Speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the State Secretaries’ handover ceremony in Berlin

23.01.2014 - Speech

*** Translation of advance text ***

Ladies and gentlemen of the office of State Secretary,
Ms Haber,
Mr and Mrs Braun,
Mr Ederer, Ms Grzeski,
Mr and Mrs Steinlein,
Michael Roth,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is delightful that so many of you have responded to my invitation and come together today for the State Secretaries’ handover. It’s nothing special, you might say – nothing special for a democracy in which the changeover of high‑level office‑bearers is part of well‑practised procedure. It’s nothing special in the Federal Foreign Office, which has more experience of job rotation than any other public authority in Germany. It’s nothing special for us Germans, who – as a I read recently – count among our favourite poems Hermann Hesse’s “Steps”, which invokes the magic of new beginnings.

This only makes it all the more delightful that you have all come. In so doing, you show that this is not such an everyday occurrence after all. In bidding farewell to our most senior civil servants, we bid farewell to those people who have guaranteed the smooth running and the quality of all FFO work. They are the Minister’s first and most important advisers, across a vast array of subjects from day‑to‑day politics to administrative leadership, from German policy in Europe and the world to the security of our missions abroad, to issues of making work compatible with family life, to budgetary and financial questions.

And in welcoming new State Secretaries, we welcome those people who will in future be the place where everything comes together, embodying vital bridges between the political leadership and rest of the staff. So no, today is not such an everyday occurrence. There is even a persistent rumour – which even circulates in these very halls, I hear! – claiming that a change of State Secretaries makes more of a difference than a change of Ministers. I am sure you will understand that I cannot confirm that! But the very fact that the rumour exists tells us something about the significance of these posts...

The most senior civil servants in a Ministry whose whole staff are among the best and most dedicated in the country are already by definition premier league material, top class, the crème de la crème. That certainly applies to the four we have before us today.

Ms Haber,
You were the Federal Foreign Office’s first female State Secretary and are now moving to a classic portfolio at the Interior Ministry – that alone has you going down in FFO history.

I myself enjoyed the benefit of your advice, Ms Haber, during your time as Director for South‑Eastern Europe. You showed agility and far‑reaching, detailed knowledge of the subject matter as well as keen political instinct and sure judgement, with admirable willingness to get things done and take decisions. And I found you as all of our colleagues have found you: friendly, approachable, open to everybody.

You are leaving the FFO now, at least for a time. The fact that you have been asked to be State Secretary at the Interior Ministry shows that your reputation and the high esteem in which your work is held reach far beyond the confines of these walls. You may be proud of that, and the FFO can be proud of it too.

I would like to express my sincere thanks, both for the support you have lent the politicians at the top, and for the crutch and the example you have been to the whole of the FFO. We wish you all the very best! The FFO will not forget you – and we hope you will not forget us either! And should the need arise, we will be turning to you with our questions about visa liberalisation...

Mr Braun,
This is not the first time we two have met either. Your State Secretary résumé contains a lot of highlights too. One that I would like to raise here is that you were one of the first German diplomats to have worked in a key position in a large German company and to have felt how chilly it is when one no longer has the warm blanket of public service about one’s shoulders.

You gained valuable experience there and knew how to bring it to bear long‑term in your work at the FFO, in the Central Directorate‑General and lately as the State Secretary responsible for organisation and economic issues – which has been a positive factor in the modernisation of the service and must continue to be felt! We will keep it up!

As State Secretary, you worked with great dedication and finesse for the interests of the FFO and its staff. I have been following the development of section 05 of the budget in recent years and always found a lot to appreciate. You have achieved lasting successes there. You are right in saying that the FFO can only function effectively when it is properly equipped. I will do all I can to ensure that it remains so, and I hope we will be able to convince the Finance Minister as well.

Mr Braun,
You are leaving us for New York, a city you have known well since student days – where you will be Germany’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. I hardly need point out that this is one of the most important and difficult posts abroad that the Federal Republic of Germany has to assign.

I would like then to thank you, Mr Braun, for your time as State Secretary, and your wife for dealing with the inconveniences that life with a State Secretary brings. I wish you both all the very best and every success in New York!

Mr Markus Ederer,
You have had the longest journey to get here – from Beijing, where you have been heading the EU delegation for the last two years. I am glad that we can now carry on the collaboration that began in my first term in this office, when you lent me your support as head of the Policy Planning Staff. We had a lot of fruitful debates back then, and you always used to urge me to keep an eye on the bigger picture, especially to look beyond the confines of Germany and Europe. We and our work are going to be enriched by your perspective on Asia, on the configuration of powers in China and Japan and on their south‑east Asian neighbours, as well as by the view from Beijing back to Europe and Germany.

A number of other current dossiers will occupy your attention directly – the Syria conflict, Iran, the Middle East, Central Africa and not least the future of transatlantic relations. The political elite of our generation find it easy to acknowledge that the transatlantic partnership is indispensable. For young people though, coming of age under the influence of conflicts and new, quite different perspectives, that no longer goes without saying. More than anything, that is why you, why all of us together need to breathe new life into things and find new solutions and a new trust with the United States.

This is quite a challenge, and we will have to put a lot into it. We all will, including yourself, Ms Grzeski – as we yet again ‘steal’ your husband for a while. Thank you for giving your consent! And to you, Mr Ederer, a very warm welcome!

Mr Steinlein – or may I say Stephan,
It should be no secret that we are not strangers to one another. On the contrary, the longest stretch of my political career has been spent in your company, ever since our paths first crossed at the Federal Chancellery. Throughout those 14 years, we have discussed and thought through the widest range of different projects, in both foreign and home affairs. Some never saw the light of day; others became policy. Thanks to his unusual CV – he was the last Ambassador to Paris for the transitional GDR Government as a young man, only to start from scratch in the Bonn service the following year – as well as his wide‑ranging interests, his ability to see divergent points of view and his experience at the FFO, Stephan Steinlein has become a valued sparring partner and adviser, an indispensable support.

Cicero didn’t know us two – which I am quite glad about, even if I can’t get any more grey than I am – but if he had, then he would surely have been referring to us when he wrote, “Verus amicus est tamquam alter idem”. Stephan, I look forward to continuing our collaboration, and I wish you all the very best and a sure hand in your work!

Mr Steinlein knows what he’s talking about, on home affairs and on foreign policy, in the FFO and in Berlin’s political arena. I have therefore asked him, as State Secretary, to take care of close liaison between the FFO and Government policy and to scrutinise the structures and resources of the FFO.

He will also be responsible for the major issues related to globalisation which increasingly occupy makers of foreign policy: energy and the environment, climate change, scarcity of resources. If we are to tackle these areas, we need to bring together information, strategic goals and the institutions we work with. That is the thinking behind the decision to give Mr Steinlein responsibility for the Economic Affairs and UN Directorates‑General.

What’s more, we need to make use not only of the whole toolbox of diplomacy but other channels too – especially cultural relations and education policy. I witnessed the great importance and the wonderful ways of those cultural relations a few days ago, when I visited the German school in Athens. I met young Greeks there who, in pursuing their educations and their own engagement with Germany and Europe, simply refused to be impressed by political fights and turf battles, instead becoming Ambassadors for Germany in Athens and Ambassadors from Athens to Germany, spurred by their own initiative and interest. Cultural relations and education policy, therefore, will also be part of Mr Steinlein’s remit. In all those endeavours, Stephan, Mr Steinlein, we wish you every success!

And you, Mrs Steinlein, Françoise, have my gratitude for once again letting me have your husband to work with. I take that as yet more proof of how productive and indispensable Franco‑German cooperation really is! Thank you very much!

Ladies and gentlemen,
The Federal Foreign Office can be proud to produce such individuals as Ms Haber, Mr Braun, Mr Ederer and Mr Steinlein. But State Secretaries, even the best, are only one part of the whole! Without all of you, without your commitment, your ideas, your team spirit and your loyalty, it would be impossible to head the FFO. I would therefore like to ask you to welcome the new State Secretaries with your usual openness and team spirit. Here’s to good working relationships, to four good years for German foreign policy – I look forward to the road ahead!

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