Federal Minister Steinmeier at the opening of the Deutschlandforschertagung, 9 November 2008

10.11.2008 - Speech

Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier recalled the special significance of the 9th of November for German history. In his opening address at a conference on German historical research organized by the Federal Agency for Civic Education, he underscored that “German foreign policy is committed to democracy and freedom”. In his opinion German policy must now always have a European dimension. He further stressed that more must be done to shape globalization.

“German foreign policy in the age of globalization”

-- Translation of advance text --

Professor Zürn,

Thomas Krüger,

Ladies and gentlemen,

You have chosen German foreign policy as the theme of this year's Deutschlandforschertagung and are beginning your deliberations on a date of symbolic importance to our country.

I believe that today any policy, not just foreign policy, is located in this very field of tension between reflecting on our country's history and the demands of world politics.

If it is to have any meaning today, German historical research can never focus on Germany alone. Nor can German foreign policy in the 21st century ever be solely restricted to traditional foreign policy but, rather, must always consider the link between events within Germany and in the outside world.

Why am I emphasizing this?

For two reasons. I believe we have to learn the right lessons from history, firstly in view of the challenges facing us at present and secondly in view of the anniversaries coming up next year – the 60th anniversary of the Basic Law and the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The 9th of November is a good date to remind us of that. Like no other day, it stands for major changes, disasters and hope in our country.

I've just come from the Reichstag building where I opened a small exhibition on the 1918 revolution.

Before that, the former Governing Mayor of Berlin, Walter Momper, laid a wreath on my behalf in honour of the victims of the Berlin Wall. And I myself took part in the moving commemorative ceremony to mark the Night of the Pogrom on 9 November 1938.

I believe nothing has had a greater influence on German foreign policy than these three dimensions of our history:

9 November 1918 stands for the first German democracy and the first German republic. It stands for the emancipation of our people from the authoritarian state and for the first attempt to create social justice. The introduction of the eight-hour working day, women's right to vote or the efforts to educate the population are only a few examples I want to mention here.

However, it is also a special date for me as a Social Democrat. Let me put it quite bluntly: without the Social Democrats there would not be democracy or a republic in Germany. Not in 1918 and, by the way, not in 1949 either.

From 1918 onwards, it was first and foremost Social Democrats who fought and struggled to establish democracy and a republic in the face of opposition from extremists from both left and right. And they did so – unfortunately, they were the only ones – until the end of the Weimar Republic.

However, the 9th of November also stands for our country's shame. It stands for the immeasurable suffering which National Socialism brought over our country, Europe and the world through war, terror and murder. On 9 November 1938 alone, almost 200 synagogues were destroyed, the businesses of thousands of Germans of the Jewish faith were burned down, and tens of thousands citizens of the Jewish faith were either arrested or taken to concentration camps.

On that day at the latest, Johannes Rau once said, everyone in Germany could see that “anti-Semitism and racism, going as far as murder, had become official state policy”.

But too many people looked the other way!

It is therefore all the more important that we remain awake and alert today. Every attack against a synagogue, every attack against a Jewish institution or against an individual of the Jewish faith, as we experienced here in Berlin only last week, is an attack against common decency in our society and it is a betrayal of the mission which our history has given to us!

And finally, the 9th of November is the day when the Wall fell, the day when people in the then GDR finally gained the “Freedom and Democracy” they had fought and struggled for and which was emblazoned on the banners at that time, thus ending the SED dictatorship.

What conclusions do I draw for myself as Foreign Minister from these dates in German history?

I want to name three key points. We can highlight and discuss other aspects in the discussion afterwards.

First of all, German policy, including German foreign policy, is committed to democracy and freedom.

The darkest hours in our history are linked to an undemocratic and illiberal Germany. That's why it's so important that we do everything in our power to strengthen freedom and democracy. Let me take this opportunity to say that the Federal Agency for Civic Education plays a key role in this. I would like to expressly congratulate Thomas Krüger on his work as President of this institution!

However, the fate of the Weimer Republic is a warning that we can only have and maintain freedom and democracy if they are coupled with justice and responsibility.

It seems to me that here in Germany, in Europe and in the whole of the so-called Western world, this link has been forgotten a little too often or has been deliberately pushed aside during the last few years.

For freedom is not just individual freedom and, most certainly not just the individual freedom of economic activity.

Rather, freedom is also the republican freedom of citizens, as relates to the res publica. This freedom also means shouldering responsibility for the public good. It means justice for society.

Our country has always been in a particularly poor state when it has forgotten this link between freedom and responsibility. When individual freedom turned into ruthlessness or excess. When people were no longer prepared to take responsibility for justice in society.

The demise of the Weimar Republic is one example of this. The current crisis on the financial market is another.

That is all I want to say on my first point, the commitment of German policy to democracy and responsible freedom.

I would now like to turn to my second point, what lessons we should learn from these key dates in German history.

Germany is only conceivable within Europe and German policies, in particular foreign policy, must always be seen as policies for peace and stability in Europe and for a European peace and stability policy.

Our country has been greatly influenced by the centuries of European conflicts and civil wars, the most terrible of which were the two World Wars.

Reconciliation with our neighbours west of the Rhine and east of the Oder is part of our raison d'être!

We know that we owe our country's freedom and unity to the courage of citizens in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, who lead the way.

For that reason, there can and must not be any more German policies without this European dimension.

My own personal experience is that we Europeans can best contribute to peace and stability in the world if we are united. Then we can help shape events, also on a global scale:

whether it be crisis management, as recently in the Caucasus or time and again in Africa, whether it be the international climate and energy policy or, at this very moment, the financial crisis.

The results achieved by the Extraordinary European Council are encouraging steps in this direction. I'm confident that further will follow, indeed will have to follow, in the weeks to come. Only in this way will we, on the one hand, be able to implement the necessary reforms in the international financial system and, at the same time, be able to pursue an active policy here in Europe to boost the economy, thus ultimately protecting jobs.

But beyond these topical issues, we should not forget the European dimension of German policies based on Franco-German understanding. Especially not next year when some will try to explain the history of the Federal Republic of Germany without this European context.

I can only warn against that!

European policy is more than a question of political gain. It is an intellectual identity whose foundations stretch back to the sceptical humanism of David Hume, the political science of Montesquieu and the ethics of responsibility of Immanuel Kant.

This orientation towards freedom and responsibility links us – and this is something we can examine in greater depth in the subsequent discussion – more closely with the United States of America than with any other partner.

At any rate, I – in common with many others in Germany and Europe – hope that the election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States will enable us to revive and revitalize this partnership.

That brings me to my third point: the lessons we have to learn from our history with regard to political globalization.

Many people hoped that the fall of the Wall on 9 November 1989, the end of the East-West confrontation of the Cold War and its cynical certainty of the division of the world would result in a peace dividend.

Today we can see that this hope hasn't materialized. The old order has disintegrated but it hasn't been replaced by a new one.

The world is looking for a new order and we need it more urgently than ever before. For what the crisis on the financial markets has made clear, has been true for some time now in other spheres: climate protection, the responsible use of natural resources and energy policy. All of these stand for challenges which defy the logic of traditional power politics. In other words, the 21st century is the first truly global century!

We are called upon to work together to find joint solutions for common problems – or we will fail together!

If that is true then we must also reorder ourselves. And that means respecting the fact that globalization has brought with it new players and realizing that this change is not sufficiently or only imprecisely reflected in the traditional formats of international cooperation.

States such as China, India, Brazil, Russia, as well as the Gulf states, which I visited just two weeks ago, have shown over the last few years that they want to combine economic growth with political ambitions. And they are demonstrating their position of new strength with growing self-confidence on the world stage.

We Germans are familiar with this situation from our own history, and our own struggle for international recognition, for a place in the international political architecture should perhaps make us a little more receptive to their position than others.

I believe we Europeans must be willing and ready to adapt the international architecture to reflect the importance and influence of the new global players.

In this cooperation, these states must however assume a new form of responsibility and show greater commitment to resolving international crises and conflicts, as well as the common challenges of the future such as the looming world recession, global energy and climate crisis or the scarcity of food.

Perhaps we will manage to achieve this by creating a new international regulatory framework for the financial markets. Then, and only then, would this crisis have had a positive side.

But in essence I'm not talking about financial markets but, rather, about the most demanding task for foreign policy – and not only for foreign policy – during the next few years: the creation of a new architecture of responsibility, the establishment of a community of responsibility for all the issues which cannot be regulated or resolved at national level.

That will require common sense! That will require a willingness to relinquish, for example special rights! That will require respect for rules!

Energy security, climate protection, disarmament and non-proliferation, stability of the financial system, the resolution of regional conflicts in the Middle East and in Afghanistan: these challenges will not allow us to think in national terms but rather, only on a global scale.

That means no less that we have to take economic globalization into an era of political globalization.

First and foremost, this means opening up and renewing the existing formats of global coordination and cooperation.

That applies to the G8 as well as to the international financial institutions, the United Nations with the Security Council at its head, or the OECD.

States such as the BRIC states Brazil, Russia, India and China belong at the conference table, not at the children's table! That also applies to the new players with a Moslem population such as Turkey, Indonesia or the Gulf states. There can be no solutions without them either.

I'm certain that this is the only way forward. For the politics of exclusion on so-called practical – or even worse – on ideological grounds will lead us into a dead end.

I'm not claiming that many things will be easier. I only know that no rules can be drawn up which meet with global acceptance without or even against the new players on the world stage. And we are struggling to gain this very acceptance at present!

The lesson we should learn from our country's historical obligation to uphold democracy and freedom, to pursue a European path and to help shape globalization is that we have to be the engine for a fairer world order, for a political globalization which sees itself as a global partnership of shared responsibility.

Thank you for your attention.

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