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Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s a great pleasure to be here with you in Berkeley, California, at one of the most renowned and well-known universities in the country and talking to some of its top students – the future of the United States of America.
Many people wonder why the German Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation has come here to California to talk about transatlantic relations.
Well, my response is that transatlantic relations are currently more important than ever. Because, especially in these turbulent times, it’s more important than ever for us to invest in this close partnership and friendship. And because, on the US side, the impetus and momentum for this policy is not only developing in Washington, New York or other places on the East Coast. But it is increasingly coming from the forward-looking West Coast, the home of innovation and creativity; the new demographic center of gravity in the US.
In my daily life as a politician, I all too often find myself looking at crises and developments in my immediate neighborhood: in the sessions of the Armed Services Committee of the Bundestag, we deal nearly every day with the situation in Ukraine. Or with the terrorism of the euphemistically self-styled “Islamic State” group, which is posing an increasing threat to our security at home, given the rising number of so-called “foreign fighters” returning to European soil.
Equally, here in the Bay Area it’s a natural reflex for you to shift your look to the situation in East Asia, the increase of territorial tensions and shifts of power. This is no surprise given that many more flights take off daily across the Pacific than set out on the long journey to Europe.
It is all the more important from time to time to look up and consider the bigger picture; to view developments which are connected to what is happening now but whose significance and scope is much broader.
I could now spend a long time lauding the importance of transatlantic relations in times gone by. I could spend the whole evening talking about the tremendous support the US has offered Germany since the end of the Second World War, about the Marshall Plan, the integration into the Western Alliance as a cornerstone of German foreign and security policy, about Germany’s historic journey to reunification. We cannot overestimate the importance of all of this in a year in which we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany. In any case, I don’t want to bore you with all this talk of the past; I can see in your eyes that you want to hear something new, something innovative – as you’re used to in the San Francisco area.
I would thus like to look to the present and future.
We’re experiencing a sea change; we’ve reached a time in which the co-existence of people in the world as well as the rules of this co-existence are being newly defined. This has a great deal to do with the digital revolution and rapid spread of new forms of communication which originated not far from here.
But it is also connected to the increasing attacks on the international order as we know it. This order, which has brought us a binding framework of international law, peace, reliability and prosperity.
The crisis in Europe caused by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in violation of international law and its targeted destabilization of eastern Ukraine is one of the clearest signs of the attack on the international order. Until then, we considered it to be so firmly established. And the terrorism which has been spreading with unparalleled brutality under the banner of ISIS is shaking the fundamental pillars of the universal system of human rights.
And in many other regions of the world, too, the order which we helped shape and which we value so highly is being called into question – sometimes openly, sometimes subtly. I’m concerned about processes which are gradually undermining the principles of the rule of law in parts of Latin America. I’m equally concerned by the increasing aggressiveness of attempts to enforce territorial claims in Asia. And with new regional financial and economic institutions and security alliances, parallel structures are being created – sometimes consciously outside the established and recognized order.
It is up to us to shape the process of further developing the international order together, actively and assertively. And it must continue to be based on the principles and values which we recognize as right and just in the future, too. Let me be clear: only the European Union and the United States of America have the joint power and strength to maintain, strengthen and further develop the international order in the direction we want to and according to our values.
I’m talking about the right to freedom of opinion, to free and fair elections, about the basic principle of liberty, women’s rights, the protection of minorities, in short: the protection of universal human rights, and of the principle of the rule of law, of the integrity of national borders, of free and fair trade which guarantees the protection of workers’ rights, health and our environment.
If the US and the EU don’t manage to jointly defend this order then others will fill the vacuum, as is already happening in parts of the world. And I can only warn against letting matters take their own course.
In these months, it is more important than ever to ask: What do we measure our friendship based on shared values by? How can we make it grow in these turbulent times? In my view, five partly familiar, partly new features shape our friendship in the 21st century:
I. Security partnership today and in the future
Russia’s unlawful annexation of Crimea has once again put Europe’s security architecture to the test. Yet at the same time it has strengthened the transatlantic alliance under the umbrella of NATO. There is no doubt that united and determined action is more convincing than any diplomatic lip service or even the text of any treaty.
Let me stress that we’re striving to find a diplomatic solution to the current crisis in Ukraine. For we consider that to be the only path to long-term stability and security. In order to pave the way for this, the German Federal Chancellor and French President took the initiative and are endeavoring to mediate between Ukraine and Russia. These efforts are being made in extremely close coordination with our American friends. Foreign Minister Steinmeier just met with John Kerry in Washington last week. Even following the latest agreements reached in Minsk, skepticism and vigilance remain vital. Even so, we gained space and time to bring about a clear pause in the terrible bloodshed, opening up a window for political talks. We will throw our entire weight into continuing these diplomatic efforts.
At the same time, however, this Russian aggression demands for a direct and clear response and a signal that we do not accept this behavior which flouts international law. On both sides of the Atlantic, we’ve sent this signal by approving extensive sanctions. The sanctions are already exerting a significant impact on Russia’s economy which goes to show that they’re hitting home. In the transatlantic alliance we agree that the sanctions should only be lifted when Russia changes its behavior in a lasting and verifiable manner.
Finally, the Ukraine crisis has provoked serious and justified concern amongst our eastern NATO allies. In response to these concerns, the conclusions of last fall’s NATO summit in Wales demonstrated that the NATO member countries on both sides of the Atlantic stand closely shoulder to shoulder. The implementation of reassurance measures is already a sign of the solidarity of the members of the Alliance.
The fact that Germany is prepared to take on particular responsibility in this context is demonstrated not only by the Federal Chancellor’s diplomatic initiative but also by decisions of recent weeks on how Germany can boost its defense capabilities and increase defense spending. This shows that Germany is aware of its role and is prepared to take on its share of the burden within the transatlantic alliance.
II. Trust as the foundation of our friendship
The best defense that we have against the many aggressors and fire starters currently at large in the world is our close partnership and determination which stretches across the Atlantic. This partnership depends on mutual trust. I will make no secret of the fact that Edward Snowden’s revelations had significant repercussions in Germany and shook this trust. We cannot allow this poisonous mistrust to further hamper our partnership and should thus talk candidly about past mistakes and different perceptions.
It is not acceptable that US services tapped sensitive German communication right up to the highest levels of the Administration, presumably violating German law in doing so. Our Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel commented on this, saying that tapping friends is something you just don't do. It was thus good that in his speech on 17 January 2014, the US President stated that the communication of allied governments is not being eavesdropped on. We trust that his word is applied to the action taken by all US services. If this is not the case then US citizens would also have to be concerned.
However, the discussion about trust and data protection has another dimension which goes beyond the sensational topic of the Chancellor’s mobile phone, and which I consider to be more important - and potentially more productive. The NSA’s practices of mass data collection cause great concerns among people in Germany. Yet we Europeans have to acknowledge that in many sections of the US population the understanding of data protection between citizens and the state is fundamentally different than our own. In my opinion this stems from completely different experiences: when Germans think of official, state-driven data collection, the work of the state security of the dictatorship in the GDR springs to mind. The German experience is that the state used the Stasi and millions of its subjects’ data to curtail freedom. On the other hand, in the US people’s primary expectation of the state is that it provides protection. They hope that monitoring of communication will enable the state to prevent terrorist attacks, thus preserving their liberty and their way of life.
In all probability both viewpoints have something going for them. For in Germany, too, we’re discussing a modified form of preventive data retention which is as yet prohibited in our country. And of course many people in the US are also calling for a new equilibrium between data protection and security interests, in consideration of civil rights as well as for economic reasons. Because US software is one of the country’s huge export industries, especially in this area. Foreign customers of US software companies need to be able to rely on their data. This data will inevitably reach you here in California for maintenance and servicing. And clients want to be sure the data is being protected from state access. As a consequence, I believe that the US’s standing as a business location would suffer, were this security to be denied and were US data protection standards to diverge too far from those in Europe.
The overhaul of the legal basis of the NSA’s work – which is due in June – would present a good opportunity to make progress on this count. The President has proposed significantly strengthening US citizens’ rights with regard to the NSA. Unfortunately the application of these rules to foreigners is set to be very limited. Trust could be restored by equivalently extending them to Europeans, too.
III. Our economies at the core of our partnership
My country has recently seen a very public and at times controversial debate over the free trade system. I’m sure that in San Francisco and Berkeley, the spotlight is on the negotiations on the Transpacific Partnership, the TPP. You won’t be surprised to hear that Germany and Europe are focused on the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and the European Union. We would all like to see generally binding progress of the world trade system under the umbrella of the WTO – but unfortunately the negotiations there are blocked.
At the same time global trade is developing very dynamically in many regions of the world. Nearly every week we see new bilateral and regional trade agreements. All of these set out standards and direct – and in some cases divert - trade flows. Also – but without a doubt not only – in the direction we want.
There are few other economies in which private operators are used to a similar level of protection of workers’ rights and environmental standards than those of North America and the European Union. And moreover, we are willing to defend those standards. Against this backdrop in particular, the negotiations on TTIP would in my view have much larger implications for the future of global trade and the creation of new standards, than the TPP negotiations.
We are talking about trade in which standards for workers’ rights, the environment and health are enshrined, in which investments are guaranteed and investors are protected from arbitrary discrimination without parliaments losing their right to legislative regulation. We currently have a unique opportunity to pro-actively influence and shape this new trade system as a significant component of our international order. We should, no we must, take advantage of this opportunity!
For me, the complementarity of our economies is a decisive argument in favor of closer integration between the EU and US. This becomes even clearer here in the Bay Area: the US, in particular in California, is the frontrunner in digital innovation, in the tech industry. In Europe and especially in Germany we are global leaders in industrial innovation, manufacturing and production. If we combine these assets, create the framework for even closer integration and increasingly merge the two fields together, then in no time we’ll make the leap into not only Industry 4.0 but Industry 5.0. We’ll be miles ahead of many other competitors. I’m about to get a brief taster of this potential at Mercedes-Benz’ research center in Silicon Valley. There, Germany’s engineering prowess is being fused with California’s tech culture to develop a 21st century self-driving car.
I appeal to my fellow Germans to look beyond individual points of criticism to see this opportunity to actively help shape the future of trade and its strategic importance. I can only appeal to my American friends to convince Congress to swiftly issue this administration with a trade promotion authority. For this is the foundation which will enable the negotiations to be concluded swiftly.
IV. Joint defenders of the global commons
Especially in progressive California, it won’t take me all that much to convince people that one of the key tasks of our international order is to regulate how we deal with the global public goods, the so-called global commons. International climate policy is particularly important in light of the upcoming climate conference, the COP21, set to take place in Paris in December this year. Here in California people are no doubt aware that, in recent years, under Federal Chancellor Merkel Germany has developed into a worldwide pioneer of intelligent economic policy geared towards maintaining an industrial foundation and innovative spirit whilst conducting environmentally-friendly energy policy. We have received praise and recognition from around the world for our efforts. Certain things which have long been standard in California are now being increasingly taken into consideration at the US Federal level, too, where a more active climate policy has been introduced. I must say that I was very pleased to hear about the remarkable Chinese-American declaration on climate protection which President Obama announced together with Xi Jinping during his last trip to Beijing. Now it’s time for a transatlantic initiative which provides international climate policy with significant impetus and which sets standards for the future!
V. Civil society as the foundation of our partnership of the future
And finally I would like to touch on one field of transatlantic relations which rarely makes it into the headlines but which is nonetheless extremely important to our partnership and shared, continued prosperity. It’s no coincidence that I’m here speaking to you at the University of California at Berkeley today. I’m here to talk about civil society exchange and in particular cooperation in the field of science and research. During my last trips to the US I gained an insight into the diversity and huge innovative potential of this cooperation: I met with scientists at the German Center for Research and Innovation in New York; I met with young students at Miami Dade College or with space researchers at the NASA space center in Houston. The 21st century will even more be a century of knowledge and innovation than the last. This is the only way to enable our economies to secure prosperity for coming generations. And that’s why it’s important that we tap into the potential of transatlantic relations and expand our sources of innovation. For here, too, it’s true that no one in the world can be a more powerful catalyst for progress and prosperity than the transatlantic partners – the EU and US. And it’s only together that we can maintain our innovative momentum and our position at the spearhead of invention.
We will only remain strong partners if our civil societies view and treat each other as partners and friends. This background in particular makes it so important to have a diverse array of exchange and encounter programs. This foundation must be maintained and expanded and conveying this message is another reason why I have come to Berkeley, California.
Thank you very much.