Opening speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the 4th Berlin Foreign Policy Forum

11.11.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,
Fellow members of the German Bundestag,
Klaus Wehmeier,
Distinguished guests of the Körber Foundation and the Federal Foreign Office,

I’d like to start by welcoming the person who’s centre‑stage today – a frequent and popular guest in Berlin – who, however, is here today in a very new capacity. Welcome, Federica Mogherini!

Federica, this is your first visit to Berlin as High Representative, and you’ll find a festive atmosphere in the city so soon after the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This was a real, indeed a very emotional, cause for celebration for hundreds of thousands of people here in Berlin at the weekend! Perhaps you saw the images of the thousands of white balloons floating into the evening sky on Sunday along the route where the Wall used to stand. The balloons were white not only to remember this momentous point in our history but also as a symbol of hope for peace in this world, which is plagued by crises and conflicts.

The fall of the Wall 25 years ago was not only a momentous event for us Germans. Rather, it marked the start of a new era for Europe and for the world!

I saw the long‑range impact of 9 November yesterday during my visit to Kazakhstan, a country which gained independence almost exactly one year after German reunification. The images from Berlin marking 9 November 1989 were also broadcast over in Kazakhstan yesterday. For this 9 November marked the beginning of the end of the decades‑long division of the world into East and West – the bipolar order with its cynical certainties. This old order has been overcome – thank goodness! However, the world has yet to find a new one. Our world is still in search of a new order. And this search doesn’t resemble a peaceful discussion in a seminar. Rather, the struggle for influence and dominance, combined with ethnic and religious conflicts, has erupted in a threateningly large variety of crises during the last few months.

I personally, at least, cannot remember any time during my political life in which we have been faced with such a barrage of international crises

– of so many different kinds,

– in so many different locations around the world,

– and all at the same time.

I don’t want to go into every crisis in detail here – I’m more interested in how you, Federica, view the crises from a European standpoint.

Instead, I want to talk of a general phenomenon which I can see in all of the individual crises, and which I’m mentioning because there’s a danger that it will undermine confidence in diplomacy and its scope for action: namely, the upsurge in differences!

The more public awareness is shaped by international crises, the more we focus on differences!

This can be observed in almost all current crises:

– The Ukraine conflict, which is still unresolved, as we’ve seen in the last few days, is stirring up long‑forgotten differences and reflexes from the days of the East‑West confrontation.

– The callous ISIS terror is the extreme manifestation of fundamental religious conflicts.

– The Gaza conflict has led to the re‑emergence of an ugly phenomenon: anti‑Semitism – unfortunately also in Europe and Germany.

– Ebola and waves of refugees have roused new fears of the threats from the Global South, which are coming to us in the rich North.

– And even in our dealings with our closest partners, in particular the US, the public debate is dominated by our differences rather than what we have in common.

Sigmar Gabriel summed this up recently when he said that actually Germans and Americans share an emblem, the proud eagle. However, the only bird playing a role in transatlantic relations at present is the chlorine chicken – a winged symbol of the alleged deep divide between us.

By an upsurge in differences, I don’t only mean the political differences which form the core of the crises. Rather, I mean those in our heads!

I don’t know whether this is how you see it, but when I follow our public debate, I notice that – despite the complexity of the causes of conflict, of which we’re well aware – too often there is a tendency to paint everything black and white in media reports or political statements. The grey aspects of conflicts are being airbrushed out.

Perhaps this is one consequence of globalisation which we have long underestimated: the outside world which is moving ever closer to us seems more alien and dangerous to many people than we thought.

If my analysis is right, then the problem facing foreign policy is evident! For anyone who wants to resolve crises needs the opposite of differences: especially in crises, they have to search for common interests and need to know who has what to lose under what circumstances. The search for common ground, for common interests or aims, or at least common viewpoints, is part and parcel of diplomacy’s core task!

Take, for example, Iran – a partner with whom there is truly no lack of differences. Nevertheless, we knew that we had to sit round the negotiating table in order to try and resolve the potentially disastrous issue of Iran’s nuclear programme. That’s why we’ve been tenaciously negotiating for the last ten years and have reached a point where it now seems conceivable that the negotiations can be concluded by the deadline in two weeks’ time.

Both sides have declared their readiness to enter into compromises, some of them painful. It will require strong leadership to sell these compromises both at home and to the rest of the world. Germany is prepared to work to ensure that any agreement is broadly accepted.

This is a make or break moment which all parties should take seriously for that reason alone. For it won’t come again any time soon!

Incidentally, the negotiations with Iran are one example where Europe has largely taken over the initiative from individual member states and has led the process with their assistance. Your predecessor Cathy Ashton put a joint European stamp on the negotiations with Iran, although they have formally remained a 3+3 process.

Things won’t always be done that way. However, joint European initiatives can continue to emerge in this manner in future. To this end, it’s important that we also focus on our common ground within Europe. To us Germans, at any rate, it’s clear that German foreign policy can only be effective in future in and through Europe. Only if we work together will we have global influence.

Federica and I spoke yesterday evening about the major tasks facing the new team in Brussels:

– For example, our joint efforts in the fight against Ebola and the creation of new capabilities so that we’ll be better prepared for future epidemics.

– For example, the review and shift in focus of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Together with my Polish and French counterparts, I’ve drawn up concrete proposals on this.

– And we spoke about the initiative for the Western Balkans, or more precisely a new reform initiative in Bosnia and Herzegovina which I presented along with my British colleague in Berlin last week.

Germany, at least, is prepared – in its own vested interest – to shoulder responsibility in and for Europe. In issues where we believe we can make a real difference, we will get more involved than in those where others have more to offer and contribute. In both cases, however, we see ourselves as a team player!

And so I’m delighted to hand over to the woman who will shape our common European foreign policy in the next few years:

Federica, the floor is yours!

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