Address by Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Parliamentary Evening hosted by BDI / BDA / DIHK, 17 September 2008

17.09.2008 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Mr Presidents,

Mr Thumann,

Mr Hundt,

Mr Braun,

Members of the German Bundestag and the European Parliament,



Some of you might be a bit surprised to see me here because you heard that I was at Berlin's Oktoberfest. I can assure you, it was no accident that I drove past the Rotes Rathaus and I haven't confused tonight's event with Oktoberfest.

Despite my well-known affinity for Bavarian beer tents, I am happy to be here.

Exactly because we shouldn't believe everything we read in the press or hear on the radio these days – and the business press is no exception – I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize that I am here because I consider the close, trust-based cooperation between politics and business one of the most important elements of forward-looking policy.

Especially for an export-oriented country like Germany, the age of globalization can only mean cooperation between foreign policy makers and businessmen!

I think in the last few years we have really gotten the ball rolling on several fronts, and I'm happy that we were able to provide assistance through our 230 missions abroad, as well as through a few joint travel activities.

But above all, at least it's my impression, we have together contributed to a small change in awareness and perhaps also in attitude in Germany.

I remember very well that three years ago, it wasn't clear to people why foreign policy and the foreign minister personally concerned themselves with business. I think that is different today.

The current crises, not just foreign policy crises as in the Caucasus, but also the current situation on the international financial markets, are a good illustration of the connection on two levels:

First of all, and this is surely a lesson we should learn from the current financial crisis, a viable international regulatory system is needed. We should quickly get to work on the areas lacking such a system, or where it is insufficient. That goes especially for the international financial markets.

I'm not trying to point the finger here. However, we have seen that the at times intransparent, to some degree crisis-causing rather than crisis-preventing behaviour of various players, such as rating agencies, has intensified the current crisis.

And regarding the global financial markets we should work to consolidate international regulations on bank and insurance oversight. Thanks not least to Peer Steinbrück's efforts, in April the G7 finance ministers adopted the Financial Stability Forum's recommendations and underpinned them with a 100 day programme intended to help overcome the weak points in the current financial system.

But beyond the financial markets and perhaps particularly with a view to the WTO negotiations, we should not let the current crisis distract us from our efforts to establish a sound international framework. Rather, we should pursue them with even greater urgency.

This we should do also and especially in order to soften the cyclical difficulties brought on by rising food prices and to create impetus for growth in the emerging economies in particular.

But we should also learn from the current situation on a second level, and I say this especially with an eye on the situation in the Caucasus.

Economic exchange is one of the most important foundations of good foreign relations. And the same holds the other way around: balanced and sensible foreign policy is what enables stable economic exchange.

German foreign policy and business have worked together to promote this idea especially in the past few years, and I have the impression that it has made some impact on our partners. Again, here we should not neglect our efforts, for we know that trade flows are not merely flows of economic exchange and modernization, but also spread ideas of social modernization and openness.

And in both cases we have a contribution to make. Firms have successfully completed a difficult restructuring phase, by the way also thanks to and with the help of the trade unions, for example as regards the moderate wage agreements of recent years, and are well-placed in fields that will be important for the future.

From the political side, we have done our part with a contested and at times controversial, but always resolute policy for growth and employment.

Along the way, we have repeatedly refused to listen to bad advice. I remember well, how in the early days of the “red-green” coalition, our insistence on Germany as a place of industry was berated for being “old-fashioned”. But if you happened to look at Spiegel online today, alongside the bad news from the US you would see the good news from the new Bundesländer; industrial companies among the most modern in Europe have set up shop there, bringing sustainable growth and employment, as I saw for myself three weeks ago in Eisenhüttenstadt.

It is necessary now, and with this I come to the concrete reason for this evening's event, that we continue on this path of growth and employment. This will only happen if we add a third element – education! And not just here in Germany, but also in an international context. This also means complying with the Lisbon goal of 3% spending on research and development. The Federal Government has done its part here. I would hope that the other partners, business and Bundesländer take this as an example!

All of you here are familiar with the lack of well-educated skilled workers, of engineers and technicians. And we all know, in the interest of our internationally oriented economy, we will need to do still more to keep up in the international competition for the best and the brightest in the coming years.

This is another reason why we have established our Partner School Initiative which, according to experts, is the most ambitious programme for our schools abroad in decades. And we are not working on it alone, as this evening well illustrates, but rather with you, the associations, and with individual companies.

Thank you very much!

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