Welcome

Speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the Ambassadors Conference in Paris

29.08.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

My dear friend Laurent,

I’d like to thank you most sincerely for this invitation to take part in the French Ambassadors Conference and for your warm words of welcome. You rightly pointed out that the Franco‑German alliance is holding up in these turbulent times! And it’s holding up not only in political terms but also – and I believe I can say this on behalf of us both – at a very personal level.A thousand words aren’t needed to underscore this, a look at our travel schedules will suffice. I saw that I’ve already met you in Paris six times in the first six months of my term of office and that you’ve been to Berlin on several occasions. I’m especially pleased that we’ll soon have the pleasure of your company in the Federal Cabinet and the Bundestag Committee on Foreign Affairs.When I looked through the schedule, I thought to myself: why don’t we simply give each other a spare key for our foreign ministries? Just like people do with neighbours they trust … in case someone accidentally locks themselves out, or the other goes on holiday …At any rate, I’d be delighted to look after this place! For few foreign ministries in the world are as grand as the Quai d’Orsay and, my friend, I really do love coming here! And I make no secret of the fact that I’m delighted the cabinet reshuffle in France didn’t affect the foreign ministry.

***

Excellencies, Europe is currently faced with issues which are key to its future. We have the European elections behind us, we’re saying good bye to one EU Commission and welcoming a new one which will have to tackle major challenges.So it makes sense for this panel to turn its attention to the big question: what direction should Europe take in the next five years?However, we all know that we can’t look at this major question on its own. For these issues come at a time when Europe faces an almost overwhelming number of threats: Ukraine and Russia, Gaza, Syria and the perilous situation in northern Iraq, to name just those crises which are taking up most of our attention at present.To use an image: we cannot get the good ship Europe out of the water to refurbish it in a shipyard. Rather, we have to secure Europe and make it seaworthy while out in the high seas and in the eye of the storm.If you were to ask Laurent and myself about Europe’s future today, then we would reply from the ship’s machine room with, as it were, our sleeves rolled up.From this practical perspective, I want today to outline – as succinctly as possible – six hypotheses about Europe and about the role of Germany and France.

***

My first hypothesis is that the way in which we respond to these crises will shape Europe for years to come. These responses will certainly not only shape Europe’s foreign policy but Europe as a whole, its position in the world and how it perceives itself.For we have long since known that if we – by that I mean Germany, France and its neighbours – want to protect ourselves and be a “force formatrice” in this world, we can only achieve it together.The current threats make that all the clearer. To date, we Europeans have taken a united stand and that’s only right: we’ve just made a joint decision to support the Kurds in northern Iraq against the murderous ISIS gangs.I believe that if we stick together and act intelligently then historians will one day look back and say: these foreign policy crises fostered integration in Europe’s foreign policy, just as the financial and monetary crisis fostered a more integrated European economic policy.

***

My second hypothesis is that the mark of European foreign policy isn’t identical interests but, rather, our absolute determination to ultimately stand together and take joint action.This determination to stand united is the heartbeat of the European Union. France and Germany have forged it – despite differing interests and despite the scars left by history.Europe’s determination to stand united is being especially tested by the Ukraine crisis. Naturally, European countries have very different historical relations with Russia. For some in the West, Russia is a fairly distant trading partner, but for many in the East, it remains in their memory as the country which oppressed them for decades. And for Germany – with its divided history – it’s a bit of both.Just a few weeks ago, I addressed the Ambassadors Conference of our friends in Poland. There I said that despite all the different experiences in Europe, we all – whether we be Poles, Germans or French – share the conviction that Europe’s peaceful order is our greatest achievement since the dark chapters of the 20th century. What’s more, we will defend it together – with pressure on the one hand and political offers on the other, just as we have done, and will continue to do, in close Franco‑German coordination in the Foreign Affairs Council, in the Weimar Triangle, in the “Normandy Four” group and in other initiatives.

***

My third thesis is that European foreign policy means a division of labour.This begins with a joint analysis but it includes taking pragmatic and joint action: whenever and wherever we can achieve something, always with the partners and resources that can help us do this.This division of labour doesn’t mean: to each his own and every man for himself!The idea is not: Germany understands Russia and France understands Africa, so Germany should deal with the East and France with the South. That’s not how it works!German foreign policy makers are aware that Africa is a neighbouring continent with huge opportunities, as well as very concrete threats. Whether Africa really is, as some suspect, the “Asia of the 21st century” in economic terms, isn’t clear yet. However, we know today that a new middle class in Africa is heading towards a better future, that in terms of population numbers alone, Africa is set to double its weight to two billion people by 2050. On the other hand, there’s a danger that fragile statehood, radical Islamism and conflicts over scarce resources will ignite new crises and flows of refugees. Europe cannot be indifferent to this.That’s why we have a joint, a European strategic interest in Africa and we have to pursue it together – each country with its own approach and its own strengths.Despite all of this, the differences between Germany, France and the other European partners don’t represent a weakness. On the contrary, if we put our specific capabilities, traditions, tools and channels of communication to use, then these differences will be transformed into a strength. Then European foreign policy will be more than the sum of many small parts.

***

My fourth hypothesis is that European foreign policy needs all 28.In the debate inflamed by populist forces, people are too quick to ask: can’t there be a Europe without Britain?My response is: can there be a European foreign policy without Britain? Definitely not!Take the Gaza conflict, for example. The E3 – France, Germany and Britain – have put concrete proposals for Europe’s contribution to peace on the table. The E3 play a crucial role in the negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme. And, not least, Britain is crucial to an alliance which continues to be Europe’s most important: the alliance across the Atlantic.

***

My fifth hypothesis is that Europe’s foreign policy needs the entire toolbox of diplomacy.I asked at the start of my second term of office as German Foreign Minister: what responsibilities does German foreign policy have, are we setting the right priorities, are we acting quickly enough and what instruments do we have in our toolbox?We can ask similar questions about Europe: are we really using all the instruments in the toolbox, from the long‑term stabilisation of economies and the rule of law to acute crisis management? Are we quick enough?Are we using our resources in an optimal manner?In the Review 2014 process I launched within the Federal Foreign Office, we’ve taken a conscious decision to look beyond Germany and are seeking inspiration from our friends and partners in order to find the answers to these questions.Naturally, we’re also looking to France. For France has long since been a consummate player in the diplomatic arena: bilaterally, in a regional context and at a global level, as France’s active role in the United Nations shows.You manage time and again, Laurent, to adapt your toolbox in keeping with the times.On the one hand, that applies to issues as, for example, illustrated by the intensive manner in which you have dealt with the major questions of the future – energy and the climate – here in the Quai, quite concretely the 2015 climate summit, in the preparation of which we want to cooperate closely. Or the importance which you attach to the promotion of foreign trade and investment, economic diplomacy.On the other hand, it applies to processes – including more technical things, such as diplomatic telegrams. Le Monde has called your new information system a “Facebook for diplomats”. If you will allow me to remain with this image, I would press the “like” button in recognition of this courage to adopt new practices.

***

For my sixth and last hypothesis, I want to look inwards from the outside.If we foreign policy makers call for Europe to play a greater role in the world, then we also have to look inside Europe itself. Which is to say, Europe needs an internal structure that allows it to take action externally.Firstly, this means that we need the highest possible degree of European coordination in all the major issues we face at international level: from climate and energy policy to data protection and rules for the Internet. If we can’t formulate common European approaches to these issues, then we have no chance of doing so at global level.However, I’m talking about more than issues:Europe’s internal structure needs to preserve everything that makes Europe a strong player in the international arena. What makes Europe attractive in people’s eyes?I believe it’s the unique European model which combines both freedom and cohesion, the market economy and the welfare state, competitiveness and social justice. These are the two sides of the European coin.Managing to strike this balance time and again is the main challenge not only for individual governments – most certainly for the French Government in these turbulent times – but also for the next EU Commission.

***

So far, so good. I know that six hypotheses are one more than the ideal essay comprises, or at least that’s what is taught at the ENA ... Perhaps we can get rid of one in the course of our discussion. I’m looking forward to the debate with you!

Related content

Keywords