Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the Swiss Economic Forum “Discover Potentials” in Interlaken

19.05.2011 - Speech

- Translation of advanced text -

Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann,
Mr Linder,
Mr Stähli,

We have come together at a time when our national economies are doing well. Switzerland and Germany are both experiencing an economic upswing: economic growth is increasing and unemployment is decreasing in both our countries. That is good news and not only for each country separately. Germany is by far Switzerland’s most important trading partner and Switzerland is among Germany’s ten most important trading partners. When two national economies are so closely entwined, both profit from each other’s success.

Not only entrepreneurs, trade associations, and unions are happy to see positive economic data. Economic success is also always good news for foreign policy. It is not primarily the military capacity of a country that determines its reputation in the world, but rather the diplomatic wisdom it demonstrates, the responsibility it shows towards its fellow human beings and, not least, the economic power it possesses.

Discovering new potentials, seizing opportunities, securing advantages“ – the title of this conference was chosen wisely. It describes the very challenges facing Switzerland and Germany in the process of globalization.

Globalization is not only about the globalization of markets, but also about the globalization of values: democracy, rule of law and liberty. That is what we are seeing at the moment in North Africa and the Arab world. These developments represent a historic turning point, opening up new potential for closer cooperation.

Unfortunately, the great hope with which I look at the Arab world is accompanied by great concern. Many governments in the region have not recognized the signs of the times and have responded very violently to the basic human longing for freedom.

In Libya Colonel Gaddafi must finally end the war against his own people and make way for a new beginning.

The EU has imposed sanctions against Syria’s leadership to prompt President Assad to stop attacks on peaceful demonstrators immediately and introduce fundamental political reforms.

In Yemen, all sides should avoid escalation and agree to the Gulf Cooperation Council’s proposal for a peaceful transformation.

We call upon the Government of Bahrain to respect human rights, and we hope that they will enter into genuine dialogue with the opposition.

All of these crises can only be solved politically. There will be no returning to the past.

We intend to support governments that are pursuing a path of democratic transformation. This holds especially true for Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. Better political and economic participation in the countries of the region is in our own interests in terms of both security and the economy.

We want to support the region on its path to democracy and a market economy. Germany has already pioneered its own transformation programmes. The idea is to help the people, civil society and state institutions make the transition to democracy by implementing projects with a tangible impact.

Political action encompasses far more than what governments do. We need support and investments from companies in the region to breathe life into these ambitious programmes. I consider vocational training in local companies to be especially important. Democratization in North Africa will only succeed when people can feel its effects: more liberty and more opportunities for personal prosperity.

The West still sees itself as the conductor of the world’s orchestra. For centuries that may have been true. But nowadays musicians all over the world are playing their own tunes. A global shift is taking place.

Today there are just over 6.9 billion people living on our planet. That is about 80 million more than a year ago. To put it another way, every year the world’s population grows by roughly the population of Germany. The global population will pass the seven billion mark before the year is out.

There are around 1.4 billion people in China and around 1.2 billion in India, and the numbers are rising. Or take Latin America with its dynamic young societies. They are keen on change, seeing it as offering an opportunity for improvement.

It used to be the emerging economies that were dependent on economic developments in industrialized countries. Today the economic situation in industrialized countries depends on how the economies of the emerging countries develop. That is not a world turned upside-down. That is our world today.

This makes it all the more important to get busy, to expand our prosperity and provide good educational opportunities to coming generations. In an era of globalization, nothing is as decisive in the long term for the rise and fall of a nation as its education system. Knowledge is the key resource in today’s world. Luckily, it is no longer mineral resources – the result of geological good fortune – that determine a nation’s prosperity, but the competition of ideas.

It is also a question of attitude. Take modern technologies or investments in infrastructure. We must take advantage of the opportunities progress brings. Only those who see change as an opportunity for progress will profit from globalization.

Globalization makes demands on us all. The speed of change is extreme. Some have reacted to this by renationalizing politics.

The opposite is the right way. Europe is the best answer to globalization. Europe is Germany’s guarantee for prosperity in the era of globalization. Almost three quarters of German exports are to Europe.

More than half of Switzerland’s foreign trade is with EU countries, as well. Our countries depend on their European and international networks. Our policies must therefore always advocate openness and never go down the wrong track towards renationalization.

Europe has opened its borders – for citizens as well as goods and trade. Above all, Europe is a unique conception of liberty.

Germany is very interested in close ties between Switzerland and the EU. Our wish is that Switzerland’s integration into the European single market be as strong as possible. We hope that the discussions about institutional issues continue to make good progress.

Europe is at a crossroads. The openness of the borders is in danger. The unity of the currency is being called into question. There must be a concerted European response to this. Europe is sometimes costly, but always valuable.

The stability of the euro is above all in Germany’s national interest. The stability of the euro is also crucial for non-euro countries. A currency that has appreciated highly in value against the euro can be a burden on export-oriented national economies.

In everyone’s interest, a new architecture for a stable euro has to be built. The mistakes of the past must be avoided and new confidence created for the future. What we need is a fundamental recovery programme for more competitiveness in Europe. In raising competitiveness in Europe we are focusing not on the weakest, but the best. Adopting a debt-brake law, for example, can be a useful measure – something with which Switzerland, too, has had good experiences. We help our European neighbours in times of need. But European solidarity is only available when there is sound financial policy.

Switzerland and Germany are doing well. Both national economies can remain among the front runners in the future, too – if we discover new potential and use our opportunities to secure our advantage. For nothing disappears as quickly as an advantage. The others will see to that.

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