Speech by Karsten D. Voigt on the occasion of the event celebrating 60 Years of the Marshall Plan, 25 May 2007

04.06.2007 - Speech

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

good evening.

Do you know the American game “Six Degrees of Separation”? It basically says that any two persons on this planet can be linked through their mutual acquaintances. According to this theory, only six degrees – that means five different people – are needed to link you to any other person on Earth. There is a link between you and your favorite movie star or your biggest hero. It is as simple as that: you know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows Leonardo di Caprio. If you are extremely lucky, you have fewer degrees of separation. Normally, one only plays this game with people who are still alive. So you would not try to establish a list including George Washington or Marilyn Monroe or Moses. Given the circumstances, the question tonight is: how many degrees of separation are there between you and George Marshall? I will tell you the correct answer in a minute.

Equally few people in Germany are familiar with the very American tradition of commencement speeches. Most of these speeches touch subjects that are appropriate for helping young men and women over the threshold separating the relatively carefree phase of youth and education from the phase of maturity, responsibility and going to work every morning. In general these speeches center on human nature, life and its different stages, ethical questions and the values that bind our societies together.

One of the most uplifting commencement speeches ever was given almost sixty years ago to the day. On June 5, 1947, US Secretary of State George Marshall addressed the best and the brightest at Harvard University. Only two years after the end of World War II, he outlined the key elements of a plan aimed at – I quote – “breaking the vicious circle and restoring the confidence of the European people in the economic future of their own countries and of Europe as a whole”. He basically announced that the US was about to launch a massive initiative to provide material support to Western Europe including West Germany. The strategy was to hand over the tools for economic recovery to the Europeans themselves and, at the same time, give them back dignity, self-confidence and motivation. The initiative was intended to enable Europeans to revive their economies so as to permit “the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist”. The German author Bertolt Brecht had basically the same reasoning when he affirmed that “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral” – let me translate freely: “In general, hungry people think about food first and about moral values only afterwards. And, let me add, often.”

I was six years old when George Marshall made that memorable speech announcing the Marshall Plan. I had behind me a long series of traumatizing events: nights spent in dark, cold and scary shelters, not to mention afternoons of being the target of allied aircraft shooting at us children playing in the street with absolutely no German soldier in sight. My parents provided me with more food than many other children got but in spite of that there were bedtime moments when I was too hungry to fall asleep but too scared to ask my parents for food because I knew that they would of course give me their own poor ration. It would be dishonest to say that I had any knowledge of Marshall's speech at that early age. But I clearly remember that things – including the morale of the grown-ups – were getting better: it was the beginning of the post-war economic miracle. At that stage in my life, observing the examples around me, I learned how important it is for the individual to responsibly embrace challenges rather than reject and fear them. Thus – without knowing it at that time – the foundations of my political career were laid.

Not as the politician but as an eye witness of that time, it is my pride and pleasure to address you tonight. I warmly commend the German Marshall Fund of the US for taking the initiative to remember and celebrate tonight.

The genius of George Marshall's vision was disputed at the time but is clear to us in hindsight. He decided to send tangible goods instead of money because money could not buy anything in Europe then. Farm animals, fertilizer, machinery, fuel and also much needed food helped to increase productivity in Europe. Increasing productivity by enabling Europeans to help themselves was his overarching policy goal. He considered it essential to this goal that protective tariffs be reduced and trade within Europe increased. Marshall was very much aware that – given the legacies of two world wars – closer interdependence was an almost insurmountable challenge to most Europeans. Just imagine what it meant for a Frenchman to build up normal business contacts with the German archenemy. That Marshall's vision included the philosophy of a “family of nations” with Germany as a fully-fledged member was rather revolutionary at that time and obviously did not come easy for many of our neighbors.

But those Europeans who saw integration as an alternative to nationalism and war eagerly embraced Marshall's vision. In a nutshell, his vision helped to pave the way for the Europe that we know today: the Europe where the new French President goes to see the German Chancellor the very same day he takes up office. That George Marshall was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, was well deserved.

This anniversary offers an opportunity to look back on a unique success story.

Only ten years after the creation of the Marshall Plan, in 1957, six countries – Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg – founded the European Economic Community which has since evolved into a union with 27 member states. Following the suffering of war, expulsion and poverty, the EEC has united the European continent in peace and has ensured prosperity and stability at a level unprecedented in the continent's history.

On a day-to-day basis, the single market with more than 450 million citizens, as well as the single currency, help enhance prosperity and economic security in Europe. The common Schengen area means open borders for the citizens of the countries involved. With the common area of freedom, security and justice, the EU is making a key contribution. As for external policy, the Union has evolved into a major trading bloc just as important as the US and into an influential factor in international politics.

The arguments put forward in defense of European integration in the post-war period or just after the fall of the Berlin Wall are inadequate today. Nowadays further European integration must reflect the challenges of the 21st century. That doesn't mean that the old arguments have become obsolete. Ensuring peace and prosperity continue to be key European goals. Until very recently, a bloody war was being waged on Europe's doorstep in the Western Balkans and the situation in the Middle East – just a few hours away from Europe by plane – still needs our full attention.

Twenty-five years after George Marshall's commencement speech, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt addressed another crowd of the best and the brightest in Harvard. This time I was aware of the speech: as a young politician and leader of the Young Socialists, I was working closely with Willy Brandt – although he might sometimes not have been entirely convinced that young rebellious party radicals like me were more than a pain in the neck to the party leadership.

That day in early October 1972, Willy Brandt announced the creation of a permanent memorial fund to Marshall Plan assistance on behalf of the German people. His slogan was “The memory of the past has become the mission of the future”. Willy Brandt was a bridge-builder and helped to lay the foundations of what was to become reconciliation between the East and the West, basically between the fiercest enemies of his time. He earned the Nobel Prize for Peace for his policy in 1971.

The first and biggest endowment from the memorial fund initiated by Willy Brandt went to the German Marshall Fund of the US. In 1986 Chancellor Kohl campaigned so that the GMF could receive additional funding. In 2001 GMF received another German Federal Government contribution. This shows that the GMF could and still can count on a broad base of political support in Germany beyond party boundaries. Today, GMF has grown into a very potent enterprise with highly motivated, highly gifted and highly effective staff thinking ahead of our time and administrating well-established and successful projects. We are especially proud and fond of the Manfred Wörner Seminar and the Marshall memorial fellowship, both created twenty-five years ago.

After 1989, with Europe no longer in the eye of the storm of a world conflict, GMF had to adapt to evolving geopolitics and change its scope. Exploring how transatlantic cooperation can address new global challenges, GMF is now also planting seeds in Central and Eastern European as well as South European spots through various programs including grant-making.

GMF is therefore lending a hand in building a democratic self-confident, strong and active Europe. Such a Europe is not only in the interests of Europeans but also in the interests of America. We will only have a chance of mastering the challenges and risks of the 21st century if the two transatlantic partners work closely together. The transatlantic partnership was needed after WW II to protect Europe against a military and ideological threat from the Soviet Union. This threat doesn’t exist any more. Today and in the future, the European-American partnership is needed as a factor of democratic stability in a world full of uncertainties and risks.

We need one another in a different way than before, but we still need one another. Only if we work together will we be able to master new regional and global challenges and to overcome new threats.

Shaping Europe's economic and social future will be one of the central tasks facing European policy-makers in the coming years. As the current holder of the EU Presidency, Germany is especially aware that a healthy and dynamic economy is necessary to safeguard the future of the European economic and social model.

Anyone who has seen skyscrapers shooting up in Beijing, Shanghai or the Gulf states appreciates the magnitude of the challenge which the rapid economic growth in highly dynamic regions of the world poses to the EU. The single European market is not a danger to our economic model or social equity which have evolved over decades. Rather, this single market has enabled us to defend the European economic and social model in the globalized world of the 21st century.

First and foremost, it is crucial that we considerably step up investments in spheres of importance to the future, such as the promotion of European research and education. Knowledge is a strategic commodity in the face of global competition. Benjamin Franklin said that the investment we make in education gives us the greatest profit.

Furthermore, Europe's positive economic development requires reliable energy supplies and a coordination policy against climate change. The EU has a special role to play here. We have to focus on the threefold goals of energy security, economic viability and environmental compatibility. Europe needs considerable efforts in the sphere of renewable energies and energy efficiency – also in order to keep Europe's expected increase in demand for imports under control. In addition to this, the EU's external energy relations have to be intensified. As we all know, this applies in particular to relations with energy-supplier and transit countries in order to guarantee energy security in the face of increasing international risks.

Around the themes of interdependence, integration and vision we have covered a good deal of European history. We have seen that there are multiple analogies and lineages. By the way, do you know the answer to our initial question? How many degrees of separation are there between you and George Marshall? The answer is: there are only three degrees of separation between you and George Marshall: you know GMF, GMF was founded with a donation from Willy Brandt's Government and Brandt knew George Marshall. That makes three degrees of separation.

The German Marshall Fund of the US has been an integral part and a wonderful symbol of that European success story which would have been unthinkable without the commitment of the United States. It is therefore perfectly appropriate not only to say “Thank you, George Marshall”, “Thank you, Willy Brandt”, “Thank you, Helmut Kohl”, but also “Happy Birthday, GMF and congratulations on your achievements”.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in giving a warm round of applause to acknowledge what GMF has done for transatlantic understanding.

Thank you.

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