Speech by State Secretary Stephan Steinlein on assuming office

23.01.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs,
Michael Roth,
Ms Haber,
Markus Ederer,
Harald Braun,

To begin with, a threefold expression of thanks to you! First to you, Federal Foreign Minister, for the great trust which this appointment signifies. This sort of trust is not something which can be taken for granted, even after many years of close cooperation. It is an honour and a joy for me to work for you as State Secretary. And I will do everything I can to fulfil the expectations and demands placed on me!

My second expression of thanks goes to you, Ms Haber and Mr Braun, for the collegial way in which we have been able to approach the transition phase. You have both provided me with guidance and practical support. You have advised me on what has to be done – and what I would be better not to do. When I look at other ministries, that is not something that happens as a matter of course. It is a manifestation of the solidarity and collegiality which is more evident in the Federal Foreign Office than anywhere else and which makes this place very special.

Finally, my thanks go also to you, dear colleagues. You have welcomed me with open arms for the second time after some years of absence. I am glad to be back. And I hope that by the end you won’t be saying, “Thank God we’ve finally got rid of him!”

Hardly anyone who stands up here on a day like this has had a childhood dream of doing so. I certainly didn’t, anyway. I am a child of 1989. I have first-hand memories of this building as the sinister stronghold of an economically and morally bankrupt regime. Indeed, my first encounter with the Federal Foreign Office, which left an indelible impression on me, also occurred in the winter of 1989. It was near the Wannsee lake, in the former West Berlin. We had come together with a group of people from Poland, the United States, the Netherlands, East and West Germany to discuss rebuilding the dilapidated estate of Count von Moltke in Silesia as an international meeting place. Our goal was a united, democratic Europe. We wanted to create a place where people could take time to reflect on the common future of our continent.

One of the group was a Head of Division from the Federal Foreign Office’s Cultural Directorate-General, Mr Weisel, Head of Division 614. I now presume that the Federal Foreign Office had sent him as a watchdog to make sure that we amateurs dabbling in civil rights didn’t do anything too silly. But what impressed me most at the time was that this man didn’t simply stick to his observer role! Our enthusiasm spilled over on to him. He quite literally rolled up his sleeves and joined us in formulating the first draft of the statutes for the Krzyżowa Foundation for Mutual Understanding in Europe.

This man really made an impression on me.

In the course of my life I had certainly encountered officials who wanted to prevent and control things. But I had never met one who stood for active participation and real change. At that moment I first had the thought of maybe embarking on a career as a diplomat myself. It was just an idea at that point, nothing more.

But one year later by chance and coincidence I did in fact end up at the Federal Foreign Office. This encounter has shaped my view of the role of a diplomat right up to the present.

A good diplomat is not a stick-in-the-mud or a wet blanket.

A good diplomat is a facilitator!

He or she is a translator in situations where others are lost for words.

He or she overcomes division and speechlessness.

And above all, he or she gets things moving when they are at a standstill!

I spent six years at the Federal Chancellery and four years with the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag. I enjoyed my time there. I learned a lot about other offices and even more about politics. But I never forgot where I came from and which ministry I have to thank for making me what I am. Not because diplomats are anything special. Not because you can walk around with your nose in the air when you are a member of the Federal Foreign Office. But because this ministry boasts wonderful, intelligent people who see the bigger picture. Dear Markus, allow me at this point to say a few personal words. For me, you have always had a special place among these wonderful, intelligent people who can be found here. I am glad that the two of us are standing here together at the front today. We hit it off the very first time we met in Poland in the mid-1990s. That resulted in a deep professional and personal friendship.

As head of Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s office I was involved with many things with which a normal diplomat does not usually come into contact. Taxes, energy, pensions, health, research – there was hardly any sphere of politics with which I wasn’t confronted at some point in the Federal Chancellery or the SPD parliamentary group. There were always people who knew much more about the individual issues. But here within these walls I had learned something which is just as important as specialist knowledge:

– how to escape from the ivory tower,

– the awareness that we are not alone in the world,

– that we are an inextricable thread in a long history spanning national borders.

And I learned something else here: that freedom, prosperity and peace can never be taken for granted, but depend on many factors and have to be fought for time and time again.

This culture of cosmopolitanism, curiosity and creative ambition is our strength. And as long as we make use of this strength, we do not have to worry about the future of our service.

Be that as it may, self-confidence is good, but complacency is the direct route to ruin! Ecclesia semper reformanda, in the words of Luther, and what applies to the church certainly applies to a ministry. I was most surprised when after a four-year absence I came to the directors’ meeting and didn’t see a single female face apart from Ms Haber’s. The Federal Foreign Office, and this is my first point, has to be a mirror of society. And these days society is more feminine, more colourful, more varied! It also features more diversity with regard to lifestyles and career planning. The young people who come to us have higher expectations of their employer in this regard. And a modern foreign service has to be open to this possibility.

Second: the foreign policy agenda is shifting. New issues are coming to the fore. In his first term of office, Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier adopted external energy policy and climate diplomacy as one of his trademarks. We must continue to work on these issues. At the same time we must recognise that new questions and challenges have arisen in the meantime, such as international cyber policy.

Third: naturally, in an interconnected world overlap with other ministries is bound to increase, which makes petty jealousies and wrangling over territories unavoidable. I believe it is important that we do not fritter away our time with pointless bickering about who is responsible for what. We can take the lead by being a role model. Let us make proposals that are so good that others cannot refuse to embrace them! That is the attitude we need. And let us put a stop to the complaints about how the status of the Federal Foreign Office is ostensibly declining!

Fourth: we have always regarded ourselves as a door-opener for business. And we intend to remain so in the future. But we should be consistent in our endeavours. Together with German business we ought to seek ways to tap new markets at both a regional and a sectoral level. An emerging continent such as Africa harbours a whole new range of opportunities. We should be frontrunners in this area!

Fifth: cultural relations and education policy. Fortunately, we have a Minister who attaches a high priority to this subject. Six years ago we were able to take the initiative with the PASCH concept and the focus on research and academic relations policy. Let us build on that and first tackle the planned cuts in funding head on in the upcoming budget negotiations. A country like Germany needs to have open windows and doors. And that is precisely the task of cultural relations and education policy.

Those are just a few points. In this short address my aim was to clarify the position I would like to see us adopt and what a good Federal Foreign Office stands for – self-confidence, active participation, curiosity, creativity. What that means specifically for the individual units here in this ministry we will define more clearly together over the coming weeks, months and years. You will find in me a partner who is open to ideas, open to suggestions and open to criticism. Anyone who knows me a little will be aware that I have always striven to maintain an open, discursive style of leadership. Yet that can only work, and I say this quite plainly, under one, crucial condition: that anything we talk about remains confidential! Loyalty has always been a valued quality in this building and I expect that to stay that way in the future.

I am assuming this office with great respect for the task ahead of me. I know what it means to be following in the footsteps of people like Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz, Wolfgang Ischinger, Reinhard Silberberg, to name only those who have been and still are role models for me. I will do everything in my power to ensure that together, the top echelons and the staff, we pull in the same direction. We will only be successful if we work together. Federal Foreign Minister, Michael Roth, Markus Ederer, colleagues, I look forward to working with you!

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