Madam President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before turning to foreign policy fundamentals, allow me – not only on behalf of the Federal Government but on behalf of this entire House – to express our pleasure, and to say how much we welcome the fact that the indirect talks in the Middle East have been superseded by direct peace talks. We regard this as a step forward. At present, it’s not much more than a prospect of success. Just a few months ago, many didn’t believe that direct peace talks would ever be possible. We in Germany call upon everyone involved in the Middle East peace process to refrain from doing anything which could jeopardize this peace process. We favour a two-state solution. That would involve a complete renunciation of violence and, of course, a freeze on settlement activities. That’s the common position of this Parliament.
We’re playing our part in the Middle East. We’re playing our part as Europeans through a coordinated foreign policy, the Lisbon Treaty having made it possible for us to coordinate our foreign policy to an ever greater extent. In the next few years, we’ll all spend a lot of time discussing how much the Lisbon Treaty will change national foreign policy through the European External Action Service and the possibilities of structured cooperation. One thing is clear: we’ll be able to speak up with authority in the world if we in Europe speak the same language. That’s why it’s important that we take to heart the lessons of our history, especially at a time when we’re marking the 20th anniversary of the Two Plus Four Treaty. We are committed to the new paradigm of cooperation in Europe which replaced the old paradigm of confrontation. We can’t prescribe to anyone else in the world how to find peace. But there is one thing we can do: we can encourage all conflict regions in the world to follow Europe’s example.
We want cooperation rather than confrontation. That’s the lesson we’ve learned from our own history.
We all sense that Europe is currently being put to the test. And, as this has taken up most of the Government’s attention during the last few months, that’s where I want to begin. We had to tackle a European economic and financial crisis. This was about much more than safeguarding our currency, much more than safeguarding our economic and export opportunities. In truth, it was also about defending Europe as a political union. Now that the economic and financial crisis in Europe is over, it is of course easy to make speeches running Europe down. We all have something to say about it. However, it would be a big mistake after the difficult phases we’ve experienced during the last few months to allow the economic and financial crisis to harm the European Union project. Germany’s future lay in Europe, it still lies in Europe, indeed it will continue to be firmly anchored in Europe. Let’s work together to ensure that Europe doesn’t suffer any damage, even after the economic and financial crisis!
Above all, we are linked by a major peace project. Therefore, those who want to protect Europe have to be prepared to change the rules. I watched the general debate this morning with interest and want to single out one point which rather surprised me. The opposition has accused the Chancellor, indeed the entire Government, of acting too late, of taking too much time before launching the rescue package and stabilizing the euro, before dealing with the European economic and financial crisis. I regard that as a completely unfounded accusation for one simple reason.
I was present, together with the Chancellor and the Finance Minister, when the talks took place. At the outset, when Greece got into difficulties, there were immediate demands for Europe to hand over a cheque. It was claimed that the crisis would then be over and the problem solved. If we’d done that, if we’d immediately laid a blank cheque on the table in Brussels, as the opposition demanded, then no structural changes would have been carried out in any country. Greece wouldn’t have implemented an austerity budget coupled with earnest efforts to carry out structural reforms. We would have had to write out the next cheque two months later, and that would have been followed by another cheque. In truth, it would have been like pouring money into a bottomless pit.
When it came to mastering the economic and financial crisis, the Government was therefore right when it said back in the spring: we’re prepared to show solidarity but we expect everyone to do their bit. Solidarity comes at a price. There can only be solidarity in return for a commitment from all sides.
We now have to discuss what the consequences are for us in Europe. How should we change the rules? Firstly, there is the major package of sanctions: what happens if, for example, a Government cooks the books over years, if it fails to exercise budgetary discipline for years, or runs up debts over many years in contravention of the Stability Pact? First and foremost, there have to be consequences. That’s why we are still dealing today with events in 2004 and 2005 when, in the view of the current Government mistakes were made. In Europe today we say: you have to be prepared to organize stable public finances, even in countries which don’t have Germany’s stability culture. The response to this is: when you had problems, when you were under political and economic pressure, the first thing Germany did as a large country was to water down the Stability and Monetary Pact. The SPD/Green Government made a historic mistake when it watered down the Stability Pact in 2004. We are still dealing with the consequences today.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s absolutely justified to criticize you for not being prepared again this year to at least help tackle the fallout of this policy. I regard this as serious error; for it goes without saying that this is not just about protecting the European currency but also about protecting Europe. Working to protect Europe is a fundamental tenet of Germany’s foreign policy. Germany’s foreign policy is anchored in the international community and is implemented, first and foremost, in coordination with the European Union.
Precisely because we want to protect Europe, we’re now trying to tighten the rules so that any country which fails to preserve stability will suffer real consequences, for example the curtailment or even cancellation of all infrastructure funds from the European Union. Violations must have consequences. After almost 40 violations against the stability rules in Europe, and with no action being taken against any of the states in question, it should be clear to everyone that the European Stability Pact needs teeth. If we want to protect Europe we have to act now.
However, that also means that we’re not prepared – and we’ve discussed this here in Parliament in two major debates – to simply extend a crisis mechanism. Instead of, as it were, extending the aid mechanism in the form of guarantees by national parliaments or states, that’s to say the rescue package, we demand that structural changes be carried out in Europe and that private creditors be included in this. The lesson we must learn from the crisis – which we couldn’t have resolved any differently – is that we have to drum up readiness and to play our part in changing the rules. We’re discussing this at present. These are difficult debates because there are many countries which want to embark on another course.
Incidentally, we Germans are not alone for many others are aware of how dangerous it is for Europe if the stability culture goes down the drain. Germany has to play its part. In contrast to what you’ve said here, I don’t believe Germany would then be isolated. Quite the opposite, those who work now towards changing the rules in Europe are not only acting in the interest of German taxpayers but also protecting and preserving the core idea behind the European Union. However, in addition to sanctions, it’ll also be necessary for private creditors to be involved if such a crisis were to happen again in future. Though, of course, we’re all working hard to prevent it from happening again.
(Jürgen Trittin (Alliance 90/The Greens): Will you ensure that a decision to that effect is made at the next European Council, Mr Minister?)
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m trying to say. Instead of criticizing - -
(Jürgen Trittin (Alliance 90/The Greens): It’s a question, not a criticism!)
I believe that during this critical phase of the negotiations – I say this against the backdrop of the forthcoming consultations – the Government, the Coalition parliamentary groups shouldn’t negotiate it alone. Rather, every one of us should try to drum up support in our constituencies and among our party friends in Europe, thus increasing the chance of success. You should do that rather than always criticizing everything here.
(Jürgen Trittin (Alliance 90/The Greens): I’d like to support you but you took it off the Council’s agenda!)
Ladies and gentlemen, we can see how attractive Europe is from the current debate we’ve triggered in the Western Balkans. That, too, has to be mentioned once more because we’ve just experienced a remarkable success of European diplomacy, namely the resolution of the conflicts between Serbia and Kosovo. Here in Germany, some people like to play down the significance of this issue. But anyone who recalls that a war raged in this region just over a decade ago, and anyone who remembers the consequences it had for us too, will take a close interest in how the problems in the Western Balkans are resolved.
That’s why we’ve tried to help solve them. And not just the German Government but also many allies, for example the British, have been involved. I’d like to mention Catherine Ashton, who’s often criticized. But I feel that’s very unfair because she has helped European diplomacy to succeed on this issue.
It’s a great success. The Serbs have withdrawn their resolution. On our initiative, they decided to support the position taken by the 27 EU member states. They’ve declared that they’re now prepared to enter into direct talks. Therefore, I say to you: we’re prepared to offer the states of the Western Balkans the European perspective which we have offered them in the last few years. They kept their word and we should take this into account in our decisions in Europe.
Question by Manuel Sarrazin (Alliance 90/The Greens):
I know you’re now talking about Serbia and the Western Balkans, but could I ask you something about the previous point? We’ve been informed by the COREPER that Germany wants to postpone the adoption tomorrow by the Council of conclusions on the results of the Van Rompuy taskforce, because the delegation wants to avoid surprises.
My question here is – don’t you agree that the strategy of talking in the German media about suspending voting rights and excluding members was not very appropriate because Treaty amendments are needed for all these ideas? In the final analysis Germany hasn’t come up with any constructive, enforceable solutions. The Van Rompuy group won’t be able to report on stability, stability culture or bindingness, although it’s said you were very keen for this to happen. What are your thoughts on this?
Your description is too simple, in fact it’s more difficult to reach agreement among 27 EU member countries with very different currency cultures, stability rules and attitudes. Let me make this plain at the start. Governments before us have had the same experience, at least those who still took stability seriously. I’m thinking of the last Kohl Government.
Yes, of course, the whole discussion about the ECB was nothing less than an expression of our stability culture.
It’s true that even countries with which we cooperate closely see things differently to us. We said to you that no decision would be taken until there was a written submission, as we wanted to be fair to you and take note of the promise the Government made to this House. As Members of the Bundestag you rightly expect this. Should we decide by word of mouth on something that is not binding and will then be interpreted differently by each country? You as fellow Members should make sure that on the fundamental issue of the future of the euro and Europe’s stability you have something in black and white on the table. You complain about us making secret arrangements, and now you say we should do just that. That won’t do.
In my view the European perspective particularly includes one of the main priorities of my work at the Federal Foreign Office and in Europe – that we not only cooperate fully with the larger European countries but also treat the small and medium-sized countries as equals, giving them the same attention and significance. That has been the principle of the first ten or eleven months of my term in office. It’s important for us to realize that this is in our own best interests, given that due to the Lisbon Treaty these countries will become ever more important for us in Europe’s decision-making.
For me that also means, ladies and gentlemen, not seeing Europe as some of those who grew up in West Germany have tended to do, i.e. as just Western Europe. For us Europe is only complete if we see it holistically. This expressly includes Eastern Europe.
That’s why I paid my first official visit as Foreign Minister to Warsaw. Some people have criticized me for this. But let me assure you that my visit didn’t lead to any problems in Paris. Many of you know that what I say is true. But my visit sent out an important message to the East, given that the friendship we have with our Western neighbours as a matter of course is – as we have seen in recent days – by no means as clear-cut for the neighbouring countries to the east. We will not rest until we have established the same close friendship with all our neighbours – to the west and to the east.
I’ve said all I need to say about historical debates.
I don’t want to go into detail about all aspects of more global policy. A lot could be said about Turkey. You know, fellow Members, that I’ve never been afraid to speak out publicly about this issue, even if sometimes not everyone has agreed with me.
As far as global policy is concerned, let me say a few words about the disarmament agenda. I’m a little concerned that there is talk in some quarters about disarmament as if it was a 1980s issue. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not referring to the opposition here, in fact I’m not referring to anyone in this House, I’m talking about a general trend.
The point I’m trying to make, ladies and gentlemen, is that in my view disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation will be just as significant for mankind during the next decade as climate protection. I think we underestimate the threat posed by, for example, nuclear proliferation to world peace and to the citizen. So this is perhaps why the issue isn’t headline news; I have to accept this.
But I am disappointed and worried that the breakthrough we helped to achieve, the success of the New York NPT Review Conference, is not seen as such in the public debate, because the more countries acquire nuclear weapons, the greater the risk of terrorists getting hold of them. This is a major threat to mankind, to peace, and to the citizens in this country. That’s why the headline and trademark of this Government’s foreign policy will remain: German foreign policy is peace policy. German foreign policy is based on disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation. At the moment this may not be headline news, but it’s urgently necessary.
Next week I will, along with Japan, found a new group of countries committed to making further progress on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. I ask for your full support in this important European and national project.
Ladies and gentlemen, I could say a lot more about strategic partnerships, but I think you know that I can’t cover every subject. We would need to go into detail about values orientation.
(Wolfgang Gehrcke (Left Party): Say something about Afghanistan!)
As you know I have already delivered two policy statements about Afghanistan, but I’d be happy to add a few words.
On the issue of Afghanistan, let me make it quite clear that I’m under no illusions. We’re facing a very difficult weekend. We in the international community are ready to help make sure that these elections are really free. We call on the Afghan government and expect it to play its role in guaranteeing free elections. At the same time we must not kid ourselves that these elections will be like the ones here in Europe. Here, too, we need to be realistic.
We will suffer further setbacks as regards security, but in spite of these we will pursue the objective we set in London and Kabul of developing a realistic prospect for withdrawal and supporting President Karzai’s aim of assuming responsibility for his country’s security in 2014. That doesn’t mean we will walk away from our responsibility, that means we will hand it over. Our citizens rightly expect this. With all due respect – you can criticize everything! – this Government is the first to present this House with a comprehensive Afghanistan strategy.
We should talk about strategic partnerships; as you know we in Europe are currently debating about China and India. We should discuss Pakistan and many other issues. But since we have talked about these on many occasions, I have focused on the three areas I feel are important to Europe and, with regard to disarmament, to the world as a whole.
(Gernot Erler (SPD): What about the budget?)
I was about to conclude with a remark on the financial allocations. It has been normal practice up to now, Mr Erler, for the budget speech to be about policies rather than a list of figures. If I had read out the figures, you would have accused me of leaving out the policies. There’s no pleasing you, is there?
Let me say something about what I read in the papers today. The report said that the Federal Foreign Office was going to make budget cuts in precisely the areas in which spending is vital – in civilian crisis prevention, humanitarian aid, and cultural relations. I just want to say this –in the last SPD-Green budget you had 16.5 million euro earmarked for civilian crisis prevention; next year’s draft budget has 90.3 million.
For humanitarian aid your budget average was 50.7 million euro; now it is 78.8 million. In 2005, when the government changed, you had 546 million euro in the cultural relations budget; now that figure is 703 million. Therefore this Government, unlike yours, has got its budget priorities right!
Thank you very much for your attention.