Opening address by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper at the German-Polish Forum in Warsaw, 29 November 2012

29.11.2012 - Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you today to this year’s German-Polish Forum. The Forum, whose first session was held in 1977 in Bonn with the Polish People’s Republic, has become a constant in German-Polish relations. And, since the entry into force of the German-Polish Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness of 1991, it also has a foundation in law.

Dziś, nieco ponad dwadzieścia lat później możemy z radością stwierdzić, że stosunki polsko-niemieckie są tak dobre, jak nigdy dotychczas. Z dnia na dzień nasila się wymiana między społeczeństwami obywatelskimi. Na tym tle zmieniła się także rola Forum jako impulsu dla wymiany, dialogu i tworzenia wzajemnych powiązań.

(Translation of the Polish: A little more than 20 years later we can happily say that German-Polish relations have never been so good. Civil society exchange is becoming stronger day by day. Against this backdrop, the Forum has become a driving force for exchange, dialogue and networking.)

German-Polish relations have matured to such an extent that the Forum no longer needs the degree of state guidance it did before. Germany and Poland thus agreed in their Programme of Cooperation of June 2011 to modernize the German-Polish Forum as a valuable platform for dialogue, to do more to encourage lively discussions on current affairs and to make the Forum more attractive for younger participants.

In 2011, for example, the Young Professionals group met and exchanged views for the first time at the 15th Forum in Berlin.

I’m delighted to pick up on one of its recommendations – that the Forum be upgraded from a platform that merely fosters contacts and the exchange of ideas and be transformed into a body that maps out compromises and puts forward proposals for decision-makers in both countries. Today’s third panel takes this recommendation into account. It brings together young participants (this time only women) to debate the future of Europe, as proposed by the group.

But now we turn to the key topic of today’s Forum – energy.

Almost no other issue in Germany attracts so much attention abroad as does our energy policy. Energy is a basic commodity in the 21st century world, and has to be kept affordable. The call for consumer-friendly energy prices comes from all sides. For us in the Foreign Service that’s something we’re reminded of every day. A year and a half after the German Government announced its landmark decision on our future energy mix, demand for information about it remains huge.

It has met with a very mixed response from our friends and partners – from admiration to bemused head-scratching.

There are certain catchphrases that crop up frequently in this context. One such stock phrase is that the “Energiewende”, this new energy era we want to usher in, is a “national decision” – implying that Germany is “going it alone” here; others are “risks for neighbouring countries” and “conflicts”.

My response to such comments is clear.

Yes, our Energiewende is definitely a national decision. And that’s nothing to be surprised about. For it’s up to every country in the EU to decide itself what energy mix is best in its particular situation. Yet whatever decision countries come to, it will have implications for the EU as a whole.

It’s for exactly this reason that such decisions require close coordination at European level. For clearly it’s crucial to work with our partners here. That’s the only way ambitious energy policy decisions can become reality on the ground.

But above all, I don’t see this new direction we’re pursuing in Germany as carrying any significant risks or potentially leading to conflict. I see the Energiewende rather as a great opportunity for all of us: now’s the time to put Europe’s energy supply onto a sustainable footing for decades to come.

By 2015, 15% of Europe’s electricity needs from renewables are to be covered by electricity from the Desertec project alone. Our Energiewende and this European-African project are thus also contributing to the solution of existential, social and economic problems in the countries of North Africa.

In all our countries energy is the lifeblood of the economy and the foundation of our prosperity. This is particularly the case for a highly industrialized country like Germany. The fact is that we’re highly dependent – as is the EU as a whole – on energy imports. Germany has to import over 95% of its oil and over 85% of its natural gas. Given this dependence on imports, energy security is not some abstract concept, it’s something we’ve identified as a strategic foreign policy goal and an important dimension of our international relations.

The key to a reliable, sustainable and affordable energy supply is diversification. In our opinion, a threefold diversification is required: diversification of sources of energy, of suppliers and of supply routes. To make real progress on all three aspects, close EU-wide coordination is essential.

Here in Germany we’ve taken landmark decisions on energy and set ourselves ambitious targets. Last year, in the light of what happened at Fukushima, we carried out a new assessment of the risks associated with nuclear power. Although we believe our nuclear power plants are among the safest in the world the German Government took the decision, for which there was broad public support, to accelerate the phasing out of nuclear power.

We have set ambitious targets for expanding renewable energies. Already today renewables in Germany account for 25% of power generation; this share is planned to rise to 35% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

We realize very clearly, however, that our efforts to transform Germany’s energy system can succeed only if they are part and parcel of an EU-wide agenda.

Under Article 194 of the Lisbon Treaty, every country must decide for itself what energy mix is best. So obviously the German Government respects the decisions its neighbours, in particular our Polish friends, have taken to start developing nuclear power. We also thank them for the care and effort put into consulting the German public and authorities with regard to the Polish nuclear energy programme, in line with EU and international rules. The day before yesterday the first meeting took place here in Warsaw to consider the tens of thousands of submissions from Germany. The atmosphere was very amicable.

In the course of these consultations the German Government explained the reasons for our decision to phase out the use of nuclear power. And since any accidents at nuclear power plants are bound to affect neighbouring countries as well, we insisted on the highest possible nuclear safety standards. We didn’t urge you to abandon the use of nuclear energy – nor were we in a position to do so. But we did offer to step up the exchange of information on our experience with renewables, since the agreed targets for expanding renewables and reducing CO2 emissions can’t be achieved by nuclear power alone.

Creating a genuine internal energy market in the EU is crucial if we want to achieve security of supply from renewable forms of energy. To make flexible exchanges of electricity in the internal energy market feasible, we have to do more to improve our infrastructure. We need more and better cross-border interconnections, for example. We are well aware that our neighbours, particularly Poland and the Czech Republic, are concerned about the stability of their power grids in the light of increasing unplanned flows of German wind power from the north to the south. We take these issues very seriously and have a great deal of homework to do ourselves when it comes to grid expansion in Germany.

That’s why we’re discussing these matters with you, our neighbours, bilaterally and within the EU at both political and working level. And we’re sure we’ll manage to come up with solutions.

But let me spell out one thing very clearly. The energy-policy challenges Europe faces have not been caused by our Energiewende. The challenges are related to the EU’s common objective of shifting to a low-carbon, safe and sustainable energy system. Germany’s Energiewende has undoubtedly increased the pressure to act – but the need for action was already there.

The effects of transforming the EU’s energy system, however, will also be felt beyond its own borders.

That’s very evident when we consider Russia, a major partner which must be involved in this process. Russia is one of both Germany’s and Europe’s leading suppliers of energy. From a Russian perspective, Europe is its number one market for energy exports. We believe this close relationship – which some may view as mutual dependence – is a good thing, since over the decades Russia has proved to be a reliable energy partner. Given Russia’s prominent role here, effective action on energy policy challenges – whether national or European in nature – clearly requires that we work with Russia and not against it.

Right now Germany is preoccupied especially with the national dimensions of the Energiewende. But the European dimension is crucial and can’t be separated from the national one. There is no alternative to close coordination in the energy sector with our European partners. From a foreign policy perspective, it’s important to prevent a situation where our national energy policy puts a strain on our relations with our partners. The restructuring of our energy supply is a fantastic opportunity for Europe to prove that it is possible to successfully complete the move to a low-carbon economy. In the medium to long term, as spelled out in the EU’s Energy Roadmap 2050, the transformation of our energy system is something that is both necessary and feasible. However, it is something that can only be done at European level.

It can only be accomplished jointly with our partners, and I am sure that you, the Poles, will provide valuable input. I am sure that our civil society, through this Forum, will be a driving force for change.

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