Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to students at Taras Shevchenko National University, Kyiv: “Germany and Ukraine in a changing world”

02.03.2011 - Speech

Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to students at Taras Shevchenko National University, Kyiv

-- translation of advanced text --


Ladies and gentlemen,

My first visit to Kyiv comes at a time when we are witnessing a sea change in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood.

No-one can remain unmoved by the current television and Internet images from Tunis and from Tahrir Square in Cairo. Here in Kyiv, or at home in Berlin or Bonn, we are united in our concern and sympathy for those who have taken to the streets. This is not about political theories, it’s about something more fundamental. Universal values are at stake here.

People there are demanding what we, too, would demand in their situation, for every one of us desires freedom.

Beyond all cultural differences, beyond all special attributes and influences, beyond religious convictions, people want to be free to shape their own lives. No-one wants to be told what to do. Freedom is an inherent part of every one of us. The desire for freedom is an intrinsic need of any individual. Oppression and the denial of freedom are incompatible with human nature.

What we are witnessing to the south of our continent is not something far away about which we can afford to be indifferent. The main link with our neighbours is not the possible influx of refugees but, rather, the very similar freedom movements we have seen in our own societies.

Just over 20 years ago, the whole world watched Germany, Central Europe and the break-up of the former Soviet Union. Almost seven years ago the world watched the Orange Revolution in your country. Now the world is watching the new dawn in the Arab world with great hope, but also with great concern.

We stand behind all those who are no longer prepared to put up with oppression and a lack of freedom, for we share the same values and aspirations.

In Europe, democracy, the rule of law and human rights are not merely ideas but – thanks to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Council of Europe – binding norms. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to claim that we in Europe have a copyright on these values. Freedom is at home everywhere.

The spirit of freedom is out of the bottle and I’m convinced it cannot be pushed back in. However, in our joy about this democratic awakening we shouldn’t forget the risks facing the young democratic movement. Freedom has not yet been established. It’s not yet clear how things will progress. Freedom is still too fragile for us to lean back and do nothing.

We should see the new dawn in the Arab world as the start of a new partnership with Europe in the 21st century.

I’ve offered a transformation partnership to both Tunisia and Egypt.

I will also offer Libya such a partnership if and when the country opts for a peaceful transition to democracy.

We have to provide real help now. Germany and the EU support the democratic transformation in the south and in every part of Europe’s neighbourhood. For even if we in Berlin and Kyiv are observing events in the south with fascination at present, we’re not ignoring what’s happening in eastern Europe.

When, in our immediate vicinity, the leadership in Belarus undermines democracy and places massive restrictions on the opposition, it affects us, too.

If the leadership in Belarus continues to refuse to allow democratic reforms, it can hardly be surprised if one day the desire for freedom erupts despite government opposition.

Those who claim that stability and democracy are incompatible have always been wrong.

A country’s stability depends on the stability of its society. And only a free society is a stable society.

You experienced this striving for freedom yourselves. In December 2004, we waited anxiously with those who were no longer prepared to accept manipulated elections in their country.

Not every hoped-for change came to pass back then. I suspect that some of you here today felt the reforms didn’t go far enough and weren’t fast enough. Many find it difficult to accept political reform and social change. Those for whom these changes are too much cling to what they know, for that gives them a sense of stability. That, too, is part of human nature. But those who hold on to outdated structures will not be able to reap the benefits of modernization.

I would like to encourage the young generation in particular to keep on demanding reforms. This is about your lives and your opportunities. Your generation stands for the transformation and renewal of society.

You don’t decide on your own how you want to live as an individual. You shoulder responsibility for the society in which you start a family, bring up your children, practise your profession and realize your dreams.

Ukraine can count on the support of the European Union. For what happens in your country concerns us all.

The aim of the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy is to create a common pan-European area of freedom, democracy, justice, security and prosperity. The Eastern Partnership serves this purpose.

The European Union is providing more than 1.5 billion euro over the next three years for the Eastern Dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Almost half a billion euro is being made available for Ukraine. It’s up to you to make wise use of this offer.

We promote good government because it protects citizens’ freedom and makes possible economic renewal. It opens up opportunities for the future and thus life chances. What matters now is that people notice concrete improvements in their daily lives. We should therefore focus on implementing projects in communities and in the regions.

If, for example, the town council works more quickly and professionally people notice it straightaway. Projects like this must be extended because they have a more immediate impact on people’s lives than budget aid, which remains indiscernible to the individual.

The next practical step we want to take is to successfully conclude the Association Agreement and a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. I would be delighted if this could be achieved before the end of this year, for it will benefit both sides.

The history of European integration is based on economic ties and more trade as the prerequisite for closer political ties. That’s the principle on which our partnership is based.

Without customs barriers, it will be easier to get products manufactured in Ukraine in line with EU norms and standards in to the European single market. More trade will create jobs in Ukraine. The young generation will thus benefit more than anyone else from the Association Agreement.

The European Union’s external border must not obstruct the necessary development of a network of ties. As German Foreign Minister, I’m all in favour of openness. In my view, economic freedom and personal freedom go hand in hand in Europe. This includes visa liberalization.

It must be possible for young people, academics, students, entrepreneurs, artists and business people to cross borders. We will welcome them with open arms.

However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter to us who comes to our country. We have to take the security interests of our citizens seriously. Borders therefore have to be protected from those intent on taking advantage of our hospitality.

Security and freedom are not mutually exclusive. We need them both. The Action Plan on which your country agreed with the EU last year shows the way towards a new visa policy. Of course, Ukraine has to play its part, too.

We judge everyone with the same yardstick, but it would be wrong to lump everyone together. Some partners are striving to gain an EU membership perspective, while others are not. But this is not about black and white, in or out. People in the countries of the Eastern Partnership are already benefiting from the gradual move towards the EU because this partnership means more freedom and more prosperity.

During the last 20 years since your country gained independence, a close partnership has developed between Germany and Ukraine.

Ukraine is Germany’s most important partner within the Eastern Partnership.

German companies have been operating in Ukraine for many years now: automotive parts suppliers, construction materials manufacturers, logistics companies, banks. Both sides benefit from this.

Our cooperation is not yet free of obstacles. We encourage German companies to look beyond the border and invest. However, Ukraine has to play its part, too. There are entrepreneurs in Germany who would like to invest in Ukraine but fear legal uncertainty and corruption.

The irregularities in the municipal elections last October undermine the trust which is needed for cooperation.

The European Union is hoping that a new electoral law will lead to transparent and truly democratic parliamentary elections next year.

Much has been achieved since your country gained its independence. There is a realization that reforms should be carried out primarily in your interest, in your country’s own interest and not in the interest of the EU.

In the age of globalization your country – just like my own – has to constantly adjust to new conditions. Globalization means that Germany, Ukraine and Europe as a whole have to be ever ready to carry out reforms.

No-one can escape the dramatic shifts caused by globalization. The global economy is in flux. Europe’s influence in the world won’t grow. Emerging young societies in Asia, Africa and Latin America rightly demand a greater say in world politics. The competition among education systems is a challenge. The changes of the last few years are only the start.

Societies which lose heart and aren’t prepared to adapt to the challenges of their time will fail one day. The longer we leave unchanged what must be changed, the greater the difficulties we will face. That applies to Germany just as it applies to Ukraine, no matter how different our current situations are.

Many challenges of our time require European answers. I’m very much in favour of us finding truly pan-European answers. In Brussels, many think that the European Union is Europe. But that’s wrong. Ukraine does, of course, belong to Europe. I wouldn’t stress this obvious fact if the perspective from Brussels wasn’t so often narrowed down to “inside” and “outside”. European integration doesn’t end at the current borders of the Schengen area. The fundamental idea behind European integration is to remove borders and overcome dividing lines.

Your generation will shape the way you want to live on our shared continent today and in the future. Our future will be built on European integration, which from the outset has always been a peace project.

This year we are commemorating the 70th anniversary of the invasion of the Soviet Union. What happened then defies all comprehension today.

However, we shouldn’t forget the history of reconciliation which began in the 20th century. It doesn’t just belong in the history books. Reconciliation is also a task for us today.

We are witnessing the world change. Yesterday’s certainties are today’s anachronisms. Where there was standstill yesterday, today everything is changing.

Wherever there are people, there is also the desire to develop freely. Personal freedom and economic development belong together. Future prospects and life chances are part of a life in dignity.

Your generation is the first global generation. You listen to the same music as students in Germany, Poland or France. You watch the same films. Via the Internet and social networks, today you can find out more about each other and more quickly than ever before. Make full use of the opportunities which this networking offers you.

But don’t allow all these global opportunities to make you forget where you come from and who you are. Globalization rightly understood is not a minus but a plus, not less identity and diversity, but more understanding and mutual appreciation.

We need young people throughout Europe who are interested in each other, who can think outside borders and not in terms of “inside” and “outside”.

Computers alone cannot satisfy your curiosity. Europe in the age of globalization doesn’t only take place in the virtual world.

If you are curious and feel the need to go off exploring, you should consider studying in Germany. Find out about scholarships which the German Government uses to promote exchanges among students and cooperation among universities and academics. If you get to know our country, you will perhaps get to know yourselves better.

What you learn and what you think will be decisive for Ukraine’s relations with Germany, with the countries of the European Union – indeed with the whole world – over the next decades.

One day your answers will be your country’s answers to globalization.

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