Welcome address by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Grand Launch of the European Council on Foreign Relations Berlin, 9 November 2007

09.11.2007 - Speech

At the opening event of the European Council on Foreign Relations, Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has praised the European strategy for peace and détente. At the same time, he urged to critically ponder the European role in the world. Only then could Europe remain an influential actor on the world stage.

Welcome Address by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the Grand Launch of the European Council on Foreign Relations Berlin, 9 November 2007

Founding Members of the European Council on Foreign Relations,
Members of Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,

European history contains many special dates, but some dates are particularly rich in historical significance.

Today, 9 November, is one of these portentous dates. Time and again events took place on this day which characterized German and European history.

On 9 November 1918 Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the Weimar Republic from the balcony of the Reichstag. What followed was the first democracy in Germany, born out of the first European civil war, which was at the same time the First World War. That democracy only survived for fifteen years. For us today this is a warning that nothing can be taken for granted and that nothing lasts for ever if we don't constantly work to preserve it, if we don't take steps every day to shape freedom and keep democracy alive.

Today we also recall 9 November 1938. That day stands for the burning synagogues across Germany, and thus for one of the darkest chapters in German history. “Reichskristallnacht” culminated in the second European civil war, which expanded into World War Two.

That war did not finally come to an end until the night of 9 November 1989, when the Berlin Wall, only a few streets away from here, opened. In this very building, which at that time housed the Central Committee of the SED, there was the silent agony of a dying regime, while outside the people sang and danced in celebration.

The fall of the Wall not only symbolized the end of Germany's division. For Europe, too, it marked a new beginning – the birth of a new, undivided Europe.

I feel you couldn't have chosen a better day on which to launch the new European Council on Foreign Relations here in Berlin.

All the more so since on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall we also gratefully remember those people, inspired by the spirit of freedom, who made it possible, often at risk to life and limb. These were the people in Central and Eastern Europe, in Warsaw, Budapest and Prague, who with their resistance set the course towards 9 November 1989.

And it was the détente policy of Willy Brandt, Walter Scheel, Egon Bahr and Hans-Dietrich Genscher which helped to ensure that the Communist leaderships finally no longer dared order fire on peaceful demonstrators.

This week's Spiegel magazine has an interesting title story on the children born that night when the Wall collapsed. Today they are 18 and therefore have come of age under German law. A new generation full of hopes and expectations of Europe and a world which is increasingly growing together.

These young people no longer grew up in a divided Europe but during a period in which the European Community became a Union, with not 12 but 27 members, 500 million inhabitants, the world's largest internal market, a common currency and increasingly free borders.

The founding fathers of European unity probably wouldn't have dared to dream much of this, and we have every reason to be proud of what has been achieved.

But we shouldn't rest on our laurels, because the world around us hasn't stopped turning. On the contrary, it is developing at breathtaking pace.

New players are pushing onto the world stage. China will soon overtake Germany as the third-largest economic power, followed by other emerging nations such as India or Brazil. There can be no doubt that the global playing-cards are being redistributed!

In addition, there are regional conflicts such as in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Africa or the Middle East, some of which arose a long time ago but which are now coming to the fore with renewed severity.

There are also the effects of climate change. They can already be felt, even here in Europe – forest fires in Greece, storms in the Balearics or melting Alpine glaciers.

The world is undergoing a period of fundamental change. Many of these developments, from the Internet to solar energy, offer unique opportunities in human history, while others pose serious risks and threats.

We have a duty to shape these processes in the interests and to the benefit of our country's people. And as Germany's foreign minister and as a European politician I want to clearly state that we Europeans can only shoulder this burden together.

Even today no European country alone is able to play a leading role in the global concert, not even the larger ones! Moreover, the relative weight and influence of individual states is further decreasing.

In spite of the often difficult nature of European day-to-day politics, it becomes increasingly clear that there is no alternative to the joint pursuit of our interests in and through Europe.

It's true that in the Europe of 27 it has become more time-consuming to bring together Member States' national interests, cultural backgrounds and historical experiences to form a coherent European policy.

No-one says this is an easy matter, but I'm confident enough – even more so following our Presidency experience – to think these difficulties can be resolved. What we need is a clear compass and a shared political understanding of where we want the EU to go.

And my view is that in this regard we have come a long way since the situation six months ago, when Timothy Garton Ash rightly accused Europe of having lost the plot.

During our Presidency we fought to make sure that Europe found the plot again! We revived the European reform process. How sceptical everyone was at the beginning, not only the experts but even more so the media! In spite of this we succeeded. It was a shared European success, and I'm confident that we can now quickly sign and hopefully just as quickly ratify the new Treaties.

And let us not forget during the next weeks and months of activity in Europe that this is still our great vision. We've come a long way, so let us now go the final mile in a consistent and prudent manner!

This is because Europe needs these new Treaties. They make the EU more effective, make European policy more coherent, and strengthen our role on the world stage.

This, by the way, is what people outside Europe expect from us. Wherever I go, I almost always hear expressions of respect and increasingly also admiration for our European experience. I encounter interest in Europe as, to summarize George Soros, the embodiment of an open society realizing itself as part of a process.

Many countries look with interest at our model which tries to link economic success with social equality, and they laud our approach to international politics, based above all on dialogue and the peaceful balancing of interests.

And I am often asked why we don't commit ourselves more strongly. I feel that here, too, we have a responsibility to develop our European approach in the face of criticism. I say that we're right to decisively favour civil means, dialogue and diplomacy, the strengthening of moderate forces and reconstruction. And we're right to believe that military means are only the ultima ratio when civilian engagement cannot otherwise take place.

The EU doesn't punch its weight on the world stage – this is a criticism I often hear. I don't think we need to hide our light under a bushel, however. We have a highly intensive presence in many hot spots – the Middle East, Afghanistan, the nuclear conflict with Iran or Kosovo – and that European presence is quite recognizable!

It was we who at the beginning of this year tried to get the bogged-down Middle East process moving again.

It was we who pressed for the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan to be stepped up.

It was we who ensured there has been a further effort to negotiate on Kosovo.

And in areas beyond the classic concerns of foreign and security policy we have no cause for false modesty either. The EU is the world's largest development aid donor. And on climate and energy we have led the way by unilaterally setting ambitious targets for ourselves.

This is all part and parcel of our comprehensive strategy for peace and détente – for even at the present stage that is what European foreign policy is truly about. And who could better illustrate this than Javier Solana?

We still need to ask ourselves, however, whether that is really enough.

My answer is no! And clearly the reason we are here now is because we all take the same view. Why else would we be founding today a new European Council on Foreign Relations!

If in this fast-changing world we want to still count, we must critically ponder our role in it every day anew. And where necessary, we must be ready also to set out in new directions.

So where is European foreign policy headed?

Let me start with the obvious – the European foreign minister. Of course I know still no such title exists. But what we have achieved – and that is what really matters – is to end the damaging and at times paralyzing rivalry between the office of External Affairs Commissioner and the office of High Representative. We have managed not only to bring policy-making and finances together but also to permanently establish the new High Representative as Vice-President of the Commission, who will also preside over the Foreign Ministers Council.

That, I am sure, will strengthen European foreign policy and ensure greater continuity.

Another thing – whose importance also tends to be underrated – is that the High Representative will be able to receive advice from a progressively evolving European External Action Service.

None of this amounts of course to new horizons for European foreign policy! Given how tricky it was to revive the constitutional process, however, given the hard bargaining of these past ten months, let me remind you that on 1 January 2009 we will have made concrete reality what many of you in your different capacities have fought and struggled for over the past few years.

That is a very good thing! But it is not enough! We cannot rest on our laurels!

The French President has announced that he plans to present proposals on the future of European security policy. My response is to welcome any suggestion to revisit such matters. Shaping the future of European security policy is something in which we want to be actively involved.

Germany and France have always been a team driving Europe forward. This is especially true as regards the European Security and Defence Policy, which we initiated jointly in Cologne in 1999.

And when people complain that Europe seems to have run out of visions, I find myself wondering whether a common European defence might not be a vision for tomorrow and beyond. It would indeed, I believe.

Could we not right now do more to harness our efforts in the field of military procurement and development? Does it really make sense for Europe to be developing three different fighters all competing with one another? Especially at a time of tight budgets, surely we should cooperate more closely here!

And another point: do we have sufficient planning and command capacities for our European missions abroad?

I believe we should consider these issues coolly and objectively in the light of the parameters set out in the European security and defence strategy drawn up in 2003.

To my mind this is still a very good and worthwhile document, whose analysis of the threats and challenges we face is just as relevant now as it was then. That is why I am in favour of keeping it as the basis of our joint action in this field.

Clearly, however, we cannot stop reconsidering where we stand. Of course we must examine whether and in what way the analysis that has guided us to date should be expanded or updated.

For the world is constantly changing, after all. And that means we Europeans need time and again to reach a new consensus about what security risks we face, what we can do about them and what our European response should be.

Let me briefly cite a number of concrete issues on which we urgently need agreement.

What is the state of transatlantic relations, for example? Europe needs America and America needs Europe. If we all share that view, however, we cannot just continue with business as usual. A new approach is needed – or what I have described as a new transatlantic agenda. And this agenda is about the issues that are critical to our future, issues we are concerned with on both sides of the Atlantic: climate protection, energy security, disarmament and also better control of financial markets.

The second question, which follows from the first, is this: How do we in Europe see the future of disarmament? In my view there is a danger of the whole international disarmament architecture painstakingly developed over many years being dismantled. We cannot just sit back and let it happen. Here in Europe of all places we must not cast the legacy of detente to the winds. I am very pleased my French colleague has endorsed this view in an article we co-authored recently.

Another issue is Russia. I remain convinced that turning our backs on Russia cannot be the right course. Especially in rough weather or when the going gets tough. And I remain convinced that the “strategic partnership” is of key importance also for Europe's security – even if some people are now not so quick to use this word as they once were.

Our common interests, however, count for far more than our political differences, which of course we have as well. We need Russia to share in the responsibility for stability around the world – in the Balkans, in the Middle East, on disarmament and energy issues.

It is in Europe's own best interest, after all, not to blithely destroy the bridges that do exist. So, as I see it, efforts to further develop relations with our eastern neighbour is one of European foreign policy's foremost concerns, which must be pursued “strategically” and not with an ever wary eye on the headlines.

A fourth area I would single out is energy and resource security. Global demand for energy and commodities is rising fast. To grasp what that means in practice you only need extrapolate the energy consumption of the average Japanese to the 2.4 billion inhabitants of China and India. Global energy demand would instantly double!

Clearly there are massive conflicts looming over control of resources. The key to securing our future therefore lies in energy efficiency, renewable energies and cutting CO2 emissions.

That is why I also say we do not need an energy-NATO, but we do urgently need a well-conceived, cooperative energy security policy. That, to my mind, is a core component of a forward-looking European foreign policy.

On all these issues I see also an important role for the European Council on Foreign Relations we are founding today.

I hope your work will not only inject new ideas into necessary European debates but also encourage the European public to take a greater interest in such debates.

And that is not all. For as Milan Kundera once pointed out, all European nations have a common destiny, but due to their heritage and history each nation experiences it differently.

That is the essence of Europe's wealth – this diversity of national experience. However, I also believe we must perceive our destiny increasingly as “European”, for only by making common cause can we hope to have any influence on the world stage.

This is why it is so important the European public is interested in and informed about European issues. That is one of the priorities the new Council has set itself. I wish you every success in this endeavour!

Thank you very much.

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