Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the German Bundestag on 26 November 2014 during the budget debate on Departmental Budget 05

26.11.2014 - Speech

Madam President, esteemed colleagues,

There is not much good news to report in international politics at the moment. This is why it is all the more important to recall the few highlights we experienced this year. For me it was a highlight when thousands of white balloons were released into the evening sky here in Berlin two-and-a-half weeks ago and brought home to us that this date 25 years ago was a true moment of happiness in German history, and that we should be certain and assured of this fact.

There is a reason why I mention this at the start of my speech. A day like that reminds me and my generation that those of us who were born after the war and now hold various responsibilities are the people who have been favoured by history. We have been able to live for almost seven decades in Europe without war. We should realise that there are many reasons for this good fortune, primarily the courageous citizens in many Eastern European countries, particularly in the former GDR. But we should also remember the role played by many generations of foreign policymakers whose tireless endeavours helped to bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Ladies and gentlemen, what does this tell us today? In my opinion, it tells us that we who now share responsibility must not merely remind ourselves about our good fortune, but rather must see this good fortune as a historic responsibility, as a historic duty – a duty to ensure that Europe is never divided again in other places. This is our responsibility.

And this is why we need active foreign policy. At the start of my speech to this distinguished chamber, I want to express my thanks to the German Bundestag for expressly supporting our foreign policy endeavours not merely with words, but also in the budget.

I am particularly grateful for the support in two areas that are often overshadowed by public debates: firstly, humanitarian aid. We must not avert our eyes from the suffering in the world. We realise that we cannot change things on our own, but we must do our part to at least alleviate unbearable suffering. Whether we are talking about the suffering of refugees from Syria, of the victims of ISIS terror in northern Iraq, of the people in eastern Ukraine, or of the societies in West Africa still afflicted by the Ebola virus, all of these people will benefit from our humanitarian aid whose funding you have doubled. Thank you very much for this.

The second area I would like to highlight is a topic that also often doesn’t even make it on to the agenda when we discuss foreign policy in the German Bundestag: cultural relations and education policy. I want to make absolutely clear that this is not something that is merely “nice to have”, an added bonus. No, there is an urgent need for this component of foreign policy – and this need is actually growing from year to year. You only have to look at the most dangerous conflicts around us, whether they are in Syria, Iraq, the Middle East or North Africa, to realise that none of these conflicts primarily involve traditional political or territorial disputes. All of these conflicts certainly have undertones of religious, ethnic or cultural conflicts. I want us to at least understand these conflicts before we decide whether and on which side of the conflict we want to get involved. The long-term consequences of the military intervention in Iraq should be a lesson to us. We must definitely avoid repeating this type of thing in the future.

Particularly because the world no longer revolves around Europe and we now have a situation where China, India, Latin America and Africa are acting very self-confidently on the global stage with a view to their own history, culture and philosophy, we also need to make our values and beliefs easier to understand than we did in the past, perhaps because we were so certain of ourselves. This is also a part of cultural relations and education policy.

In this budget, we are not only reinforcing the flagship of our cultural relations and education policy, the Goethe-Institut, which now finally has pretty much the funding it needs. We are also increasing the German Academic Exchange Service’s scholarship funding. This will allow us to bring more young people from all over the world to Germany. And we should not forget the fact that in the past six years we have established some 1,500 partnerships with schools all over the world where young people have their first contact with the German language and German values. All of this is only possible thanks to the budget that you have granted us. I would like to thank you very much for this support.

I started with the positive points. However, I cannot ignore the fact that the world has changed. It is more difficult than ever before. On another occasion, I said that the world seems to have “come loose from its moorings”. The images from the conflict areas that we see on television every night are unbearable. Although I deal with these topics every day, obviously I understand when people call on us, as they do in various ways, to finally do something to resolve these conflicts.

Many people have the impression that everything takes far too long in foreign policy. And it’s true. It often takes far too long until hard work and activity truly have a tangible positive impact. But all those here today know that in very deeply entrenched conflicts, one of foreign policy’s tasks is to prevent worse things from happening. So I can live with the criticism that it takes too long.

However, I am less happy about the criticism that foreign policy is actually in vain. You only have to look at a weekend like the one we just had in Vienna. Of course, I also tell myself that I wanted and expected more of the negotiations with Iran aimed at finally ending the nuclear row. But it wasn’t to be. It wasn’t enough. After negotiating for three days and two nights, we did not reach a point where we could have been certain that all possible routes to a potential nuclear bomb had been closed for good. Nevertheless, I would not say this shows foreign policy is in vain. Instead, we have to try – and we did in fact achieve this during the three days and two nights – to bring the various positions that little bit closer. Looking back on the past ten years, I would say that we achieved more in the past year than we did in the nine years before it. This is why I am certain that a solution is still possible. This is why I expressly agreed to extend the deadline for the negotiations. I remain certain that this conflict will ultimately not prove to be irresolvable.

Looking at various trouble spots – Syria is perhaps one of them, as is Ukraine – many people sometimes draw a dangerous conclusion, namely that when you look at the images, you think it’s all a waste of time. Many say that people don’t actually listen to us.

It’s true that the Vilnius summit was held a year ago. Since then, the Ukraine conflict has undergone many different stages, from what was tantamount to a civil war in Kyiv to the annexation of Crimea in violation of international law and the violent conflict and acts of extreme violence in eastern Ukraine. Despite this, I say that foreign policy must never drift into a state of hopelessness. This was also the reason why I travelled to Kyiv and Moscow once again and held one of the 100 talks that the Chancellor mentioned this morning. I believe we have no other option than to establish consensus with the parties to the conflict that the only document agreed as a result of direct talks between them, that is, the Minsk Protocol, is not consigned to history. Instead we must try to genuinely make it a basis for de-escalating the conflict and then hopefully make it a basis for political settlements.

The difficult task of stabilising Ukraine is still ahead of us. This is a major economic and political task. And we will have to reassess our relations with Russia. I don’t know what Europe’s security architecture will look like in 10 or 15 years. I am only certain of one thing. We will only have a security architecture in the first place if we do not scrap the forms of communication still available to us – there are only a few left – and consign them to the waste paper basket of history.

If I may say so, Marieluise Beck, this also applies to the Petersburg dialogue. But one thing is clear to me. Dialogue has become more difficult to the same extent that social liberties have been eroded in Russia in recent years. We should therefore think about changes and modernisation. I don’t want the Petersburg dialogue to become a Berlin monologue. That wouldn’t get us anywhere. In this context, I ask you to keep the interests of German foreign policy in mind alongside everything that is going on.

Many thanks.

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