We tried really hard – but unfortunately we could not make it to London to be with you. Ice and snow in Dublin prevented us from leaving on time. Unfortunately, controlling the weather is still one of the things a German foreign ministers cannot do.
So I am addressing you with this video from an airplane – because it really mattered to me to speak to your important conference. Since its creation more than 70 years ago, this conference has been a key institution in British-German relations.
It has brought together Germans and Britons during crucial moments in our history – even if this sometimes proved a difficult exercise. I’ve been told that when Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher participated in the conference in 1990, a person had to sit between the two as a buffer. Because Kohl and Thatcher, as we all know, had their disagreements. And the conference organisers were nervous that there might be an open dispute.
In the end, the opposite happened: Kohl and Thatcher took advantage of their joint presence at Königswinter to make clear: In the period of geopolitical shifts that was the end of the Cold War, Germany and Britain were closing ranks – despite their differences.
It’s no secret that, in recent years, British-German relations have had their ups and downs as well. But certainly we do not need buffers between James and myself – ice and snow might have prevented me from coming to your conference, but relations are certainly not frosty between our two countries.
I am convinced what was true in 1990 is also more than true today: In the face of a new strategic reality, Germany and Britain are standing together, close and firm: in the G7, at NATO, at the OSCE, at the UN General Assembly.
In this new reality, democracy, freedom and global rules are fundamentally challenged. It is a reality in which Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has made it clear that, for the foreseeable future, security in Europe will not be about security with Russia, but from Putin’s Russia.
In this reality we all face a choice: between injustice or justice, between standing on the side of the aggressor or on the side of the victim and those defending international law.
And I firmly believe that in this new strategic reality, one thing is key: We have to work even closer together with those partners and friends around the world who share our values – our fundamental belief in freedom, democracy and the rule of law. And we also have to work closely with those who are moving in our direction. Because compared to the challenges and the growing systemic rivalry we face, the differences we might have between us as value partners are actually quite small.
President Putin’s war has brought unspeakable suffering to millions of children, women and men in Ukraine. But this war has also shown something else: The power that lies in freedom, in democracy and in our liberal societies – if we join hands and work together.
We saw this in Ukraine, where Putin’s war plans failed, where Ukrainians are defending their freedom with incredible courage.
We saw this in the G7, the EU and NATO, which all found a new dynamism and sense of purpose, defending our values, our international order and our freedom.
And I think we also saw it in relations between Germany and the EU and Britain: We saw that we can show strong unity – not only, but especially in the face of Russia’s war.
My plea tonight is therefore: Let us build on this unity. Let us use this momentum to strengthen our ties, in our response to the new strategic reality we all face: to see how we can best reshape our security policies to counter Russia’s threats, how we can make our economies more resilient by reducing our dependencies.
And obviously also to jointly address the biggest security challenge of the 21st century: the climate crisis. The climate crisis destroys, it displaces, its kills. It is threatening millions of people worldwide with ever-stronger droughts and storms.
At COP 27, we could build on the very successful COP 26 in Glasgow. And we showed what the EU, the UK, Norway and small island states can deliver when we work together to keep the 1.5-degree goal alive and to open a new chapter for a just climate policy.
At the same time, as close partners, we should also openly address issues on which we don’t agree: Above all, the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. I was in Dublin today and yesterday, where I spoke to people from Ireland and Northern Ireland, from both communities. What I heard most of all from them – now, in a time when war has returned to Europe – was their wish for a pragmatic solution that allows them to do what is crucial to their daily lives: to do business, and to visit family and friends. Above all, they told me, they want a solution that preserves peace.
I believe there now is a window of opportunity for such a pragmatic solution – if both sides show a real willingness to move forward together. That’s why I encourage the British Government to take up the very constructive EU proposals that are on the table – in the interest of the people in Ireland, in the UK, and all of us in Europe.
We were also supposed to sign today the “UK-German Connection” agreement. And I definitely promise that we will do everything we can to find a date early next year to sign this agreement as soon as possible.
Because this agreement matters – even though it might sound technical. The relations between our two countries are about so much more than meetings between foreign ministers and diplomats. Relations between our countries are about people. What fills them with life are the students, researchers and start-uppers, the parliamentarians and think tankers, the many men and women who know that by working together, we are stronger.
For decades, Königswinter Conference has been the German-British forum for exactly this kind of exchange. This conference helped us move closer 30 years ago, when the end of the Cold War changed the geopolitical realities of our continent.
Today, as we are once more facing a new world, this new strategic reality, I believe this conference can play that crucial role again. It – and you all – can help us strengthen the freedom and security of the men, women and children in both our countries.
So let us approach this new reality with confidence. We have all the reason to do so – building on the strong unity we have shown in the past months – and, above all, based on the great trust and friendship that connects our people.