Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the opening ceremony of the Frankfurt Book Fair

11.10.2011 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

President Grímsson,
My colleague Össur Skarphéðinsson,
Jörg-Uwe Hahn,
Madam Mayor,
Mr Boos,
Professor Honnefelder,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be here once again to open the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The Guest of Honour this year is a small European country with a strong literary tradition: Iceland.

The fabulous sagas, and especially the Edda, were already a major influence on Icelandic identity in the Middle Ages. This year’s Book Fair motto, “Fabulous Iceland”, is an acknowledgement of just how important those writings and Iceland’s outstanding literary tradition have been to the development of that identity.

To this day, many young Icelanders grow up with those sagas, able to read and understand them as they were originally written. The sagas are really tangible stories and still feel relevant today; the places they mention are still there to be visited.

However, Iceland doesn’t just have a great literary tradition. Its modern literary scene is remarkably vibrant and exciting as well. I just need to point to such examples as Hallgrímur Helgason and Halldór Laxness.

Iceland is a land of readers. Icelanders buy an average of eight books each per year, significantly more than are bought in Germany.

It is also, though, a land of authors and story-tellers. I am told that Iceland boasts the highest number of new publications per head of population in the world.

Nearly 200 Icelandic texts have been newly published in German in time to coincide with this Book Fair. New translations of the Icelandic sagas have been published too. A Guest of Honour partnership in the Frankfurt Book Fair is not just a matter of protocol. It produces tangible results. Icelandic literature, Iceland’s history and culture, are being made accessible to a broader public. This highlights the pivotal role which the Book Fair plays in the formation of a pan-European culture. Art and culture reflect the state of a society; often, they are also at its fore, spurring on societal development. We do not merely enjoy art and culture, we are also influenced by them – in most cases positively, as encapsulated in Wilhelm von Humboldt’s education ideal envisioning free and independent individuals. What is more, the measure of a country’s respect for democracy and human rights is reflected in the way its government treats its artists and intellectuals. I said as much publicly at the opening of the “Art of the Enlightenment” exhibition in Beijing, and it’s a topic I keep coming back to generally. Culture and education are not niche issues; they are indispensable to mutual understanding. Cultural relations and education policy is one of the central pillars of our foreign policy.

What defines the culture of Europe?

Europe’s culture is one of diversity. It’s the diversity of tastes and trends, the variety of traditions, influences and dreams, that makes European culture what it is.

The idea of one shared Europe doesn’t stand in contradiction to the European culture of diversity. On the contrary – that idea only goes to underpin and strengthen it. Far from censoring art and culture, the EU actually propagates and supports them. Europe’s culture is greater than the sum of its parts.

Engaging with the idea of Europe opens up spaces where cultural diversity can take shape and flourish. The Frankfurt Book Fair is one of those spaces. Authors, publishers and booksellers come together here from around the world. The Frankfurt Book Fair is really a culture summit.

The EU is the foundation of German foreign policy. The current debt crisis is the most difficult test of the last sixty years. Despite all the sacrifices that the crisis will demand, however, we must not limit our view to crisis management. The European Union is first and foremost a political project. Germany peace and security can only be ensured though inclusion in the European community. The EU and its internal market remain the foundation of our prosperity. Beyond this, it is only as a united Europe that we can get today’s globalized world order to hear our voice and pay attention to our interests and values.

Europe isn’t just a matter of cold reason; it also has a particular feel to it. Many countries and regions of the world present economic and career opportunities nowadays. But in Europe life is also safe; the air is clean; consumers have rights; and everyone has the freedom to develop fully as individuals.

The financial and economic crisis hit Iceland hard. Like many other countries, Iceland has had to undertake difficult steps to overcome it.

It isn’t all painful, however: Iceland’s response to the crisis involved its application in 2009 for EU membership. Two chapters of the negotiations are already complete, and two more have been started. Germany strongly supports Iceland’s desire to join the EU.

The answer to this crisis is not less but more Europe. No state can conquer the challenges of globalization on its own – Iceland can’t, and nor can Germany. Renationalization would be folly.

Within the EU, however, we need to get our house in order. The task now is to follow a path towards a genuine stability union.

There are four crucial points.

Firstly, we in the eurozone must coordinate our economic and financial policies more closely and develop a culture of binding budgetary discipline.

Secondly, we must give Europe the financial constitution that it needs. This includes appropriate incentives for major investors in order to motivate them to demonstrate sounder judgement and avoid harmful excesses.

Thirdly, a culture of stability will remain fruitless in the long term without growth; this is why we need a strategy to increase Europe’s competitive strength.

Fourthly, we need to strengthen the stability pact further by moving it towards automatic sanctions. Solidarity and sound budgeting are two sides of the same coin. Countries that want help from the rescue package will in future need to grant the EU binding rights to intervene in their budgetary decisions.

The most obvious way to achieve this new binding budgetary discipline would be to amend the European Treaties. We need to put the flaws of Maastricht I behind us.

In accordance with Article 48 of the EU Treaty, such substantial treaty amendments have to involve a European Union convention. Setting up a convention guarantees that a broad public is included. The convention is made up of representatives of the national parliaments and governments, the European Parliament and the European Commission, and it closely involves civil society. The important thing is to give the process as much democratic legitimacy as possible. There has been lots of discussion recently about systemic relevance, particularly that of financial institutions. What is systemically relevant for Europe is, first and foremost, the support of its citizens.

I would like to wish you all a very successful Frankfurt Book Fair.

Thanks to the volcano that put paid to so many travel plans, “Eyjafjallajökull” is probably the one Icelandic word that most people in Germany know. I am sure that the Frankfurt Book Fair with Iceland as its Guest of Honour will broaden our Icelandic vocabulary and see the mutual attraction between our two countries continue to flourish.

Thank you very much.

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