Speech by Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the opening of the Ambassadors Conference 2008 in Berlin on 8 September 2008

08.09.2008 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Kemal Dervis,

Jean Ping,

Members of the European Parliament and the German Bundestag,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be able to welcome you to the Weltsaal here at the Federal Foreign Office.

I am especially pleased that Kemal Dervis has come to be with us here in Berlin. Kemal, as head of the United Nations Development Programme you will be giving us your insider perspective on the main focus of this year's conference, “Global Security and Development: Spotlight on Africa”. For this I thank you very much.

Jean Ping, you are an especially appropriate guest in the light of this year's focus on Africa. As Chairman of the Commission of the African Union, you bring together all the political threads in Africa in Addis Ababa. Thank you for accepting our invitation to Berlin. I am very much looking forward to hearing your views.

There's an old southern African saying: misfortune doesn't stick to visiting days. Today and over the next few days, we wanted, for good reason, to concentrate on Africa. But there is no way we can avoid starting with a look at the current crisis in the southern Caucasus.

A crisis which has triggered a sharp drop in temperature in international relations which threatens to set us back by years. A great deal of time and diplomatic effort will be needed to restore the confidence lost in just a few days in the region, but also between Russia and its partners in Europe and the US.

Just two months ago – only three weeks before the outbreak of the current conflict – I visited the Caucasus. At that stage, the term “frozen conflict” no longer applied and the region was already, as our British friends put it, “out of the fridge”, maybe even overheated. We talked intensively with all parties to try to find ways to close existing divides and resolve existing conflicts.

The sudden escalation of events, the development towards the muddled situation confronting us today, came as a surprise to all observers.

In the initial phase after military escalation I said it was not a time for us to pose as judges – what was needed was our help and our willingness to help, irrespective of who was responsible for the situation.

People had died; people had suffered; many had lost all their possessions; tens of thousands – 150,000 in all – had been forced to flee. To have asked about guilt and responsibility at that time would have been irresponsible. That is why we said we would provide help in any case.

We are now in a second phase, a phase in which we need to define our medium- and long-term relations with the parties to the conflict – Georgia on one side, Russia on the other – and in which decisions must be taken which will determine the relationship between the European Union and Georgia, between the European Union and Russia, for a very long time. That is why we now need to know a bit more exactly who bears what share of the responsibility for the military escalation.

Many of my counterparts at the informal EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Avignon last weekend voiced this same expectation.

In the coming weeks and months, however, we are facing other future-oriented challenges.

Firstly: we must get the conflict in Georgia under control and steer it to a political solution.

I am gratified that the French Council Presidency has from the outset worked intensively towards resolving the conflict.

It is perhaps clearer to you than to others less involved in foreign policy that what President Sarkozy did at the moment of crisis was by no means a given. It was a big risk to go to Tbilisi and Moscow when conditions in the region were so impenetrable and to try to negotiate a few points aimed at bringing about a ceasefire.

I do not understand the know-alls' criticism of the six-point plan negotiated between Sarkozy and Medvedev. It is obvious that the plan could hardly be complete in that situation. And of course everyone involved in foreign policy and negotiating processes knows that more detailed solutions could have been obtained after two more months of negotiations. I just find this a cynical argument. Because in those two months, during the attempts to obtain more detailed results, more people would have died, more people would have been forced to flee.

That is why, despite all the resulting difficulties, I prefer that we can now negotiate against the background of a fragile ceasefire rather than the continuation of the violent clashes. I say this because President Sarkozy's trip to Moscow today along with Commission President Barroso and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mr Solana, is of course also an attempt to come up with more details which will hopefully make the fragile ceasefire more solid.

Both sides in the conflict are called upon to withdraw their forces as agreed. We expect Russia in particular to act responsibly here.

Secondly: we need an international presence on the ground.

Alongside the withdrawal of Russian troops we need an international mechanism – if possible, under the aegis of a strengthened OSCE.

A visible international presence for further conflict management and for monitoring the ceasefire is crucial for the lasting stabilization of the conflict region as well as for confidence-building.

The EU is prepared to participate actively in such a presence.

Thirdly: We must help Georgia with reconstruction in the areas hit by the conflict.

We will help to clear up the war damage. With funding from the European budget, with energetic support on the ground, and with concrete help for the people who have lost their possessions and often also their homes.

The European Union has decided to hold an international reconstruction conference to mobilize the necessary funds and resources. Germany – which, by the way, is already the biggest bilateral donor to Georgia in the EU – will make a substantial contribution.

As an initial measure we made available two million euro for humanitarian assistance in the first days of the conflict. And last week we provided eight million euro for the construction of prefabricated shelters for refugees.

Fourthly: we must intensify the European Neighbourhood Policy in relation to the east.

The EU and the countries of the southern Caucasus are neighbours. We therefore have a vital interest in stability and security on the European Union's eastern flank, above and beyond assisting with reconstruction in Georgia.

The European Union can, and I hope will, do more. It can make use of the instruments which it itself created years ago, for instance the European Neighbourhood Policy, or the Black Sea Cooperation established during the German Presidency, very specifically to create stability in this area, not least by means of economic assistance.

Our aim must be to view Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova as integral elements of a European area of security, stability and prosperity. Belarus too, of course, if the prerequisites are met; developments there over recent weeks give cause for cautious hope.

The further modernization and transformation of these countries is a key concern of the European Union. Our strategic goal must be to link them with the EU as closely and on as many levels as possible.

If we harness all these initiatives on the basis of the European Neighbourhood Policy, we may produce a new strategic impulse for the stabilization and transformation of the entire region. The relevant fields of action are many and varied: cross-border infrastructure projects, increased trade, visa facilitations, cooperation on migration issues and closer security cooperation.

Fifthly: in the long term we should adopt an approach which we have pursued for years in the western Balkans. Namely: thinking in terms of the stability of regions.

We need a strategic framework which stabilizes and transforms the region of the Caucasus, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea on the basis of the ENP.

That is why I am supporting a Turkish initiative launched in recent days, accompanied by football diplomacy between Turkey and Armenia. An initiative which – taking an approach similar to the stability concept for the Balkans – is designed to kick-start a long-term process working in conferences over several years towards a stability concept for the southern Caucasus which includes all the countries of the region. A stability concept which assumes that Russia will be a part of it in the long term too.

Because we need Russia's constructive contribution in the region as the co-builder of a pan-European order of security and peace and as a participant in tackling global challenges.

The current crisis in the Caucasus must not be allowed to blind us to the fact that both sides have much to gain from close cooperation: for instance, in joint efforts to ensure energy security and efficiency, in the development of a transcontinental transport infrastructure or in the field of education and science. We must be clear in our minds that Russia too has a great deal to lose if the crisis causes the lasting disruption of our cooperation.

Conflict resolution and reconstruction in the Caucasus, a forward-looking security and stability partnership with the region and an open dialogue with Russia – this is the European course and thus the very opposite of the route some people are so hasty to advocate for our time, thereby falling back into the patterns of the Cold War.

I warn against these mantras, for the cynical certainties of the Cold War caused great suffering for the people on both sides.

I say this: those days are over once and for all. And so all the talk about the Cold War belongs in the past. It blinds us to the truly crucial challenges of our age instead of pointing the way forward. It's like not being able to tear your eyes off the rear-view mirror even though the speed of change is constantly increasing.

We are living in a world in search of order. A world in which every state, however powerful, needs more partners, not more opponents. This applies as much to Russia as it does to the US and all the other players on the international stage.

You see it on your postings, worldwide. How entire societies are getting moving, states which we may perhaps have regarded for too long merely as development cooperation partners and not enough as political partners. States in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America.

New centres of power, both political and economic, are emerging. China gave an impressive demonstration of this at the Olympic Games – not only in the medals table.

We can assume that China's rise will continue, and that it will continue to change the world. In 2035 China's economic output could come to equal that of the US; by the middle of the century it could already be twice as strong. But other countries are catching up too – India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Viet Nam, the Gulf states, to name but a few.

Shaping this new world, making the new actors responsible participants in the resolution of the global tasks of the future – these are the central challenges of our age. Making international law strong and tying strength to law must be the guiding principles of our policy.

There is no question vital for the future that we can resolve when at odds, even if sometimes conflicts of interest do emerge.

For the challenges of the 21st century we need all the major actors on board, as equal partners and with fair rules for all.

And Africa, the focus of this year's Ambassadors Conference, must at last be able to take its place as an equal partner. An entire continent which we in Europe still tend to regard far too much as a continent of crises, conflicts and failing states.

And yet Africa is symbolic of the new world order we are experiencing at the beginning of the 21st century.

Because Africa, too, has got itself moving and you, Jean Ping, as Chairman of the AU Commission, embody this new development in a very special way.

Africa, and in particular the African Union, is increasingly prepared to assume responsibility, to build up an African security architecture and to take economic renewal into its own hands.

Today Africa can point to some real success stories: this year the African economy will grow by 7%, a record for the last 38 years. And for a good while now this growth has been produced not only in the resource-rich states, but has been driven more and more by trade, industry and services.

Today Africa is doing better on many macroeconomic indicators than the south-east Asian states were doing in the early 1980s when they became the emerging markets.

China and India, but also Malaysia and Turkey, have recognized the new political and economic opportunities inherent in increased cooperation with Africa. This year alone, Turkey intends to open ten new embassies in Africa.

Foreign engagement in Africa goes far beyond the commodities sector. Telecommunications, infrastructure and recently also the financial and banking sector are the targets for international investors.

There are some very sound reasons for this gratifying development: above all, the improved economic and political framework, which in many places are the offshoot of better governance.

However, we do not want to close our eyes to the fact that this success story is by no means happening throughout the continent. In Africa there are still far too many people who are robbed of development opportunities, even indeed of a dignified life, by armed conflicts and poor, sometimes non-existent, governance – for instance, in Somalia, Darfur or eastern Congo.

The continuation of the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe is also intolerable. The fact that an irresponsible political leadership is bleeding the country and society dry, driving people to flee, oppressing political opponents, is a blemish in Africa's renaissance. And many African politicians have now come to hold this same view.

At the beginning of this year, Kenya, known as the cradle of stability in eastern Africa, was also suddenly standing on the edge of the abyss. The spirited engagement of the African Union, together with the United Nations and with our active support, succeeded in preventing the country's complete disintegration into chaos and violence. This was not only a clear demonstration of the AU's increased capacity to act, but also an expression of our commitment to the continent.

Germany stands at Africa's side. Important parts of the preparatory work for the EU-Africa Summit at the end of last year were completed under the German EU Presidency, and we will play an active role in implementing the EU Strategy for Africa.

In our political partnership with Africa we are concentrating quite deliberately on support for the development and expansion of the pan-African security architecture so that Africa is increasingly able to solve its problems by itself. We want to make a contribution to this, for example for AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, for the necessary infrastructure, buildings or equipment. The substantial increase in ODA funding we have been able to include in the Federal Foreign Office budget for the last two years affords us entirely new possibilities for shaping peace and security in Africa in particular.

It is my personal ambition to promote and intensify the cultural exchange, to ensure that we talk to each other even more, and to facilitate dialogue. This year we will open two new branches of the Goethe-Institut, in Tanzania and Angola, as part of our “Aktion Afrika” programme. At the same time, we will expand the Deutsche Welle service in Africa and set new focuses in language promotion.

In addition, we want to intensify school exchange programmes, develop the German Schools in Africa and second further education experts from the Goethe-Institut.

And we want to bring more African culture to Germany in order to make Africa's cultural diversity and vitality even more better known here in Germany.

In two years' time we will not be the only ones with our eyes on Africa; the whole world will be looking to Africa with enthusiasm and excitement as it hosts the World Cup for the first time. We in Germany still well remember the unique atmosphere that reigned during the last World Cup and we are ready to give South Africa every possible help in preparing its forthcoming festival of football.

We want to make energy and climate policy another focal point of our cooperation with Africa. Half a billion people in Africa still do not have any access to electricity. Yet a secure energy and electricity supply is the key prerequisite for growth and prosperity.

That's why we want to ensure that in Nigeria, for instance, the infrastructure for electricity production and distribution is expanded. With clean technology from Germany. In return, Germany will obtain access to the Nigerian energy market. I agreed this with the Nigerian President during my trip to west Africa last year. A memorandum to this end was signed between Germany and Nigeria a few weeks ago. The interest of German businesses is aroused, because Nigeria offers tremendous opportunities.

I think it has become clear that what we want in our relations with Africa is a political partnership of equals, not the traditional relationship between donor and recipient, a model which no longer fits the times. With this in mind, we must also take a critical look at ourselves and ask just what we have achieved – and perhaps in some places what damage we have done – with our development aid over the past decades, and what we can do better in future.

The Ambassadors Conference may give us the chance to take a critical look at the situation and enter into an unblinkered discussion.

Africa is on the rise. And as such is typical of an age in which much is in motion. An age in which foreign policy certainly won't become easier, but will therefore be all the more exciting and thus a permanent challenge, especially for you on the ground.

You are the antennae for global change and are charged with representing our interests on the ground. Often you work in extremely difficult conditions, in a dangerous environment, be it in Tbilisi, Kabul, Baghdad or Kinshasa. You share this fate with many other representatives of Germany – soldiers, development workers, people working in the culture industry, employees and engineers.

I am very well aware of the burdens and risks to which you and all German colleagues serving in the world's crisis regions are exposed.

I wish to thank you and your staff at our missions worldwide for your commitment. And my thanks go expressly to your families as well.

Our Ambassadors Conference gives us the opportunity to develop new perspectives and take up new issues. Please make use of this opportunity and make this year's Ambassadors Conference a success.

Thank you very much.

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