Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the conference to launch the Research and Academic Relations Initiative

19.01.2009 - Speech

Ms Schavan,

Members of the German Bundestag,

Ladies and gentlemen,

The title of today's conference is “German Foreign Policy for more Education, Science and Research”. And some who think foreign policy is the art of conference diplomacy might be wondering if they read it correctly.

Yes, they did. Germany's foreign policy is and will remain a policy for peace, a policy for greater justice and stability around the world. But the environment in which we pursue these goals and uphold these values has changed. Holding conferences is not enough, we must also reach hearts and minds. Since the start of this legislative term, we've been striving to do just that. With your support, with the support of academics, researchers and culture professionals as well as with major support from the German Bundestag. For this I would like to thank you all very much indeed!

Why have we adopted this new approach? It has much to do with the nature of the times we live in. This is a watershed moment, when ordinary citizens and political leaders in particular will have to take critical decisions vital for our future.

When we and people up and down the country speak of a watershed moment, we have far more than the financial and economic crisis in mind. We want to raise quite existential issues. What kind of future awaits us? How can we put in place clear and sensible global rules to ensure we live up to our responsibility for the economy, for protecting the climate, for greater justice and participation? What contribution must we make here in Germany, but also in Europe and other parts of the world? And of course what contribution do we call on our partners to make?

These are the key questions. Questions that – as I said – go far beyond financial and economic matters. Questions that relate not just to our own country and to which we cannot today find answers on our own. These are questions that require a joint response and shared responsibility transcending borders and spanning continents.

The current economic crisis was triggered, as we know, by developments originating in other countries and continents. We know, too, that whether our children a few decades on will still see snow on the Zugspitze depends not least on what China's coal-fired power stations emit into the atmosphere.

And we also know there are no simple answers. The various trends we observe don't give a uniform picture. They may even run counter to each other. On the one hand we see the synchronized ticking of the world economy in good times and in bad – when it noticeably accelerates. On the other we see widely differing economic and political interests as well as cultural parameters.

Why am I emphasizing this? To describe such phenenomena Reinhart Koselleck coined the term “Contemporaneousness of the Non-Contemporaneous”, which he took as a clear sign of ongoing crisis. Our task as policy-makers, however, is not simply to describe but to develop concrete policies. That means we must pay such phenomena greater heed and, most importantly, be more sensitive to their implications.

To my mind we cannot respond to them simply with the tools of classical diplomacy. If the real task is to exercise global responsibility, to strengthen accountability worldwide, what we need to do first is learning by doing.

And that we can do only together with our partners around the world.

“The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.” That we've known since Alexander von Humboldt's day. But to take it to heart is now more vital than ever!

That's the reason cultural relations and education policy is so important.

That's why three years ago we started reforming the Goethe-Institut and expanding its network.

That's why just over a year ago we increased the number of international partner schools from 500 to over 1000.

And that's why with the help of the German Bundestag we've increased our cultural relations and education spending over the past three years by some 20%.

We've done this because we believe such steps play an important role in building a global community of shared responsibility. So clearly today's conference and indeed everything we do in the field of research and academic relations is the logical continuation of the process that started three years ago.

We will go on travelling this road, but we will also – for this is essential – travel it where possible even faster and with still greater energy. For apart from anything else, the current crisis will, I am sure, further boost globalization. So clearly those seeking a new balance that reconciles the market and the common good will need, far more than in the past, to join forces and act internationally.

And they'll get nowhere unless they take note of the knowledge, expertise and interests of partners around the world – or fail, despite that awareness, to pay them due heed.

To learn to tolerate differences and, beyond that, to learn how such differences translate into that most valuable asset, creativity: that's what our cultural relations and education policy – and cultural and education policy per se – is all about.

And it will require us to work hand in hand with the scientific community. Without the help of science it will be impossible to come up with sound answers to the massive challenges humanity faces today. Neither to the economic, climate or environmental challenges nor those in the political or social domain.

But that's just one side of the coin. On the other side we do of course have interests of our own. To make no mention of them would be dishonest. Let me briefly outline some of them.

Last week I talked to Peter Löscher from Siemens. He told me his company is short of 500 engineers in the energy division alone. In Germany as a whole we're short of 25,000. In around a decade we'll be short of one million graduates. Those are alarming figures. We're only going to fill this gap if we do two things.

Firstly, if here at home we finally manage to tap everyone's true potential. That means providing the best, from child care to all-day schools to higher education.

Exclusion from education means exclusion from responsibility and hence freedom, too. That goes for the wider world but also for us here in Germany. A democratic society especially needs the participation of everyone. A good education must depend neither on parents' earnings nor on ethnic background. That's why we need to make a very special effort to help those who have it harder than others because they come from less educated backgrounds. And of these we should perhaps focus particularly on young people from immigrant backgrounds. In this country of ours their potential remains largely untapped. After fifty years of immigration, that's a sorry state of affairs.

But as the demographics show, remedying this situation will not, of itself, solve the problem. For the foreseeable future we're going to need well-trained, properly qualified and highly motivated people from abroad. Over the past ten years we've made some headway here. The number of foreign students enrolled in German universities has now almost doubled to 250,000. After the United States and Britain we're now the third most popular choice for students keen to study abroad. That's not bad, especially for a country whose language – unlike English – is, as a newspaper last week put it, “meaning-wise a giant but globalization-wise a pygmy”.

If we're to continue to develop and sell state-of-the art products, we need highly qualified scientists, researchers and employees.

Germany has little in the way of natural resources, so investing in minds and brains is all the more important. That's why we're planning to join forces with the Federal Minister of Education and Research, my colleague Annette Schavan, to increase funding to enable more students, researchers and academics to spend some time in Germany.

That's also what our friends and partners around the world expect of us. For their own prosperity and for the sake of a sustainable future for their countries, they need our technologies, products and ideas. Let me give you an example with which a number of those present have been personally associated. During my last visit to China some months ago we organized in a so-called provincial city – which with a population of over 30 million is in fact one of the megacities of the twenty-first century – a conference on urbanization. We were overwhelmed by the interest participants showed in German technologies and innovations, ranging from mobility strategies to energy-efficient building and sustainable waste management systems.

So this is one motive behind our research and academic relations policy: we want to secure our country's future as a global trailblazer for innovative and technologically brilliant solutions to the challenges now facing the world.

Let me draw your attention to another motive – which also brings me back to Koselleck. Times of crisis, he pointed out, are also times when we shape the future. With so much in flux, we feel impelled to explore and rediscover where we have common ground.

In the twenty-first century accountability cannot be defined nationally. Its coordinates are not Frankfurt an der Oder to Aachen, Flensburg to Garmisch, but Berlin to Beijing and Brasilia. Of course there's nothing to be said against the kind of discussions taking place at the end of the month in the rarefied air of the Swiss mountains. But when values and attitudes are manifested in the daily business of learning, living and working, they become much more tangible, much more meaningful and much more likely to have a long-term impact than when they are merely talked about.

That's the reason I say – and this is another deeper motive for our research and academic relations activities and shows why we feel it's right to expand them – that's why I say the best way to demonstrate the value of democracy and human rights, freedom and responsibility, as we understand them, is to see them tested internationally.

It's no good just making claims, we need to give people the opportunity to test our claims in practice. Here let me quote a young student from abroad who spent a year in Germany on a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) scholarship. “Before coming to Germany,” she said afterwards, “I had a pretty vague notion of what being German meant. Now I've experienced what Germany's education, social system, rule of law and culture of rational argument and open debate are really like, I have a better idea”.

That, too, is something we welcome, that, too, is an aim of our cultural relations and education policy. We feel it's important to make ourselves better understood in a world that is increasingly complex and hard to understand. A world in which attitudes and outlooks increasingly compete with one another. In which we must invest more long-term effort in communicating and standing up for European values!

This can be done, however, only with the help of improved tools and structures. That costs money. The German Bundestag has this year given us extra money for our Research and Academic Relations Initiative. I promise you it will be spent well and in our country's interest.

But money alone won't do the job. We also need the cooperation of all stakeholders here in Germany. Let me highlight at this point a concrete project where I think such cooperation has been particularly successful.

Just over a year ago I sat down with some of you as well as representatives of industry and Annette Schavan's ministry to discuss in confidence matters of mutual concern. We came up with the idea of joining forces to bring about a real structural improvement in scientific and research networking. What we planned to do was jointly raise our profile abroad by literally showing our true mettle, by communicating, informing and advising. That meant pooling the expertise of industry, researchers, scientists and policy-makers.

So, working together, the German Science Fora were conceived. I was particularly pleased to see how closely industry and the scientific community cooperated on this project. That is real value-added, a remarkable result, considering the whole idea arose not much more than a year ago.

The Science Fora will have three important tasks. They will showcase Germany as a centre of innovation and know-how, promote contact and networking between German and foreign researchers and academics, and provide valuable services by supporting our drivers of innovation in their work abroad and supplying foreign scientists and researchers with prompt and comprehensive information about opportunities in Germany.

Concrete preparations will start in the coming weeks. The first four Fora will be based in Moscow, New Delhi, Sao Paulo and Tokyo. And I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the various industry and scientific bodies that have done the lion's share of project management: the DAAD in Moscow, the DFG (German Research Foundation) in New Delhi, the Chambers of Foreign Trade and Commerce in Sao Paulo and Tokyo and the German Rectors Conference. My heartfelt thanks go to them as well as everyone else in the science and research community or industry who has helped get this project up and running!

There's a second structural improvement that I'd like to mention in this connection. Our universities' cooperation arrangements with partners abroad is something very close to my heart. For me the German University Cairo, the German-Kazakh and German-Vietnamese Universities and the German-Turkish University – for which I last year signed the relevant agreement together with you, Ms Schavan – are flagship projects of our bilateral academic cooperation.

At this juncture I'd like to say a special word of thanks to you, Ms Süssmuth. Together with many other supporters of the Ernst Reuter Initiative in the realm of civil society, business, media and politics, you have worked long and hard on behalf of the German-Turkish University to overcome obstacles and convince the sceptics. I'm optimistic we'll see this new venture take shape and grow.

In future we plan to complement such inter-university partnerships with new centres of excellence abroad. What is intended here is to give additional support, below the level of university-to-university cooperation, to particularly promising teaching and research partnerships at the level of individual faculties and chairs. The DAAD has invited interested parties to submit applications for five such centres. I'm confident you'll have a hard time, Professor Hormuth, deciding which are the best.

But we also want to do our own homework. That's why we've decided to increase the number of science attachés working at our embassies. But that, too, is something we won't manage on our own. So may I ask particularly our scientific and research bodies to work with us on this? My feeling is that we can all only benefit from more contact with one another. You can count on my support here. And I'm sure I can count on yours.

Thank you very much.

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