Speech by Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier at the Business Forum on Architecture, Planning and Construction, Berlin, 18 February 2014

18.02.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

My distinguished colleague, Dorothee Bär,
Uwe Beckmeyer,
ladies and gentlemen,
and since we’re fortunate to be joined today by as many as six heads of associations, whom for simplicity’s sake I’ll address as esteemed Presidents,

let me bid you all a warm welcome to this Business Forum on Architecture, Planning and Construction here at the Federal Foreign Office. Many of you I know from my time at the Federal Chancellery, my first term as Foreign Minister or, more recently, from my four years as chair of the SPD Parliamentary Group in the Bundestag. So now I’m back at the Federal Foreign Office helm, I’m delighted also to join you here at today’s forum. Initiated by my predecessor two years ago, this is where the construction industry meets the world of politics and diplomacy face to face.

As some of you may know, encounters like this with people in your line of business are something I really appreciate – not just because they’re important from an economic and political viewpoint. But also, I must confess, because they always make me feel a little envious of the work you do. As a teenager I dreamed of becoming an architect myself. In the end I chose law as the safer option for earning a living. But I continue to enjoy architecture and count a number of architects among my close friends. Today these friends tell me I should be glad: “You can just enjoy contemporary architecture. We have to earn our living with it!”

Anyone strolling through Berlin’s city centre is bound to come across the name of Andreas Schlüter. Schlüter was Master of Works to Frederick I, the first king on the Prussian throne. He introduced the baroque style to Berlin and designed the legendary Amber Room. Tsar Peter the Great immensely admired Schlüter’s work – including the Amber Room, which Frederick William I even gave him as a gift a few years later. So great was Schlüter’s fame that the Tsar invited him to St Petersburg to design fine buildings for his new capital.

The reason I mention this eminent architect is not just because German architecture has long been internationally renowned. That’s something of course you all know! The other reason is because I want to highlight the close links between architecture and politics. It’s a striking fact that architecture – especially large-scale urban planning, infrastructure and construction projects – and the world of politics have always been highly interconnected. This close connection may have both positive and negative effects. The revival of Berlin’s historic city centre is certainly a positive example. Major transport projects in Stuttgart and here in Berlin or a concert hall in Hamburg point in the opposite direction, I’d say.

In due course this political dimension also overshadowed Andreas Schlüter’s career. He fell out of favour with the king, was finally dismissed from his posts and ended up in pretty precarious circumstances.

Since then times have changed, thank goodness! Your fortunes and careers, ladies and gentlemen, no longer depend on royal whims. But you do need a political environment that provides the stability required for your business to thrive and policies that actively promote Germany’s export industry.

At the start of our conference I’d like to say a few words about these political tasks, focusing first of all on two issues right now high on our external economic agenda.

The first is urbanisation. In 15 years’ time there will be 5 billion people living in cities, the UN estimates. For your line of business that obviously spells huge opportunities. The amount of new housing being built every year in China, for example, is more than Germany’s entire housing stock. Annual growth exceeding our entire stock – I find that mind staggering.

What kind of political support can we offer in this situation? First and foremost, the Federal Foreign Office can open doors and provide contacts – especially when, as in your case, many of your clients are in the public sector. That’s where our over 230 missions abroad with their expertise and local networks can help.

But at the strategic level the Federal Foreign Office can do even more. For often we don’t want to simply sit still and wait until individual entrepreneurs come to us about some tendering process. The worldwide urban boom doesn’t involve just bricks and concrete, it’s a multifaceted challenge for business, policy makers and researchers. Let me give you a good example of what I mean from Oman. In 2007 RWTH Aachen University founded there the German University of Technology in Oman. Among other things, it teaches urban planning and architecture. On its Muscat campus the students have just finished work on an “Eco House” built to the very latest standards. An increasingly urban world needs precisely this kind of attention to sustainability. In an era of climate change and scarce resources, it’s the only way the urban boom can be made manageable at all.

Urbanisation is a phenomenon that concerns virtually every branch of industry: civil engineering, public transport, energy systems, security, health care etc. That brings me to something rather complex and technical on which you’ll be focusing in this morning’s workshops: consortium solutions. The idea here is to think in terms of value chains. The aim is not just to sell a particular product but, in a rather more complex process, to come up with a whole package designed to tackle a specific problem. One such problem is, for example, how to manage traffic flows in fast growing cities. So we get companies round a table that can each provide some part of this complex value chain: their business is building buses, digging tunnels or creating software for traffic guidance systems. Working in collaboration, these companies develop a package solution. In this way they can enter large markets that individual companies, especially medium sized ones, would otherwise find it very difficult to access.

Our other major policy priority in this domain is to open up markets. And when I mention markets, I also have to talk about TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Linking the European and US markets amounts to linking the two largest, strongest and most innovative economies in the world. We already trade over 2 billion euros worth of goods and services across the Atlantic every single day. If tariffs are abolished and common rules agreed, just think what that will mean in terms of exports, new jobs and also lower consumer prices!

For your industries, too, TTIP will open up new markets. For America’s infrastructure is in need of wholesale renewal. Anyone who’s driven around there has painful memories of the state of the roads. Another of our TTIP objectives is to open up public procurement also to German companies. That’s something of particular interest to those of you here who represent medium sized companies. For at the moment companies with no representation of their own in the US have no access to public sector clients. TTIP should change that.

However, you will have noticed as I have that criticism of TTIP is getting ever louder. Some of this is due to genuine anxieties. We take such anxieties seriously. Where the health and safety of European consumers is concerned, our position is quite clear. There will be no tampering with Europe’s high standards.

I would even go a step further. Some critics allege that TTIP is a deal being done behind closed doors for the benefit of large corporations. The opposite is the case, in fact. It’s small and medium sized companies which stand to gain most from free trade without special rules and privileges. So clearly the European Commission should negotiate with maximum openness and transparency.

That brings me to my last point. Let me share with you a few more fundamental thoughts about the relationship between foreign trade and investment policy and foreign policy. No one knows better than you how interconnected our economy is with the rest of the world. Almost no other country’s prosperity depends so much on a free, fair and rules based global economic system that functions in a reliable and predictable fashion.

But such a system is anything but God given! If you consider the hot spots around the world; if you see how close to our own borders these conflicts are getting, take Ukraine, for instance – such violence, looming civil war, these are things no one imagined were really possible nowadays right on the EU’s doorstep; if you realise these threats are far too big and far too complex for any one country to deal with on its own – see Syria and the danger of state authority eroding across the entire region – it’s clear that we Germans can’t simply rely on other countries to keep the system going from which we so greatly benefit.

At the Munich Security Conference two weeks ago Federal President Gauck pointed out that “Germany is globalised more than most countries and thus benefits more than most from an open world order.” He added: “Germany derives its most important foreign policy goal in the 21st century from all of this: preserving this order and system and making them fit for the future.”

So the foreign policy we intend to pursue will not be confined to commenting on crises happening around the world. It will mean earlier, more decisive and more substantive engagement on Germany’s part.

From the crisis here in Europe we and also you in the corporate sector have learnt at least two things: firstly, how much our own prosperity depends on the prosperity of our neighbours – even now 60% of our exports go to Europe, only 6% to China – and, secondly, that Germany is a bit too large, a bit too interconnected to stand aloof from world affairs.

So as you see, whether you can carry on your business safely and on a long term basis has ultimately a great deal to do with big foreign policy issues. And that also takes us back to Andreas Schlüter. His greatest achievement once stood just a stone’s throw from here, on Schlossplatz. Schlüter designed major parts of Berlin’s royal palace, whose story is in a sense symptomatic of Germany’s chequered history. Today it’s a building site full of excavators and cranes. You’ll have seen what’s going on there when you arrived, some of you may even be involved in this work. The so called Schlüterhof is to be re erected, too. But how and when this is all going to be finished – now I have to disappoint you, of course – is something about which I’d rather not make any firm predictions here.

Thank you very much.

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