Speech by Dr Guido Westerwelle, Member of the German Bundestag and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs at the Goethe-Institut forum on the subject “Illusion of Nearness? Future Prospects for the European Neighbourhood”

29.10.2010 - Speech

-- translation of advanced text --

Mr President, dear Professor Lehmann,

Distinguished Members of the German Bundestag,


Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Union is currently faced with the greatest test in its history so far. The financial crisis, which began in Greece last spring, rattles the very foundations of integration. It raises the question of Europe’s self-perception in a way that extends far beyond economic and monetary aspects.

It is for this reason that I commend you for the idea of shedding light on the state and the future of Project Europe, now of all times, from such diverse and at times unusual perspectives, as you have done during the past three days.

The fact that you chose the notion of neighbourhood as a way into this discussion fits admirably with the nature and the essence of Europe.

Since its historical beginnings, Europe more than any other region of the world has been shaped by the coexistence of very different peoples, cultures and languages.

And from the very beginning this coexistence, these neighbourly relations have also been shaped by friction.

Friction that has often unleashed positive energy. Through the exchange and competition between different cultures in particular, Europe experienced unprecedented golden ages – in the sciences, in the arts, and economically as well.

Again and again, however, friction also led Europe towards unimagined precipices. The history books of European nations are full of wars between neighbours. Outward demarcation and inward exclusion brought immeasurable suffering upon the people of Europe, culminating in the global inferno and rupture of civilization precipitated by Nazi Germany.

The fact that out of the ashes of the Second World War a new Europe could emerge, in a spirit of reconciliation and community, constitutes an inestimable historical achievement on the part of the European statesmen of the time. They succeeded in turning embittered antagonism into not only neutral coexistence, but into dynamic cooperation. In Europe we have since learned to see neighbourhood first and foremost as an enrichment and a chance. Nobody has profited more from this idea than we Germans.

Germany has nine direct neighbours. For every single one of them, it can be said that never in our history have our bilateral relations been better than they are today. And by the way, the same can be said for our indirect neighbours in Europe as well. This is a credit to European unification.

For our generation, Europe is a valuable political legacy that we must handle responsibly. We must not be content with merely administering it. Instead, we must work on Europe where it is still incomplete, and we must preserve and protect it where it is called into question.

Today Europe is faced with many challenges, both from within and from without. Globalization and the rise of new powers, the economic and financial crisis, demographic change and the danger of renationalization are just a few of the phenomena we must react to. The European model is being put to the test.

In order to prepare Europe for the future, it is my belief that three urgent tasks must be addressed. The first is to complete Europe’s internal unity and to prevent new lines of division from coming about on our continent. Secondly, lessons must be drawn from the crisis and the EU equipped with a robust economic and financial constitution. And finally, the basic European values of tolerance and openness must be defended against all attacks, while the appeal of renationalization must be resisted.

A major task that lies ahead of us is the completion of the integration of the new EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe.

The successful reconciliation with our neighbours to the West and the close relations we share with them serve as the example we follow in this endeavour.

Our relationship with France, in particular, is one of neighbourliness “par excellence”. This intermingling of two formerly hostile countries and societies, which is without parallel anywhere in the world, is a credit to many on both sides of the Rhine, and I certainly do not only mean the politicians. On the contrary, first and foremost it is the pupils and students who take part in the exchange programmes, it is the countless town-twinning agreements, it is those active in the cultural sector who have made Franco-German friendship a living, breathing part of Europe.

To preclude a misunderstanding from the start: this does not mean that we share similarities in all respects and are always of the same opinion. It has, however, enabled us to better understand the perspective of the other and to take that perspective into consideration from the start.

We would now like to achieve this mutual understanding, this level of integration and cooperation with our Eastern neighbours as well. The reconciliation with Poland remains our historic task.

By now, the German-Polish partnership has attained a similar importance for European integration as the cooperation between Germans and French.

The past twenty years have seen the growth of a partnership with Poland that is characterized by a dense network of social and political ties.

Contacts at the political level are more intensive than ever. Next week I will travel to Minsk with Radek Sikorski, the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs. In the run up to parliamentary elections there, we want to send a concerted signal in favour of free and fair elections and in favour of a European track in Belarus.

The following day, Radek Sikorski and I will both take part in a conference at the European Viadrina University Frankfurt (Oder) marking the 20th anniversary of the German-Polish Frontier Treaty. The conference motto “The Oder-Neisse Border: From Dividing to Unifying Factor” is also our guiding principle.

We intend to take the opportunity presented by the 2011 anniversary of our Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness to issue a joint declaration, in which we not only recognize what we have achieved thus far, but in which we above all identify areas of cooperation for the future. Based on what we have already attained in our relations with France, our bilateral cooperation with Poland is intended to advance the cause of Europe at large.

The Weimar Triangle meetings held by France, Poland and Germany have always been committed to furthering this goal.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher initiated these meetings in 1991 as a bridge of integration between East and West in Europe. We revived this format with a meeting of the foreign ministers in Bonn last spring, and in 2011 we hope it will provide impetus for Europe at the head of state and government level.

In order for German-Polish friendship to lay deep roots, encounters at the political level will not be sufficient. We need to cultivate a broad civil-society, cultural and scientific exchange. In doing so, we will continue to rely on the Goethe-Institut and on our cultural liaisons.

We have close historical ties not only to Poland, but also to the Czech Republic, to Slovakia and to Hungary – and not only since 1989. We share common values, and quite frequently also common interests. These countries represent, for example, the same culture of stability as does Germany. This is why we intend to intensify the dialogue with the Visegrad states on key European challenges.

Our traditionally close bond with the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania holds much potential, in terms of our dialogue on security as well. We would like to make more intensive use of this potential.

At the same time, the example of the Baltic states demonstrates a foundation of the European model of success. All member states of the European Union, regardless of their size, are equal and have the same rights. Each country respects each other. This is one of the reasons why it was such a priority of mine to visit all our EU partners bilaterally in the course of my first year in office.

With all our EU partner countries in Eastern Europe, we share a common goal. We want to ensure that the borders of Europe, which have shifted eastwards with EU enlargement, do not become dividing lines. This is a key task of European policy.

We are interested in establishing a pan-European area of freedom, security, justice and prosperity, a ring of friendly neighbours. That is the aim of the Eastern Partnership, initiated in 2008 by Poland and Sweden. It is meant to lead Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia towards Europe, step by step.

This is not about whether and when one of these countries will join the EU. Instead, it is about supporting the societies in our immediate neighbourhood on their paths towards enhancing the rule of law, improving governance and bringing about economic renewal. That too is in the European interest.

The creation of a pan-European free trade area could also trigger a momentum that would benefit everyone. Why not create a common economic space between the EU, the countries of the Eastern Partnership and Russia?

The economic progress that we made with the Eastward enlargement of the EU in spite of the many concerns expressed, should be a source of encouragement.

Yet at the end of the day, the social and economic potential of this region can only be fully attained if we also initiate a fundamental change in visa policy. Freedom of travel for people in the countries of the Eastern Partnership and in Russia could unleash considerable forces that would further the social and economic development of Eastern Europe.

The guiding principles for an open, democratic and free market society, as embodied by the EU, can only be spread through the unimpeded, free exchange of young people, scientists and entrepreneurs. In this, we have the advantage on our side.

Instituting freedom of travel cannot be achieved overnight, and is unthinkable without strict preconditions. I am willing, however, to initiate the necessary steps, also taking our security needs into consideration.

These three elements – Eastern Partnership, a common economic space and visa-free travel – can be the foundation of a lasting new relationship, not only with Eastern Europe, but also with Russia. Here in particular, what is needed is coherence and interdependence, not isolation and new borders.

As a strategic partner of the EU, Russia is of particular importance. Germany has always supported the intensive involvement of Russia in the EU’s Eastern Partnership. What is at stake, after all, is our common neighbourhood.

Here too, both sides only stand to profit from a cooperative agenda. In many areas in which Russia, by its own admission as well, needs modernization, Europe can supply – and export – the necessary expertise. This makes Russia and Europe natural partners in modernization.

Next week in Moscow, within the framework of this modernization partnership, I will present an initiative aimed at strengthening the rule of law.

Governance and intra-societal developments are among the difficult issues in our dialogue with Russia – but as long as they are difficult, they will remain on the agenda.

Among the positive developments in our relations with Russia are the trilateral talks between Germans, Poles and Russians. Here there has long been an open dialogue on the different national cultures of remembrance regarding the Second World War, as well as on sensitive security-related issues. This has led to a gradual building up of trust and a breaking down of one another’s clichés.

The improvement of bilateral Polish-Russian relations has opened up many new opportunities in our neighbourhood.

Poland and Russia are jointly advocating local border traffic with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which is home after all to nearly half a million people. However, they cannot sign a corresponding agreement, since according to the applicable EU regulation, the frontier region ends after 30 kilometres, and the largest city, namely Kaliningrad itself, of all places, lies outside this zone.

At the Weimar Triangle meeting in Paris this last summer, the Polish and Russian foreign ministers informed my French colleague Bernard Kouchner and myself about this issue. I immediately pledged my support for this profoundly European idea, and I am confident that together we can soon enable the people of Kaliningrad to more easily experience the notion of neighbourhood.

In the Balkans too, we have the opportunity to overcome lines of division in Europe. Where in the past nationalistic hate and bloody wars have inflicted deep wounds, there is hope that Europe can help overcome these wounds. That is why we are clearly committed to the prospect of accession for the Western Balkans.

Accession negotiations with Croatia are already on the home straight. In New York, Serbia has taken a significant step towards the EU in co sponsoring the Kosovo Resolution. This was the precondition that EU foreign ministers had required before they forwarded the Serbian accession application to the EU Commission last Monday in Luxembourg.

This decision sends a clear signal that echoes beyond the Serbian accession process. It is directed at all candidates applying for accession. The EU keeps its word! This notion of reliability and credibility is especially important to me. We ask a lot of candidate countries, not least of all difficult domestic reforms. But once the conditions have been fulfilled, Europe must also honour its commitments!

This also holds true in dealing with Turkey. Five years ago the European Union unanimously decided to conduct accession negotiations with Turkey. The EU owes it to Turkey to now conduct these negotiations in an honest and open-ended manner. It is not befitting that the negotiation process is repeatedly held hostage by individual national interests.

No matter what the outcome of accession negotiations may be, I might add, Turkey is an anchor of stability in the region and a key ally for Europe in matters of foreign and security policy. And from the European perspective, Turkey’s economic momentum is nothing short of enviable. For this reason alone, it would be wrong to treat Turkey with anything less than respect and straightforwardness. A European-oriented Turkey is in Germany’s very own interest.

The desire for accession held by our neighbouring countries shows that the European Union continues, for the most part, to be perceived as a great model of success. On my travels abroad, I am made aware of this time and time again. Yesterday’s success, however, is no guarantee for tomorrow, as we all experienced this past spring.

Europe was standing at the edge of a precipice. A crisis like that of last spring has the potential to set back integration efforts by decades. That is why we must learn the right lessons and set the right course for the coming year. The year 2011 will – and I say this without pathos, but out of full conviction – be a crucial year for the European Union.

The impression I got from my talks with my European colleagues earlier this week in Luxembourg is that everyone is well aware of the seriousness of the situation.

In Luxembourg, we had a lively and at times emotional debate – about the relationship between large and small member states, about the question of sovereignty and the question of solidarity. We were and we are discussing fundamental European questions. And we need to make sure that such a crisis does not happen again. On that we were all in agreement.

No one is under any illusion that everything can continue on the present course. That would be irresponsible. The excessive deficit procedure, in its present form, was not able to prevent the undesirable developments that led to the crisis. The Commission launched excessive deficit procedures in the euro zone on 22 occasions; not once did it impose sanctions.

Europe needs better rules to ensure that our currency remains strong. With a weak stability pact, a strong euro will remain wishful thinking. Without hard rules, there will be no hard euro.

That is why we Europeans need a stability pact that has authority and clout.

The decisions made by the European Council yesterday are definitely a step in the right direction.

In the future, when countries cannot or will not maintain budgetary discipline, there will be a sanctioning instrument in place, which will for the most part remain unaffected by what is politically opportune.

The decisions made by the European Council towards strengthening budgetary discipline in Europe incorporate much of the nine-point plan that the Federal Government formulated as German proposals in early summer.

The European Council has taken a further step towards protecting financial market stability.

By December, a mechanism is to be developed that will enable a rapid and effective reaction to future crises.

This mechanism must entail the involvement of private creditors when a country is at risk of sovereign debt default. In the future, banks should not be part of the problem, but rather part of the solution. Aid to member states only comes into question as a last resort and with strict conditions attached. Otherwise, we run the risk of sliding into a transfer union. That would not be in Germany’s best interest; neither would it be in the interest of Europe at large.

The member states agreed yesterday to undertake a limited revision of the treaty as a legal safeguard for a future crisis management mechanism. This would supply the mechanism with the legal certainty that we need.

What happened in Greece must not be allowed to happen again. Over the medium term, we must eliminate the design flaw that allowed a communitarized monetary policy to exist without sufficient coordination of economic policy. In the future, national economic and budgetary policies must be better coordinated

The euro crisis did considerable damage to the reputation of Europe among its citizens, especially in this country. Such a loss of reputation is slow poison for the EU. We have to provide the antidote. We – and by that I mean you, the cultural liaisons and the multipliers – must make clear, again and again, how important Europe is for Germany.

European integration is a boon to all Europeans. But for no nation was and is it a greater blessing than for us Germans. Thanks to European integration, we have enjoyed 65 years of peace and 20 years of unity in freedom. European unification has been and remains the answer to the “German question”. Even if this had been Europe’s only achievement, it would already have been worthwhile!

But we are also experiencing an unprecedented level of prosperity, for which the internal market still forms the decisive foundation. This August alone, we sold products worth nearly 44 billion euro to the EU. More than three fifths of our total exports go to the EU. We still export more to Austria than to China. We still sell more to France than to the United States.

We owe Europe much more than we realize in our daily lives. I can therefore only warn against calling into question the European idea in light of the current crisis. To relapse into national egotisms is to go down the wrong path.

Pinning hopes on isolation and intolerance can only lead Europe to its demise. Those who want to lead Europe into the future put their hopes instead on openness and tolerance.

The future of Europe is not primarily determined in the policies towards the EU’s neighbouring countries. Neither is it only decided on the financial markets.

If we continue doing business as usual, our society will dwindle. Europe’s populations are shrinking. That is the reality of the demographic trend in Europe, and in our country as well, and for this we must find solutions.

Part of the solution lies in policies that consistently promote children, nurseries and kindergartens, good schools and the ability to combine career and family. Part of the solution, however, also lies in a realistic, forward-looking immigration policy.

We do of course take a close look at who we want to take in on a permanent basis. Countries like Canada provide interesting examples of intelligent immigration systems. In Europe too, we need qualified women and men, and for that we must be able to tap all our potential. Our prosperity is also generated by people who have not lived here for generations.

Just as there are Muslims who are good doctors, there are Christians who are bad doctors. Whether someone is a good or a bad doctor has nothing to do with which God he prays to.

There has always been migration within Europe and to Europe. Europe has been shaped by migration movements. Even today, we can find successful and less successful examples of integration. It always depends on both sides.

The best have many open doors to choose from. They look very closely where they want to go. They carefully consider the country in which they could see themselves starting a family and staying. If we want them to come to Germany, we must prove that they are welcome here.

Over the past weeks there has been much debate about how our society deals with migrants. I have heard many intelligent ideas in this debate, but I’ve also heard a lot of nonsense.

I will not stand for a differentiation between good migrants and bad migrants. Everyone, regardless of skin colour or religion, has human dignity and human rights.

For a long time, an entrenched terminology has prevented an open debate about the effects of migration. “Guest worker” is one such term. A guest stays for a certain period of time, after which he returns home. But the boys and girls born in Germany in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and later did not have a home to return to. They were already at home. Their home is and will remain Germany. That too is a reality in our country.

It is not solely up to the migrants whether or not they feel at home in Germany, their home. Whether or not they feel accepted as neighbours coming from a foreign country, or feel ostracized as foreign neighbours.

Whoever places the onus of integration solely on the migrants fails to recognize that it has taken a long time for our country to acknowledge migrants as a self-evident part of our society. A differentiation between “us here” and “them there” does not help anyone.

Integration will only be successful when we all see each other as part of a common society, as part of our society.

The path towards a common society can only be taken together, by Germans with and without migration background, by migrants with and without a German passport.

Experience tells us that integration cannot simply be decreed. Integration needs time.

But there are also problems with migrants, old and new. That holds true for certain suburbs of Paris and London. It holds true for whole districts in Hamburg, Munich or Berlin. To keep silent about these problems rather than confront them is to add fuel to the fire. The issue of migration is far too serious for wishful thinking.

The fact that a state maintains religious neutrality does not mean that it need not be concerned if hate and violence are preached under the guise of religion.

Whoever is not happy until every woman wears a burka is in the wrong country and will never be truly at home in our society.

But to the same extent, whoever hears the word “migrant” and thinks first of honour killings and forced marriages has understood nothing and insults millions of people who are part of our society.

Let me be very clear. It is the duty of everyone in our society to reach out their hands to migrants, both to the new and to the old. It is the duty of our entire society to provide education for all. It is unacceptable that someone has fewer chances in life simply because his or her parents did not go to school themselves or hardly speak German.

But it is also the duty of migrants to accept that outstretched hand and make the effort towards their own integration. Whoever leans back and does nothing, while at the same time demanding that the state solve all his problems, should not be surprised to see his opportunities lost. Whoever persistently refuses to integrate is responsible for the disadvantages that come about through his own behaviour.

Just as we as a society must decide in favour of migrants, the migrants must also decide in favour of our society. Just as we must emphatically say, “We want you,” the migrants must say, “We want to be part of German society.”

However highly we value tolerance, we will never renounce the values upon which our society is built – our basic rights.

People are quick to refer disparagingly to the politics of symbolism. But often it is symbols that give victims courage. For a woman who is to be forcibly married off to Anatolia, it certainly does make a difference if we call it coercion or forced marriage.

Only those who speak the language will come into their own in a society. Language is the precondition for successful integration. Turkey’s President Gül and Prime Minister Erdoğan recently found the right words for this topic. This does not mean, however, that anyone should have to deny their origins.

Nobody is demanding a homogenous European culture. Europe thrives on its cultural and linguistic diversity. It has learned not only to live with differences, but also to deal with them creatively and productively. It has done well to focus on cooperation rather than confrontation. Working together to achieve more, for the whole and for each and every one – that is the European Model. And for that, Europe is respected around the world. In terms of shaping European neighbourly relations internally and externally, this will remain the benchmark, now and in the future.

Thank you very much!

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