Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, First of all, I would like to remark on the comments Mr Vaatz has just made. He has just given us an exceptionally wise and, above all, remarkable assessment. For the many guests we received yesterday all stated how impressed our friends in the world were by this peaceful revolution. Everyone here knows that this also required much statesmanship. Everyone is aware of the roles played by Helmut Kohl, Hans-Dietrich Genscher and – what belongs together is now growing together – Willy Brandt, to whom I would like to give a special mention. But we shouldn’t forget that the true heroes were those who didn’t know whether they would be fired upon when they took to the streets. They were the true heroes during that time.
Ladies and gentlemen, of course this is also about foreign policy tradition and continuity. In truth, foreign policy really has been one of our country’s great fixtures since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. The foreign policy of all previous governments – every single one of them – has been marked by continuity, and it goes without saying that we intend to maintain this continuity. German foreign policy is peace policy. It is guided by our interests but is also expressly values-oriented. That’s our compass. We were guided by it in the past and we will be guided by it in future.
This continuity allayed the fears which many peoples in the world had of us Germans, and it led us back to the peaceful community of nations. That’s why, ladies and gentlemen, I want to start by saying: this Government stands for the integration of our policies into European policies and into those of the international community. We don’t want to go it alone. Rather, we want to act in unison with our partners; this, too, is important.
I want to stress that it should be clear to everyone that continuity shouldn’t be confused with a lack of ideas. Everyone sets their own priorities. I’d like to point out that Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier did so, too. This is the first time that I’ve had the privilege of speaking to this House since assuming office and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him most sincerely for his work during the last few years. I would like to have told him this in person but, unfortunately, he is not with us at the present moment.
It’s always the same: everyone thinks of making their own stamp, setting their own priorities and there are things which I – and the rest of this Government – believe could have perhaps been done even better. I would like to start with European policy.
Very early on, long before German unification, I learned something from Hans-Dietrich Genscher which very much influenced me. He told me, a young undergraduate student at the time, that the European Union is called the European Union and not the Western European Union. That’s not a mere platitude or throw-away remark. Rather, in truth, it’s a mandate to our generation to complete what others before us began – let me mention once again Willy Brandt and Walter Scheel. It is a mandate to ensure that the deep friendship we have developed with our western neighbours – we have long since ceased to talk merely of partnership and talk now as a matter of course of a friendship among peoples – will also be possible with our eastern neighbours, to ensure that it grows and flourishes.
That’s why my first inaugural trip was to Poland. I made a conscious decision to make Poland, and its capital Warsaw, the first destination in my round of inaugural visits. This was intended to be a very personal statement: we want the friendship which, for example, has grown between Germany and France to develop with Poland as well. We want to play our part in ensuring that the resentments which naturally still exist – how could it be any different in the light of our history? – become a thing of the past.
Just as everyone else here, I’ve conducted many talks during my political career and learned a thing or two from them. For instance, back in the nineties – when I was already actively involved in politics: in my party’s executive, later as its Secretary-General and than as a young member of this House – I noted how Helmut Kohl and Hans-Dietrich Genscher always attached great importance in the context of European policy to ensuring that Europe is not just a concert of big states. That was a valuable experience. There are no small countries in Europe. Even those European states which are small in geographical terms are big, they are our equal partners. Respect for all member states of the European Union – that should be the maxim of us all, and it will also be my maxim.
That’s why I made sure that I visited not only France, our wonderful friend and neighbour, during my first few days in office but also our small neighbours, the Benelux countries as they are often called. This week I will continue this practice.
(Calls from the Alliance 90/The Greens: But there aren’t any small countries anymore!)
I’ve just explained what I mean. Perhaps you could just listen. I think you know what I’m trying to say. Really! I believe it’s so important to visit these countries because I don’t think it’s good if countries like, for example, Luxembourg, or the Netherlands or Belgium feel as if they’ve been pushed to the side or that their voice is not being heard. I was surprised to learn that the last bilateral visit by a German Foreign Minister to Belgium – not to Brussels/Europe but to Belgium – was nine years ago.
I believe it’s important, especially as Germany is such a big country, that we Germans take care to treat everyone in Europe with respect. That’s why we have to choose our words carefully – even in the midst of disputes – so that none of our neighbours, not even Luxembourg, feels insulted or offended.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, it’s an important and well-established tradition for all German Governments to regard the transatlantic relationship as a very special partnership. We want to be partners with many countries in the world. We want to try and cultivate good relations with many countries in the world – with rich and poor countries, as well as with large and small ones. But outside Europe, the United States of America is not only our strongest but also our most loyal ally. We wouldn’t be standing here today, able to express ourselves freely, if the United States had not stood by us over the decades.
You won’t expect me to take stock of everything or to have already formed a final opinion on everything in the first few days in my new job. I’ve already met many Foreign Ministers and had the honour of talking to many Heads of Government. Ladies and gentlemen, Members of this House, let me reassure you that everyone has a first day at work. I therefore don’t want to create the impression that everything’s been said and done. I want to make you an offer: let us sit down and discuss together the major issues ahead – whether it be the concept of self-sustaining security in Afghanistan; whether it be Iran; whether it be fleshing out the ideas put forward in Chancellor Merkel’s speech in Washington within the international community. Our task now is to master these challenges.
I would like to ask you most sincerely for your cooperation. At the same time, I want to engage in fair and good cooperation with you as Members of this House, with Members of each and every parliamentary group. For I believe that foreign policy is above all a policy to which we all have to contribute.
Thank you very much.