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“The World at a Crossroads – What is Europe's Position?” - Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier

25.01.2009 - Speech

Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday (25 January) delivered the following speech on the future of Europe in the Berliner Staatsoper Unter den Linden, as part of the series of discussions entitled “Debate on Europe”.
The minister's speech was part of a panel discussion in which Czech Foreign Minister and current EU Council President Karel Schwarzenberg and French Minister for Europe Bruno Le Maire also participated. The panel was chaired by Dr Hermann Rudolph, Editor of Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.
The “Debate on Europe” series is an Allianz Cultural Foundation initiative. For more details on this series, visit www.allianz-kulturstiftung.de

Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday (25 January) delivered the following speech on the future of Europe in the Berliner Staatsoper Unter den Linden, as part of the series of discussions entitled “Debate on Europe”.

The minister's speech was part of a panel discussion in which Czech Foreign Minister and current EU Council President Karel Schwarzenberg and French Minister for Europe Bruno Le Maire also participated. The panel was chaired by Dr Hermann Rudolph, Editor of Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.

The “Debate on Europe” series is an Allianz Cultural Foundation initiative. For more details on this series, visit www.allianz-kulturstiftung.de.

-- Translation of advance text --

In the mid-19th century, as revolutionary movements in many parts of Europe challenged the old order, in Berlin just as much as in Paris or Prague, Ludwig Uhland described the situation as “the storm grasping at time”.

The last few months were also highly stormy! We are currently experiencing change on a historic and global scale, and we cannot yet see where all this will end and what the effects will be.

You have all seen the figures, the headlines, that stand for that upheaval and the challenges our world is facing – the financial market crisis is only one of them. Global warming, increasing scarcity of raw materials, environmental pressures, migration, terrorism, the breathtaking rise of new powers in some parts of the world and the collapse of countries in others – these are the challenges confronting us!

It is hard to believe that only fifteen years ago some were seriously foretelling the end of history. Following the implosion of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War they foresaw an era in which only one superpower was left to shape the future.

History has certainly not ended, but the age of seeming certainties has.

But there is one certainty – no one country can tackle the major problems of the future alone, nor will they disappear by themselves.

We've already overstretched nature's powers of self-healing, and after the experiences of the past few months we'd do well not to rely on those of the markets any longer.

On the contrary, it's time to reverse the trend in which economics and the markets develop faster than the policy-shaping options, as Jürgen Habermas once put it.

Over the months and years ahead, our task will be to reclaim that policy-shaping power. Globalization cannot be reversed, but we must ensure that market globalization is followed by political globalization.

We will have to rebalance the situation on the global stage by integrating new players into an international community of shared responsibility. We can no longer shape the world without China, India, Russia, Brazil and other up-and-coming countries.

That's the major task we are facing in our age. It's both a challenge and an opportunity for Europe.

People are right to say that only a Europe able to speak with one voice and act as a single entity can claim the right to be taken seriously. If Europe succeeds in giving the right answers to the fundamental issues determining our future, it can draw new legitimacy and strength from that success.

It may at first glance seem paradoxical, but the past year in particular makes me feel cautiously optimistic about Europe meeting the world's expectations, in spite of the many problems we had – the negative result of the Irish referendum, the war in Georgia, and the outbreak of the financial crisis.

This is because, when the going got tough last year, we Europeans acted very effectively and responsibly after all!

I readily admit that last year, too, not every Commission initiative made European hearts beat faster, and that the 27 Member States' differing interests were very often made crystal clear! The result is staged or sometimes perhaps even honest indignation. Isn't this one of the many misunderstandings about Europe? The founders of the European Communities were not so naïve as to think that the EC would suddenly negate all the different traditions, opinions and interests. Europe's advantage as a civilization rather lies in its ability – following centuries of warfare – to peacefully settle its differences. Unity is therefore the culmination rather than the beginning of the process!

Seen in this light, European common sense has prevailed in tackling last year's major challenges.

First, the financial and economic crisis, which as we know did not start in Europe. But in autumn 2008, when the crisis achieved a new dimension, Europe sent the vital signals needed to rescue the financial system, and European contributions played a central role in shaping the results of the first global financial summit in Washington.

Second, combating climate change. The German EU Presidency set ambitious goals – reducing greenhouse gases and increasing the use of renewables in order to make the EU the global pioneer in climate protection.

Europe kept its word. Last December, in spite of the looming economic crisis and many people's expectations, we bindingly and specifically implemented our ambitious objectives, thus setting the standard for the post-Kyoto conference at the end of the year in Copenhagen.

Third, the EU has also fulfilled its responsibility in the past months regarding foreign-policy issues and crises, and by this I don't just mean the gas dispute! But here, too, Europe successfully acted as a crisis manager.

More importantly, perhaps, the Member States demonstrated that EU solidarity is more than just a slogan, by helping each other out and providing gas reserves, thus softening the blow of the supply crisis for those most affected.

Finally, it was the European Union which silenced the guns when a full-blown war broke out during the summer in the southern Caucasus, right in our backyard.

I think we can be proud of our record, which wouldn't have been possible without the courageous actions of the previous French and current Czech Presidencies.

Yet we cannot rest on our laurels. It is not enough for Europe to be a good crisis manager. We aspire to greater things – we must act as a role model for the rest of the world.

You rightly ask, what does Europe have to offer the world? Its relative global influence is dwindling, its values are being questioned, and its population is decreasing.

But I can assure you that on my travels around the globe I've noticed that Europe remains highly attractive in other parts of the world – in Asia, Latin America, everywhere, people are seeking forms of regional cooperation based on the European model.

For that reason it's perhaps no coincidence that one of the best books about our efforts over the past fifty years was written by an American. If you read Jeremy Rifkin's “European Dream”, you will see some of Europe's inadequacies and imperfections in a new light.

Europe's political capital remains considerable, and it lies in fields that will be vital to the world of tomorrow:

First, the power of the European idea. Europe embodies a principle which will be essential in the new, smaller world – peaceful coexistence across former borders, understanding and cooperation on the basis of equality, the peaceful balancing of interests, the primacy of law, and the search for social justice – these basic European ideals can also form the building blocks for tomorrow's world order.

Second, credibility. Europe's “hallmarks” – cooperation, solidarity and reconciliation – are what it stands for in other regions of the world. Europe doesn't think in terms of “backyards”, the “cordon sanitaire”, “zones of increased influence” or any of the keywords of the past century's failed great-power policy.

This fact is appreciated to a greater extent outside Europe than we here are aware of.

That capital can be put to good use, but we cannot afford to stand still. The enlarged EU needs a new basis for its work, a tighter decision-making procedure and a clearer division of responsibilities.

That's what we wanted to achieve with the Treaty of Lisbon. Last year's Irish referendum on the Treaty was unsuccessful. In December, together with our Irish friends, we then created the conditions for a new referendum. I'm confident that the Treaty can enter into force by the end of this year. That's one of the opportunities 2009 offers us.

The other opportunity is clear at the end of a week which brought us the impressive pictures of the new US President Obama's inauguration. His Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called me on her first day in office, and after talking to her I'm sure that the stage is now set for a fresh start in European-American relations, for a New Transatlantic Agenda.

There are plenty of items – assuming global responsibility for energy and climate, the stabilization of conflict regions, shared security in both East and West, and indeed “old” issues such as disarmament.

None of the important future challenges can be left off the agenda. None of them can be met without the US, but they can be resolved more easily if Europe pulls in the same direction.

Europe is not a great power, admittedly, but let's not make ourselves smaller than we are!

Europe has 500 million inhabitants, it is the world's largest internal market, and we can look back on fifty years of peace and reconciliation.

Europe isn't Utopia, but it is the world region with the least social inequality.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign-policy “face”, once said that with those instruments we must build a great deal, to a very high level. Europe has every reason to be self-confident when attempting this.

Thank you very much for your attention!

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