Speech by Michael Georg Link, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, marking the opening of the Körber Foundation’s 3rd Berlin Foreign Policy Forum in Berlin on 26 November 2013

26.11.2013 - Speech

--translation of advance text --

Members of Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the Federal Foreign Office, I warmly welcome you to this forum.

The third Berlin Foreign Policy Forum is convening at a time when the stage is being set in many crucial areas: In two days, Vilnius will host the EU’s third Eastern Partnership Summit. Just recently in Kabul, the Loya Jirga took important decisions related to our post-2014 engagement in Afghanistan. And last weekend in Geneva, the E3+3 group reached an agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear programme that marks an important turning point after nearly a decade of difficult negotiations. I am especially looking forward to the panel discussion on this topic.

Germany plays an important role in addressing all these issues. We are assuming responsibility – which is exactly what is expected of us.

Thisis one of the reasons why the timing of this year's forum is so interesting, because it’s not only all of Germany that is closely following the coalition talks.

Particularlyin Europe, but also around the world, people are eagerly awaiting the formation of our new government: What role will Germany take on? In what way will it help shape the future of Europe? And how will this impact Europe’s role in a globalised world?

When asking what role Europe plays in the world, one thing that comes to mind is the European Union's capacity for action. In recent years, the EU has struggled with a debt crisis that has put it to a critical test.

We underestimated some things at first, and our learning curve during the crisis was significant. At all times, however, there was no doubt for the Federal Government that it was in Germany’s paramount interest to preserve and further develop European integration.

Today, we can see that the agreed reforms and instruments– such as the ESM, the Fiscal Compact, and the Compact for Growth and Jobs – are beginning to have an effect. There are clear economic signs of a successful turnaround. Current account deficits are in sharp decline. That said, we are aware that there is continued criticism of Germany's current account surplus – a view that we do not share, even though we take it seriously. The decisive fact is that Europe’s economy is slowly moving back into positive territory. Our European neighbours’ ambitious efforts deserve our respect.

However: We are by far not out of the woods – not in economic, social or political terms.

In many European countries, unemployment is unacceptably high, particularly among young people. This is a burden on our future, and it threatens the prospects of an entire generation. It also poses a threat to our social cohesion. That is another reason why the Compact for Growth and Jobs must be implemented with determination.

We must address the structural problems of the euro and expand our monetary union by creating a genuine economic union. This is the only way we will achieve closer coordination with regard to our financial, fiscal and economic policies. The objective remains the same: Europe must on the whole be competitive enough to stand its ground in the globalised economy. For this, we need sustainable growth, innovation and social cohesion.

Europe is a project that is geared towards the future. For it to succeed, Europeans’ hearts and minds must be won, and they must join in the effort. Next year’s European elections will be a decisive reference point. The hardships brought about by the crisis have weakened many Europeans’ confidence in the common European project and in European integration.

Many will view these elections as a referendum on the European integration project as such. This plays into the hands of populists and nationalists. They can already see their popularity growing. However we must not leave the field to the Eurosceptics. Populism does not offer any real alternatives. The solution is not less Europe. Only by joining forces will we have the necessary resources, ideas and institutions to persevere in a rapidly changing world.

We now have the task to mount an opposition to these populist slogans, and to win back European citizens’ trust in the process of European integration: confidence in what the EU can achieve, in the need for European integration, and in Europe’s common future.

Strengthening the trust of citizens in the EU also involves reinforcing the principle of subsidiarity. The EU can only be successful and accepted by European citizens if it takes action where it can truly add value beyond what can be done at the national, regional and local level.

We all benefit immensely from the common market, from our common trade policy and from the Schengen area – to name a few examples. But not every aspect of life needs to be harmonised. Some domains are simply not suitable. We want an optimum Europe, not a maximum Europe.

Our guiding principle should be that we must never lose sight of what European integration is worth. The European Union is so much more than an economic community. It is a community of shared values and a political project.

That, too, is why I believe it is right to establish a new process within the EU that aims to protect our shared fundamental values, should they become threatened by developments in individual EU Member States. That is precisely why Foreign MinisterWesterwelle and some of his European colleagues have proposed a legislative initiative to ensure better protection of European fundamental values and the principles of the rule of law.

Global power is shifting. For us Europeans, the only way to safeguard our values and our free way of life in a rapidly changing world is by acting in concert.

Neither Germany nor the other countries of Europe can go it alone.

In the Western Balkan region and with the Iran dossier, we this year witnessed what European diplomacy, through joint action and guided by the High Representative, can achieve. We should be encouraged by these undisputed successes of European diplomacy.

Not only in this regard is the establishment of the European External Action Service an unparalleled achievement on a global scale. The first review of the EEAS is currently under way.

We must now strengthen this service and the High Representative, so that they can continue to effectively represent Europe's interests and values throughout the world. In future, Europe will need to assume greater responsibility for foreign policy – first and foremost in our immediate neighbourhood.

In two days, the EU will be holding its summit meeting in Vilnius with the states of the Eastern Partnership. For these societies, the EU is incredibly attractive and drives their transformation. At the same time, much hard work remains to be done if we want to raise the profile of our values and standards in our practical cooperation.

Preparations for the summit and the decision by Ukraine have shown that this is a long and difficult process. The European Union has made Ukraine a far-reaching offer of close political and economic cooperation. Our interest in good relations with Ukraine remains constant. Our offer of genuine partnership stands. It all depends, however, on whether the will is there in Kyiv to develop in a European direction. We would like to see a Ukraine which shares our values and journeys with us towards greater freedom and prosperity.

The Eurozone debt crisis has triggered a broad, international debate on Germany’s role in Europe and the world. The action Germany took during the crisis has drawn nearly unprecedented attention from political observers and actors.

This heightened awareness is also an expression of certain expectations: Due to its position of economic strength, Germany has been given special responsibility. This has given rise to calls for Germany to assume a lead role, and to criticism of such a role.

Germany is indeed particularly called upon, and that is why we are demonstrating solidarity with our partners in addressing the debt crisis. We are working to make the euro and the European Union viable for the future. However, it is also clear that in a united Europe responsibility must be jointly borne.

This includes realising that overriding interests may require compromises and joint solutions. Most importantly, it means explaining our principles, campaigning for our ideas, openly discussing various possible solutions, presenting concepts and involving our partners.

Events such as the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum provide important platforms for this. On topics ranging from Iran to China, and from the transatlantic partnership to the Middle East Peace Process, we have difficult questions to address and intensive discussions to engage in. I am looking forward to it, and I hope there will be many lively debates.

Thank you!

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