Speech by Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier at the Federal Congress of the Turkish Community in Germany

10.05.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Senator for the Interior,
Fellow members of the German Bundestag,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for inviting me here today! Kenan, I’m always happy to come along. We’ve developed quite a relationship over the last 10 to 15 years. We’ve seen each other not only in good times, but even more when things were difficult. Both when the SPD has been in government, and when we were in the opposition.

When I saw the list of speakers for today, I thought, “Goodness! They’ve got quite a line‑up there!” So you’ll no doubt be thankful that I’m going to restrict myself to speaking for an hour and a half.

You ought to have known that the SPD talk for longer! It used to be even worse! Many years ago in my party, the SPD, when the great chairman August Bebel was speaking, things used to go like this: first Bebel spoke for two hours, then there was a short break for a snack, and then he spoke for another hour and a half. So, in 90 minutes there will be a break.

Seriously, though, there is a great deal to discuss. Migration, integration, life in Germany – because Germans and Turks are really close. The great strength of German‑Turkish relations is the strength of our human ties. You, Kenan, and all of you in the Turkish community in Germany, do the day‑to‑day work to strengthen these ties. For that, I thank you.

Our relations are so close that the line between foreign and domestic policy has become blurred. Together we are members of NATO, the Council of Europe and the OSCE, which has a special role to play in the current crisis in Ukraine. We have had the Ankara Agreement since 1963, customs union since 1996.

Three years ago we remembered the guest worker agreement, which was concluded over 50 years ago. Since then, Germany has become a home, not just a place of work, for hundreds of thousands of families.

And our country itself has changed just as much as the lives of all those new arrivals. It has become more diverse, more open, richer. And although not all problems have been solved, Germany is grateful that it has.


The year 2005 saw the start of a completely new phase of relations: the negotiations on accession to the European Union. It was tough going at the beginning! There were divisions and disputes within the EU. But we reached a decision. And, notwithstanding the present difficulties and the fact that the process has stalled, we should remind ourselves of why we actually launched these negotiations.

We were motivated by the tremendous opportunities:

- opportunities for the economy and growth

- opportunities for political cooperation governed by shared values

- the enormous gains for culture, science, language and exchange

- and the hope that we could work together in the world for peace and security.

Now we’re almost 10 years down the line, and it’s time to take an unblinkered look at how far we’ve come.

One thing is immediately clear: the opportunities still exist!

- The Turkish economy is a powerhouse and the eurozone economy is slowly but surely coming out of the doldrums of the economic crisis.

- Person‑to‑person contacts are becoming ever closer. We are actively supporting the EU visa dialogue, so that Turkish citizens can at last travel here without the need for a visa.

- Cultural, intellectual and sporting exchanges – in other words, everything that makes life so much richer on both sides – are also intensifying. For instance, just take a look a the website of the German‑Turkish Year of Research, Education and Innovation 2014, and you’ll see how much is going on.

So, the opportunities are there. But if we are to move on any further, then we have to be equally honest in saying where there are problems.


Of course growing together like this requires give and take – from both sides.

Of course growing together like this brings friction and change – on both sides.

I’m thinking here of democracy and the rule of law, for example. Let’s not beat about the bush: no country is perfect. Germany and the EU aren’t perfect. Turkey isn’t perfect.

But that’s precisely why no‑one on either side should be afraid of a critical debate, at least not if it’s held without any hint of condescension and without endangering our friendship. And it’s in this spirit that I hope you will understand it when I say that blocking Twitter and YouTube fits neither with the times nor with the relationship that has developed between us and Turkey.

It’s not about criticism for criticism’s sake. We politicians need to work with each other in such a way that the people gain.

So: precisely because it’s a matter of concrete progress and not mere polemics, I believe we should discuss all these topics in the framework envisaged for this work – namely the rule of law chapters that form part of the accession negotiations. That’s the correct setting for the debate on freedom of the press, freedom of opinion and the rule of law. And that’s why I am in fact in favour of opening the rule of law chapter, so that we can move the debate beyond the media and statements and really get down to its substance.


I said a few moments ago that growing together means change on both sides.

We too always have to live up to our own values, but we don’t always.

But I promise you one thing: we will do everything possible to shed light on those dreadful years in which the NSU gang murdered its way through Germany. We will do everything possible to ensure that justice is done and to improve the rule of law here in Germany to ensure that nothing like this can happen ever again. We owe that to the victims.

There must be no room in Germany for xenophobia or racism. It starts on a small scale – with combating discrimination and stereotypical prejudices on a day‑to‑day basis. It’s absolutely unacceptable that someone looking for a nice flat in Mitte, Schöneberg or Neukölln – or whatever part of Berlin’s the coolest just now – has to pretend to be called something else, because they won’t get the nice flat with their Turkish name. That’s not acceptable. In this respect Germany has to change.

I firmly believe that attitudes are starting to change in Germany, because Germany has become diverse, and because the country urgently needs this diversity.

Did you know that the proportion of people living in Germany who were born abroad is now as high as that in the country of immigration, the United States?

Just like many people in Turkey work day in day out for democracy and political freedoms, so many people in Germany work day in day out to combat xenophobia.

And it’s working! As you can see when thousands of perfectly ordinary citizens come out to block the unspeakable neonazi marches – as happened again just a few weeks ago in Kreuzberg.

As you could see on 1 May when thousands of people celebrated the public holiday by dancing and laughing on Oranienstrasse, eating Turkish borek and drinking German beer.


Wherever we can, we should strengthen these human relations – especially among young people, and even more especially among those who have hitherto had little contact with the other country, those who might not yet be among those happily dancing on the Oranienstrasse, or who might not yet be among the many young Germans enjoying Istanbul’s nightlife!

The Mercator Foundation, together with its Turkish partners, has just set up a German‑Turkish Youth Bridge. We are supporting it, and I’d like to invite my fellow politicians in Turkey to help build up this and other models to bring our young people together.

Turkish girls and boys have been studying at the German School in Istanbul for 150 years.

Another major milestone was reached a few days ago, when President Gül and President Gauck together opened the Turkish‑German University in Istanbul.

It is good that we are making progress. But it is equally important that we also make progress here in Germany in an area Aydan Özuguz can and will say much about: it simply cannot be that when children of Turkish parents reach their early twenties we suddenly demand that they cut themselves off from their own roots. It’s absolutely high time that we put an end to this, and that we remove the ban on dual nationality! And, Aydan, the end will come!


We haven’t yet managed to do everything. Much remains to be done. But we are on the right track. I believe we should continue along this path together. Openly, without false reticence, but in a fair partnership and with understanding – exactly as a mature friendship is supposed to be!

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