Speech by State Secretary Markus Ederer on assuming office

23.01.2014 - Speech

--Translation of advance text--

Minister, Minister of State,
outgoing State Secretaries Emily Haber and Harald Braun, my co-State Secretary Stephan Steinlein,

Thank you, Minister, for the confidence you’ve shown in me in making me State Secretary and thank you for what you’ve just said in this connection.

I’d also like to thank the outgoing State Secretaries for their work as well as the smooth handover.

As you know, I take over from Emily Haber, which is why I’d like to pay a special tribute to you, Emily.

You performed your job with extraordinary expertise and professionalism. I was always full of admiration. Whatever you did, you did it meticulously and fast, while remaining totally unflurried.

And all this with a warm human touch. You took everyone you worked with seriously and you sought their opinions.

So you’ve clearly set a high standard, for which I’d like to thank you very much, also on behalf of all our assembled colleagues.

At the staff meeting here in the Weltsaal in December I remember how I was once again struck by this map of the world on the wall. From where I sat here in the front on the left China was completely obscured from view.

In Beijing, where I’ve just come from, maps of the world look rather different. There Zhōngguó, the Middle Kingdom, is shown bang in the centre.

When I contemplate our map of the world here, I wonder whether we in Europe and Germany truly appreciate that maps in Asia now tend to reflect global trends more realistically than ours do.

Or that the most dynamic economies are now to be found elsewhere – along with the opportunities that entails. And what about the potential for serious political conflicts?

Even if we’ve fully grasped these new realities, have we adapted our foreign and security policy accordingly?

One thing anyway is certain. Since my diplomatic trainee class lined up for a photo some 25 years ago in front of a similar map in the Weltsaal of the Federal Foreign Office in Bonn, the world has changed enormously.

Not long afterwards, by the way, Markus Meckel posted the last ambassador of the GDR to Paris. His name was Stephan Steinlein.

I feel extremely pleased and also privileged, Stephan, that after so many years of close personal and professional contact we are the lucky pair – in the service of this minister – charged with shaping German foreign policy over the years ahead!

Talking of the huge changes that have occurred since the end of the 1980s and which had a big impact on your own life, Stephan, it’s instructive to recall that during our training all those years ago a host of issues on today’s foreign and security policy agenda – climate change, asymmetrical threats, cybersecurity, even globalisation – received no mention at all.

Yet, there’s another thing, too, that has changed.

The years of the Cold War, the treaties with our eastern neighbours and the force modernisation debate, the years when Germany regained its unity and the division of Europe ended – back then, international affairs were something people really cared about. Not infrequently they were a cause of fear, sometimes rejoicing and on occasions polarisation, too.

To wish those times back again is neither possible nor desirable. But my impression is that people now tend to be less well informed about or interested in foreign, security and European affairs than they were in those days.

At this point, however, let me draw the attention of my assembled colleagues here to one thing that since 1988 hasn’t changed much at all, as far as I can see: the Federal Foreign Office itself.

In terms of organisation and even the way it operates, it’s remained pretty much as it was in the Cold War era. That’s a simple statement of fact, first of all. But it does raise a number of questions.

In your speech on assuming office, Minister, you announced your intention to explore also the relationship between continuity and change in this context. You plan to do this by launching a “process of reflection on German foreign policy’s future prospects”.

Hence what we envisage here is an externally moderated process, in which also civil society and outside observers will be invited to take part.

Important though it is to adapt to new technological and geopolitical realities, I believe such a process might even lead to a renaissance of classic foreign policy and diplomacy.

Why do I say that? Given the new and complex challenges we face, what’s needed now more than ever are political solutions.

Let me illustrate what I mean by this.

Firstly, consider problems such as climate change, political instability, ethnic conflict or cyber attacks. Here military force, air strikes won’t solve anything.

Secondly, we need to realise that many new players on the world stage – or aspiring to return there – have little sympathy with our ideas of effective multilateralism.

They inhabit a kind of neo-Westphalian world whose guiding principle, as they see it, is the balance of power.

In Europe, finally, prejudice and resentment against other EU partners and populations are once again on the rise, I’m sorry to say.

What’s needed to address all these challenges effectively are the classic tools of diplomacy:

a clear grasp of the interests and perceptions of others; the ability on occasion to put yourself in their shoes; and the ability to identify converging and common interests that could serve as a basis for joint action and the development of a cooperative foreign and security policy.

What comes out of this reflection process is anything but a foregone conclusion. It will be a fascinating and stimulating exercise. And of course it will take time.

Some of you may be familiar with Tom Donilon’s story about his first days as President Obama’s National Security Adviser.

Every day, he was told by a good friend, he’d find three full in-trays in his office.

The first one would be labelled “Important and Urgent”, the second “Urgent, not Important” and the third “Important, not Urgent”.

Which in-tray would he look at first?

“The one labelled ”Important and Urgent“, of course,” Donilon answered.

“That’s the wrong answer,” his friend pointed out,

“If you do that, you’ll never have time for the third one, ”Important, not Urgent“. But that’s the one where you might be able to make a genuine difference.”

That’s our daily dilemma in a nutshell. The story clearly doesn’t imply that we should neglect the important and urgent things.

In our line of business we know of course we’ll be busy with one crisis after another in the years ahead.

However, I know you expect us, Minister, also to invest time, creativity and courage in dealing with the third in-tray. That’s a challenge we intend to take on together.

Minister, colleagues,

I’m looking forward to my new job and, believe me, I have great respect for what it will demand!

One of the reasons I’ve come back is because the Foreign Service and its staff mean a great deal to me.

You can all rely on Stephan Steinlein and myself to give special attention to the welfare of staff and their partners and encourage a feeling of belonging and mutual support throughout the Service.

So I invite us all to be open with one another and let mutual trust, fairness and loyalty be our credo in everything we do.

I see this as a “two-way street” and promise to ensure it is exactly that.

I count on your professional expertise and the impressive commitment that has always been the hallmark of our Service.

On Monday, the first day in our new job, Stephan Steinlein and I visited several parts of the Federal Foreign Office where state secretaries don’t often put in an appearance.

We also called in on the Family and Partners Association or FFD. There we were invited to help ourselves from a box of fortune cookies.

The inscription inside the one I picked – on that first day in my new job – was

“If you’re in it, win it!”

For the next four years that’s a wonderful motto, to which we can all subscribe!

Thank you very much.

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