Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the Opening of the 11th Ambassadors Conference, 27 August 2012, Federal Foreign Office, Berlin

27.08.2012 - Speech

Foreign Ministers Sikorski and Reydners,
ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to welcome all those present, including my friends Radek and Didier, most warmly. We are very glad that you two were able to come and participate in today’s discussion here at the Federal Foreign Office. Let me thus extend a warm welcome to our special guests on behalf of everyone here today.

It is my special pleasure, ladies and gentlemen and Excellencies, to welcome you once again to our Ambassadors Conference. Our meeting today is also honoured by the presence of our former Federal President, Professor Köhler, who will take part in the proceedings. Mr President, I am delighted to welcome you to the Federal Foreign Office.

It is not only Germany’s ambassadors and top diplomatic representatives from around the world who have gathered here today, but also numerous members of the Diplomatic Corps. The welcome I extend to you comes not just from the State Secretaries and Ministers of State at the Federal Foreign Office, but also, I presume, from the representatives of the German Bundestag. I take this liberty because I am so pleased to see such a respectable turn out by the parliamentary parties here today. And a very warm welcome to the members of the German Bundestag, of the Land parliaments, and in particular to the Members of the European Parliament who have joined us today. It’s wonderful that you have taken the time to come here.

Ladies and gentlemen, to launch our debate I would like to make some remarks on three issues.

My first remarks concern Europe. We are all aware that Europe is going through a formative phase, a defining phase that truly deserves to be called historic. There are three forces at work in defining Europe’s image:

Firstly, Europe’s image is being defined through the eyes of its citizens. In other words, the citizens, our peoples, and our continent are now deciding what they think of Europe and whether they accept it as a political union with its attendant institutions. Are the EU institutions structured in a way that enables them to respond flexibly enough? Do they function fast enough, transparently enough? Europe’s image as a functioning political union is now on trial in the eyes of the people of our countries.

Europe’s image is also defined through the eyes of the world. Now is the time when Europe’s standing in a changing world will be determined. Will Europe be written off as an old continent, or will we Europeans sufficiently demonstrate our determination to make it as a community bound together by a common destiny and a shared culture? There is a European way of life and this way of life must now prove itself – not least in the eyes of the world. Are we still viewed by other peoples and countries as a truly strong continent with a future, or are we, in the light of demographic changes, viewed as an old continent with its best days behind it?

If Europe were to disintegrate now, the continent would ultimately be pushed to the periphery of world affairs. The dimensions of the challenge, the scale of the challenge, become clear if we just look at India, the biggest democracy in the world, and take note that in a few years time it will be home to more than three times as many people as the entire European Union. We Europeans must not give up our shared culture. Rather, we have to convince the world of our determination to make it as a group.

Lastly, as German Foreign Minister I have to add that Germany’s image in Europe and in the world at large is currently being defined for many years to come. It is therefore essential that we meet each other with respect in all our negotiations, however tough, and in all the controversies that democracies and governments naturally have to deal with. The times when the peoples of Europe allowed prejudice and stereotyping to stand between them have to be put behind us.

It’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it. And that’s particularly true for Germany, currently the strongest economy in the EU, a country that has profited more than most from the European idea, but which also bears more responsibility than most in Europe. Indeed it is true that we Germans speak from a position of relative economic strength. But Germany’s fate is nonetheless intertwined with Europe’s. Germany is better off now than it has been at any time since German Unification, but Germany will not remain well in the long term if Europe itself becomes the sick man. We are a community bound together by a common destiny, and we Germans have to realize that we, too, are a part of this community. We therefore have a special responsibility to choose our words with care.

We want the spectres of populism and repatriation to be withstood. We don’t want to help Europe come off the rails. Ensuring this does not happen is our historical duty, not only because it is enshrined in the Basic Law, but because it is something that we, ladies and gentlemen, can all feel in our hearts.

My second remarksconcern the tasks that now have to be tackled. They can be divided into short-term, medium-term and long-term tasks, but they are also more closely interconnected than may appear at first glance.

Of course, our first duty is to manage the immediate crisis. We are in a debt crisis. This debt crisis has turned into a crisis of confidence. And there is no doubt that the responsibility for this can be attributed to various countries, including ours. The Maastricht Treaty has not only been put into question by others, but also by us – that’s something we should not forget, especially at an international gathering such as this.

But it is important to then also take the necessary measures, as we have done with the ESM and the EFSF – both complex instruments. It is perfectly understandable that not everybody has an immediate grasp of these stability mechanisms and the fiscal compact. This is all important and right, and I am happy to say it time and again. But it is equally important and true that solidarity in Europe is not a one-way street, but that everybody has to stick to what has been agreed. We and our partners in Europe attach great importance to the principle of pacta sunt servanda – agreements are to be honoured, not to be watered down. We attach great importance to there being no deviations in substance.

But, ladies and gentlemen, this alone will not suffice. The present crisis management is necessary, but it will not in the long term protect Europe or sustain the European idea. The long-term perspective is crucial – it is not just an issue to occupy European aesthetes. What direction do we want Europe to develop in? Can we manage another step towards further integration? Are we in a position to adapt our institutions as a result of lessons learned from the crisis? In other words, are we in a position to weatherproof our European house against the storms of the future? This long-term perspective is closely interlinked with our current efforts to overcome the debt crisis.

Nobody from outside Europe, no investor, no pension fund manager, will invest in Europe if we Europeans do not also demonstrate that we believe in ourselves and are working on ourselves. If we want investors from around the world to come to Europe, we have to earn their confidence in the long term. The debate on the long-term perspective – the direction Europe needs to take – is thus very much a contribution to short-term stabilization and crisis management. We have, by the way, convened a Future of Europe Group of EU foreign ministers to discuss these directional issues. Since the debt crisis has morphed into a crisis of confidence, we will only be able to overcome this crisis of confidence in Europe if we have clear, reliable answers for the long term, too. We have to make it clear to the world that Europe will assert itself, that Europe can assert itself, and that Europe believes in itself.

Continuing Europe’s development, including its institutional development, as a lesson learned from the debt crisis, is an imperative and important contribution to short-term crisis management. That is why we established this Future Group of eleven foreign ministers. Nobody is excluded from this group, but there must always be a group that leads the way. We want more Europe, but let me tell you – we also want a better Europe. We know that Europe’s institutions must be improved as a result of the debt crisis, and that we in Europe have to work on transparency, democratic legitimacy and the separation of powers to further our political Union.

We are thus also resisting the forces that call for a retreat to the capitals, for the repatriation of policies. We are presenting an honest, pro European alternative. For it is obvious that these calls for repatriation are not to be heard just here in Germany, but elsewhere, too.

My third and final remarks are about how to achieve these goals. We have to get to work on numerous fronts. One such front is deepening economic and monetary union. Our motto here is solidarity, sound economic management and more growth through improved competitiveness. It is sometimes said that Germany relies on budget cuts alone. That is not true. We know that solidarity and growth, too, are and must be key concerns.

In Europe, we talk a lot about growth, but in my opinion we still don’t talk enough about free trade. So many agreements are currently being negotiated with other major regions, in which we could do more for free trade and indeed must to do more in order to create greater stimulus for growth. Europe must enhance its economic links with the world’s growth regions through more free trade. That would be good for us and good for the others – for it is not just the BRICS, the major emerging economies, who are striving to be promoted to the first league, but also a whole wealth of the new up and coming powers.

Another front is completing the internal market, for example with respect to the digital economy. And then there’s the transition to green energy, which can only be successfully completed here in Germany if it is tackled in cooperation with our European partners.

Another front is European financial planning. In our opinion the aim here is “better spending”, not “more spending”. I think we all feel that the current way of spending money must be improved. To be honest, what has happened in the last few years is that we all pay our money into the European kitty, and immediately start vying to get as much of it back into our own countries as fast as we can. Such tactics might win votes at home, but they are hardly conducive to growth and genuine structural development in Europe. They won’t really help make Europe fit for the future. We can and must do better.

Another further front is strengthening Europe’s democratic legitimacy. And that, ladies and gentlemen, raises various important questions for the politicians with us today. Will we be in a position – as some already were – but will all EP groups be in a position to designate their nominee for Commission president ahead of the next European Parliament elections in 2014? Do we need a President who is directly elected by the people – with the result, by the way, that our national MEPs not only need to win the approval of their voters at home, but also have to garner support throughout Europe for themselves and their ideas. This totally changes the way the elections must be fought.

And I firmly believe that we should in the long term revive the idea of a European constitution. It didn’t work the first time round. But I think it is nonetheless a project we should not give up on. A European Parliament with genuine legislative powers, a Commission with genuine executive powers, and a Council that serves as a second chamber – these are all good and proper aims. I would by the way also like such a European constitution, if it gets that far, to be put before the people in a referendum. This may sound like a distant dream today, but even dreams can be realised. Every 1000 metre race begins with the first step.

Finally, we need Europe to be a stronger global player. We need more cooperation, for example in external relations and with respect to the Defence and Security Policy. I know full well from the debates we’ve had over the past years that not everyone in Europe wants to go down this path. But it is absolutely obvious that we are a continent with common security interests. We are a security community. And it is therefore a matter of simple logic that greater cooperation in the ESDP could be the next tangible step to take towards greater integration.

Such journeys should be taken by all Europeans together, with nobody excluded. But nobody should be allowed to stop those who want to from going further down the path of integration. Everyone is welcome to get on board, but no one should be able to hold the others back. This principle is of critical importance when it comes to European integration.

In conclusion I cannot emphasize too strongly that it is precisely at times like this when the Europeans are divided, when it seems modish to do Europe down, that it is absolutely crucial for everybody who knows that freedom, peace and prosperity in Europe cannot be taken for granted to stand up and proclaim their support for the European cause. We need more people to speak out in support of Europe.

For Europe has a price, but it also, more importantly, has a value. And that is something we Germans should never forget.

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