Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the German-Italian Discussion Forum

20.04.2009 - Speech


Mr Cucchiani,

Mr Weiß,

Mr Biancheri,

Mr Jopp,

Ladies and gentlemen,

In this year of so many anniversaries, the German-Italian Discussion Forum also has something to celebrate. It is now twenty years since politicians, businesspeople, scientists and members of civil society from Germany and Italy assembled for the first time under these auspices in Bonn and Bad Neuenahr.

This provides a suitable opportunity to thank the presidium and the institutions charged with organizing the Forum – the Instituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale (ISPI) in Milan and the Institute for European Politics (IEP) in Bonn – for their fruitful work over these years as well as for making today's event possible.

The German-Italian Discussion Forum has from the outset been concerned with more than just bilateral German-Italian relations and sensibilities. The allure of these meetings has always been in the shared look at whatever challenges currently faced Europe and the world. Today's theme, “Designing Global Governance”, rightly continues in this well-established tradition.

Before turning to this theme, however, I beg your indulgence for a few comments on the state of our bilateral relations, since it has been claimed on various occasions that a cooling down or “sneaking estrangement” has been observed over the past years.

I myself am unable to identify any estrangement. I think rather that such comments stem from a failure to understand how fundamentally the nature of bilateral relations between members of the European Union has changed over the past years.

In this age of advanced European integration, the character of our relations is measured first and foremost by how well we succeed in coordinating our positions on European and international issues and how effectively we assert our interests through concerted action.

If you judge us by these criteria, you will see that Germany's positions on key matters have coincided with Italy's over the past years more than with almost any other partner's – on issues ranging from renewing the EU's legal foundations to the EU's and NATO's policy towards Russia.

The “emotional” component of our relations is something for which we politicians are known not to be overly responsible. But still, I think there are grounds for saying that the close and long friendship between our two countries has not suffered in any way. That was highlighted once again when two weeks ago the news and photos of the terrible and devastating earthquake in Abruzzo reached us. The thoughts of many Germans were very much with the Italian people, sharing in their shock and grief.

That is why Germany will of course contribute to the reconstruction of the battered region. Above all, we would like to help the village of Onna, where 50 of a total of 300 inhabitants lost their lives.

For Onna has a special significance for Germany. Here, in 1944, the German Wehrmacht killed innocent civilians and destroyed their homes. Onna is thus an example of how closely the past, present and future are entangled in German-Italian relations.

This same realization lay behind the establishment of a German-Italian historians commission, as agreed last November in Trieste by my counterpart Franco Frattini and myself.

I am glad that this commission has already started its work. It will look in detail at German-Italian war history and will examine the fate of the Italian military internees. The ultimate aim is to promote a culture of shared remembrance. This is, in my opinion, also a concrete step towards further improving bilateral relations.

But don't worry – this positive recapitulation of the state of our relations is by no means intended as an excuse for us to rest on our laurels. On the contrary. The conclusion I draw from our excellent bilateral relations, from our shared past and from our responsibility as founding members of the Europe Union, is that Germany and Italy must in future do yet more to bring their combined weight to bear in tackling the major challenges of the future, both within Europe and on the world stage.

I therefore have to congratulate the organizers for putting the issue of global governance at the heart of this event.

For around the world the interconnections between countries, regions, economies and cultures will multiply ever further. This brings opportunities – but also great and previously incalculable risks.

We are currently experiencing the impact of this interconnectedness in “real time”. Who would previously have thought it possible that the irresponsible lending of money to private homeowners in the USA could lead to a global crisis of this extent?

To a crisis that is increasingly also becoming relevant to foreign policy. For high unemployment and the loss of trust can jeopardize the stability of whole states and regions.

The old analytical models and political panaceas of yore won't work in this changing world. The world of yesterday will not return – and many people have yet to realize this.

We have to adapt to a multipolar world with new dominant forces from Asia, Africa and South America, which will become the economic and political competitors of the old powers.

At the same time, there are new challenges, such as climate change, commodity crises and water scarcity, which make concerted action absolutely necessary.

We therefore need an effective global community of responsibility. A balance of powers nineteenth-century style is no longer a viable model.

Just what form such a global community of responsibility can take is one of the major topics to be addressed by Italy's Presidency of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations – the G8. Although this is, incidentally, a group that is not strictly speaking what it claims to be even today, and will be even less so in the world of tomorrow.

As I have said on various occasions, the reformed and enlarged G8 must become the core element of new structures for global governance.

During its G8 Presidency, Germany began to involve the major emerging economies – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa – in the work of the G8.

Italy decided to continue and intensify this process. We very much welcome this.

The goal now must be to offer these emerging economies an equal partnership within the G8. For we need their cooperation to solve the most pressing global problems.

Against this backdrop, I am keen to see early G8 enlargement. The core of this enlarged group should include not only the leading emerging economies but also states with majority Muslim populations.

In return for enlarging the group, we should require the new members to show a readiness to shoulder responsibility.

If we do not enlarge the G8 wisely before it is too late, we will witness its decline and see its functions assumed by other groups such as the G20.

An enlarged G8 could become a “Global Responsibility Group” that appropriately reflects world realities. This group could help to better prepare fundamental decisions on the global stage and make it easier to build international consensus.

A “living” system of altering formations needs to be created around this core group, which brings in other states whenever the issues so require.

Seen in this way, the “Global Responsibility Group” and the new system of flexible formations would not rival the United Nations or other international organizations. On the contrary, the work of these organizations would be facilitated if key questions could be discussed in advance by smaller groups.

A global order without a fully functioning United Nations is inconceivable. No other international organization is more representative or enjoys greater legitimacy.

However, as a young and dynamic US President once said, the United Nations cannot survive as a static organization.

The President in question was not Barack Obama but John F. Kennedy. Since he spoke these words little – too little – has been done to reform the UN, while the world has undergone various fundamental changes.

An increase in the effectiveness of the United Nations is thus long overdue. This must also include a reform of the UN Security Council.

As you know, Germany and Italy have different opinions on Security Council reform. But both Germany and Italy do want to make the Security Council more representative and more efficient.

The window of history is wide open at present, in these days, weeks and months. The US is led by a young President who is calling for a new way of thinking on global policy.

The first concrete steps taken by this President to shape the world of tomorrow are encouraging:

• He is bringing new movement to disarmament issues – after a long period of stagnation;

• He is reaching out to Iran, offering to enter into dialogue;

• He has pressed the reset button in his policy on Russia and is busy putting US-Russian relations on a new, better foundation;

• He has brought a breath of fresh air to the thinking on climate and energy policy.

Germany and Italy should cooperate with a view to ensuring that these initiatives produce concrete results. A constructive approach is called for not least because many of these “new” US policies can be traced back to proposals for a new transatlantic agenda that were elaborated in Europe.

Germany and Italy can contribute most effectively to the designing of global governance not on their own, but as representatives of a strong Europe in global alliances for reform.

Thank you.

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