Ladies and Gentlemen,
Staff members gathered here in this auditorium,
And of course, all those staff members who are currently serving our country elsewhere in the world,
I would like to extend warm greetings to all of you and assure you that I will refrain from giving a long political speech. Instead, what I would like to do is to begin on a personal note and thank you for two things. First, I would like to thank you for the warm welcome, but more importantly I would like to thank you for the kindness and the great respect you have shown our parting Federal Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Mr Steinmeier, I would like to thank you sincerely, not only for the years you served as our Federal Foreign Minister, not only for the many years you have served in the Federal Government, but above all for the helpful, considerate and fair working relationship we have had – also when we both had different roles – in the German Bundestag. I would like to wish you personally, and I’m sure I say this on behalf of everyone here and also all those who cannot be here today, all the best, every happiness and good health. We will continue to depend on you, on your sage advice. All the best to you and your whole family!
Almost exactly four years ago, here in this hall, the office of Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs was handed over to you. In your inaugural speech, you said you considered it an honour and a challenge to take up this wonderful and responsible post. And you added that you would do all you could to do justice to the great tradition established by your predecessors. This was no easy task – and you mastered it in an exemplary way.
You just mentioned some, though certainly not all, of the major challenges you faced – along with all of you, ladies and gentlemen – over the last four years in foreign and European policy. You mastered these challenges.
Yet everyone knows that foreign and European policy entails more than just the major issues we read about in the newspaper. There is a lot of unexciting, arduous, hidden specialized work – the results of which do not make the headlines. Many of these victories are hard-won, and usually take place behind the scenes. That is why I would like to expressly and sincerely thank Mr Erler and Mr Gloser – thank you very much. Thank you also to the entire upper echelons of this ministry, as well as to everyone who works here.
Mr Steinmeier, you approached these difficult tasks with an incredible drive and sense of duty. You achieved much for the benefit of Germany’s citizens. It is therefore justified to say that you have done our country a great service. (…)
In the talks you requested with me personally, over the last nine years in my function as Chairman of my party and its parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, you provided explanations, provided enlightening background information. You shared a lot of things with me, including your motivation for many decisions. There were also some things you did not tell me – for example, that sometimes you have to fly with the door of the plane open. And it is probably better that you have waited until now to tell me that.
Over the last four years you have worked intensively, and I have followed your work intensively. And I do mean “followed” in every sense of the word. I imagine you will do the same. Of course, the Bundestag has a responsibility to support the Federal Foreign Minister, and we did that when you were in office. But it is also the opposition’s job to criticize. And I imagine you will now do the same.
I can assure you that I will not forget the statements I made as a member of the opposition in the Bundestag. And I am quite sure that now as a member of the opposition, you will not forget the statements you made as Foreign Minister. So you see, ladies and gentleman, change is a natural part of democracy.
The goal is always, not just in our relationship, but of course also in the relationship of the parliament to the government, to govern our country in the best possible way. And allow me to say that your policymaking was characterized by great fairness, correctness and high personal integrity. For that, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you very much.
There has been a constant theme at every handing-over ceremony, also in this ministry, over the past few decades, the concept of continuity. Continuity should not be confused with a lack of creativity, but rather understood as the continuation of a great success story. I have said it before and I’m happy to say it again here today: Foreign policy is among the most valuable fixtures of German politics. This is also thanks to you, ladies and gentlemen. Therefore, with the greatest respect for you, your abilities and your work, I would like to clearly say that for me personally it is a great honour to have the opportunity to work with some of the most talented men and women in Germany over the next few years. (…) Thank you for giving me this opportunity.
Every handing-over ceremony also takes place against the background of new challenges in foreign and European policy. We certainly won’t have to look for them, there are already plenty of challenges on the table. Our task is to not just respond, but rather to actively shape policy to master these challenges.
The process of European integration has given Germany and the European Union an incomparable wealth of experience to draw upon during the process of globalization. It is the model of European cooperation that has made German foreign policy the success it is today.
We should not be arrogant by looking for alternative methods, but rather understand that our policy is always most successful when it is carried out side by side with our partners. At the same time we should never shirk the responsibilities that accompany a nation of our size and we should constantly be aware of the signals we are sending to others.
Directly after this ceremony I will head to the European Council meeting in Brussels. There is good reason to be confident that we will soon be able to successfully wrap up the long and arduous process of reforming the EU institutions. The Lisbon Treaty will give Europe a new capability to act. This is a big opportunity, one that I would like to take advantage of together with our partners in the European Union.
Of course I would like to devote special attention to bilateral relations with our neighbours. It is an undeniable fact that relations with our eastern neighbours in particular need to be deepened. The project that Walter Scheel and Willy Brandt began in 1969 with the launch of Ostpolitik, and which was continued by Helmut Kohl, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Klaus Kinkel and also Joseph Fischer, has yet to reach completion. For me, the main priority is encouraging our societies to grow closer.
Germany and France have largely succeeded in achieving this. It is our duty to ensure that we achieve the same quality in relations between eastern and western EU member states.
The global financial and economic crisis has demonstrated in a dramatic way that our global governance system is in urgent need of reform. This applies to economic and fiscal policy as well as, of course, to the G8, G20, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international institutions. However, reform is also needed in the policy areas dealing with the environment and the climate, food and health care, peace, the rule of law and security. And that is why it still holds true that “German foreign policy is peace policy”, as it was once said.
It is very much in Germany’s interest to take an active role in reshaping our international governance system because the freedom, peace and prosperity we enjoy in our country is due in large part to the fact that we belong to the international community.
It is time to again give more attention to strategically designed external economic promotion, also in close cooperation with German companies abroad. And let me assure you that I intend to continue what I consider one of the greatest achievements of your term in office, Mr Steinmeier: Namely, making cultural relations and education policy a priority and Germany’s “calling card” around the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am counting on your support in order to master the tasks that lie ahead. The Federal Foreign Office is a special, even unique, ministry. This is something I recognized and learned very early on. It has been part of the highs and lows of German history. In the sixty years our Federal Republic has existed, this ministry has achieved great things. The basis for this achievement was the high level of professionalism, a willingness to work hard and the dependability of the staff here at headquarters and at our missions abroad.
I am confident I can rely on the fact that this will not change in the future. I will do my part to contribute to the cohesion and efficiency of this ministry. This is especially important at a time when living and working conditions in many places around the world are becoming more difficult and also more dangerous. And I am aware that we have to take into account the fact that society has changed. Especially when it comes to job opportunities abroad for the partners of Federal Foreign Office staff.
In 1974 one of my main role models said: “You do not have to remind me that faithfulness and loyalty fade if they are not reciprocated, and that a minister owes his staff not just fairness but also loyalty.” In other words, I know that loyalty has to be mutual. That is why I have chosen to quote Hans-Dietrich Genscher here today.
My two political companions, who will accompany me on my journey as Foreign Minister beginning today, are also aware of this duty. Werner Hoyer and Cornelia Pieper will join me at the Federal Foreign Office as Ministers of State. With their extensive political experience, they will serve as important advisers and a source of support. I would ask you to support both them and me.
I have heard that at a past handing-over ceremony it was once said that anyone with a creative, good, exciting idea should go directly to the minister. I don’t want to make any promises here that no single person can keep on his own. But I will make sure that your expertise, your experience and your policy advice is a constant influence on my decision-making process. This goes for the conception and formulation of foreign policy as well as for administrative structures and processes within the ministry.
With regard to both internal and external policy, I can say one thing for sure: Certainly not everything will remain the same. And it is just as certain that not everything will change. What changes and what remains the same – this is precisely what we will work together to determine starting today. I am very much looking forward to working on these issues with you.
I look forward to my new duties. And I don’t want to hide my respect for this office. I look forward to developing a good working relationship with you. I am asking for your support and would like to assure you that I will be fair to everyone.
Thank you very much for your attention.