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Speech by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper at the 60th anniversary celebrations for the German-American Fulbright Programme

19.03.2012 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text--

State Secretary,
Deputy Head of Mission,
Members of the Fulbright community,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you today in the Foreign Office Weltsaal, and to mark the 60th anniversary of the German-American Fulbright Commission together with the Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy at this special ceremony.

Much to his regret, Foreign Minister Westerwelle is unable to be with us this evening. He has asked me to pass on his greetings and to say how delighted he is that this outstanding bilateral programme continues to thrive. He sends his best wishes for its future.

The message from the US Secretary of State has just been read out. I would like to thank her sincerely for her words, which I was delighted to hear. Hillary Rodham Clinton emphasized that today’s ceremony celebrating 60 years of the German-American Fulbright Programme is a testimonial to the longstanding close partnership between our two countries.

60 years of the German-American Fulbright Commission are indeed something to be proud of, and give us an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves just what it is that binds Americans and Germans so closely and firmly together.

Americans and Germans have come a long way together since World War II, a development that has enriched both peoples immensely. It has given rise to mutual understanding and trust, the foundation of our readiness to tackle challenges together and constructively overcome problems. Underlying this is our community of shared values, under which freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights form the cornerstones of the deep friendship between our two nations.

What is special about the German-American partnership of today?

- The intensity and volume of our economic exchange: the United States is still Germany’s most important trading partner outside the EU, and Germany is the most important trading partner the US has in Europe;

- Our close cooperation and coordination on all security-policy issues;

- The good working relationships and frequent meetings between our leaders;

- And, above all, the diverse contacts at civil society level, such as town twinning schemes and school and student exchanges, and the closest of collaboration on research projects.

In Germany, couples who celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary celebrate their “Diamond Wedding”. The German-American Fulbright Commission at 60 can well be compared to a diamond – it is just as brilliantly polished and equally indissoluble. And personal relations are highly relevant, too, for they are at the heart of Senator Fulbright’s vision.

Since its inception on 18 July 1952, the German-American Fulbright Programme has sponsored more than 40,000 US Americans and Germans, making the German programme the largest bilateral exchange programme within the international Fulbright network. Senator James William Fulbright wanted the scholarship programme to promote mutual understanding between the USA and other countries through academic and bicultural exchange. His vision of improving international relations through intercultural schooling and contacts is now thoroughly modern, 60 years later in the age of globalization. And this is demonstrated in no small way by the Fulbright Commission, with it innovative and topical programmes.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Fulbright Commission most sincerely. Ten days ago, on 9 March, the Commission’s programme “Discover Germany – Discover USA” won the Commission the honour of being the joint recipient, along with the University of Kentucky in New York, of the Institute of International Education’s Andrea Heiskel Award 2012 in the category “Internationalizing the Campus”. The five-week-long programme targets a group that is as yet underrepresented in bilateral exchanges – students with a migrant background on both sides of the Atlantic. It thus addresses an important issue. For it is not only the nature and issues of the transatlantic partnership that have changed dramatically over the past decades, but also the actors. The percentage of Americans with European roots is much smaller than it used to be. And for many American decision-makers, memories of time spent in Germany, e.g. with the US Army, are hardly relevant. The upshot of this is that we need a new generation of committed transatlanticists, drawn from a wider pool – not only from the social groups in Germany and America which have traditionally been closely linked. An organization such as the Fulbright Commission is naturally one of our most important partners in this endeavour. A partner, which is rising to the challenge with excellent ideas, as evinced by this award-winning programme, “Discover Germany – Discover USA”. This success that this “diversity initiative” has enjoyed in its first year is a glowing endorsement of the idea behind it.

Fulbright grantees and diplomats have something in common. They are both ambassadors for their countries and builders of bridges between their homelands and the country in which they have come to live for a few months or years. “The best authority on a country and its society is the stranger,” as the sociologist Georg Simmel once said. You, the Fulbright scholars of today, can look at us with the clarity of outsiders, and pass on what you have learnt to others when you get back home.

Each and every one of us has roots that we cannot and should not deny, roots that hold us down to a certain extent – and yet we all have the ability to soar and see the world in all its diversity, to appreciate its wealth, but also to spot its contradictions and to act accordingly. Senator Fulbright was a respected and well-known figure in Europe, not only because of his exchange programme, but above all because he served for many years as Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. His remarkable personal and political biography illustrates impressively what one individual can achieve if he has cosmopolitan ideas and puts them into practice.

It is imperative that Europe and North America formulate a political vision spelling out how the problems facing the world of the twenty-first century can be effectively tackled. One of our basic premises here is that joining forces and working together is crucial for any true, long-term success in addressing the host of challenges ahead.

Many Fulbright alumni have reached the apex of political, economic and cultural life, they are players and movers on the global stage, to which foreign policy is also pertinent. Foreign policy is changing rapidly. The agenda used to be dominated by topics such as national security, bilateral and multilateral political relations, but, because all spheres of life are becoming ever more intertwined around the world, these are increasingly being joined by social issues of general interest which affect humanity as a whole. Foreign policy has become multi-dimensional and multipolar. At the same time as change is sweeping the Arab world, new players in world affairs such as China, India, and Brazil are moving forwards and upwards at breathtaking speed, both politically and economically. China is indeed now the world’s second largest economy. All these changes mean that we must address a new transatlantic agenda, which differs considerably from that of previous decades. This agenda includes the climate and energy, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, the supervision and regulation of financial markets, terrorism, intensifying world trade, starvation and pandemics, as well as regional conflicts, some of which take place far from our borders. All of these issues that now dominate transatlantic relations can only be successfully dealt with if we work together very closely.

Of course, the Fulbright community is also significant in the context of international cooperation on science and research, which is one of the most important fields in inter-state relations.

Cooperation on science and research falls under the aegis of our cultural relations and education policy, which is a mainstay of German foreign policy. It is the aim of cultural relations and education policy, as well as the internationalization strategy pursued by our universities, to create the best possible conditions for scientists and researchers to cooperate internationally. But scientists and researchers also have a valuable role to play. They support policy-makers by supplying the tools and knowledge needed to develop viable responses to major global issues. The Federal Foreign Office’s research and academic relations policy provides incentives for scientists to travel abroad and collaborate internationally. Every year, roughly one third of our culture budget – around 250 million euro – is spent on international academic cooperation and research. With these resources we’re not just nurturing talent, but are also promoting cultural tolerance and intellectual curiosity through shared learning. The Fulbright Commission and the members of the Fulbright community play a vital synergistic coordinating function.

The Fulbright Programme can look back on 60 years of success in the fields of academic exchange, international understanding and learning from one another. The paramount achievement of the Fulbright Commission is that is has encouraged and enabled the free and open exchange of opinions worldwide on the pressing social, cultural, political and economic questions of our time. This forward-looking work promotes peace and stability.

When you return to America, remember all that you have seen and experienced in Germany and Europe. But, more importantly, keep in touch with Germans and Europeans when you are back in the US. Continue to do your bit for understanding and dialogue, for we will only be able to master the challenges of this globalized world if we join forces and work together.

I hope you will remain ambassadors and intercultural “translators” for the rest of your lives, on both sides of the Atlantic, in line with Senator Fulbright’s vision. As he said, “The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy – the ability to see the world as others see it (...)”

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