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Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure and honor for me to celebrate my first Day of German Unity as Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation with you, here in Atlanta.
Home to CNN, Atlanta stands for the globalization of information, for the ever closer connections bringing the world together. That’s not all. Atlanta boasts a dynamic economy and an open, diverse population. Atlanta stands for the authentic American way of life. I can think of no better place to celebrate both this historic day and the friendship between our two nations.
Certain events can change the world in a matter of hours. Sadly, the change is often negative. The terrible terrorist attack on the twin towers on 9/11 is such a fixed point in our collective memory. Everyone can say where they were and what they felt when they heard the news.
Sometimes, though, history hits us with a good surprise. When the Berlin Wall fell in the night from November ninth to November tenth 1989, it was not expected. Sure, the socialist government in the GDR was under a lot of pressure. The Hungarians and Czechoslovaks had generously allowed GDR citizens to travel into Western Germany. One or two holes had appeared in the Iron Curtain in the summer of 1989. But the Wall was still there. The barbed wire was still there. And Germany remained divided. The iron curtain continued to be a deadly threat to the people of the East and the West.
It must have been a breakdown in communication: The Communist leaders were only considering easing some travel restrictions for GDR citizens for the future. But the official statement issued late on November ninth translated this into an immediate suspension of all travel restrictions. In minutes, this message was spread all over the world. Thousands upon thousands of East Berliners suddenly headed for the crossings towards West Berlin, which were usually reserved for a few selected travelers. Completely taken off-guard by the lack of information, the GDR border guards fortunately raised no obstacle to the sudden flood of joyous people. And so the border was opened without any need for violence. Not one shot was fired. That, for me, is one of the miracles of that night.
In a few weeks, we will be marking the 25th anniversary of those events – events which resulted in the formal reunification of Germany which we are commemorating today.
Nowadays, twenty-five years after the lifting of the Iron Curtain and twenty-four years after reunification, we can look back and say that German unity, and the European unification so closely linked to it, has been a real success story.
We know just how small the historical window of opportunity was that courageous politicians used to heal the rift dividing their continent. And we in Germany know all too well that the United States played a pivotal role. Thanks to the United States and NATO, the Federal Republic of Germany, including West Berlin, was only able to stand as a glowing example of freedom and prosperity throughout forty years of division, shining out right across Eastern Europe. It was no surprise that Germany’s neighbors, especially France and Poland, were skeptical about an even larger and presumably stronger Germany at first. Both nations had suffered so badly during the wars. But US President George Bush Sr. foresightedly won the skeptics over, even Britain’s Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. He did so by unequivocally advocating German unity.
As a result, we were granted the twin miracles of 1989 and 1990. The people of the GDR raised their voices with a resounding message: “Wir sind das Volk” – “We are the people”. Free democratic elections were held. And then the even greater wish that had been growing ever louder came true as well: “Wir sind ein Volk” – “We are one nation”.
Freedom-loving people were always sure that the unjust dictatorial regimes in Eastern Europe would never last. But if we’re honest, no-one, not even the most raving optimist, would have thought it possible that those events which started in Poland in the early 1980s could bring such rapid development towards the creation of democratic states. It was therefore good that the partnership and the trust between Germany and the US was excellent at that time. This partnership made it possible to respond quickly to the big questions associated with the new global situation and to shape a new future for Europe together.
Many Germans have seen the division of Europe brought to an end. They have seen the world change from a bipolar East-West split to a patchwork of various different major powerhouses. And some have concluded – falsely – that the transatlantic partnership is no longer as important as it used to be. That position is reflected to a degree in the US, in the increased focus on the Pacific region. But where is the contradiction between having a good, close transatlantic partnership on the one hand and having an essential, sound friendship with other regions on the other? On the contrary, the transatlantic partnership is and will remain a cornerstone and safeguard of our peoples’ freedom and prosperity.
The transatlantic partnership is about far more than merely sharing perks. It is built on shared values that we uphold and defend together. US President Barack Obama said it best in June 2013 standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate, when he quoted one of this city’s most famous sons: “These are the beliefs that guide us,” he said, “the values that inspire us, the principles that bind us together as free peoples who still believe the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior – that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’.” These principles are what distinguish the transatlantic partnership from others, from those often called “strategic partnerships”.
Reliable partnerships need to be fostered and deepened in the good times, so that they are ready to withstand exceptional times. We saw that twenty-five years ago, when German unity was at stake. And the same is true today, as we in Europe and across the globe find ourselves facing challenges we thought were long buried. It is an amazing achievement, and real evidence of the good state of our partnership, that the responses to Russian aggression in Ukraine and the threat of ISIL in northern Iraq are being answered in a coordinated, consistent manner from both sides of the Atlantic. We re-iterated that unity once again recently, at the NATO summit in Wales as well as during meetings at the margin of the UN General Assembly. And I am sure that this demonstrative unity in word and deed is the only thing that really makes an impression in Moscow and elsewhere around the world.
Only the US and its European partners can provide a strong and credible response. We are the ones saying that it is unacceptable in the twenty-first century to threaten existing borders with force. Only the US and its European partners can sustainably confront the terrorist activities in Iraq and Syria that have caused a humanitarian crisis, and prevent them from spreading to other parts of the world. And only the US and its European partners can ensure that respect for human rights and personal liberties and a peaceful world order will be protected and prevail in an increasingly multipolar world in the twenty-first century.
I would add that the great number of things we have in common – Germany and the EU on one side of the Atlantic, and the US on the other – far outweighs the undeniable differences of opinion we have had about spying activities and the NSA’s data-gathering practices in recent months. Those discussions have not been concluded. The matter cannot simply be declared closed, because that would leave a bitter taste in the mouth. However, we have found ways in which to discuss our differences of opinion and to turn them into joint action and common understanding. And those differences of opinion do not prevent us from working together closer than ever on the long list of major foreign and security policy issues I just mentioned.
The close partnership between the US and Germany or the EU is the best insurance for both sides against all the uncertainties of world politics we may yet have to face. But we should have the courage and the strength to enter into other big projects too. For me, the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is not just an economic project but primarily a strategic one. The TTIP makes economic sense. The TTIP is also an expression of our determination to collaborate on arranging such matters, to our mutual benefit. We want to safeguard our high levels of prosperity – not forgetting consumer protection, labor safety and hygiene – in the twenty-first century. By successfully concluding our trade agreement, we will show the rest of the world that even complex trade issues can be resolved to the benefit of both sides. We will be setting standards. We will be guaranteeing that the US and its European partners remain at the apex of innovation and productivity.
In today’s complex world, I am firmly convinced that the United States and the European Union should be leading public opinion and setting examples and benchmarks, where necessary, for a better, fairer world in peace and freedom. And that is exactly what we aim to do.
On behalf of the people of Germany, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the American people for their support in bringing about the miraculous fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. Let us work together to continue strengthening the ties that bind us. The transatlantic partnership is one of the cornerstones on which our prosperity is built.