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Foreign Minister Linkevičius,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to welcome you to Berlin on the eve of the 7th Annual CFSP Review Conference 2014, which is one of the flagship events of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik. The foundation has hosted this conference since 2008. Professor Perthes, thank you for your kind invitation and for giving me the opportunity to share some of my views with you here this evening.
“Review” seems to be a popular term in foreign policy circles these days. And certainly for very good reasons, as we are currently being confronted with new challenges on the global stage. Especially in times of change we have to ask if our political priorities, instruments and working structures are still suited to dealing with these challenges effectively.
Looking at the recent developments in Ukraine, the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, crisis seems to be the “new normal” in our globalised world. On the other hand, we are witnessing an international order that is increasingly coming under pressure. Established rules in areas such as human rights and trade are being called into question –
not to mention the eroding security order in Eastern Europe and the resurgence of ethnic and religious identity politics in the Middle East. This comes at a time when the challenges of migration and climate change demand more global governance, not less.
As foreign policy practitioners, several of our working assumptions are therefore being put to the test. This is why the Federal Foreign Office launched a review process in December 2013. Inspired by the “Refleks” process conducted under the former Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, my ministry has started to engage experts, our own staff and the public in a lively discussion on Germany’s future role on the global stage.
It is no secret that this review process has evolved in its objectives since last December. Initially, the main aim was to launch a broad public debate about foreign policy in Germany. At that time, only one year ago, journalists even went so far as to question why any leading politician would think about becoming foreign minister. Fortunately, my party did not listen to this advice. A few months later, the newspaper headlines and the main stories on the news are dominated by international crises and conflicts. And the discussion about the Federal Foreign Office’s declining importance has come to an end.
Despite this change in the perception of foreign policy, the review process remains important and necessary for us. Indeed, our interaction with foreign policy experts and the wider German public has shown the need to adapt our self-perception, priorities and instruments to a changing world. Germany is confronted with growing expectations – both on the part of the international community and of the German public.
We asked foreign policy experts around the globe – some of them are here today – the question “What is wrong with German foreign policy, and what should be done to get it right?”. The experts’ answers varied a lot – and some of them were even contradictory.
But what they had in common was a clear message: Germany, as the European Union’s largest member state and economic powerhouse, should be a more active player on the international stage and assume leadership in Europe. Germany should take on more responsibility and define its interests more strategically.
However, our challenge is not only to meet these international expectations, but also to bring them into line with the critical public opinion in Germany. Asked in a survey by the Körber Foundation in spring 2014 whether Germany should play a greater role internationally, 60 percent of Germans voiced opposition. This apparent disparity in attitudes between the demands of our partners for greater involvement and the reservations on the part of German citizens sent a clear message to us foreign policy practitioners: German foreign policy has to bridge this gap in order to remain capable in the future.
But when we started the second phase of the review process with a number of public conferences, we quickly realised that public opinion was much more complex than simply sheer opposition. We took the debate from Berlin to over 50 events in cities across Germany, from Hamburg to Munich, from Bad Hersfeld to Saarbrücken, and invited citizens to discuss a variety of foreign policy issues.
My personal experience at one of these events in Bad Hersfeld in my constituency showed that many Germans are deeply concerned that greater international involvement will unavoidably lead to a militarisation of German foreign policy. This impression is wrong! Many people may come to this conclusion because the German Bundestag has to approve each military operation abroad. But we don’t usually have a broad public debate in Germany about other non-military instruments, such as humanitarian aid or diplomatic initiatives by the Federal Government.
The German public is well aware that a country like Germany, with a high degree of interdependence and global connectedness, benefits from a world that is peaceful, free and based on rules. But when it comes to what Germany can contribute to maintaining and strengthening such order, Germans are quite demanding: they want an active foreign policy that makes creative use of the entire diplomatic toolkit – ranging from humanitarian assistance, negotiations and mediation to the strengthening of civil society and governance projects – rather than starting military operations.
So, where do we stand at the beginning of the third phase of our review process? In times of crisis and conflicts, “business as usual” cannot be an option, given the high expectations of our partners and the reservations of our own citizens. The Federal Foreign Office is therefore conducting a debate with its staff in Germany and around the world to generate input on how the ministry needs to evolve to reflect its changing environment.
This is not the time for a paradigm shift in German foreign policy, but it is a good moment to question routines and rituals dating back to the time of the Cold War. Besides this, we need to come up with innovative solutions to strengthen crisis management instruments and to make our communication tools more effective and our thinking more imaginative.
The challenge for us here in Berlin – but also for the “new faces”, as the title of your conference describes them, in the Brussels institutions – is to address both the short-term crises and the longer-term questions of strengthening elements of order around the globe – and to do this simultaneously! That it is a big challenge for the coming years!
For Germany, Europe is the response to this twofold challenge. In the globalised world of the 21st century, even Germany, though apparently so big, can only defend its interests within and by means of Europe. In the global pond, we are a pretty small fish on our own! Only a united Europe offers us a chance to play our part in globalisation and exert influence on the world stage.
Foreign policy experts and the German public therefore agree that the European Union constitutes Germany’s most important foreign and security instrument. In the longer run, only the European Union, acting with one voice, can successfully bring our values and interests to bear on the emerging set of global rules.
The conflict in the Ukraine, civil wars in Syria, Libya and Iraq, as well as the Gaza crisis have shown us that even though we have enjoyed peace in Europe for almost 70 years now we do not live in peaceful times. Not only are we witnessing a number of crises at the same time, but they are taking place in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood. Some even speak of a “crisis belt” that is surrounding Europe.
This context provides strong incentives for the EU to become more active in its Common Foreign and Security Policy. Indeed, it will be one of the most important tasks for the new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, to keep Europe together and to ensure effective external action in managing these crises. But in the midst of these conflicts we cannot afford to shy away from a more fundamental debate about the strategic direction of the EU’s foreign policy. What we need is more that just short-term crisis management – we need a long-term vision for Europe’s future foreign policy.
Many questions need to be asked, such as: How do we ensure that our instruments and policies remain adequate and strategically “on target” in this changing world? Where and how can we Europeans play a role in establishing new elements of order, perhaps on a regional level, perhaps for certain issues such as security and privacy in the digital age? How can we ensure the EU’s global presence and strengthen its relations in rising Asia?
You may ask, if Europe is Germany’s response to current international challenges, which role is Germany willing to play in this process of reflecting on the future of European foreign policy?
Given that Germany is the largest EU member state, our European partners are right to expect us to take on more responsibility for leadership in the EU and in the world – especially in times of crisis. Germany surely has an important role to play, but we are only at the top of our game when working in a team.
We Germans are known for being good team players, pulling together with other European “stars” such as France, Italy, Poland and Sweden. If we really want to achieve great things in Europe and stabilise our neighbourhood, then we can only do so by working together. The EU must never become a club for the big member states only. A country’s size is not what matters in Europe. What counts is the creativity and ideas with which a country throws itself into European debates. We can only succeed in making our Common Foreign and Security Policy more effective if we understand this project in terms of teamwork.
Perhaps this provides a good starting point for our discussion over dinner. And as I am the only thing standing between you and your dessert, let me stop here. I look forward to your comments and questions.