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Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier to the German Bundestag during the budget debate on foreign policy challenges in 2007

22.11.2006 - Speech

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen,
We have just over one month to make the final preparations for what will indeed be an extraordinary year, both from a foreign-policy and a European point of view. Ahead of us lies a year [...] during which we will be shouldering considerable international responsibility, both within the European Union and within the G8 framework, and during which expectations of us will be high. You rightly expect the Chancellor and me to focus our attention on 1 January 2007 and the following six months, or in the case of the G8 Presidency the entire year. You will perhaps understand from my introductory remarks why this year's budget negotiations are particularly important to me. For on this point, the eyes of the world will be on us.

Now that we have debated, negotiated and achieved a result, this is the time and place to express my thanks. I want to thank all those who supported our efforts to ensure that funding for foreign policy is increased somewhat. I was delighted by the support which I encountered here in the plenary sessions and in the committees, namely the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Budget Committee. I want to express my special thanks to the rapporteurs: the main rapporteur Mr Koppelin who, as always, conducted the negotiations in a competent and pragmatic manner, Herbert Frankenhauser and Lothar Mark who – I would like to stress – lent us special support with regard to funding for cultural relations and education policy, as well as Michael Leutert, even though we are going to clash in a little while on some points. To Alexander Bonde, I would like to say: you voiced criticism during the negotiations but backed us when it mattered in the debate.

That's why I want to begin by thanking you all.

It will come as no surprise that I want to combine these thanks with a request, namely that you continue to support us.

Please remain well-disposed towards us! For we're not only faced with renewed tough budget negotiations next year but – as many of you pointed out in your speeches – it unfortunately looks as if we will need more rather than less foreign policy in the coming year. We will therefore need your backing.

Everything I said in this House on 6 September still applies. The world seems to have become smaller but not the problems. Nowadays, what happens in faraway regions has a direct impact on us in Germany. During the last year, we have debated civil wars in Africa which trigger migration whose consequences affect us. We have debated terrorism and climate change which ultimately – as the Chancellor said this morning – alters and jeopardizes nature and the environment in our country.

At any rate, there's one thing we can be sure of: the demands on our foreign policy, on our foreign-policy commitment, will increase rather than diminish in the coming years. That will mean considerable work, persistence, creativity, courage and, above all, one thing which I admit has only become really clear to me this year: presence.

Let me put it this way: modesty is most certainly a mark of intelligent diplomacy. But looking back, I have to say frankly that I believe it's a mistake that compared to 1993 we now have to deal with 26 countries more with 10 per cent less personnel. Looking back, I wonder whether the move towards establishing laptop embassies in some places was a creative way of dealing with a lack of resources rather than an intelligent and effective way of remaining present in these regions.

In my view, that cannot be described as a self-confident presence. We should always compare ourselves with those with whom we can compare ourselves. I therefore want to point out the following: France's diplomatic service has 10,000 more personnel, the British 6000 more. And that doesn't include the massive cultural presence of our two neighbours which we encounter wherever we go.

I therefore ask you to support this budget, a budget which I believe does contain the first steps towards improving the situation and, particularly in the sphere of cultural relations and education policy, points the way ahead. I have canvassed support for this policy area several times during the last year, also in this House, in an attempt to perhaps turn around the trend in this field.

Perhaps we all first had to learn together how important cultural relations and education policy is. Perhaps we realized this too late. I, at any rate, believe that we didn't appreciate this third pillar of Germany's foreign policy enough in the past. Either we didn't recognize its value or we assumed that it was a kind of luxury appendage to Germany's foreign policy.

Particularly this year, a year during which there were major irritations, many misunderstandings and even open conflict between Europe, or the Western world, and parts of the Arab-Islamic world, one thing has become clear – let me say this in response to many speeches I have heard here today: if we don't want to debate even more frequently in future the balance between civilian and military commitments within the missions in which we are involved, and if we don't want to debate even more frequently the size of the budget for civilian reconstruction, which, as we all know, is always too small, then we have to expand civilian and preventive-security elements.

However, that means that we have to make ourselves understood, also in the regions in which we find that difficult. We have to explain what's important to us and we have to convince all parties that it is best to work together to find solutions. That will require more than just an embassy and an ambassador. It requires interpersonal contacts and the creation of a closely meshed network of cultural relations. In addition, we should be more ambitious when it comes to our schools abroad and academic exchange.

We should make these our goals in the coming years and also take it into account in our budget debates. This is my opinion although, to be frank, I'm delighted that it was possible to bring about a reversal of trend with a view to our cultural relations and education policy flagship, the Goethe Institute, and that we are now moving towards consolidation and better representation in the outside world.

As I said, we have to do something about cultural relations policy. But you may rest assured that I do of course realize that the focus of my and your work in the next year will be somewhere else. The agenda will be dominated by issues known to us all: by the situation in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in the Congo and in Iran, as well as by the status solution in Kosovo, an issue which has not even been raised in today's debate.

All of this will take up much of our attention.

I want to highlight two of these issues. First of all, the situation in Afghanistan. This morning the Chancellor set out the Federal Government's joint position and I don't want to repeat her remarks. I think there are good reasons for not abandoning, nor even scaling down, our engagement in northern Afghanistan. However, I wish […] we would portray what we do in a more self-confident way to the German and international public.

Now that I have said that, I want to tell you: of course, I know that the security situation in Afghanistan has become extremely difficult. Of course, I'm also aware that we are still far removed from our goal in the area for which we are responsible. But for once we should also look at this issue from the opposite direction: if stabilization has succeeded anywhere at all in Afghanistan, if anything at all has happened anywhere in Afghanistan for the country's reconstruction, even if it's on a very modest and barely visible scale – in fact, many of you have been to Afghanistan and visited schools and hospitals and learned about the water supply situation – if, then, anything has succeeded anywhere in Afghanistan then in the north. We should therefore ask the reverse question: whether it would benefit another region of Afghanistan if we were to ease up efforts to create stability and promote reconstruction in the north of the country.

On the contrary, there's much to suggest that we should step up our efforts, both in the sphere of income generation for the Afghan population and police training. I'm also trying to raise awareness and arouse ambition in this direction at European level; such measures don't have to be limited to Germany's bilateral efforts.

We can also afford to be self-confident in this debate because it is apparent that our philosophy, our strategy of civilian-military interaction, is gradually gaining ground, not only in the PRTs but also within NATO. Mr Hoyer, you can be sure that the German side isn't scared to put forward its views. If we were making it so easy for the international community and our NATO partners, then the state of the international debate would be very different. We present our achievements with self-confidence in international fora. Only recently, we worked together with our Norwegian friends to ensure that, with a view to the NATO summit in Riga, the option of making the civilian component an integral part of the engagement of all NATO partners in Afghanistan be examined. I believe this is the right way forward.

Following the news reports this morning, we are now considering the creation of security islands in southern Afghanistan, where – there's no doubt about it – the security situation is difficult. In the final analysis, this is just a somewhat different – necessarily different – attempt to showcase civilian-military cooperation there in order to bring home to the population in the south – by presenting tangible reconstruction successes – that not cooperating with the Taliban is worth their while.

I stated in this House a few weeks ago – in the light of the disastrous reports even then and which are appearing in increasing numbers at present –: I believe that Afghanistan will only be lost if we give up on it. There are many reasons not to give up on it: the situation of the Afghan population is one of the reasons, the other reasons were already mentioned this morning. The international community, of which we are a part, must not fail.

Even greater efforts are required of us in the Middle East. The assassination of the Lebanese Minister Gemayel, who I met on two occasions during the summer, demonstrates that the vicious circle of violence, the sabotage of literally every attempt to create stability, has to be broken. Looking to the coming year, our policy must aim at drastically reducing the number of those trying to block progress. We are working hard to achieve this end, Mr Leutert, even if you don't read that every day in the newspaper. I can assure you, Ms Müller, that we will also work hard during our EU Presidency on European initiatives. However, Mr Leutert, there's one thing which you will never be able to convince me to do: put forward proposals and initiatives here in Parliament or to the German public which will barely make the headline in tomorrow's newspapers and then disappear. That would be irresponsible and I won't have any part in it.

We cannot look at every conflict region in a budget debate. However, as I have already said in this House, we have to deal with conflict regions; that is patently obvious. But a foresighted foreign policy has to cover a broader spectrum.

That's why I was in Central Asia just a few days ago – some of you accompanied me – and in the Maghreb states last week. Even if we remain focused on the current conflicts, I believe that it would be wise to occasionally look ahead to 2025 to see how the balance of power will shift, who the new players will be and in which regions we should be present now before the developments we foresee actually get off the ground.

I believe it was good to show our face in these regions. We met young politicians who are looking to Europe. I'm pleased that during the EU Presidency we will have an opportunity to work on offers which will keep Europe attractive. I don't mean that we should only help these regions out of a sense of charity. I'm sure that every member of the delegation realized that of course we are focusing on Central Asia not just because of energy. We have to help this region so that it isn't infected by all the instabilities of its southern neighbours. We are interested in ensuring that this region remains stable even if the political leaders there make these talks difficult at present. Nevertheless, we must have the courage to embark on this path and you can rest assured that we will continue along it in future.

Thank you for your support.

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