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Ladies and gentlemen,
“Ostpolitik” is one of those terms which have found their way into many other languages. To this very day, people far beyond Germany and Europe associate the word “Ostpolitik” with a specifically German contribution to European history. It’s therefore only appropriate to take this opportunity to recall the intellectual and political achievement which made possible the Ostpolitik pursued by the SPD FDP coalition and – much later – also German reunification.
You’ve invited me here to talk about what today’s world can learn from the experiences of that era. However, let me begin by saying a few words about Egon Bahr’s speech which I believe are important.
The Cold War was close to freezing point. The Berlin Wall had been built less than two years previously, while the Cuban crisis had taken place just a few months before. The core message of the speech, the idea of “change through rapprochement”, was just as pragmatic as it was visionary.
It was pragmatic because it demonstrated the courage to look at the circumstances realistically, without illusion and free of prejudice. It was visionary because it recognized that the goal had to be the transformation of communist rule, not its elimination. It was visionary because it recognized that a foreign policy which only knows categories such as victory or defeat, friend or foe leads away rather than towards this goal. It was visionary because it recognized that the wall through Europe could be rendered at least porous by establishing interpersonal, cultural and economic contacts.
A European dialogue sprang up across the Cold War borders at that time. The cornerstone was laid for reconciliation and gradual expansion of cooperation with Russia and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Twenty years after the famous “Letter on German Unity”, which bears Walter Scheel’s signature, that German unity became reality. Recognition of the status quo led to the breaching of the lines dividing Europe. That is only seemingly paradoxical. It’s worth remembering this core message when we tackle today’s political challenges.
And democracy became established in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe as well. German unity was part of a European reunification. Countless courageous citizens toppled the Wall from the East, and tore down the Iron Curtain.
Our common European house is not yet complete. Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries have still to find their rightful place in it.
It’s in Germany’s own interest, indeed its declared aim, to strengthen the European Union’s ties with Ukraine, Russia and other Eastern European partners. That’s why we’ve been pushing hard for more relaxed visa requirements, which will make possible more direct contacts, more student exchanges and more visits. That’s why the signing of the long since negotiated association agreement between the EU and Ukraine is in our strategic interest. Its application will bring Ukraine gradually closer to us. Following my talks in Kyiv last week, I’m more confident that the Ukrainian Government can take the necessary steps by the Vilnius European Council.
We’re seeking to conclude similar agreements with other countries in the Eastern Partnership. Close economic ties can help make the remaining dividing lines in our continent more permeable, thus enabling us to overcome them. Trade brings change. We shouldn’t lose sight of the goal of a common economic area from Vancouver to Vladivostok, even if there’s a long way to go before it’s realized.
Our cooperation with Russia is broad and diverse. Trade has reached record levels, while cultural and academic exchange is more intensive and closer than ever before. On a political level, Russia and Germany, Russia and the EU, are working together in a strategic partnership. We’re bound by numerous common interests and we’re cooperating closely in many spheres, from the G8, Afghanistan and the efforts to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa to the E3+3 talks on Iran.
However, there are also differences and many observers currently believe that what divides us is growing at a faster pace than what we have in common. We’re concerned about the treatment of political opponents and civil society, about selective criminal prosecution and about the discrimination against homosexual people. We aren’t ignoring these concerns and differences. For we have a common frame of reference, jointly agreed standards on democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human dignity. Russia and Germany are both members of the OSCE, we’re both members of the Council of Europe.
A policy of confrontation towards Russia would achieve nothing. We have to speak frankly but with respect with one another. What we need is strategic patience and political creativity. Together with my Russian and Polish counterparts, we’ve launched numerous projects to boost the Kaliningrad region. Today there’s functioning local cross-border traffic. That’s directly benefiting hundreds of thousands of people. However, it also shows that we can persistently extend our areas of common interests to the benefit of all sides. German-Russian legal cooperation and the German-Russian exchange on the importance of the middle class and SMEs are two other projects geared to long-term modernization and transformation. We’re calling for cooperation with Russia on building a NATO missile defence system and for joint steps to advance nuclear and conventional disarmament. Security and peace in Europe can only be secured on a long-term basis with and not against Russia.
When the Berlin wall fell, it wasn’t only in Germany and Europe that East and West grew together. The global economy opened up. More than one billion people became stakeholders in global value chains. As the engine of technological advance, digitization has dramatically accelerated the interconnection of our world during the last twenty years. Germany has benefited especially from the opportunities presented by globalization. Our country’s success is founded on its openness, on active networking and the exchange of products, ideas and data. So far, our economy and society have adapted to the new globalized world in an impressive fashion. Conversely, as an outward-looking country which is deeply integrated in Europe and has a dense network of international links, Germany is especially vulnerable to the risks of globalization.
Shaping globalization intelligently is therefore one of the core tasks of German and European foreign policy today. A free international order based on firm rules is a basic prerequisite if we are to continue enhancing peace and prosperity. We need global solutions for many of today’s problems. Although our relations with our eastern neighbours will remain crucial, today we live in a complex polycentric world.
Most of the new players now pushing onto the global political stage are in the southern hemisphere. We have new partners, some of whom have values and political systems different to our own. How can we use our experience with Ostpolitik in this new world?
With its strategy paper on shaping globalization last year, the German Government mapped out our policy vis-à-vis these states. Close ties with these new global players are in our own vested interest. More trade, more investment, more cultural and academic exchange, a less restrictive visa policy, an intensive strategic dialogue at political level, intergovernmental consultations not only with France, Poland or Israel but also with India and China – all of these are steps in the right direction. These bilateral partnerships are building blocks for the global governance which we need to solve the problems of our age.
Some have assumed that our efforts to enter into more intensive cooperation with these countries mean that our values are our lowest priority when it comes to foreign policy. I believe that’s a completely wrong conclusion. Germany’s foreign policy is value-oriented and interest-led. Often enough, these are two sides of the same coin. I just want to mention two examples: when we promote Germany’s economic interests abroad, German companies which invest responsibly abroad can serve as models of microcosms of Western values. They bring prosperity to and set standards in emerging economies. They thus foster the emergence of a self-confident middle class which demands the rule of law and political participation. Secondly, if we call for concrete improvements within the context of our many dialogues on human rights and the rule of law with countries, then we are promoting our long-term economic and political interests at the same time. Trade and investment flourish where there is a reliable and predictable set of rules. Peace is most secure between democracies.
It’s certainly true to say that the capacity to put direct pressure on countries to conduct themselves in a certain way is liable to decrease when other states become more self-confident and gain political influence. However, that’s no reason to fall into self-doubt or even call into question our own canon of values. We’re not only experiencing a globalization of goods and financial markets. We’re also coming to witness the globalization of expectations. In the digital world, distances – both in terms of time and space – have practically disappeared. The more we interlink, the more people all over the world will have access to our culture and can gain an insight into our societies. Digitization and the triumphant progress of the Internet are having a transformative effect whose full impact we’re only just beginning to understand. This includes key issues such as the protection of data and privacy, which are very much on our minds at present. But it also includes the enormous appeal of our social and economic model all over the world.
Whether Germany and Europe succeed in gaining support around the world for our values depends to an ever less extent on the vociferousness of our demands and ever more on how strong an example we set. There’s a reason why authoritarian regimes try to shut themselves off from the free flow of information and cultural influences, why they try to curtail the freedom of the Internet. Behind this lies the fear of the transformative power, of the change which this interconnection, these ever closer real and digital ties entail.
Just as the opening up to the East was only possible because Germany was firmly anchored in the West, even today we know where we belong. The Western alliance isn’t only our security anchor. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is intended to create a centre of gravity for the 21st century. If this ambitious project succeeds, we’ll have the opportunity to see norms and standards set by us as well as in our own countries. That would be an important element of a free and open international order. However, we have to be prepared to face up to change.
I’m firmly convinced that we in Europe have to become quicker if we want to remain better than others. Our competitiveness depends on our ability to adapt. I believe that’s the profound core of the challenge facing us in Europe and, in particular, in the euro area. However, I’m equally convinced that our combination of democracy and the rule of law, of social market economy and the free development of every individual will be the most attractive and effective economic and social form in tomorrow’s world. Freedom of opinion and the ability and freedom to express constructive criticism are crucial for finding the best solutions in an open society. We’ve every reason to be self-confident in this competition. Doubt can be productive. However, it shouldn’t turn into self-doubt, something towards which we in Europe sometimes have a tendency.
Let’s have confidence in the strength of our own example. Let’s have confidence in the appeal of our societies. Our soft power – a term which didn’t exist fifty years ago – is considerable. Increasing it and having confidence in it is more intelligent that many regime change strategies in which political impatience leads to political mistakes.
“Change through rapprochement” wasn’t a blueprint for reunification. It was an idea which made it possible to change a supposedly entrenched order in many small steps by making countless difficult decisions. That means that we have to be creative today, to see the world as it is – as a point of departure for gradual change.
Allow me to conclude by adding one more idea which we owe to the historical experience of Ostpolitik. The transformation which the proponents of Ostpolitik wanted to bring about really did take place. Even if took not just years but decades of tireless work and strategic patience. However, the key movers and shakers of this transformation were not the state, not the socialist regime but civil society. It was citizens’ groups, associations and human rights activists, emboldened by the Helsinki Process and the commitment to universal civil liberties in the Helsinki Final Act.
No one described more precisely or moving than the great Vaclav Havel what this “power of the powerless” actually set in motion. States and governments remain the central players in international politics, but they are certainly not the only ones. The drivers behind the changes – as we’ve also seen in the Arab world and elsewhere – are often non-state players, groups of self-confident citizens who demand participation, a life in dignity and a better future. We have to deal with these forces. We should foster and support them wherever they’re striving to create a free order.
Human rights are universal and they are inalienable. They remain so even if we cannot implement them immediately all over the world. They will remain the yardstick by which our actions are measured, both at home and in our foreign policy.
Our partners around the world value modern Germany’s strengths – our power as a major economy and exporting nation, our political and social cohesion, our capacity for innovation and the importance we place on education, our struggle to find a model of sustainable growth and, not least, our commitment to a fair global order stemming from our efforts to come to grips with the wrongs committed in the past.
Our endeavours have earned us a high degree of confidence. That’s also the achievement of the architects of Ostpolitik. On this firm foundation we’re making our contribution towards a united and competitive Europe and towards a world domestic policy in which we’re not just a people of good neighbours but a “good international citizen”.
Thank you for your attention.