Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the new concept of Foreign Cultural and Education Policy

08.09.2011 - Speech

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

I should like to begin by thanking you for having spoken today about the work of the German Schools abroad and for exchanging ideas on our Foreign Cultural and Education Policy. May I extend a warm welcome to all of you and at the same time express – on behalf of the Federal Government, too – my sincere thanks to all those global ambassadors among you. I don’t believe I’m exceeding the authority of my office if I also speak on behalf of all members of the German Bundestag present here today: my sincere thanks for the work you are doing. As has just been pointed out in the introduction, you play a key role in shaping our country’s image. Your work is greatly appreciated. I wanted to begin by expressing my warm thanks to all of you.

Education is one of the Federal Government’s declared priorities. And this priority is reflected not only in budget figures but also in the emphasis and weight we give to education both at home and abroad. It is for us the key issue both nationally and internationally. I believe that in the age of globalization we all recognize this fact: in times when new global centres of power are setting out to become key players, a country like Germany, which has no natural resources to speak of, must focus on promoting one specific commodity: education.

This resource of ours is not to be found beneath our feet, but rather between our ears. And that’s why it is our job not only to cultivate this resource at home but also to ensure at a global level that education and training, science and research are properly supported and given sufficient opportunities. It is not, then, just a love of art and culture that brings us together – though that alone would be marvellous enough for an artistically inclined person like myself. It is also, quite definitely, of direct and intrinsic benefit to our own country. Of course, education is more than a gateway to earning one’s living. Of course, education is much more than the foundation of a healthy national economy. Education is also an end in itself. Education, and in particular cultural diversity, inspires individuals; in my view, it is education that goes to make up the very personality that we are seeking to develop. The benefits of education, science and training should not be underestimated.

None of our predecessors in government have invested more money in education, training and research. And that at a time when public finances are tight, when budgetary soundness must not only be called for on all sides but also carried through. That, I believe, is remarkable. It demonstrates that education is not just an issue we pay lip service to, but something we are doing our best to implement in terms of practical policy.

Education is everyone’s key to upward mobility. That’s something I have learned in my own personal life. I first attended an intermediate secondary school before moving on to grammar school after obtaining the intermediate school-leaving certificate. In the nineteen-seventies, that was not something to be taken for granted. As you know, at that time education as a civil right had only just been invented. For me, this was a decisive, formative experience: discovering that education is the key to many things, to nearly everything in fact in my own life. And now looking back, at close to 50, I can say (and I speak here for nearly all my school friends from those days): the most important resource in the age of globalization is education. And in this sense, globalization, too, is a quite equitable process: a country’s ascendance and opportunities are measured less and less in terms of whether it happens to have natural resources and mineral deposits from the time the Earth was formed; today, it is increasingly up to us as nations to make something of ourselves. Geological conditions are losing significance. They are definitely still important, but the real opportunities for development are increasingly in our own hands. It all boils down to education – and what we are able to make of it.

Education is an element of culture. And art and culture reflect the state of a society, often leading the way here. In fact, I believe that art and culture drive the development of a society. According to some studies, there are more jobs in culture, in the so-called cultural industry, than in the automobile industry. This statement is, of course, promptly and sharply contradicted by those representing that sector, so I won’t press the point further, though I do enjoy saying it.

It is a point I should be allowed to make as someone whose love of art and culture is not something recently discovered, after taking this office. As some of you may know, I have been a collector of art – visual art – for 30 years now. Of course, this brings great pleasure even if it is inevitably seen as smacking of aestheticism. Personally, I believe that art and culture are not mere decorative elements of a society. For me, art and culture are essential ingredients in a country’s quality of life. And I know that some among you share this view.

The way governments treat artists and intellectuals is also a fundamental gauge of democracy and human rights. I expressed this opinion publicly – and very emphatically – at the opening of the “Art of the Enlightenment” exhibition in Beijing, and, I believe, so firmly that it led to some rather sober responses. But, ladies and gentlemen, I’m sticking to my guns: art and culture solely in the service of power are not art and culture but propaganda. That’s why art and culture are also indicators of how a society is developing.

That culture and education are not “niche” issues, but rather a central element of foreign policy, is particularly evident in the person of Cornelia Pieper, with whom I have been friends for many years and who has long been a “fellow traveller” of mine, also in the world of art and in cultural and education policy. It is evident from the fact that Cornelia Pieper is the first Minister of State in a long time to make Foreign Cultural and Education Policy her declared priority. That is also reflected in numbers: Foreign Cultural and Education Policy accounts for a quarter of the Federal Foreign Office’s budget. And I know that all members of the Bundestag present here today, whatever their party affiliation, are firmly with me on the need to ensure that in future these numbers continue to develop as positively as has been the case this year.

This being the week of the German Bundestag’s budget debate, you can easily imagine what led me to this subject. Given the opportunity to assemble MPs from all parliamentary parties, I’d have to be a fool not to broach the matter. I know there are many here who think along the same lines and will admit as much. There is, you know, a very strange word in German: cultural subsidies. In my view, it’s a perfectly absurd word, one that can only really be used by quite superficial people. Since when do we subsidize intellectual activity? Intellectual activity is something we invest in. The very term is an indicator of the matter’s significance.

Germany enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide, and we can build on this reputation with what we have to offer in our Foreign Cultural and Education Policy. Via our network of partner schools now numbering 1500, via our 150 branches of the Goethe-Institut and the more than 40,000 foreign students we support each year, we reach hundreds of thousands of mainly young people across the globe. Our policy is not directed at a small exclusive group but at the broad centre of society. We are building trust and creating robust networks – valuable assets for us as an export nation dependent on international networking.

Our ideas are based not on a restrictive definition of culture but on a broad definition, as befits a cultural nation. But what is it that makes up a cultural nation? With all due respect, it is not the possession of a Leitkultur (lead culture) that all must subscribe or submit to. A cultural nation like ours lives from its cultural diversity. It is the diversity of cultures, of tastes, of art that commends us as a cultural nation to the rest of the world. The cultural nation Germany means cultural diversity. We don’t see politics as a censor of different tastes and art forms. Good cultural policy censors neither art nor culture. Good cultural policy creates the necessary space for cultural diversity to properly develop. This is true on a national, but also on an international level. And if we look around the world of art, we can see that down through history it has again and again been possible to extend this definition of culture, in other words to deviate a little from the elitist concept of culture. Verdi, the Italian operas that so many of us love – I’m a particular devotee – were operas written for the audience to join in. Try singing along to an opera these days and you get an idea of how today’s highbrow culture views what was once popular culture. Or take Hermann Hesse, a writer who was considered trivial in his own day. Or take the Beatles. (...)

I believe that we as an export nation must attach great importance to our internationality. Our cultural programmes can only be effective if we pursue a visa policy that enables the people whose interest in Germany we are seeking to spark to actually come here. I believe that our visa policy has been too prohibitive in recent years. I’ve spoken to young schoolchildren in India and was impressed by their fantastic German and the way they talked about their dreams, about how they are learning our language at school and about their obvious wish to visit Germany one day. Then they went on to tell me about the difficulties they face. I see many of those present nodding assent because they know exactly what I’m talking about. I believe that a country like Germany that is dependent on international networking has a fundamental interest in attracting young people, the intelligentsia – and, of course, global success – so that they can get to know our culture, not only from the outside but also from within.

We have done a great deal in this regard over the past two years, implementing numerous practical measures to simplify and speed up the process of issuing visas. Many thanks to the Federal Foreign Office staff responsible for this. We must learn lessons from our experience with the costs and benefits of our visa-issuing procedures. There is still a lot to be discussed here. It’s not so much a question of high politics. It’s often quite simply a matter of quite practical concerns. One of the first things I had to learn on taking office was that cashless payments – which are actually gaining considerable ground globally – were still not possible when applying for a German visa. Payments still had to be made in cash in the respective national currency. There are so many issues involved here: decentralization, ensuring that applying for a visa no longer means travelling all day in many countries. To us in Central Europe, that may sound rather comical, but in many countries that are four, five or ten times as big as Germany with only a fraction of our population density, it is of great significance. Politics can be that practical sometimes. And it is our job to offer people practical help.

Today, we are presenting a new concept of Foreign Cultural and Education Policy. We are retaining some proven elements: for example, our broad definition of culture. In terms of our foreign cultural offices, we will be making changes, some of them structural – for example, with respect to German Schools abroad. Cornelia Pieper has already talked about this earlier on in the afternoon. We must see the world as it is and not as it was. That applies most particularly to Foreign Cultural and Education Policy because it is something that affects people directly. Such changes are necessary if our Foreign Cultural and Education Policy is to support the goals of German foreign policy. And these goals were laid down in the Preamble to the Basic Law by the mothers and fathers of our constitution. In this document the German people are called upon to promote world peace in a united Europe. And it charts our country’s political course. Our two major concerns, then, are strengthening Europe and securing world peace.

The European Union is the main pillar of German foreign policy. At a time when Europe is being rashly criticized in some quarters, Europe needs strong advocates and good friends. I believe that if the European Union didn’t exist, particularly in times like these, we’d have to invent it as a matter of urgency. And not just as a response to the terrible fratricidal wars on our continent and the darkest chapters in European history, which we Germans were, regrettably, responsible for opening, but also as our continent’s response to globalization, to the challenges of our new age.

Europe is our way of claiming the future, and Germany remains the driving force behind European integration. It’s not about creating a homogenous European hodge-podge or turning our backs on patriotic feelings. Nor does it mean saying goodbye to diversity. It is the simple recognition that there is such a thing as a European awareness or identity which is revealing itself. It is an awareness that need not shun comparison with that of other great societies, like the American identity, for example. It is, instead, an awareness that tells us this: in Europe you can, if you make the effort, not only be successful in life, you also enjoy civil and consumer rights. In Europe, we live in an environment of tolerance such as is seldom found elsewhere. There is also gender equality and equality of religions, achievements we all greatly appreciate and are keen to export to other parts of the world. Of course, you can enjoy success – and be a successful businessperson – in Latin America, too, but the sense of security, the feeling that you can live here in a relatively sheltered and protected environment – that is also one of Europe’s blessings. And, of course, you can be a successful businessperson in China as well, but the privilege of enjoying clean air, along with high environmental and social standards – that again is Europe. And that’s why I believe it’s time we stopped reducing Europe to a few fiscal issues and as Europeans recognize this fact: there is also such a thing as a European identity, and it’s something that should, in my view, also form part of our Foreign Cultural and Education Policy.

That’s why I want to emphasize the fact that Europe is not Western Europe. The organization we are a member of is called the European Union, not the Western European Union. And before there is another outcry accusing me of taking Germany out of the Union again and other such nonsense, I just want to remind you that this is simply the result of our history. For me, German reunification has always been the reunification of Europe as well. For me, Warsaw is Europe, Prague and Bratislava and Budapest are Europe. Ladies and gentlemen, all this is Europe, too. And that’s why it’s important that in the Europe of the last twenty years we adopt an increasingly pan-European perspective. Of course, Europe is our Western partnership and our transatlantic ties. But these days Europe also means fixing our gaze on Eastern Europe. Those who are from the former GDR, the eastern part of our fatherland, know exactly what I’m talking about. For example, in terms of being neighbours with Poland. Coming from the Rhineland, I inherited a love of France. And yet I recommend that we also be sure to foster a similar affection for and intensive networking with Poland, to name another important neighbour of ours.

We no longer live in the divided Germany of 1989, but rather the Germany of inner-European reunification. That’s why we are the reviving the Weimar Triangle. That’s why we are trying to consider not just the countries south of the Mediterranean but also our Eastern neighbours, for example. And if you’re going to – quite rightly – talk about and criticize the violation of human rights in the Arab world, then you also need to talk just as frequently about the suppression of people in our immediate vicinity, in Belarus in the heart of Europe, for having done nothing more than taking to the streets to silently protest. They are not even demonstrating; they are silently “calling” for their freedom and being sent to prison for doing so. I think that should also be the focus of our attention.

We now live in a reunited Europe. France and Italy each have seven branches of the Goethe-Institut, and I know they are doing a magnificent job. But Poland has only two and the Czech Republic a mere one. In South-Western Europe there are 250 officially seconded German teachers working at German Schools, but in Central Eastern and Eastern Europe they number only 57. It is not my intention to take anything away from anyone; I simply want to rectify these imbalances. I want us to focus our attention on this. I’m quite aware that it’s sometimes considered rather bourgeois to express such an opinion as Foreign Minister. But I’ve no problem at all with showing my pleasure when celebrating the integration of a German School into the host country’s school system, as was recently the case with my Slovak counterpart in Bratislava. Of course I’m glad when such occasions offer the opportunity to talk to children of different nationalities and be greeted in German.

What is it that we find embarrassing about our own language? I don’t see why we should be ashamed to say that we don’t want to see German, the language of Goethe and Schiller, disappear in Europe. When I talk to my French counterpart about our wanting to see our own language being learned in Europe, he says: “Naturally!” Only we as Germans have to explain that desire, and even then we risk being seen as zealous nationalists or as one of those who “didn’t pay attention at school”. No, teaching our language is an important matter to me: it is a central issue.

Peacemaking, the second pillar of German foreign policy, is more than just our active commitment to disarmament. It’s all about tackling new challenges – the increasing global scarcity of natural resources, rising food prices, climate change – that also threaten world peace. Achieving these goals, in terms of climate and environmental protection, is also part of our foreign policy, also part of progress – which is why the Federal Foreign Office is supporting projects like the Center of Excellence in Marine Sciences in Colombia or funding cutting-edge research at five African universities specializing in this area. Such projects are all about conflict prevention, too. Those of us whose duties take us outside Europe know the destabilizing effect such challenges can have and the risk of war this entails in these countries.

One of our special priorities is vocational training. With its dual system of apprenticeship and theoretical training, Germany has developed a successful model that is in demand worldwide. Probably 99 per cent of those present here today have an academic background. I, too, went to university – and have yet to be stripped of my academic qualifications. But on my travels around the world, I am repeatedly asked questions – not only about Germany’s finest universities, not only about its schools, but also, and in particular, about its dual system of vocational training. This system is a valuable asset, and one that is in demand today across the globe.

It’s all about our values, of course, about promoting democracy, about our supporting intercultural dialogue, in Afghanistan or through our transformation partnership with North African countries. Using the instruments of our Foreign Cultural and Education Policy, we are able to offer tailored solutions for building institutions, cooperating on education and creating independent media. It’s all of those things. We are witnessing a globalization of freedom, democracy and the rule of law that few thought possible. The brazen predictions about the inescapable outcome of current policies – the clash of cultures – are likely to be disproved by what is happening today. That’s why it’s our responsibility, too, and our job to support such developments. Not only in our own interest because those affected are our neighbours, not only because it’s important to act promptly to prevent refugee flows by improving conditions on the ground. But because that is what values-based foreign policy is really all about.

It is in our interest to impart to others our German and European Enlightenment values: freedom, diversity, democracy, good governance and the rule of law. That’s why we have launched the Transformation Partnership project, with an annual budget of EUR 50 million for 2012 and 2013. Incidentally, I’d like to strongly emphasize the fact that EUR 20 million of this annual budget is earmarked for Foreign Cultural and Education Policy programmes. That is a powerful message and I’d like once again to express most emphatically my sincere thanks to those MPs whom I asked, tongue in cheek, for support a short while ago, for providing such support. To those of you who may not be directly involved in budget discussions, I can only say that even MPs don’t always find it easy to push through funding for cultural and education policy. I’m delighted to see so many MPs here today – that shows we’re not alone, either in Parliament or in society at large. My sincere thanks, ladies and gentlemen, for making this supplementary funding available.

University partnerships, scholarships – all these instruments are opening up opportunities for young people, and we are pushing ahead with this strategy. All these efforts are embedded in our European partnership and the transatlantic bridge remains, of course, the foundation of our action. We are cultivating our old friendships and partnerships. (...)

But the West has long since ceased to be the only party wielding the baton in international politics. We’d be making a serious mistake if in addition to cultivating old friendships we failed to promptly set about establishing new friendships and partnerships. The world is in a state of flux, and over the next ten years it will change again as radically as it has done in the 20 years since German reunification.

The countries that are now threshold countries have already embarked on this path. There can be no doubt about their intention to become not only economic powerhouses but also global political, intellectual and cultural centres. It is a claim they will not only defend but also increasingly push through in international [bodies and] formats. And it’s not just the famous BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – we need to talk about; other second-tier countries have long joined their ranks. Understanding new international developments is another priority of our Foreign Cultural and Education Policy. Vietnam, Colombia and Mexico are just a few examples of countries on the move, countries that are already well on the way. And just as, in my youth, hardly anyone thought it possible that what were developing countries in my school and university days would today be sitting with us, as equals, around the table at international meetings like the G20, there are, I say, many who consider it inconceivable that such countries as Turkey, to name but one, will be ruling with us, as equals, worldwide and demanding their share of global political influence. Recognizing this fact too late would be a serious mistake for German policy. Friendships must be established early on. In that respect, friendships between countries are much like friendships between people. Friendships made in one’s younger days last longest. That’s why it’s in our interest to get on board now and not wait for others to overtake us. This is a debate we need to have in Germany. It is not a departure from established values; it is simply opening our eyes to new realities. And that is what constitutes far-sighted foreign policy.

I firmly believe there is an urgent need to view these countries as equal partners. None of these countries is going to tolerate being treated patronizingly, and that’s perfectly in order. Equal partners – that’s always been the basic principle of German foreign policy and German external economic affairs policy. We go into countries and invest there. But we don’t then just pack our bags again, leaving empty buildings behind; we establish partnerships, long-term, lasting partnerships in cultural policy, in cooperation, in business, and in the process we also convey social standards, ethical standards and environmental standards. That is our job and that’s what I understand by comprehensive foreign policy: a policy that specifically encompasses cultural and education policy.

We support 56 schools and partners in India alone, to give just one example. We have 1000 schools there that have now begun offering German instruction. There are currently some 15 million people worldwide learning German as a foreign language. We must not let the highly complex nature of today’s world tempt us to withdraw to familiar national territory. Instead, let us view the new complex nature of the world as an opportunity to address the new challenges of the future with an open mind and an open heart. That is the thrust of our new concept of Foreign Cultural and Education Policy – and I invite you all to help in its implementation.

By all, I meanthe Goethe-Institut, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Central Agency for Schools Abroad and specifically, of course, the responsible bodies in the German Bundestag, in particular the Parliamentary Subcommittee for Foreign Cultural and Education Policy. You can count on the support of Cornelia Pieper and myself in implementing this concept, in making Foreign Cultural and Education Policy a priority. We will not be able to address all of your concerns. We have other things to take into account. But you should know – and this applies in particular to Cornelia Pieper, but also to me quite personally – that this is not just a matter of political duty but something close to our hearts. You are all ambassadors for our country. Please continue this work around the world to enhance our country’s reputation.

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