Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle during the budget debate in the German Bundestag

23.11.2011 - Speech

-- Translation of advance texte --

Madam President, Members of this House,

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you very much indeed for the constructive debate we’ve had so far and also to say a special word of thanks to all the rapporteurs. As I see it, the cooperation with the rapporteurs and the Budget Committee has been businesslike and the questions we discussed with the rapporteurs yesterday, Mr Brandner, can be answered. I said yesterday what needed to be said about our timetable.

Let me now answer the question you raised here in this House on behalf of the budget experts of the largest Opposition parliamentary group. Why have we merged the humanitarian assistance structures? What is our motive here? What’s the point of this exercise? The reason is very simple: to make our work more efficient. It’s neither logical nor sensible if, in the case of a humanitarian disaster, for instance, the cooking pots are supplied by the Federal Foreign Office and the food cooked in them by a different Ministry. Merging the structures to supply such needs brings both synergies and efficiency gains.

That’s the motive for this step, there’s no hidden agenda. That’s why I’m spelling this out again here.

Ms Bulmahn, you wondered why I’m speaking only briefly and towards the end of the debate. Well, here in the Bundestag, let me point out, it’s standard practice that ministers speak only on request during a bill’s second and third readings. On such occasions it’s really the parliamentarians who should have the floor.

You obviously see things differently. You’d prefer some other arrangement. Our view has always been – also in the Opposition, I may say – that the second and third reading of a bill is the hour of Parliament. But if you want me to, of course I’ll take the floor. During the first reading of the budget bill I spoke at length about our plans for the Federal Foreign Office. However, if you feel this is insufficient, I suggest you seek a crossbench consensus on holding a debate to discuss the whole direction of foreign policy. That would give everyone concerned rather more time to express their views. Given the convulsive events unfolding around the world, it’s high time for such a debate, I believe.

But that’s your decision as a Member of the House.

I’d like to address two substantive points which I feel particularly strongly about. The first one concerns the Arab spring. We talk about an Arab spring, but what we really mean by this is not at all clear. And the Arab spring – if that’s what we want to call it – didn’t start in Tunisia, by the way, but with the colour green in Iran. We shouldn’t ever forget that in Iran there’s not only a nuclear programme that needs to be discussed. There are also a great many freedom-loving people who have suffered and still suffer under an oppressive regime. We don’t want to forget them just because they’re not in the spotlight right now.

This is part of our parliamentary ethos: to differentiate one thing from another, not just comment or take action on whatever looms large in the evening news. That’s something I care about just as much as you do.

Let me give you an example. With a bit of luck and due resolve, there’s now a chance President Salih will at last sign up to the peace plan drawn up by the Gulf Cooperation Council. It’s most definitely high time for such a step. Yemen isn’t the centre of attention right now, but people there still have legitimate wishes and aspirations. Nor is much attention being paid to developments of an evolutionary nature – the reforms now under way in the three monarchies of Morocco, Jordan and Oman. People take little notice because they don’t see any images that convey what’s going on. Nevertheless, the German Government is assisting both the evolutionary and the revolutionary countries to take the transformation process forward. In my view that’s the right approach.

If you consider what you yourselves stand for, you’re bound to back us here and recognize that this is the right course.

In Tunisia the signs are encouraging, after all – the elections have passed off peacefully. People there are writing history. After Ben Ali’s decades-long rule, what we’re seeing now is history in the making. We don’t yet know how it will end. But a start has been made. That’s why we need to offer constructive support here, but we also need to keep our eyes on the ball.

Where Egypt is concerned, the comments I made there, on Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the country, are still valid: the revolution in Egypt is hanging by a thread. We must make strenuous efforts to ensure the transformation process leads to real change on the ground. People in these countries demonstrated not just against ageing dictators and autocratic regimes, but also for something: for better opportunities, for democracy, freedom and a pluralistic society. That’s why they need our consistent support, irrespective of party affiliation. Here democrats see eye to eye. This, Ms Steinbach, is the value-based foreign policy you rightly spoke of and called for.

On Afghanistan I’ve already made a number of policy statements. We’re pursuing the path we’ve discussed with you. You’ve publicly commented on this in a positive way. What purpose would be served by introducing a note of acrimony?

Let me wind up by discussing something I believe is of key importance. There are many important topics, including the Middle East, but I don’t have time to go into them now. I’d like to make just one final remark. This morning we had a lively and noteworthy discussion about crisis management in Europe. As Foreign Minister, let me make just one point here. If we want to win hearts and minds in Europe and also in Germany for the course we’re steering, it’s not enough simply to discuss crisis management, I believe. It’s equally imperative that we all write European history together, that we recognize what’s really at stake here. For this is not just about Europe, it’s also about Germany. It’s about whether Germany wants to be a fully committed member of the European Union and the international community. As I see it, we shouldn’t concentrate only on tackling the current crisis and thrashing out with one another how this can best be done. We should also make clear that on one thing we stand united: we see ourselves as part of Europe, on that score we won’t allow anyone to sow doubts.

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