Introductory statement by Minister of State Werner Hoyer at a Friedrich Naumann Foundation panel discussion
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Ladies and gentlemen,
In Tunisia on 5 January 2011 Mohammed Bouazizi died after setting himself alight. He was only 26. His act was one of desperation. He was in despair at the lack of prospects for his life and his talents. And he was in despair at the arbitrariness of those institutions in his country that ought in fact to be committed to the rule of law.
The death of this young man Mohammed Bouazizi triggered events which are still keeping the world in thrall. His death was followed by mass demonstrations in Tunisia – mass demonstrations by people who identified with him and with his fate.
Other aspects arose in other parts of the Arab world too. And now we are confronted by a situation in which nothing is as we have known it over the past few decades.
Even just a few months ago, no-one would have prophesied this scenario, destabilizing states in the Arab world. The indicators – demographic, economic and political – were known, of course.
But no-one – no foreign service, no secret service and no serious think tank – believed it possible that the death of a young man in Tunisia would have an effect like the proverbial beating of a butterfly’s wings.
I don’t pretend that one of the reasons for this might not be that for so long the issue of stability had been so important for the Western world too that it obscured our judgement of the tensions bubbling under the surface.
Today we are three months into what many, their minds on future history books, are already calling “the Arab revolution”.
We are seeing how, in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, the events of this year have been recognized as a great opportunity. At the same time, in other parts of the Arab world the violence is escalating to varying degrees – and the outcome is uncertain. It would be inappropriate to try to forecast how these various situations will evolve.
So we are right in the middle of this process. The picture is not uniform. It is a picture with dangers. But above all else it is a picture with tremendous opportunities.
There is the opportunity to replace autocratic systems and their virtually omnipotent security apparatuses with structures based on democracy and the rule of law.
There is the opportunity to implement comprehensive social reforms, with the political elites regarding their task as being to shoulder responsibility for society as a whole.
There is the opportunity to use the capital of a young, patriotic yet cosmopolitan generation by implementing structural reform that gives them prospects for the future.
And last but not least, there is the opportunity to raise the relationship between Europe and the countries of the Arab world to a new qualitative level.
Europe has a fundamental interest in the Arab world moving further towards greater democracy, higher rule of law standards and the market economy. Not because Europe claims to know what’s right for the rest of the world, but because, after many wrong turns in our own history, we have learnt some decisive lessons.
Europe is the living proof that freedom, peace, security and prosperity really can be generated as value added, and not at the cost of other people’s freedom, peace, security and prosperity.
Democracy, the rule of law and the social market economy are the preconditions for success in this. They are the guarantors for the development both of the individual and of society as a whole, and are thus crucial for the greatest possible level of internal and external stability.
We should not imagine the “Arab revolution” to be the preserve of intellectuals. What many of those who have taken to the streets, perhaps even the majority of them, are most concerned about is that their most basic needs be better met – it’s a matter of bread, of jobs, of a minimum level of medical care and social security.
What unites the various driving forces behind the movements for reform is that they have huge hopes for a change which will bring greater freedom, democracy and the rule of law. And rightly so. Yet it is by no means certain that the process will succeed.
There are two indispensable preconditions for success. Firstly, the reins for the process of reform initiated in countries like Tunisia and Egypt must be firmly in Arab hands.
And secondly, we Europeans should also be prepared to provide truly substantial help. The worst that can happen in a situation like this is that those who have been part of the process from the outset are disappointed because they don’t see any improvement in either their personal lives or the political situation as quickly as they hoped. Then there is a great risk of falling back into old structures or even of the rise of extremist groups. Europe can and must help to prevent this:
- by stimulating tourism wherever possible,
- through investment by European companies which give skilled workers jobs for the benefit of both sides,
- but also by opening markets for goods and services.
I know that some EU member states take a critical view of this, but I am firmly convinced that it can and must be an important element of our support.
In addition, we can provide support for the transition to democracy. Implementing constitutional reform and holding new elections – all in the democratic mould – requires huge political efforts by all concerned.
That’s why the Federal Government has offered to support and advise on the constitutional process – because we have a wealth of experience in this field, particularly in our political foundations.
Tonight’s organizers are asking “Does the future belong to freedom?”.
I am an optimist. I think we are way past the point of no return, and that we are not going to see a return to the autocratic systems with dynastic elements. The genie of freedom is out of the bottle – now it has to develop fully. We should do our utmost to help in this – out of the fundamental conviction that freedom is precious, and also in our well-considered common interest.
Thank you very much.