Talk by Federal Minister Steinmeier launching the lecture and discussion series “Transatlantic Dialogues” in the House of World Cultures

19.09.2007 - Speech

Good evening to you Mr Scherer, and to you Thomas Krüger, ladies and gentlemen, and in particular to you, Jeremy Rifkin,

We should start off by disillusioning anybody here tonight who thinks that this event brings together an odd couple of speakers and talks. This isn't the first time we've held a joint event! I still remember well our 2004 event, which took place just a few yards from here in the Federal Chancellery.

Deep in the midst of a phase of European stagnation, you told us why the whole world was dreaming “The European Dream”. I forget in just what order I became acquainted with this dream – I don't know if I read the book after hearing the talk, or vice versa. But whichever way round it was, this optimistic take on Europe exerted an influence on me until well into the German EU Presidency, and definitely altered my perception of Europe.

Tonight we will continue the discussion we started back then. The subject today will not be Europe, but rather the current state of German-American and European-American relations. And what better place for such a discussion than here!

The Congress Hall is “transatlantic terrain” par excellence. 50 years old, freshly reopened after a major refurbishment with a bombastic programme on New York, this building stands for America's presence in this city, for ensuring its freedom and democratic rebirth in difficult times.

It reminds us of what we owe America. Our people as a whole, but also this city in particular.

John F. Kennedy's words, spoken in this Hall in 1963, “I leave and the United States stays”, resonate in some remarkable way even today. Berlin is a hub for American institutions, universities and think-tanks whose impact is felt far beyond the city.

What better place to think about the renewal of the transatlantic relationship – a renewal that is in my view necessary – than in this city and in this particular building?

This Hall, which represents both a close transatlantic relationship and a receptiveness to world cultures.

And who could be a better partner for such a debate than Jeremy Rifkin, if we hope to steer clear of the familiar transatlantic laments?

Jeremy Rifkin, who took up the powerful metaphor of the “American Dream” and reminded us Europeans that we too have a dream – and that many people, including Americans, want to share this dream with us.

The dream of solidarity between nations and individuals, the dream of unity in diversity, the dream of a world in which people work to live and don't live to work, the dream of sustainable economic development and an unprejudiced openness to other cultures.

Your words kept coming back to me, especially during the last six months, when we were trying to give the European Union fresh strength and direction after a period of despondency. Just like you, I believe that Europe's future is as America's partner in making our world a more humane place.

Europe needs America to be a strong, functioning state. And America needs Europe to be strong and functioning, too. A Europe that has weight in the transatlantic partnership, but which does not have to define itself as a counterweight.

A dream? Perhaps. But without such dreams we are too easily bogged down by our momentary problems, by voting rights and double hats and other diplomatic subtleties. Many of you know just what these formulae from the realm of the European institutions signify.

And that brings us to the heart of the “transatlantic affair”.

Almost no other international relationship rests on such a solid foundation: the USA and the EU are each other's number one partner. Europe looks back gratefully on the role played by America in the post-War rebirth of democracy and reconstruction. The two continents are bound together in the Atlantic Alliance and through the intensive network of bilateral and EU-US consultations. The transatlantic trade and investment flows surpass all comparable economic links by a considerable margin. To give just one figure, 1 billion euro worth of trade takes place every day between the EU and the USA.

All the same, attitudes in our societies are unmistakeably changing.

Let me give you an example of this, too. In the 1990s, 64 % of Europeans surveyed still supported the USA's leading role in international relations, but this number had dropped dramatically by 2007, when only 31 % were still in favour. Opinion polls in the USA also show that interest there in Europe is waning. And anyone who wants to advance their career in the Washington think-tanks now chooses to learn Chinese or Arabic.

You could take comfort in the fact that the ratings that measure our basic affection for each other have not deteriorated much at all. But friendship and partnership with the USA are no longer so obviously a matter of course for many people.

The crucial question is – are we still important enough to each other on the two sides of the Atlantic? Or are our different weights and altered global interests increasing the distance between the transatlantic partners?

The answer is not a simple yes or no.

Of course, things are changing. And it is up to policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic to make sure that these changes do not lead to our estrangement.

Some of the hiccoughs in the transatlantic relationship are simply down to the fact that times have changed since 1989.

The fall of the Berlin Wall has not only dramatically rewritten the US's security function in and for Europe, but has also shifted the United States' strategic interests to other parts of the world.

11 September and the robust joint response to the threat of international terrorism have indeed shown how strong the bonds of solidarity are, no matter what has changed. We all still recall the crowds that gathered spontaneously in the streets of Berlin in a mass expression of sympathy for the victims and bereaved. And, as I always say to the critics of our actions in Afghanistan, it is and remains our common duty to stop Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for ruthless terrorists once again.

But we all bear the wounds that the Iraq war has inflicted on us, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Many Europeans view the unilateral approach that preceded this war as a disastrous departure from the United States' post-war diplomacy that has traditionally been centred on the Atlantic Alliance.

Many people in Europe believe, as Harvard Professor Joe Nye has put it, that America's remaining attractiveness depends crucially on its smart power. And consequently that putting too much emphasis on military power – on Mars not Venus – is ultimately counterproductive.

And the Americans accuse us of being naive and querulous.

Let me say here and now, in this Congress Hall, that Europe has fared well under America's lead. But the more far-sighted and multilateral America's actions were, the better things were!

As we Europeans have learned, influence is by no means just a question of military force, but also the ability to reach people's hearts and minds.

America was never merely a physical force, but also an idea. And it was able to lead Europe back onto the path of freedom because of the credibility this idea lent it.

Whatever misgivings we may have about each other, we must never forget all that we have on the plus side in the transatlantic relationship.

First and foremost we have the impenetrably dense and multifaceted network of human relations – contacts, friendships, affinities that span the Atlantic in both directions – which doesn't show up on any balance sheet.

43 million Americans alone claim to have German roots, making them the biggest population group in the US. On average, 10 million e-mails speed between Germany and the US each day, joining our two countries in a ceaseless conversation.

These human links are strong enough to weather all sorts of storms. And that is a good thing! There is probably no better evidence of the shared values that are on everybody's tongue than this millionfold transatlantic exchange of people, ideas and philosophies of life.

The reason why so many Europeans and Americans ultimately seek so much contact with each other, and do so so creatively, is simply because we have a lot in common – notwithstanding any differences in our mentalities. As Alexis von Tocqueville so rightly said: “… in America I saw more than America”. In the transatlantic dialogue we also see ourselves.

Jeremy Rifkin's book on the European Dream is another such mirror which shows Europeans and Americans how similar they really are.

What does this mixed balance hold for the future of the transatlantic relationship?

Let me try to answer this question by offering something that is less a prognosis and more a call for action: If we want to prevent estrangement, we have to draw up a new transatlantic agenda!

Only if people see us working together on solutions to the major challenges of the future, will we win back their hearts and minds for the transatlantic cause.

This cause is and remains important! For Europe, for America and for the rest of the world.

For it is becoming ever clearer that the key issues humanity will face in the next 100 years – energy, natural resources, climate change, protection from disease, poverty alleviation, combating terrorism – can only be successfully addressed if we work together.

Nobody – not even the strongest of us – can succeed alone. Nobody acting on their own can stop global warming, provide energy security, prevent monetary crises, contain proliferation risks or avert terrorist threats.

Even the transatlantic partnership alone cannot solve these problems. But none of these problems will be any easier to solve in its absence!

New issues also call for the creation of new platforms. NATO rightly continues to be the central plank of our common security in the Western world. But the conviction is spreading that in the first truly global century many questions will no longer be susceptible to solution using predominantly military means or in military alliances, but rather by using civil instruments.

International law, technological progress and renewable energies can make a war over oil and gas superfluous far more effectively and intelligently than soldiers and tanks ever could. In order to be able to discuss such security policy matters in depth, we need new fora beyond NATO for binding dialogue.

What are the issues that belong at the top of a new transatlantic agenda?

I would like to mention three which I feel are particularly important.

The first issue, as hinted at above, is security of energy supply and climate protection. This has become a key to our destiny – an issue that will determine whether we can continue to live in security in this global world.

I saw for myself the previously unimagined divides that could be created by climate change on my trip to Spitzbergen a few weeks ago – and not just in the Arctic states' race for the North Pole and the planting of a Russian flag on the seabed.

The race for energy and natural resources is well under way – and will accelerate dramatically as populations grow and prosperity spreads.

What the worldwide increased demand for energy and natural resources means for us all can be clearly illustrated if we consider that the energy needs of each and every one of the 2.4 billion inhabitants of China and India might soon be as high as those of the average man in Japan. This would double the world demand for energy at one fell swoop – and even now many countries with primary resources are highly instable.

We have to reckon with major conflicts over the control of resources – unless we work together in good time to forestall them. Energy efficiency, renewable energies and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions are the key concepts here!

That is why a cooperative energy security policy is in my view an integral part of any far-sighted foreign policy. Europe is now moving in the right direction. But without the USA, the main emitter of CO2 gases, no breakthrough will be possible. And without the USA we won't be able to bring the most important newly industrialized countries on board.

But we have to look at ourselves critically, too. The industrialized world, in particular the USA and Europe, have themselves done much to bring about this ecological crisis. Growth is important for us in Europe, and it is even more vital for the NICs. Of course, we Europeans cannot tell people in other parts of the world to drink water while we ourselves go on drinking wine. We therefore have to join together now and lead by example.

A start has been made – at the last EU-USA Summit in Washington and at the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm. We have vowed to become more energy independent by investing in biofuels, innovative and efficient cars and clean coal technologies.

And I am certain that the potential for technological cooperation has by no means been exhausted. At least the eyes of the Bosch, BMW and SAP engineers whom I recently met in California lit up when they told me about their joint projects with American universities and businesses.

The great importance given to climate protection in California may not yet reflect public opinion across the States. But we can forge a “coalition of goodwill” with those who share our climate policy aims.

I talked about this a couple of weeks ago in California to Governor Schwarzenegger. We also discussed how we could link the existing EU emissions trading system with the schemes currently being established in other industrialized countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia. We have just produced some concrete proposals on this with the help of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. California and other important US states have expressed great interest.

Let me mention a second issue, which admittedly does not fall within the remit of a Foreign Minister, but which is instrumental to our relations. I am referring to the international financial markets.

Just how interdependent we have become has been demonstrated in the past weeks by the credit crisis in America. Bad mortgage loans in the USA sent shockwaves across the world that were felt in Berlin and Dresden.

Back in the spring, Peer Steinbrück presented proposals to his fellow Finance Ministers from the G7 countries on how the financial markets could be made more transparent and securer – not least in the field of hedge funds.

He initially met with a lot of criticism. But after the events of the past weeks, the critics have toned down their complaints – and the readiness to seriously pursue such ventures has grown, even in the US. That is a good thing.

There is a third issue that is growing ever more important for world peace. I am referring to disarmament and proliferation.

I was glad to see that the warnings that disarmament and non-proliferation are still relevant today are now coming not just from German foreign politicians, but also from such experienced American diplomats as Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and Sam Nunn.

In view of the rise of new powers, disarmament and non-proliferation are now almost more critical than during the Cold War. At least then the balance of terror was rational in its own kind of way. I doubt that a world with a multiplicity of new nuclear powers would be anything like as rational.

That is why, in spite of the frustrations and setbacks, we have to continue to address the Iran issue with patience and resolution. That is why we have to work with the Americans, Russians and Chinese to successfully restrain Iran from nuclear adventures. It was not the threat of war, but purposeful and wise diplomacy – instruments of classical foreign policy – that have obviously brought the gains on the Korean peninsula.

But disarmament and arms control belong on the international agenda again, even if it weren't for the Iranian nuclear problem.

It is in Europe's interest that the disarmament architecture which has evolved over the decades is not dismantled.

And we are working on getting the USA, too, to realize once again that the successful fruit of the policy of détente in Europe – a dependable system of confidence-building, transparency and controls – can set an example for other world regions.

That – not born-yesterday naivety – is the reason for our scepticism towards the American plans to implement missile defence against the wishes of part of Europe.

And it is the reason why we keep calling on our American partners not to forget that – notwithstanding all criticism of certain developments in Russia – we need each other, be it in the Middle East, the Balkans or wherever conflicts fester.

Permit me to make a fundamental point here. It is with concern that I have observed a growing tendency to react to things that displease us – including in the case of Russia the moratorium on the CFE Treaty – with isolation, threatened sanctions and a suspension of talks. I know that makes for good headlines and grabs public attention. But ultimately it tends to be a case of sacrificing foreign policy to domestic policy ends.

This is certainly not sensible. As numerous examples show. And even if some people find it boring, the sensible way forward lies in laborious, often unpublicized endeavours to restore trust and build new confidence. In this regard, the political strategy of the policy of détente remains relevant in our recast world.

This brings me to one last point, which allows me to get back to the current use of this building. I am referring to receptiveness and sensitivity to the cultures of this world.

Enhancing our cultural relations is a key concern of my foreign policy. Especially in a world with new centres of power, we have to ensure that our own culture is still visible and understood. And in such a world we have to make an effort to fully comprehend any grounds for misunderstanding, scepticism and rejection.

For this reason I consider cultural exchange across the Atlantic to be a vital task. Especially exchange about the other major cultures of the world, to which this House is first and foremost dedicated. Our aim should not be mutual self-adulation. We should rather try to come to an understanding about our shared Western values and positions, and to explain these comprehensibly to others.

For this reason I have campaigned for a massive increase to next year's cultural budget – and having talked to numerous Members of Parliament I am confident that the Bundestag will approve it.

Barack Obama published a key article on foreign policy entitled “Renewing American Leadership” in the summer issue of “Foreign Affairs”. He warns of an America that becomes entirely inward-looking following the traumatic experiences of the Iraq war, and turns its back on the world's problems.

This is a worry that is shared by many Republicans, as I have discovered during my last few trips to America.

Obama called for a return to American leadership, as exercised under Roosevelt and Kennedy. Leadership that is based on the awareness that the security and prosperity of each individual American is dependent on the security and prosperity of the rest of the world.

“Common security” and “common humanity” must be the principles on which a new transatlantic agenda is built. An agenda that faces up to the conflict between security and humanity and tries to resolve it in the spirit of our shared values.

I am sure Jeremy Rifkin would say this is not a dream, but a duty that lies before us; one which we must not shirk.

Thank you for your attention.

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