Speech by Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier at the opening of the German Portuguese Forum on 10 March 2014 in Berlin
- Translation of advance text -
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to bid you a warm welcome to the German Portuguese Forum.
There are two things that give me particular pleasure here today:
First, it’s great to have the opportunity to open this Forum together with my colleague, the Foreign Minister of Portugal. Rui, I know this isn’t your first visit to Germany – you speak excellent German – but it is your first visit to Germany as Foreign Minister. You’ve been a key figure in German Portuguese relations for a long time now. So rather than wishing you a good start, let me say instead that I look forward to continuing our good work together.
Second, I’m glad that this Forum is already taking place in the spring of 2014. I mean it when I say “already”: that’s because I’m a bit worried about the state of our bilateral relations come summer – or, to be precise, on 16 June. That’s the day when Germany will be playing against Portugal in their Group G match at the World Cup. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic: our diplomatic relations have survived all of the big football tournaments so far, and I think this time we can again look forward to a first rate athletic performance by both of our teams!
At the present time, it’s impossible for us to convene as foreign policy specialists without talking about Ukraine. Who among us would have thought it would still be possible for a conflict of this magnitude to erupt here in Europe – a conflict that could return Europe to a state of division that we believed we had overcome.
So, before this conference gets started, I would like to say a few words about the situation in Ukraine as I have just discussed it with Minister Machete. We are in full agreement: regardless of the demands that may be made in the public sphere, our responsibility as the Foreign Ministers of Germany and Portugal is to use the means at our disposal to look continually for opportunities that will lead to deescalation, even if the chances are slim. That is our primary duty.
But if these efforts fail – if no international contact group is established, and if Russia continues to press forward with the annexation of Crimea – then we in the European bodies will have to respond decisively.
We must not talk ourselves rashly into a division of Europe. We can still prevent this division from occurring, if both sides remain willing to talk, and if Russia acknowledges its responsibility as well.
There is very, very much at stake in this conflict. First and foremost, the security of the Ukrainian people is at stake – a people with whom both of our countries maintain close ties.
But the very framework for peace in Europe is at stake here as well. We built this framework diligently over a period of decades following the many mistakes, wars and victims that characterised the 20th century. We cannot afford a new division of Europe. Russia itself can least of all afford the absolute isolation that it is manoeuvring itself into.
We are taking a stand for our values, for freedom, the rule of law and social cohesion.
We travelled to Kyiv when the country was at risk of descending into a bloody civil war. For now, the spiral of violence has been stopped, with European assistance.
Clear messages are now essential. Clear messages to Russia, together with self discipline and resolve on our part, as well as assurances to our friends in Eastern Europe who carry the memory of many decades of Soviet rule. This is why I am travelling tonight to the Baltic states. We understand their sense of threat as this crisis unfolds. We stand with them, and together we will support the decisions taken at the European level.
Europe’s task is this: to pursue a policy that is committed to diplomatic solutions, not aggression and escalation, and that resorts to other measures step by step and very judiciously.
When I speak about freedom, the rule of law and social cohesion, I am not talking merely about when we pursue foreign policy. On the contrary, we can advocate these values credibly to the rest of the world only if we put them into practice at home as well.
Europe has been busy dealing with the economic crisis for a number of years now. Many countries, including Portugal, have been not only affected, but have lost a lot of ground in terms of economic and social development.
Portugal has made major progress since the outset of the crisis. After more than two years of recession, the Portuguese economy is now growing again. Competitiveness has improved, and exports are rising. After seven decades, Portugal’s trade balance is back in the black.
We extend our utmost respect and our solidarity to the citizens of Portugal for the great progress they have achieved. That is because the difficult process of reforms and fiscal consolidation manifests itself in more than just statistics. Rather, this process requires people to make very real sacrifices and to experience declines in their standard of living. From my own experience as a policy maker, I know how difficult and contentious large scale reform processes can be. You feel the cuts first, and the positive effects don’t come until later. It’s precisely this difference in timing between sacrifices and rewards that makes it so difficult to carry out reform policies.
But now we see that reforms bear fruit. The current assistance programme expires in two months, and there are good signs that Portugal will not need a follow up programme and will soon be back on its own feet.
As a result, I believe that there is more than a chance that we will overcome the economic crisis in Europe, and I say this based on more than just what’s happening in Portugal. However, when I cast an undoubtedly concerned glance at the upcoming European elections, I am not certain whether we will also be capable of overcoming the political crisis in Europe.
This political crisis is palpable. I am pleased that there is no decidedly anti European party in Portugal, despite the major sacrifices that the Portuguese people still have to make. Unfortunately, the situation is different here in Germany. That’s why it is so important for us to respond to people’s concrete concerns with more than just superficial pro European slogans.
Naturally, a many people – including me, you here in this auditorium, and many people of my generation – are proud of the great European unification project of recent decades. Many of us have personally experienced the opening of barriers and the steadfast progress of Europe. But for a lot of young people today, Europe’s value is no longer self evident. We have to prove anew to the younger generation that European solidarity is more than just a slogan on a campaign poster. We have to show them that this Europe must be an integral part of their future – that it can stand for hope, not threat.
To do this, we must first of all take action to fight the worrying levels of youth unemployment. A younger generation without jobs and without prospects despoils not only our economic future but also the values that we hold high.
Second, we need European mechanisms to protect shared fundamental values, mechanisms that are not yet sufficiently developed within the European community.
Third, and finally, something that brings me back to the subject of foreign policy: when it comes to the many crisis hotspots of today’s world, Europe needs to demonstrate more unity than has often been the case in recent years.
Ukraine represents an example of a larger trend: the world’s conflicts are coming closer to our doorstep. And we all know that these conflicts cannot be resolved by one country acting alone. That is why we in the European Union are taking on joint diplomatic responsibility in Ukraine, in the Middle East conflict, in Syria, and in Iran.
And that is why we must rely on good partners in all of these conflicts. The United States especially will remain an important partner. Few Europeans understand this better than your country on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Rui, you yourself have worked actively for decades to strengthen the transatlantic partnership.
Naturally, all long standing partnerships have unresolved issues that they have to work on. That’s the case between Europe and the United States too. These unresolved issues can’t be simply brushed over with references to our long, shared history. That is why, just recently in Washington, I had frank talks with John Kerry, for instance regarding the proper relationship between freedom and security in the age of the Internet. At least for the moment, this relationship is certainly viewed differently on both sides of the Atlantic.
I would like to add something else: we all know how strong the United States is in many areas. But there’s one area where they aren’t, and that suits us just fine: namely, in Group G of the World Cup... Which is to say: two countries will move on to the knockout stage. And if I had to place my bet today, I would bet on the two countries up there on the screen.
I wish you productive discussions at today’s conference. I would like to take this opportunity now to thank the organisers from the Institute for European Politics, the Institute of International Relations and the Gulbenkian Foundation.
This Forum is not a meeting of foreign policy specialists. Rather, it is first and foremost a dialogue between civil societies. I consider this dialogue to be important, because the main focus should not be just on policy measures, but on exchanges between people. And they know just as well as we politicians do that there is still a lot of work to do – maybe not so much when it comes to German Portuguese relations, which are good and stable and trusting, but rather in our shared efforts to make this world a better place.