Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle marking the 50th anniversary of the Goethe-Institut in Paris on 3 July 2012

03.07.2012 - Speech

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Mr Ebert,
Mr Umlauf,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Fifty years ago, the Paris Goethe-Institut began operations, and Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle signed the Élysée Treaty the following year. Those two dates mark the establishment of a new confidence in Europe after the horror of two world wars. They symbolize the development of a European community of shared culture based on the spirit of Franco-German reconciliation.

Nowadays, German and French people share a European culture of diversity rooted in our belief in peaceful and tolerant interaction in a Europe of open borders.

Its fundamental values are those which drove the French and German revolutions for liberty in 1789 and 1989: the freedom of the individual, the protection of minorities by states based on the rule of law, and universal participation in democracy.

Our community of shared culture is underpinned by the confidence which de Gaulle and Adenauer established half a century ago – confidence among European neighbours, and confidence in Europe as a political project. It is thanks to that confidence that Europe has enjoyed fifty years of freedom, peace and prosperity. And the Paris Goethe-Institut played its part in the growth of that confidence.

That said, this confidence in Europe is not something we can take for granted. We need to keep on nurturing it – as the debt crisis reminds us. It has become perhaps the most severe crisis of confidence in the history of European unification, reviving old resentment and stirring fears of a too-mighty Germany among some of our neighbours. The European idea per se has been called into question.

What politicians need to provide now is intelligent crisis management to foster fresh confidence. But that won’t be enough by itself. Jean Monnet said that if he had to do it all over again, he would begin with culture. The European political project will only be successful if we start seeing it as far more of a cultural project than we have done in the past.

The imbalances that have come about are not limited to those separating our national economies. National debates and discourse about Europe have also been drifting apart in the course of the crisis. They often have more to do with our disparate cultural contexts and traditions than the idea of a shared Europe. And that leads to misunderstandings and prejudices which can prevent us from finding the European way out of this crisis.

What Europe needs is translators who can help us understand one another better. The Goethe-Institut is just such a translator. It works with the Institut Français and other European partners to create projects like the United States of Europe and so reveal to us how differently our neighbours see the European project today.

Anyone who thinks 50 years of the Élysée Treaty have rubbed out the differences between our mentalities and cultures is very much mistaken. So instead of airbrushing out the things that differ between us, we ought to value them as expressions of the diversity that makes our cultural community what it is.

We in Europe need to listen to one another more. We need to show patience, translating our arguments into the languages of our neighbours. For us in Germany, this means we need to make sure that the sharp end of our national debate isn’t directly and damagingly amplified to the European level. At the same time, however, we must also ensure that what is a debate on Europe for us isn’t elsewhere reduced to a simple question of austerity. We also need to allay fears of Germany wanting to supervise Europe’s finances.

There can be no bright future for Germany without a united Europe. Germany on its own is just as incapable as its neighbours of fulfilling its responsibility to help shape globalization. We therefore have every interest in making Europe a player on the global stage.

France is our indispensable partner in that task. Fifty years after the Élysée Treaty was signed, we are held together by a unique relationship of mutual trust. Our relationship enables us to find compromises even on issues where we have started out with fundamentally divergent points of view. Those compromises are as a rule so sound that they can draw the whole of Europe together around them. We therefore bear a great joint responsibility for the European project.

That said, we have never seen ourselves as an exclusive sort of managing body. It is clear, now more than ever, that we can only ever shape Europe in collaboration with our neighbours, never against their will. Poland, for example, is particularly significant in that regard within the EU of 27 – which is one of the reasons we revived the Weimar Triangle and see it as a driving force in European politics.

No other European country is as united as Germany in the view that the debt crisis can only be resolved by more Europe. And within that view, we see consolidation and growth not as mutually exclusive but as two sides of the same coin.

We know from our own experience that cuts and structural reform alone have as little chance of sorting out the crisis as growth based on more debt. We also know that any structural reform needs time to take effect – which makes it all the more vital to agree on and implement reform now.

That’s why the Bundestag and Bundesrat approved the fiscal compact and the long-term rescue package a few days ago. It’s also the reason behind our move, together with France, to finalize the Stability and Growth Pact at the last European Council.

In the face of this crisis, Europe needs those who forge links and develop networks. We need to take the EU’s motto, “United in Diversity”, seriously and make the European public sphere a reality. The time has come to have a pan-European debate about the future of Europe. It can foster new confidence among the people of this continent. What’s more, we will be far better able to tackle today’s crisis if we have a clearer vision of the kind of Europe we want to pass on to future generations.

It was on the basis of that consideration that an informal group of European Foreign Ministers was formed in March to reflect on Europe’s future. I am very pleased that my opposite number in France, Laurent Fabius, is part of that vital endeavour.

The group intends to launch a pan-European debate. We are therefore in favour of establishing ever closer political cooperation in Europe. There are, as I see it, three crucial points here.

Firstly, we need to make our monetary union indissoluble by complementing it with closer collaboration on economic and fiscal policy. That means transferring more of our sovereign rights to Brussels.

It goes without saying that we will keep up the principle of solidarity among neighbours. However, we will also have to uphold the democratic principle that greater responsibility can only be granted to those who are capable of maintaining greater control.

Secondly, we need to provide Europe with effective and democratically legitimate institutions. Citizens and states will only transfer further sovereign rights to the European level on the condition that this Europe represents their interests with vigour and is subject to their complete democratic control.

Thirdly, we need to make Europe a real power in shaping globalization. Unlike its individual member states, this Europe has the potential to be a global player in the dialogue of cultures. If that potential is to be fulfilled, we need to develop a comprehensive approach to European external policy.

We will not get very far on these points by taking a didactic attitude. What will help is our ability to lead by example.

We need to have the courage to break new ground. We also have to keep the cultural dimension in mind as we shape Europe’s external relations. For example, we should work together to protect intellectual property online.

In so doing, we will be safeguarding the diversity and creative individuality that make European culture what it is.

We should also start seeing cultural relations as more of a European project in the globalized arena.

And we can’t make that a question of diluting the diversity of European culture or restricting the freedom of artists and cultural organizations. What we need is a change in mentality. Member states’ cultural organizations need to see themselves more as representatives of Europe.

The Goethe-Institut, the Institut Français and other European partners have taken the first steps in the right direction by establishing a European network. We need to carry on down that road with a determined stride.

Our common objective must be to strengthen our community of shared culture both internally and externally. To decide how we can do that, we will need the committed and collaborative input of the German and French people over the coming months.

I am confident that such a debate will spark vital ideas to drive Europe forwards.

I can think of no better way of commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty. It would constitute a key step along the road towards a united Europe that Adenauer and de Gaulle saw stretching out before them in January 1963. Opening the Paris Goethe-Institut fifty years ago was a vital step too.

Allow me to congratulate you most warmly on 50 yearsof Goethe in Paris. The Goethe Institut in Paris and all of France has my best wishes for success in its essential work of translating and weaving networks for Europe.

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