Speech by Federal Minister Steinmeier in Munich as part of the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Allianz Cultural Foundation’s lecture series “Let's talk about Europe”

14.01.2007 - Speech

Speaking at the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Allianz Cultural Foundation’s lecture series “Let's talk about Europe”, Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier described European integration as the most important global success story of the past 50 years. In the new international climate brought about by the end of the Cold War, he said, no European nation state was able to represent its interests alone. Germany too had – with the disappearance of its special status – grown into a role of greater political responsibility. Faced with the uncomfortable realities of today's world, he urged German people “not to pull the German blanket over their heads”, saying: “Our future lies out there in the world.” The most important political goal in this respect was the further integration of Europe and common European action. Only European integration would continue to guarantee peace in the future. “Integration creates the conditions for joint security. Peace and security in turn create the conditions for prosperity in Europe.”

-- Translation of advance text --

Mr Dorn,
Mr Schulte-Noelle, Mr Kilz,
Mr Monti, Dora,
Ladies and gentlemen,

May I first wish all of you a happy, healthy and successful new year 2007. My own new year's eve was spent in a very special place this year. I stood on a stage on University Square in Bucharest and joined 200 to 300,000 people in celebrating Romania's accession to the European Union. Well, tough luck, you may think. But I can tell you: I was overcome to see the joy and hope for the future in those people's faces. Arguably it was one of those rare moments in the fifty-year history of the EU, EC and EEC where you could feel the incredible positive energy of European integration.

Who could have imagined 15 years ago that 2007 would see Romania join the EU as its 27th Member State? Back then there were still tens of thousands of people fleeing to Germany to escape political persecution and economic hardship. Romanian asylum seekers were among the most numerous from any country. The German Interior Ministry at the time negotiated repatriation agreements while the Federal Government offered start-up grants for those returning so that they could make a living at home. And if we are to be honest, there were painfully few who believed that a future in the united Europe would ever be possible.

Romania today is filled with a sense of anticipation which visitors to the country can immediately appreciate. Huge industrial sites have risen up on the edges of major towns. There are hundreds of thousands of new jobs. The Romanian economy is growing far faster than any other in the EU. Foreign investors have discovered the country: the share index in Bucharest has risen by 321 percent since 2004. And already there is a shortage of manpower!

People growing up in Romania today will no longer need to leave the country to find a job and make a living. This is due in no small part to the European Union. And if Sibiu in Transylvania is stepping forward to shine as European Capital of Culture this year, that is Europe too.

Precisely in response to the scepticism of many people in Germany and other European countries, I will say this: European integration is the most important global success story of the past fifty years. Political leaders from all corners of the globe view Europe with respect and admiration. Whether I am talking to partners from Latin America or Central Asia, the same question always comes up: How did you manage it, and what lessons and practices can we take back to our own continent? Even the USA has lost its quiet smile when discussing European integration. No longer is anyone saying that they don't know Europe's telephone number – even if that age-old comment of the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is still something of a favourite. Go to any large bookstore in Washington and New York today and it's not only Jeremy Rifkin's “European Dream” which will catch your eye. Indeed, while visiting a bookshop in the DuPont Circle just before Christmas, I saw a whole shelf of new publications on Europe, with titles as striking as “The superpower nobody talks about”. I ask myself sometimes: Why does this kind of book only appear in America?

Those who have such a positive opinion of Europe usually mention two reasons: Many in the world are still amazed how, from the ruins of two devastating world wars, we Europeans have managed to build a continent of peace and understanding in which different peoples and nations are bound together through friendship and irrevocable ties. Those with political foresight can meanwhile see that by integrating Europe, we have found the right answer to the greatest change of the new century: the globalization of not just the economy, but almost all areas of life.

Since the coming down of the Wall and the demise of Communism – events which led to the unification of our German nation – the world has undergone fundamental changes. Free trade, the free movement of capital and new technologies such as the internet have turned our planet into a global village. Across the world, we are witnessing a rate of development never before seen in history. At this moment, around one and a half of the six billion or so people in the world live in developed and industrialized societies. But this figure is rising sharply. In the next 25 years it is not only the world trade product which will grow to twice its current volume. In just one generation, up to four billion people will have achieved prosperity of their own. We all know about the rise of the billion-strong populations of China and India. But many other emerging economies are following at an incredible rate: Turkey, Mexico and Brazil, but also, for example, Kazakhstan and Vietnam, Argentina or Chile.

In a world still trying to find its bearings, no European nation state is able to represent its interests alone, neither the United Kingdom nor France or Germany, never mind the small EU states. The European Union harnesses the political, economic and social power of 500 million people. And in the first six months of 2007, the Federal Government will represent these 500 million people before the world as the EU Presidency.

Exactly the same will apply to the Slovenian Presidency next year, when it holds talks with Chinese, Russian or American leaders about peace in the Middle East, the security of energy supply and measures for climate protection! Slovenia is a small country, a new Member State. But every Presidency entering into such talks has the weight of Europe as a whole behind it.

What am I trying to say? In the new international climate brought about by the end of the Cold War, we Germans are gaining influence in central areas precisely because we transfer competences to European level. Europe is no longer simply the answer to two world wars instigated or co-instigated by Germany. Now, at the beginning of 21st century, further integration and common European action has become our most important political aim. Only by pursuing this aim can we ensure a bright future for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.

My message here is loud and clear: the 200 year reign of the classical nation state in Europe is over. This will come as no revelation to those who meet almost every week in Brussels and make daily phonecalls to their European colleagues to establish common positions with regard to foreign policy, the economy or other arrangements. But we have not yet managed to communicate these changes in such a way that they have become part of people's everyday way of thinking. General perceptions in the Member States are still not even close to catching up with the fundamental changes that have occurred over the past few years. And the politicians cannot deny all responsibility for this state of affairs.

Moreover, I am sure that the primary reason for the widespread euroscepticism in Germany, but also in other EU countries, is the discrepancy between the realities of a closer community and public perception. We politicians often appear far too timid when we talk about Europe. Many are put off by the peddlers of political nostalgia and populist pundits who try to tell us that the clock can be turned back and that everything would be alright if we just went back to how things were before.

Yes, its true: Some social benefits are threatened by globalization, and politics has lost influence to business since 1990. But this influence can only be won back through enhanced international cooperation – starting with cooperation between governments, parliaments and people in Europe.

Europe is a winning project, for all involved and for us in particular. No country has reaped greater benefits from the EU and its constant enlargement than Germany. And European integration will continue to guarantee peace in the future. It creates the conditions for joint security, against terrorist attacks, for example. Not so long ago, the investigators and secret services of individual European countries saw each other as opponents, carefully concealing their information from each other. Today, security authorities in Europe work side by side to combat Islamist fundamentalism and other threats to peace on our continent.

Peace and security in turn create the conditions for prosperity in Europe. The fact that we can call ourselves the world's leading exporter is largely the result of an internal market which allows us to sell our goods and products to more than 400 million people in the rest of the European Union without customs duties or trade barriers. Contrary to popular belief, Germany exports two thirds of its goods not to the dynamic regions of China and India but to the countries of the EU. And what is more, an ever increasing percentage of these exports is heading to our neighbours in Eastern Europe.

If I am not mistaken, the German fear of the Polish plumber ruining skilled trade in Germany is gradually losing its edge. And rightly so! After all, where have they come from, these lorries which stand in mile-long tailbacks at the borders to the Czech Republic and Poland? What do they have loaded onto them? They carry machinery, equipment and goods which have been produced, processed, packed and dispatched in Germany. Ultimately, the EU's eastern enlargement safeguards and creates – as forecast – many more jobs in Germany than are lost because of Polish plumbers or companies relocating to the east. And the enormous discrepancies between Western and Eastern Europe in terms of wage levels and social welfare are shrinking rapidly. Some SME owners are meanwhile appearing on Bavarian television to explain why they have moved production from the Czech Republic back to the Bavarian forest. Some are willing to take on the slightly higher – if ever less so – wage costs, judging that the quality of production more than makes up for this competitive disadvantage.

We can only ensure peace, security and prosperity for the next generation in Europe through a responsible debate on Europe's borders. This means acknowledging when limits have been stretched while avoiding self-imposed isolation. It is not the case that any country can join the EU at will. We are thus developing strategies for neighbouring countries and regions which are not able to become members of the EU, but which share our values of democracy and the market economy, of understanding and tolerance, and seek to implement these on a step-by-step basis.

The more countries follow this path, the better for everyone: for the people in those countries, who can hope to live in peace, security and prosperity; and for ourselves, since peace next door strengthens peace and security at home, and because these countries offer new markets for our business.

This is why I support both partnership with the EU's Mediterranean neighbours and the extension and intensification of Euro-Atlantic relations. For the same reasons I am keen to see that Turkey receives a fair chance to accede to the EU and that Europe establishes a strategic partnership with Russia. Both countries will play a key political and economic role in ensuring a bright future for us in this century.

In a recent speech, which sadly received far too little attention, Pope Benedict XVI said that Islam still had to experience the Enlightenment which Christianity had already gone through. How true! And this is why I say that Turkey must be given a chance to join the EU in the form of fair accession negotiations. Turkey has the potential to become an enlightened Islamic state at the south eastern tip of our continent. A Turkey permanently committed to European values would be more than a geographical bridge to the Arab and Asian worlds. It would also be the most important intellectual mediator between a secular Europe and our deeply religious neighbouring regions. A Turkey rooted in Europe could help to combine European values and Islamic viewpoints in such a way as to guarantee the peaceful and secure coexistence of people in Europe and our neighbouring regions in the long term, based on the principle of tolerance. I strongly believe that Europe would be making a historical mistake if we were to squander this opportunity.

No less important is a long-term alliance for the future with Russia. This is obviously a difficult issue, particularly at this time. But I know from long experience that, fifteen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, not just President Putin but many political leaders today want to see Russia associated with Europe. We have all seen how difficult this process is, and how many twists and turns – not always in the right direction – it is prone to take. Russia is not a perfect democracy, and does not have a long democratic tradition. But it is in Europe's vested interest to help anchor European values in Russia and promote close ties with our continent.

Of course, we are also bound to Russia by considerable economic interests. Russia is an important partner – and I might add, one important partner of as many as possible – for a secure long-term energy supply to Europe, and this will remain the case as long as Europe as a whole is dependent on fossil fuels. As it grows in economic stature, Russia could also form a significant export market for German and European business in the near future. If President Putin remains determined to modernize the country from scratch, Russia will have to make up enormous deficits in terms of almost all goods and equipment investments. With targeted and intelligent foreign policy, we obviously have a chance to improve peace, security and prosperity for people in both Europe and Russia.

If I were to express one wish at the beginning of this year, it would be this: Germany's outlook must be even more international. We all still carry in our minds the narrow conception of a foreign policy which was sound and sensible, maybe even without alternative, during the Cold War. Before the Wall came down, the Federal Republic's foreign policy basically pursued two aims: safeguarding our alliance with the USA and NATO, as its protection guaranteed our external security; and attempting to keep relations with Moscow as tranquil as possible so as to keep the threat from the Soviet Union in check. After two disastrous world wars, German foreign policy on the international stage otherwise kept a low profile.

Since the coming down of the Wall, however, this era is well and truly over. In an age of globalization, things have changed fundamentally. The end of the East-West confrontation has not brought about the end of conflict and the advent of the peaceful world hoped for. On the contrary: the disappearance of the cynical stability maintained by the Cold War has unleashed a variety of new and highly dangerous regional conflicts. The idea of a distant region is no longer valid, for Germany or any other country. Conflicts which we used to consider – and many continue to consider – unrelated to us on account of their apparent remoteness on a map, today affect us directly.

This entails both chances and risks. Economically speaking, we can benefit enormously from economic development in many regions of the world. This is a good thing! Conversely, we can no longer point to Germany's special role as the last outpost of the West before the Iron Curtain. “Keeping out of it” is no longer an option. Or to put it in political terms: Historical developments since 1990 have healed the division of Europe but at the same time eliminated Germany's special status. We have grown into a role of greater political responsibility, simply because we have to think of ourselves as just another European state – and indeed because others expect this of us. And this means both taking on responsibility for common global problems and helping to resolve regional conflicts. The fact that we can no longer shirk this responsibility is often still difficult for us to accept. But, confronted with the uncomfortable realities of today's world, it is in our own interests not to pull the German blanket over our heads. Indeed, our future is out there in the world. Foreign policy has for a long time now meant more than classical diplomacy, and today extends to a range of internal policy areas, from the environment to the economy. China's and India's environmental policy in the next few years will play a fundamental role in deciding whether our grandchildren come to know Germany's highest mountain as a snow-covered one, or whether all of the ice will have melted by this time. To put it succinctly: Foreign policy is increasingly becoming world domestic policy.

We must adapt to this situation. Our way of thinking here in Germany needs to become more international, and embrace problems and cultures which have affected us little up to this point. This applies not only to politicians, but to companies and managers, trade unions, education ministers, teachers and pupils, associations and initiatives.

And last but not least – and I say this here as a guest of the Süddeutsche Zeitung – I would like to see the media take a more enthusiastic role in communicating this international outlook to the public. The Süddeutsche Zeitung is certainly not guilty of reporting too little on Europe. But we must ask ourselves on the whole whether politics alone is to blame when people say that they have nothing against Europe in principle, but feel seriously uninformed about it.

Is it enough for a leading German editor to say at a small meeting that Europe “just doesn't sell”? Is Europe really too abstract, too dull, too complicated to interest readers?

The truth is that news from Brussels is very much relevant to people. Ever more – and ever more important – political decisions which have a direct effect on people's daily lives are being taken in Brussels.

The truth is also that most people don't even know the names of the people in Brussels making these decisions. The EU Commissioners for competition or the internal market are among the most influential politicians in Europe. They are responsible for fundamental economic decisions, affecting countless jobs from Germany to Lithuania, Portugal to Greece, Ireland to Finland. But they are strangers to the public.

If Europe is to grow yet closer together politically – and this must be our aim – we will in future need a European public. As yet, this only exists in fledgling form. Parties, trade unions and associations across Europe have formed networks in which they can exchange ideas and learn from each other. This has led to a certain rapprochement of viewpoints, even if these developments still have a long way to go. European parties, for example, must be significantly further developed and work out programmes for the whole of Europe. But we also need the support and cooperation of the media as we make these efforts.

Let me give you an example: The majority of people in Europe read neither the Financial Times, the FAZ, nor the Süddeutsche Zeitung, but get their information from regional or local newspapers. The European project has as yet barely found its way into these publications. How can we get Europe into the regions? This would be an exciting discussion for the journalists and media people among us.

Looking at what the Europe Union has become 50 years after the Treaties of Rome, we can quite safely say: This is one of the greatest achievements in the history of the European people. But looking forward in time, we can see enough work for many generations to come. European visions often take the form of 30-year projects – consider the euro, which was first agreed upon back in 1972. The next great vision is to see Europe finally speak with a single voice in foreign and security policy – and a few years down the line, also possess an effective European army. This may well take another 20 years. But who knows? If European integration continues – and this is what we are working towards – then people looking back at the end of the century might recognize me as a member of a since-extinct species: the German foreign minister.

Thank you for your attention.

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