Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the conference “Europe – Dream and Reality” hosted by the Alfred Herrhausen Society on 9 May 2014 in Berlin

09.05.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Thomas Matussek,
Guests from the fields of the arts, science, business and politics,
Guests from near and far alike,

In May 1988 a group of writers came together in West Berlin and dreamed the European dream.

They came from East and West, North and South – and even further afield. Susan Sontag flew in from the United States and Kuma Ndumbe III from Cameroon. Together they dreamed the dream of a united Europe.

“We had no idea Utopia was so close,” one of those present wrote later.

Back then the writers’ dream was also dreamed by people in the other half of the divided city.

Within months their dream was sweeping through Europe. It drove peaceful revolutionaries onto Wenceslas Square in Prague, to the shipyards in Gdansk, to the street outside St Nicolas Church in Leipzig.

Bit by bit the dreamers drew back the Iron Curtain.

That all happened a quarter‑century ago.

Yet today wherever I travel as Foreign Minister, I find those dreams are still being dreamed.

And without a doubt not just within Europe, but above all outside it!

They are being dreamed by young people in Angola, who told me: “We also want a society in which all people, and not just a select few, enjoy prosperity, work and education.”

They are being dreamed by young people in Tunisia, who want to be able to live how they want to live, and who want to be able to say what they want to say.

These young people see a place where, in their view, this dream is reality and they call it – I heard this myself – “Balad Euroba” – “The Land of Europe”.

Two weeks ago, Laurent Fabius and I met the Moldovan President in Chisinau. Right at the back of the room I saw an official who was wearing a blue tie sprinkled with gold stars, I could hardly believe my eyes – a Europe tie! Who in Brussels, Berlin or Paris wears a Europe tie today?

That, ladies and gentlemen, is something which I consider to be a real delight of my position as Foreign Minister – that I not only have the opportunity to look out into the world but vice versa: to look back home, at Europe.

And I can tell you one thing: Europe looks much more appealing to many people from the outside than it sometimes feels in talk shows and on election posters from the inside.

As outside – in Chisinau, Tunis or Luanda – for many people Europe remains a dream, even for those who live far away.

So what does it mean, this dream of Europe?

It is the dream of a society that enjoys both freedom and social cohesion.

That values a diversity of lifestyles over pressure to conform.

In which one can leap and be sure to land safely.

And we forget one thing all too often:

This is a model unmatched anywhere in the world.

It is something other than pure individualism, than unbridled markets.

And it is also something other than the authoritarian state, the “Big Brother”.

The European model lies between these two extremes. The European model is the hope of an equilibrium between freedom and security which is never taken for granted, but constantly rebalanced.

The dream of Europe is not, and never has been, a naive dream. It is by no means a dream that fell down from the sky one starry night, but rather it has grown almost imperceptibly following centuries of nightmares.

If I look around this room today then I see Europe, with its dreams and nightmares, mirrored in the life stories of many and I would like to say a few words about one such story.

One of the participants in the writers conference 26 years ago was Hungarian philosopher Ágnes Heller. In the course of her long life Europe’s nightmares have seared both her body and soul.

The view over the Danube in her native city of Budapest haunts her dreams to this day, for as a young Jewish girl she narrowly escaped the fate of the Jews shot on its banks by the Nazis.

Like many intellectuals after the war, she dreamed the dream of communism. Yet that, too, turned out to be a nightmare – political harassment, bugged living rooms, everything she did or thought subject to constant surveillance.

In 1968, Ágnes Heller had been one of the signatories of a manifesto drawn up by European writers in solidarity with the activists of the 1968 Prague Spring.

That only intensified the political campaign against her, however, and eventually she was forced to leave Budapest for Australia and later New York, where she was appointed to Hannah Arendt’s prestigious chair at the New School.

In 1988 therefore, Ágnes Heller flew from New York to Berlin. During this flight, Ágnes Heller, you probably would not even have dared hope that dream and reality would converge as they did just a few months later.

Today, 26 years later, writers, intellectuals and academics have once again come together here in Berlin. And, just two days before her 85th birthday, Ágnes Heller is here too, welcome!

You once wrote: “It is possible to remember, rejoice, warn and hope all at the same time.” That is exactly what we are doing at this conference, and that is exactly what Europe needs.

Some may ask us whether this is really the time to talk of dreams, as although Europe is slowly recovering from its economic crisis, its nagging political crisis persists.

Is it the time for dreams when this continent is in the throes of the worst foreign policy crisis since the end of the Cold War?

Yes, for those very reasons this is indeed the right time.

As in my view, this conference is part and parcel of the work-in-progress that is Europe. Working on Europe cannot only take place in back rooms and at councils in Brussels, it cannot be a matter for politics alone. The task must be taken to the public sphere, it must be open to all and provoke heated debate.

Some ask me: “Mr Steinmeier, how can that fit together? They explain to us that out in the world, many people view the European model with respect and sympathy. Yet here, many people are frustrated by Europe and populists’ anti‑Europe rhetoric resonates loudly.”

I for my part see no such contradiction – quite the opposite, in fact. Europe has become more combative! Over the course of recent decades, the European Union has developed institutions which stand for more than just loose coordination between countries.

Today, the European Union and the eurozone take decisions on many issues by majority vote among countries. That is another thing which does not exist anywhere else in the world. The issue is that this has led to conflicts of interest, which sometimes touch on the core of national sovereignty, being thrashed out at the European level: questions relating to work, finances and distribution.

Europe has become more contentious, and that is a good thing. People quite rightly have high expectations of this model of Europe!

The stronger and more contentious Europe becomes, the more democratic and transparent it must be.

Europe needs to be “big on big things and smaller on smaller things”. That is quite right. Yet what exactly the big questions for Europe will be in upcoming years is something that all of Europe must discuss – and in doing talk to one another and not about one another. That is why the conference here today is also a forum.

Europe’s most pressing task in these weeks undoubtedly lies on the outskirts of the union – in the conflict in Ukraine.

At the writers conference in 1988 the participants wrote an open letter to Reagan, Gorbachev and other CSCE leaders. In it they stated: “Do you not share the view that overcoming the division of Europe must be placed on the political agenda?”

Right now that question is jarringly apt. Just as those attending that conference had no inkling of the imminent end of the continent’s division, so the organisers of this 2014 conference could scarcely have imagined that what we have to fear today is a new division of Europe.

There is no doubt that the situation in eastern and southern Ukraine is alarming. Nevertheless I remain convinced that it is not too late yet, reason can still gain the upper hand, but it can only do so if all those involved, above all those in Moscow and Kyiv, are prepared to resume the quest for a political solution – first and foremost by holding elections in Ukraine.

I believe that the crisis in Ukraine is making many of us – myself most certainly – look at European policy of recent years in a new way.

Somehow we started taking the very core of what Europe is for granted. This core is peace. Over the decades, in particular for many young people, peace has become as natural a part of Europe as Easyjet and Erasmus exchanges.

But the Ukraine crisis demonstrates in dramatic fashion that the task Europe was founded for has not yet been fulfilled. It shows that we cannot yet do without the experience of the founding fathers of Europe – collected in two world wars and millions of deaths.

One does not in fact need many words to describe the full scope of this project. All one needs are two pens and a map. This is what Robert Menasse shows in his book “Der Europäische Landbote” (The European Courier).

Menasse says: “If you take a map and draw on all the political borders which have existed in Europe over the course of history with a black pen, you see that a close network covers the continent. […] If however, you take a red pen and for every war that has taken place in Europe you draw a line between the belligerent sides, on battlefields and on frontlines, then the network completely disappears under a sea of red.”

You do not need any words, just these two pens!

That makes the task set to foreign policy in these days – without the need for a single word – unmistakably clear: to ensure that black lines are not further shifted and above all, that no red lines are added to the map.

I know that diplomacy only ever advances in baby steps, and that every act of violence, every building occupation sets it back by strides. But despite all of this, we must keep pushing forwards! Giving up is not an option!

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