Speech by Federal Minister Steinmeier at the meeting of the bilateral steering committee of the Petersburg Dialogue, 3 July 2008

03.07.2008 - Speech

“Tackling global challenges together – prospects for the German-Russian modernization partnership”

-- Translation of advance text --

Mr Mayor,

Mikhail Gorbachev,

Lothar de Maizière,

Ladies and gentlemen,

In his speech in Berlin just a few weeks ago, the new Russian President Medvedev borrowed from John Le Carré to say something quite striking. Russia, he said, had “come in from the cold”. He went on to say that his country was prepared to play a constructive role in shaping global policy as well as the global economy.

Just a few days ago at the EU-Russia summit, Dmitry Medvedev underscored this in a more concrete way. I'm increasingly optimistic that the time has finally come to lend substance to and deepen European-Russian, and most especially German-Russian, relations. That is a great opportunity. It's vital that we don't squander it.

It's therefore right and proper that we discuss here together how Russians and Germans can seize this opportunity quickly and resolutely. I'm also delighted that today's meeting is taking place in Passau. That gives us a chance to congratulate the new mayor of this city. Jürgen Depper, please accept my sincere congratulations and allow me to wish you every success in working for the people of this city, whom I would like to thank for the wonderful setting Passau lends this meeting.

One of the hallmarks of the Petersburg Dialogue is that it takes place outside the capitals – far away from the centre of power or government. For that's what the Petersburg Dialogue stands for: the dialogue between our civil societies, as well as frank and critical talks based on trust between Germans and Russians far beyond the usual political channels of communication. In this capacity, the Petersburg Dialogue has long since been an essential part of German-Russian relations. It prepares, so to speak, a fertile soil in which time and again new, and hopefully in future even stronger, ideas for German-Russian cooperation spring up.

Governments alone cannot nurture vibrant relations between countries and states in the long term. It is the exchange and interaction between civil societies which make relations truly close and fruitful. It's the musicians, painters and writers who inspire each other; entrepreneurs who work together to their mutual benefit; researchers who learn from each other and explore unchartered territory together; journalists who discover and describe with genuine interest and frankness the society of the other country.

That's why I was keen to also visit the regions during my last trip to Russia. In Yekaterinburg at the foot of the Urals, an industrial city with 1.5 million inhabitants where many German companies and researchers are active nowadays, I said we had learned that Russia doesn't end at Moscow's motorway ring road. There, as in St. Petersburg, I tried to promote contacts between human rights activists, church and other civil society groups in the two countries – in keeping with the spirit promoted by the Petersburg Dialogue since it was founded seven years ago.

During these seven years, mutual trust and understanding has grown in many areas of German-Russian relations – a vital asset, overall and most especially for foreign policy. This is thanks not least to the work of the bilateral steering committee and the tireless efforts of people like Lothar de Maizière, Manfred Stolpe and Mikhail Gorbachev. However, I want to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks not only to you but also to all committed partners in the steering committee!

We all know that trust and understanding develop slowly. That requires time, patience and constant attention. Twenty years have now passed since the fall of the Wall, since the end of the bloc confrontation between East and West. However, some walls – I mean the walls in people's heads – were not so quick to fall. Here and there they still stand. The mindsets prevalent during the Cold War and its ideological clichés have continued to overshadow us.

And that's why I believe it's time we all realized that we have entered into a new age following the Cold War, an age of growing interdependence. For the first time in history major problems – from climate protection to energy security – can only be resolved if we all work together. That's why I rely on a policy of greater mutual understanding, cooperation and dialogue. Should we follow this path, we will realize that we share many more interests than some perhaps believe!

Let's move along this path with an open and inquisitive mind! Then we will have a chance to recognize and overcome misunderstandings and false perceptions. In this connection, I would like to call your attention to an open letter by Mikhail Gorbachev last March in which he called upon the German media to take a self-critical look now and again at how it portrays Russia. Not every report, he said, is marked by impartiality. Let's take this criticism by Mikhail Gorbachev, who is passionately striving to promote dialogue and cooperation, seriously!

However, I also want to point out that we have made much progress towards building mutual trust between Germans and Russians, and politicians cannot afford to miss this opportunity.

The chances for a new level of cooperation between the US, the EU and Russia are good even though differences of opinion undoubtedly exist. But the shared interests are much greater than the differences.

I believe that the growing interconnectedness and interaction, new global problems and risks, which the US, the EU and Russia must tackle together could be included in a new joint agenda.

It was evident from President Medvedev's speech in Berlin at the end of May that he takes a very similar view. He made it clear that Russia sees itself as part of European civilization. He added that it was a shared civilization made up of North America, the European Union and Russia.

In his words, it is more than just a geographical orientation, but something underpinned by our common culture and history. Moreover, this is about our readiness to shape the future together!

The Russian President called for an equal partnership in a common Euro-Atlantic area from Vancouver to Vladivostok. In saying this, he formulated a goal which we all reaffirmed in the Charter of Paris.

For a European peace order based on common interests, common values and common indivisible security has always been our objective.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher and the defence expert Lothar Rühl have emphasized in public interventions during the last few days how topical and important it is that we reach understanding on our common security interests.

This, too, must be part of our joint agenda – which I see as a global responsibility partnership. We must create this partnership if we want our children and grandchildren to live as well and as peacefully as we ourselves have – and so that children in some parts of the world are even better off than they are today.

Russia is an indispensable partner for Germany and the EU in shaping tomorrow's world. We need Russia as a partner. A partner which can help us shoulder responsibility for stability and security in Europe and far beyond. Only if we cooperate with Russia will our energy supply be secure and free of conflict in the long run. Only if we cooperate with Russia will we make progress in the disarmament sphere and succeed in the global fight against terrorism. I'm convinced there can be no security in Europe, indeed in the entire Eurasian area, without Russia, let alone against it.

But Russia also needs Europe – in order to bring the country forward politically and to modernize its economy. That's why I've put forward the idea of a German-Russian modernization partnership. Basically, this partnership would involve cooperation in areas of key importance to our common future: climate and energy policy, a concerted effort to enhance energy efficiency and to soften the impact of an ageing society, health policy, education and research as well as the rule of law.

I'm pleased that President Medvedev welcomed this proposal during my talks with him in Moscow and in Berlin. Let's do everything we can to make the modernization partnership a driving force for a bright common future.

I recently told young students at the Urals University in Yekaterinburg that we are living in an age in which it is no longer the number of tanks and missiles which decides a country's strength but its economic performance, the number of intelligent people, the practical use of knowledge, as well as its level of integration in the global economy and how open its society is.

This is precisely what we have in mind with the German-Russian modernization partnership: making ourselves fit for the global 21st century. That's not just a task for governments. The state can create a framework and provide support. However, a partnership only comes to life when concrete ideas, concepts and projects are put forward by committed people on both sides. This is also one of the tasks facing the Petersburg Dialogue.

Let me state two examples of this.

Firstly, education, vocational training and research are fundamentally important to every society. Knowledge is the key resource for the future – people are very much aware of that here in the university city of Passau. That's why three years ago we, Germany and Russia, agreed on a strategic partnership for education, research and innovation. As a result of this partnership, Germany now has closer research and university ties with Russia than with almost any other country. Some 12,000 Russian students are here in Germany and many have gained leading positions following their return home.

But we can do much more. One common issue is vocational training for young people and practice-oriented further training. Many companies, including German ones, are finding it extremely difficult to find skilled workers in Russia. But the public sector also has to function if the economy is to grow.

Youth exchange is also part of the education sector in the wider sense. Only if German and Russian young people meet, if they develop an interest in each other and learn each other's language, will German-Russian relations remain vibrant.

The Petersburg Dialogue has rightly urged time and again that both sides do everything they can to further strengthen youth exchange. That is the central task of the German-Russian Youth Exchange Foundation, which was founded to support the work of the Petersburg Dialogue.

In this connection, I would like to stress once more the importance of mutual knowledge of our languages. It's easier to come together if you speak each other's language – whether in industry, in research or in culture. The initiative for more partner schools focuses on this very point.

That's why we are calling for more Russian classes in German schools and more courses at university level. Compared to Russians, we have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to interest and the readiness to learn the other language! Partly thanks to our cultural relations and education policy in Russia, we see that in no other country in the world do so many people learn German as they do in Russia!

The second modernization issue I would like to mention has been addressed on many occasions by President Medvedev. He has said that Russia will have to strengthen its legal system and the rule of law if the country's modernization is to be a success. We have to support these efforts!

For example, by providing advisory services on drafting laws. By offering further and advanced training by people with hands-on experience for judges, public prosecutors, lawyers and notaries. We should also embark along new paths in our cooperation on jurisprudence. I'm thinking here of enhanced “train the trainer” programmes for young lawyers or joint PhD programmes. Perhaps a German-Russian centre of excellence in law could provide a framework for this.

These are just two of many future-oriented areas which we can shape together. In the spheres of health policy and demography, energy efficiency or transport infrastructure, too, we have very concrete ideas on how we can work together and both benefit! In the health field, the Petersburg Dialogue has, in particular, made a key contribution towards this modernization agenda with the Koch-Menshikov Forum.

Many of these future-oriented fields have a European dimension. That's why I'm so delighted that it was possible at the EU-Russia summit in Khanty-Mansiysk last week to launch the negotiations on a new partnership and cooperation agreement. The EU and Moscow have spent the last two years creating obstacles, big and small, to prevent any progress on this. Now we can finally get started and hopefully we are now more aware of how much we have to offer each other in the long term. In the long term, I even regard a free trade area between the EU and Russia as more than a Utopian dream once Russia has been a member of the World Trade Organization for some time.

Leo Tolstoy gave us the following advice: “It is easier to write ten volumes of philosophy than to put a single precept into practice.”

So let's get started. Let's use the Petersburg Dialogue to enrich the partnership between Germany and Russia with new ideas and deeds!

Ladies and gentlemen, I now look forward to hearing the stimulating ideas of Mr Gorbachev and Mr de Maizière.

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