia, but also the poorest of poor countries such as South Sudan and Burundi.

The question arises as to why they are together in this group. Once upon a time, they were all developing countries, but these days some of these countries are profiting big time from putting others under pressure. And that made plain to me once more what is crucial at this time, namely, that we recognise why some states wield such power over others although they share few common values.

Firstly, as became obvious at this Climate Change Conference, there is a massive loss of trust in industrialised countries. A loss of trust in us, those who do not just consider themselves industrialised countries but also as partners who share values.

A member of our delegation reported back on a conversation with a representative of an African country. She asked him why he was not agreeing to our proposal for a Loss and Damage fund explaining that it is tailor-made to his interests, that we want to support his country as one that is vulnerable.

His response was simple: if I leave the Group of 77 now that China and Saudi Arabia are calling the shots and then no longer have these partners at my side, how can I be absolutely sure that you really are at my side when push comes to shove? How can I be sure when you have been promising 100 billion dollars annually for climate finance for years – but have yet to deliver?

This surely must make us think. Using words to ask countries to stick with us, defend our values, fight for climate protection with us is not enough. What we need to do is recognise that there are always geostrategic questions, dependencies and pressures at play, recognise that if we want to extend our partnerships built on values, we need to extend the trust we enjoy in other countries.

Secondly, it’s also about spheres of influence and dependencies. Turning to our China Strategy, I have heard people ask why that has to be the direction now. Are we now in a situation where there is another power at work which we on principle have to be against? But no, we are not against on principle, but because we have to realise that geostrategic dependencies are a way of exerting pressure.

When we were at a meeting of the Climate Change Conference and I was negotiating on reductions for the European Union – more specifically a working programme to reduce CO2 for the next eight years to 2030 – I experienced something for which there is initially no rational explanation. I am talking here about the ferocity with which African countries in the Group of 77 were against us committing to reduce our annual CO2 emissions. Even though it is primarily industrialised countries which need to act.

And one country, Zambia, made plain that it could not agree to the proposal of annual reports and that we should not be so ambitious in our efforts to reduce emissions. Just after that, the Chinese representative took the floor and thanked Zambia for its valuable contribution. In the first instance, you wonder how this can happen because Zambia and China have different interests. But if any of you have perhaps flown into Zambia and looked at the airport, your first question may well have been whether you had landed in China or in Zambia.

Therefore, I believe that we need to see the world as it is today and not the way we would like it to be.

That it is why I consider it so important given the current situation and given what we are seeing right now in Russia’s war of aggression that we learn our lesson and draw the right conclusion.

We can’t simply keep our fingers crossed. As we know, hope springs eternal and we should certainly never give up hope. But we cannot just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best – neither with a view to Russia’s brutal war of aggression nor the climate crisis, nor when it comes to the strength of our European sovereignty.

The global economy has changed rapidly in recent decades. In the midst of globalisation in the 1990s, the cheapest price, the lowest costs and the highest profits were the central factors. Today we are seeing however that networking and interdependence have brought the world much closer together – yet are not without risk. We are seeing that in many places economic clout is being used ruthlessly for political power games. And that trade is not necessarily followed by democratic change.

That is why we as the Federal Government and as Europeans have made plain that following Russia’s war of aggression Germany cannot continue with business as usual when it comes to its foreign trade and investment policy.

That is first and foremost the job of entrepreneurs – a job you do tapping your dynamism and creativity. Many of you have diversified in recent years. But it is also the job of the state and politics to re-align our foreign trade and investment policy and equip it for this century and for this new reality.

As Foreign Minister, I identify two priorities.

Firstly, we should not underestimate our German and above all our European economic clout – above all the clout we have as an internal market when it comes to setting international standards.

Yes, we need investment in the technologies that will shape this century: artificial intelligence, quantum computers, semiconductors, electromobility and carbon-neutral technologies. We in the Federal Government are providing a reliable framework for private investment, particularly in the energy transition. We are working together in the EU – to create more European sovereignty. One example is the European Chips Act through which we are investing 43 billion euro in the development and production of semiconductors in Europe.

And, as was underpinned by one of the main themes of our G7 Presidency, we are strengthening our cooperation with partners who share our values in these areas which will define the future. Particularly with our transatlantic partners. Yet I believe we need to be honest and open here too. It is obvious that, as well as being G7 partners and partners who share values, we are also in competition, particularly with America. It would be naive to deny this.

But at the German-American Futures Forum prior to the G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting, Tony Blinken and I agreed that fair competition can lead to a race to the top and not a race to the bottom provided that this competition is conducted with honest framework conditions. Such competition can in fact strengthen us on both sides of the Atlantic. We share a strategic interest in an open world economic order based on rules and rights.

We Europeans all too often underestimate the huge strength of the EU internal market. Particularly when it comes to setting global standards, Europe is not a dwarf but has its own strength, particularly when we work together with partners who share our values.

This is something I realised anew during my visit to Uzbekistan a week ago. I did a tour of a jeans factory. The head of the factory bombarded me with questions about the new supply chain due diligence legislation in Germany and the EU. Initially I wondered why he was so interested. I expected him to say it was out of the question for Uzbekistan to export to Germany and Europe with this legislation in place.

But his reason for asking was the exact opposite. He had learnt the right lessons from the long cotton boycott that international companies had imposed on Uzbekistan. The boycott ended this year because the Government finally banned forced labour and child labour, as the International Labour Organization ascertained.

This entrepreneur understood the opportunity for him that the European market represented. In terms of price, he cannot undercut international competition particularly from countries such as Bangladesh. But by investing in organic clothing and sustainability in line with EU standards, he can make inroads in the EU market. And that is why he wanted to know if the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act also included an organic label. And what other labels were included.

Something like a pair of jeans might sound trivial but it makes clear that also in the case of Uzbekistan, values and interests are closely intertwined. After all, EU standards do not just improve people’s lives, they also bolster the economy.

But of course it is key that these jeans arrive in Germany or in Europe at some stage. Uzbekistan, a land-locked country with no sea access, is dependent on open trade routes with neighbouring countries when it comes to tapping new export markets. And looking eastward, the road leads to China. And along the old and new Silk Road, China is busy making key investments, for example in rail routes.

We might not see the true relevance of such infrastructure when it comes to exporting jeans from Uzbekistan. But for other products, the situation is different. In Uzbekistan, I visited a huge copper mine. Germany is keen to have copper and other materials from this mine exported freely to the world and also to Europe.

Here, we can see that we have a lot of catching up to do. In all honesty, there are a many factors influencing what investments we make around the world. And that is why we have to find a response shared by business and politics. What is more, Germany or the EU will not singlehandedly build train tracks all across the world. The job we have as partners with shared values is to pool our investments. We are doing so via the Global Gateway, the European infrastructure initiative – and this is going to be the central question when it comes to reforming the World Bank: how do we act not as individual countries but together when launching major infrastructure projects.

That is why when it comes to the China Strategy, it is crucial that we speak openly about dependencies and interdependencies – that is my second point. I believe we will only manage to do so if we take an approach based on reciprocity.

It’s not that we want to decouple anything. I’ve read that too. Why this China Strategy is supposedly a decoupling strategy. But those wanting to decouple Germany in the world or Europe in the world have not looked at a map. In a networked world, you cannot decouple yourself – thank goodness, otherwise we would have to wall in our countries again.

However, to my mind, we shouldn’t be naive. That is why we are saying so clearly that we need to be aware of how other countries are shaping their economic policy – not just in China but also in the United States – and what we ourselves are doing.

It is no coincidence that for example in China there are currently no major options for foreign investors to buy into critical infrastructure such as airports, ports and telephone networks. And more likely than not you need to have Chinese investors on board anyway to be able to invest there at all. Nor is it merely coincidental that foreign investors are subject to a raft of restrictions that companies do not experience here in our free and fair internal market.

That is why it is so important – and to my mind actually boils down to the question of there being a level playing field – that the principle of reciprocity is upheld in our foreign trade and investment policy but also in our internal market. That is the basis we are working on when it comes to realigning our foreign trade and investment policy.

That is the basis we are working on when we grant export guarantees, in the future making businesses a little more aware of the political risks of their decisions – because at the end of the day it is the taxpayers in our country who foot the bill.

That is why it is important to the Federal Government that we look together with you at where we invest and where we do not. After all, investments on the part of major companies – as we have seen in Russia – may even affect national security.

In recent years, as we know, many companies have thus diversified. SMEs said the risk for us is just too big. After all, if things go wrong, we won’t be bailed out with taxpayers’ money and will have to cough up for our own losses. That is why particularly taking our economy’s key sectors, I would urge us to look together at what would happen if sales markets were to disappear.

After all, the short and medium-term interests of a company – understandable as they may be – do not necessarily correspond to the interests of our economy as a whole. After the pandemic and Russia’s war, the state has to keep asking the question: can we risk having to pour in billions of taxpayers’ money again?

Let’s look at it together – that’s what I’m inviting you to do. Not just with a view to the China Strategy but also the National Security Strategy. We want to talk about the future together.

After all, I think the positive conclusion we can draw at the end of this year is that if we as a society stand together in Europe – but not just politically, also as businesses, banks, sports clubs, day-care for children – we reveal our greatest strength.

Russia’s brutal war of aggression has shown us once more that no matter how complex the world or how great our dependencies, sometimes questions are very straightforward. When it comes to justice and injustice – what side are we on? Are we on the side of the aggressors or the victims? You can’t be neutral here.

What I said in my speech to the United Nations General Assembly in March is no less true months later. This war continues and yes, we need to decide each and every day whose side we are on. We cannot be neutral here. After all, if we are neutral and say it’s all been too much for us this year, we’re through, this benefits the aggressor.

And the aggressor is not dropping bombs randomly but with brutal strategic calculation on electricity lines, water connections, civil infrastructure. After all, the aggressor knows these are the lifelines in our civilised world. When electricity lines collapse in Ukraine, it may well mean people freezing to death this winter. Or dying of thirst because they need electricity to pump water.

These are the difficult questions we face at this time but at the end of the day it all comes down to this: in our democracy and in our Europe, we have the enormous good fortune that we can decide freely. But this also means we have no excuse if we fail to decide, if we look away and remain silent.

A while ago, I discovered a Shakespeare quote that Stefan Zweig placed right at the start of his memoire The World of Yesterday: An Autobiography: “Meet the time as it seeks us.”

In global history, no-one has sought their time. We have not sought this time but we are living at this time.

Zweig’s work was permeated with deep pessimism as he was lamenting the loss of the old Europe pre-1914 – but perhaps he also sensed the positive in this quote back then.

And I invite you, despite the brutal year we have experienced, to see the positive. Needless to say, as the turmoil continues to unfold, we cannot take refuge in a world of yesteryear, in the world of the 1990s with its globalisation unburdened by geopolitics. This is a world that no longer exists.

That is why I propose not only to read this quote positively even if it is difficult, particularly when we think of our Ukrainian friends, but to look in the spirit of hope on the coming year to give us optimism.

Over the past year we have shown that when we stand together, when we trust in what has always forged close bonds between us – our Europe and our values – then we are stronger than this war.

The war is not over. Vladimir Putin planned to take Kyiv in just a few days. This he did not manage – thanks to the unbelievable courage of the Ukrainian people.

But he also did not manage because he underestimated that despite all the disputes we Europeans stand together and take a stand.

For freedom, for peace and for our Europe.


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