Address by Federal Minister Steinmeier at the New Year's Reception for the Diplomatic Corps, 30 January 2008

30.01.2008 - Speech

Federal Minister Steinmeier at the New Year's Reception for the Diplomatic Corps in Berlin:”We can look back on a year during which we have cooperated closely and in a spirit of trust. I would like to thank you for this.“

Translation of advance text


A few days ago, over several evenings, German TV showed the latest film version of Lev Tolstoy's great novel “War and Peace”. Maybe some of you were able to see at least parts of it.

It is a pointless task to reduce this monumental novel to a few sentences.

However, the six-hour-long film clearly showed once again what happens when two major nations clash – the result is endless misery for the population and a degree of destruction almost incredible at that time.

We in Europe have unfortunately experienced this far too often and very painfully.

But during the past fifty years, through European integration, we have also learned something quite different, i.e. that the peaceful balancing of interests is possible. We can succeed in breaking out of the vicious circle of hatred and violence. It's worth the effort to cooperate peacefully.

This was possible in Europe, and for that reason I think it should be our common task, beyond Europe's borders, to patiently look for ways of reducing tension and resolving difficult situations amicably, often in the face of obstacles and resistance which I in no way underestimate.

We worked towards that aim during the past year, and we will continue these efforts this coming year.

However, we all know how difficult that remains in many parts of the world. You are aware of the conflicts facing us, in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kenya or Kosovo – it would take too long to complete this unfortunate list.

But there are also some areas where we were able to ring in the New Year with a certain degree of hope and cautious optimism.

Take the example of the Middle East. Over the years this conflict, which has gone on for far too long, has seen many attempts to arrive at a solution. All have failed, and indeed this time there is no guarantee of success.

Nevertheless, in Annapolis the two sides solemnly pledged, before the assembled international community, to take all necessary steps to find an agreed solution within one year.

The recent events in Gaza show how risky this course is. If it is to succeed, none of us can let up on our commitment – not only the conflict parties themselves but also the international community, the Middle East Quartet and the Arab neighbouring countries, whose support up to now I expressly welcome.

I already mentioned Afghanistan – the bad news there cannot be glossed over. The security situation is difficult, and we remain fully committed to ending the violence. But there are also reports of successful reconstruction. We, the international community, promised to support the Afghan people on their rocky road to a peaceful future. We want to keep that promise this year, too.

Another difficult scenario lies, as you are aware, in our backyard – in Kosovo we are all facing momentous decisions. In my opinion we should take these decisions responsibly and carefully, and I hope the leaderships there don't take any actions which might worsen an already tense situation. I urge both sides to pay great heed to what they have always promised, i.e. that violence cannot be an option!

But beyond the regional crises and conflicts we had to deal with last year, as you know, we were also intensively committed in other fields.

Let me just mention climate change, the effects of which you all know – storms, floods and drought. And all the experts tell us it's high time that effective countermeasures were taken.

During Germany's Presidency the EU set pioneering climate goals. But in the final analysis what's needed is a climate regime which includes all countries. This is what all the delegations in Bali pledged to work towards, and we want to play our part.

As you know, the issue of energy and raw-material security is closely related to this.

Here, too, if we want to avoid tension or upheavals, all of us – producer, transit and consumer countries – must cooperate in a trustful and fair manner, also by the way in the joint search for renewable energy sources!

This year, too, this will be one of our priorities.

Let me go on to a second field which must give us cause for concern – disarmament policy. You are aware of the dangers posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. You know that also conventional disarmament treaties have been under pressure.

We must continue to counter that pressure, even if last year showed how difficult and lengthy the process will be.

Our task is to develop our arms control regime so that it not only leads to greater security but is also seen as equitable by all sides.

A third field which is of great concern to me, as I regard it as a key element of foreign policy in today's networked world, is culture and education.

We all still recall the dark prophecies which made the headlines a few years ago about the coming “clash of civilizations”!

I can simply say that we mustn't allow this to happen! It would be irresponsible to ignore the dangers of cultural and religious polarization. However, in a world in which we are all so vulnerably dependent on each other – via data highways, ever-shorter transport routes and innumerable economic links – a “clash of cultures” would lead to very painful consequences for all.

For this reason we have a major interest in promoting peaceful contacts between our cultures. Therefore I say we must build bridges for our peoples and cultures so that they can establish these contacts.

This is why, as many of you are aware, I have been heavily committed to strengthening our cultural institutes. And this is why I regard educational work, also abroad, as highly important.

For that reason I support joint cultural and educational projects such as our presence at the Cairo Book Fair, our Cultural Years in Japan and China, or the Ernst Reuter Initiative aimed at fostering Turkish-German cultural dialogue.

And with this in mind, in a few days' time, I will again travel to Africa, where Germany wants to open new Goethe Institutes this year.

We can look back on a year during which we have cooperated closely and in a spirit of trust. I would like to thank you for this.

We can also look back on a year in which I again visited many of your home countries.

I was unfortunately not able to visit them all, as I once again realized that a year only has 365 days – particularly since, alongside our normal tasks, we had to shoulder the EU and G8 Presidencies.

But in all those countries I was received with great hospitality. And what is more, wherever I went I was aware of these nations' great willingness and interest regarding intensified political, economic and cultural cooperation with Germany.

Let me thank you for both your hospitality and your spirit of cooperation, and I ask you to convey my gratitude to your governments.

Let me close with a thought expressed by Federal President Köhler during his New Year's reception, at which I met many of you:

“For a cooperative world order we need one very basic thing: trust.”

I find this a very fitting idea. We need to trust each other before we can conduct an honest dialogue. And, in spite of all the difficulties, we need to maintain that dialogue if we want to solve the problems we all face.

I hope we can continue our cooperation in just that trustful spirit.

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