Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the World Congress of German Schools Abroad in Berlin on 4 June 2014

04.06.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Fellow Members of the German Bundestag,
Minister Löhrmann,
Mr Ernst, Mr Verenkotte,
Representatives of the German Schools Abroad,
Pupils and alumni,

Half a year ago I returned to the Federal Foreign Office on Werderscher Markt and realised one thing: the office is the same but the world around it has changed dramatically! 25 years after the end of the Cold War the world order is very different and thank goodness, as the old order was one of cynical certainty, the division of East and West.

Yet the problem is that the world has not yet established a new order. Our world is a “world on a quest”. New powers are on the rise in Asia and Latin America – with terrific self-assurance, with pride in their own traditions, cultures and ways of life. These players are not only economically strong, they also want to have their say. The world is more convoluted than before – and that alone is why talk of a new Cold War in reference to the crisis in Ukraine is nonsense – as this world will never again be as it was before. The new players will play a part in establishing a new order.

What this implies is that the world no longer revolves around the Western sun. One can draw two very different conclusions from this. Some say in resignation: the world is growing yet Europe’s clout is waning – we will soon have no role to play at all. I say: there are no grounds for resignation, quite the opposite. Let’s welcome competition with open arms and give the world the best of what we have to offer on this quest – the legacy of the European Enlightenment.

That is exactly what Germany’s cultural relations and education policy does – the Goethe-Institut, the German Academic Exchange Service and the whole vast network which serves to offer the world access to Germany’s art, literature, music and language.

In fact this is what you, in the German schools abroad, do more than anyone else – every day, on five continents, in 141 schools abroad and via 1800 partner schools. Many people here in this room are part of this network – as teachers, as head teachers, as German Language Certificate (DSD) consultants, in vocational education departments and in administration.

I firmly believe, and so does the Federal Foreign Office, that what you are doing is not just for decoration, as it were, it is not just a sideline; it is in fact an elementary part of German foreign policy. Since Willy Brandt’s time cultural relations and education policy has been the “third pillar” of foreign policy and I for one would certainly like to strengthen that pillar again!

That is why, at the beginning of this conference, I would like to express my sincere thanks to you – particularly to those of you who sit on the boards of our schools abroad on a voluntary basis. And so welcome to you all and in particular to Mr Ernst, Chairman of the World Association of German Schools Abroad. I know that in your main job you are a hard-pressed businessman, but hopefully my short introduction has shown that you are also a voluntary foreign affairs politician, and the work you do is vital to us.

In this world on a quest which I described at the start of my speech, many eyes are on Germany. However, you do somewhat get the impression that Germany itself has not yet fully found its bearings in this new world. That is my impression at least, as I observe our public and media debates – particularly in the midst of the current crisis in Ukraine. That is one reason why I initiated the process of reviewing German foreign policy when I took office.

Every attempt to find our bearings starts with the question – where are we actually now?

A recent study carried out by the McKinsey Global Institute considers Germany to be the world’s best-connected country.

We are an important player in the process of globalisation, and not only due to our export-based economy but also in terms of digital data and migration flows.

Yet that just sounds like cold hard statistics.

It is when you take a look at our schools abroad that things really come to life.

Let me describe the journey of one individual pupil – perhaps you’ll guess who I’m talking about along the way. Born in 1965 in Bulgaria, he fled to Germany with his family as a boy to seek political asylum. Shortly afterwards he went to Kenya, where in 1984 he took his higher education entrance qualification (Abitur) at the German School in Nairobi. This young man then moved to Germany where he worked as a translator and publisher. 1996 saw the publication of his first novel, “The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner”. He has received many awards for his works – and he wrote all of them in German!

Ilija Trojanow is a living example of how our country is interwoven with the world. And his example shows more still –

We are connected with the world by a two-way street. This street is changing the world but it is also changing our country.

And that’s why to my mind cultural relations and education policy means learning for the world just as much as learning from the world.

Nowadays, our country is shaped by life stories such as that of Ilija Trojanow. They make it a more open, colourful and diverse place. 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?

That is a good thing! And indeed it is very important, because I’m telling you nothing new by pointing out that in 15 years there will be five to six million fewer people of working age in Germany, meaning we are in desperate need of young talent.

There is no doubt that Germany is attractive to young people. We already have the world’s third highest number of international students.

Yet we need to be even better, because the international competition for young talent is not letting up.

And so, we owe our heartfelt thanks to you, Ms Pieper, for ensuring that the reform of the German Schools Abroad Act is geared towards competitiveness.

That is why we’ve introduced a legal entitlement for schools with sufficient numbers of graduates to receive support. From our talks I know that it was difficult – but it was the right thing to do.

It is also in aid of competitiveness that we have provided German schools abroad with more independence in managing their budgets.

And it is also why, in the new German Schools Abroad Act, we have given schools providing the German Language Certificate (DSD) the legal basis for funding.

All of this has a clear goal – to lay the foundations for our German schools abroad to be able to grow.

Of course it’s also about money. Many of you know that this year’s initial draft budget for cultural relations and education policy was cut by 40 million euros. We’ve held many talks on the matter, we’ve laboured and we’ve argued with the Finance Minister. And now the settlement session for this budget is due. As it is not taking place until tomorrow evening I can’t make any promises – but I’m confident that tomorrow we’ll manage to cancel this budget cut.

If our goal is to attract as many and as well-prepared young people as possible to our German academic and vocational training then, ladies and gentlemen, there is one thing that doesn’t work: you can hardly expect people in their early twenties to come in droves to study in Germany if they’ve never had any contact with the German language, we all know the pitfalls of our language a little too well to refute this.

We thus need a broad perspective encompassing the students’ entire educational path and for this we need synergies between our whole national education system and the instruments of our cultural relations and education policy – from the Goethe-Institut, with language courses for those who do not have the privilege of coming from a German school abroad or partner school, to the German Academic Exchange Service’s student support to ongoing contact with the German scientific community via the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. I am grateful, Ms Löhrmann, that you have just emphasised this willingness to cooperate at the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs.

In 1897 in Vienna, Mark Twain gave a speech entitled “The Horrors of the German Language”. If I may, I’ll read you a short excerpt. Twain says: “I am the truest friend of the German language (...) I would only make a few changes. I would simply amend how the language works – make the extravagant, verbose construction more concise; remove, abolish, destroy the never-ending brackets; ban introducing more than 13 subjects in one sentence; bring the verb forward enough to ensure you don’t need a telescope to see it. In short, I want to simplify your beloved language.” And although he complains so much about this language ladies and gentlemen, the most amazing thing is that Mark Twain gave his entire speech in German. ...

Now you may have guessed what I’m trying to say – studying mechanical engineering in Aachen or mathematics in Dresden is already demanding enough. We need to promote early exposure to German as widely as possible – this is the only way to reduce the number of foreign students who break off their studies.

I have just mentioned learning for the world, learning from the world.

The alumni from our German schools abroad are not only shaping our country, but many of those who we train will go on to shape their countries of origin, to change their societies, to shoulder responsibility in the world.

This can be seen by looking at the long list of alumni who shape the world today:

Think of my Turkish colleague, Ahmet Davutoğlu, of my Mexican former colleague Patricia Espinosa, who is now Ambassador in Berlin. Think of Rolando Villazón or Dario Fo or Giovanni di Lorenzo.

Or think of the physician Ana María Cetto, who took her higher education entrance qualification (Abitur) at the German school in Mexico in 1962. She has dedicated her life’s work to nuclear disarmament – she participated in two Nobel Peace Prizes as part of her work, in 1995 and 2003. Ms Cetto once said, “When I was at school I learnt to think in a logical manner and work in a disciplined fashion. That is something that has never left me and I am very grateful to the German school for that.” Now of course we cannot take full credit for Ms Cetto’s successes, but at this point I think we can indeed be proud of the fact that the seeds of the skills which went on to make such a contribution to peace and disarmament were planted in a German school abroad. And the same goes for so many alumni who have done good in the world in so many different fields, you can be proud of this!

At the end of my speech this brings me back to the project Review 2014 – the process of reflection on German foreign policy. At the start of the year I asked many international foreign policy experts to express how they see Germany and above all their expectations of our country’s foreign policy. Do you know what I have read time and again in their contributions? Key words such as mediator, bridge builder, intercultural awareness, understanding.

These are the qualities that count in a world on a quest. In a world like this the tone is not set by one to be followed by others. Cultures, values and traditions come into direct contact with one another. Sledgehammer tactics achieve nothing in a world like this.

So allow me a prediction by way of a conclusion. Whatever the results of the review process, cultural relations and education policy will play a crucial and ever-growing role.

And if you share this outlook then I would very much like to work with you.

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