Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the congress of the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW)

05.06.2024 - Speech

The Trypilska coal-fired power plant is located around 20 kilometres south of Kyiv. It supplied millions of people in Ukraine and in Kyiv with energy for decades.

When I stood in the turbine hall at this power plant two weeks ago, there was not just one but several enormous holes in the roof.

The machinery and pipes had been reduced to twisted pieces of metal. In mid-April, this power plant was struck by several Russian missiles – and not by chance, but because it was at that time one of the last intact coal-fired power plants in Ukraine. There is now not a single one of these power plants left undamaged to provide electricity next winter.

This was not a random attack on a power plant, but a deliberately targeted attack on Ukraine’s lifeline, on its energy supply.

This is precisely what is at stake when we talk about issues of energy security. And it is what makes energy security such a crucial issue for us. This is why I travel so often to Ukraine and to these places, to make it clear that those who want to destroy these countries, who are doing so with the murderous intent of a Russian President, that they are attacking precisely these places.

This is why all of us together are doing everything in our power to protect towns and cities, villages, schools, hospitals and power plants from attack, and not just by providing air defence.

No, this is why it is so important now in particular for us to constantly take into consideration the rebuilding of critical infrastructure, of the energy supply. And I would like to take this opportunity to also thank the many businesspeople who are here today, and perhaps also individual mayors or local council members.

Because what we have achieved in the last two and a half years, together as a country, and not just in politics – supporting Ukraine so that it can defend itself against this barbaric war of aggression in order to secure its freedom – it has not just been a matter of air support from our side, humanitarian assistance, but of support from our country as a whole, because all of you have united to help procure generators, rebuild infrastructure, get your businesses operating on the ground. Thank you so much for doing this.

And we will be doing the same next week at the Ukraine Recovery Conference here in Berlin. There will be many businesses in attendance who will make it clear exactly what we can do. Together, and as an example for other countries, too. You have my truly heartfelt thanks, because it is not at all a matter of course for businesses to say, we’ll donate major infrastructure components. Or – like a German start-up specialised in water treatment that is now working near Mykolaiv – we’ll take the plunge and set up in Ukraine. And Robert Habeck will then ensure they are protected with export guarantees. But this readiness, even in the current situation, not to take risks but to take responsibility, is exemplary in all of Europe. Thank you to those of you who will be at the conference. Thank you for serving as an example for many other businesses.

Why are we, the Federal Government, doing this? Why are so many millions of people in our country doing this, people who took in refugees from Ukraine? Or you as businesses?

The last two and a half years have made it clear that these debates are challenging. How can we secure our energy supply? And do so in such a way that it will be clean for the future while remaining affordable, and of course with clarity on all of the technical aspects. This is and has been a challenge. That goes without saying.

It is not an easy road to walk when you want to take things into a new age. But the last two and a half years have also shown us that, while we might have to endure tough debates over phasing out coal power, we do not need to be afraid that a missile attack will destroy everything overnight.

It is this understanding, I believe, that shows us the responsibility that we all also bear. That shows us that, when we now talk about how we can support Ukraine, by which I mean not just Germany alone but all of us together at the European level, the best guarantee of security is to be connected, including in the energy sector.

We have of course experienced this, too, first-hand. When, less than two years ago, we suddenly found ourselves having to wonder during the winter whether the lights would quite literally go out.

We are one of the leading economies in this world, and we suddenly found ourselves on the brink of an energy catastrophe. And why did we together manage to prevail? Because this country stood together, because our energy efficiency was increased by another 20 percent within just a few weeks, because each and every individual contributed, because there were businesses who said, we’re going to sort this out – if the Russian President is going to use energy as a weapon, maybe even against us, then we’re here. Among other reasons because we in the European Union are connected, we stand together and we can help to ensure each other’s energy needs are met. This is a part of our energy supply.

We realised it then, if we hadn’t already – some of us had discussed it previously, with Nord Stream 2 and other issues – but it is by now clear to just about everyone in our country, in Europe, that if a Russian aggressor is prepared to use energy as a weapon, then discussions around energy supply must be an integral part of geopolitics, whether we like it not.

Quite simply, we cannot choose the world we live in. For us, for me, this means: Firstly, thank you for allowing me to be here to talk to you as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, as the “Minister for Foreign Security Affairs”, about how we can embed our foreign trade and investment policy, our energy foreign policy, in our geopolitics.

And, above all, how we can learn our lessons for the future from the fact that we made mistakes in the past – with one-sided dependencies. But also, from a positive perspective, how we managed to tackle the winter of 2022/23 together. That is, it is essential to join forces. With you, the energy industry, and not least with our European and international partners. Because our life in Europe is built on security and freedom and prosperity. It was painstakingly created. It did not simply fall into our laps – it is the result of people continually asking, what bold steps must we now take?

And a steel and coal community then went on to become one of the most heavily integrated single markets in the world; and at a time of transformation, as the issue of climate action emerged, people were then prepared to say, hey, we can use the strength of our single market for this, too.

Making use of this potential from the 27 member states, not just with a view to securing peace, to Ukraine or to climate action, but also in common foreign trade and investment policy, common European energy policy – this, in my view, is the task of our times. In concrete terms, it means making Europe stronger, more competitive and above all more independent.

And to do so, I believe that two things are crucial.

Firstly, expanding renewable energies. At the last Climate Change Conference in Dubai – and the Federal Foreign Office is now of course responsible for these climate negotiations, because of the way that climate is intertwined with geopolitics – we clearly saw that these debates – “Yes, but if we do it and the rest of the world doesn’t, what are we supposed to do then?” – these debates are simply no longer happening.

In the end it was a handful of states who said in Dubai, we are prepared to now write down in black and white, in a shared international document, that we are going to initiate the phase-out of the fossil age.

There was an enormous majority of over 130 states who ultimately joined forces because we needed a unanimous consensus. And they said, we need to get this firmly established.

And Germany was very much in demand to help do so. And why was Germany so in demand when it came to the question of how to convince the 60 remaining countries? Not because we said, “You need to finally get this into your heads.” But because we were able to make it clear that this is not a simple path to take. We have struggled hard over it in our country, too, for example over the coal phase-out.

I can see my colleagues from the Christian Democratic Union right here in front of me – we in particular have struggled time and again over the question of how we can work together to get this done.

And making it clear that this struggle, this debate within society is not a weakness but a strength, that is something that we all, regardless of our party, were able to make clear in Dubai. Because the other countries did not ask, does it make sense for us to invest in renewables now?

No, the crucial question was: How can we do so in a country that might not be as rich as you are? How can we do so in a country that has much more potential – as do almost all African countries, for example, when it comes to renewable energies – but unfortunately doesn’t have an AAA rating? How can we do so in a country that the industry leaders aren’t set up in?

The answer with which we were able to convince them was: By doing it together. By taking the positives that we have learned in Germany and supporting them in your countries, too. And for me this is what’s important in the whole debate that we are holding here together. We intend to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world.

And others say, well, what’s important is to safeguard our prosperity. The good thing is of course that both of these are connected. Meaning that this contradiction, prosperity or climate action – when we look at the recent flooding in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, if not before that – it simply no longer exists. The answer is climate action and prosperity. Or prosperity because of climate action.

For our export nation, which invented the energy transition, this is in my view an incredible opportunity, including in terms of future exports, to secure our economic interests and at the same time to protect ourselves as thoroughly as possible. Because we can see that dangerous dependencies on individual countries can lead to a scenario where our economic strength alone is not enough.

I’ll put it quite bluntly – coming up with another 200 billion euro to stabilise energy prices and our national economy is something that not even the strongest or third-strongest economy in this world can do.

Meaning that sharing, shared energy, diversifying, is the best way to ensure our security, too. In short – as we can now see in Ukraine – hundreds of solar panels and thousands of wind turbines instead of a handful of fossil-fuel power plants make you less vulnerable, less susceptible to blackmail. And so our key aim is to expand precisely these.

But I believe – and this is my second point – that being less vulnerable in an interconnected world requires us to engage in technology transfer. Not least with a view to cooperation in Africa. Combining digitalisation and energy supply. How can we bring businesses to the table too? So that I have a major energy company that says, “We’d like to invest.” And I have a major digital business – and they should then be able to get something up and running together. And the third question on top of that is the question of security. Because wind turbines too, of course, are vulnerable, all the more so if they are connected to a grid.

We have large companies, for example in my wonderful home region of Brandenburg. When they showed me their map with all of the wind turbines across Europe and how they control them from Brandenburg, I asked – and what happens if all of these wind turbines go offline at the same time?

Of course we are vulnerable on this front, too. And so the third important point is not just looking at technologies that produce clean energy, not just looking at digitalisation and the interplay of these technologies, but the question of security.

The key word being de-risking. We have to be honest – we can see that our dependency could not be greater, when it comes to solar energy in particular. We can look back and talk about it, but what’s done is done.

What I always focus on is not making the same mistake twice, because that is irresponsible.

We can see that the majority of our solar modules come from China. 98 percent of rare earths. 97 percent of lithium. For solar modules as a whole, 95 percent.

If Russia has taught us one thing, then it is that we cannot simply let such an enormous one-sided economic dependency in critical sectors continue. This is why de-risking is at the heart of our National Security Strategy, our Strategy on Climate Foreign Policy, and our China Strategy. And I’ll say it again. What we want is de-risking and not decoupling. Because of course in an interconnected world it’s not possible to entirely decouple from anyone, let alone one of the largest markets.

But what we also cannot do is to continue simply relying on the principle of hope. Because our yardstick is the reality that we face.

That means that in the European Union we need an overall balance between not being naive, investing in our own strength, and at the same time always reaching out to others with offers of cooperation.

This can be summed up in three Ps: promoting our single market, protecting ourselves when others take anticompetitive measures, and above all partnering.

These three Ps are, I believe, the core of energy security in Europe. You have summarised this as safe, clean and affordable.

With this in mind, we are now also looking at these areas in trade agreements, so that we can expand our partnership with those who are already partners. This is, incidentally, another absurdity – we import huge amounts of lithium from China, but China sources a lot of lithium in the first stage of processing from Australia.

And you wonder, how can that be? (It had been ages, by the way, since the last German Foreign Minister visited Australia. Perhaps these two situations are in some way connected, the fact that we have ended up not paying all that close attention to our democratic partners.)

How can it be that Australia and the European Union don’t simply cooperate directly when it comes to lithium? Once again, this can’t be done by policymakers alone. And so German companies have stepped in at precisely this point and we are now building the partnership together.

The same goes for trade agreements, with Chile, Kenya, New Zealand. And not just when it comes to raw materials. But also the hydrogen offices that we are promoting together. Or, looking at raw materials, when new markets are to be tapped, then doing this directly with support from the development bank KfW, for example with a raw materials fund of a billion euro, or by supporting your businesses in setting up in new markets, because this is in the interest of our raw materials security.

We have understood that energy policy doesn’t work without geopolitics. And it doesn’t work without Europe.

As much as I sometimes, sitting at a meeting of the 27 member states – in foreign policy it is still mostly the case that a unanimous consensus is needed – as much as even I, a passionate European, sometimes lose my patience a little and think, this is the twenty-eighth time we’ve discussed this, it remains the case that without the European Union we would not be stronger, but weaker.

And of course that’s all the more true when it comes to our economic security. Germany alone would not be able to face China or the US so confidently – in some areas we could, but not in all.

That means always understanding this single European market, amid all of its challenges, as our strength. I believe that we can send a clear message in this regard, too, and not just now, a few days before the European elections. In the understanding that the union of peace and freedom that is Europe is our greatest fortune. And that it is our responsibility to protect this union together.


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