Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier marking the 60th anniversary of the Bonn‑Copenhagen Declarations at the Permanent Representation of Land Schleswig‑Holstein in Berlin on 26 March 2015

26.03.2015 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Martin Lidegaard,
Torsten Albig,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Lord Palmerston, British Foreign Secretary in the mid‑19th century, is reputed to have said: “The Schleswig‑Holstein question is so complicated, only three men in Europe have ever understood it. One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second was a German professor, who became mad. I am the third and I have forgotten all about it.”

Today we find ourselves here in the Representation of Land Schleswig‑Holstein. Beautiful southern Schleswig lies in the north of Germany. And immediately over the border is northern Schleswig, which is now part of Denmark. But a “Schleswig‑Holstein question”? There no longer is one.

I’m tempted to add “luckily”. And not only because, as Palmerston revealed, there clearly wasn’t much pleasure to be had in tackling it ...

No, the main reason I say “luckily” is because Germany and Denmark have since come through difficult and painful times, from the war of 1864 to the occupation of Denmark under the Nazis.

We must be aware of this turbulent and complicated history in order to understand just how important the Bonn‑Copenhagen Declarations signed by representatives of both our countries 60 years ago really were.

For the first time freedom of profession of loyalty was laid down: “The minority is whoever wants to be” – there was to be a right to kindergartens and schools in the minority language, as well as to political representation in the Landtag of Schleswig‑Holstein, an exemption from the 5% hurdle being granted.

What was only a hope back then is now a reality: the Declarations became the starting‑point for deep understanding and friendship between Germans and Danes.

Today Flensburg is well on the way to becoming the first bilingual German‑Danish city in Germany. And with Anke Spoorendonk, the SSW (South Schleswig Voters’ Union) is not only represented in the Landtag, but also provides a minister – Ms Spoorendonk – in the Land government.

A German family from Flensburg recently raved to me about their city. Every morning the father commutes to work in Apenrade in Denmark. The mother, a doctor, sees her German and Danish patients in Flensburg city centre. Their children are at Danish kindergartens and schools on the firth. And it’s the children who have taught their parents Danish at home. The mother told me she’s already forgotten the words for “Madpakke” and “Fodbold”. “School snack” and “football”, I’m told!

You in the north are already seeing day in, day out something that ought to be quite clear to all of us all across Germany: minorities enrich the majority. And they open up new perspectives for everyone – not just when it comes to local sports and snacks for school…

It took time and patience to get to this stage. Committed individuals on both sides, representatives of the minorities, were the first to build bridges between Denmark and Germany. These structures may not appear quite as spectacular as Rendsburg High Bridge, but they are at least as strong and robust!

We want to thank these individuals for their commitment! Minister Lidegaard and I today signed a Joint Declaration pledging to continue every possible support for the minorities.

Representatives of the German and Danish minorities have done something impressive in the north: they have become integrated and at the same time retained their own cultural and linguistic identity.

A few weeks ago I was in Sibiu in Romania, where I could see for myself how another self‑confident minority – the German one – plays an active role in society.

That this works out, whether in Transylvania or in Schleswig‑Holstein, is by no means something that can be taken for granted. But, bearing in mind the conflicts of the past few decades, it sends an essential, hopeful message. For, all too often in our history, and particularly in our own history, minority questions have been explosive issues triggering bilateral tensions.

As we see if we consider the current conflict in Ukraine. Because what’s happening there? A foreign nation is claiming to be the protector of an ethnically‑related minority in another country, Ukraine, and using this to justify violations of that country’s sovereignty.

This is a blatant violation of the fundamental principle of nationality and identity in an interconnected world! To my mind, this relationship is the key – in terms both of domestic policy and of foreign policy. In terms of domestic policy, because only a nation which protects identities and integrates them into its social fabric can have enduring success in this world. And in terms of foreign policy, because only nations which protect and integrate diversity within their borders can live together in peace with other nations.

Over the past 60 years you in the north have proven what a positive impact a successful policy on minorities can have. You are living it out on both sides of the border. And in the process you are developing concepts which are having an effect far beyond Germany and Denmark. For Flensburg has become a centre for international minority issues. It is home to the European Centre for Minority Issues, which has been researching this issue for nigh on 20 years and has helped to defuse conflicts in Georgia and Kosovo, for example. Flensburg is also the headquarters of the Federal Union of European Nationalities, which works to uphold the rights of some 300 national minorities in Europe.

We would also like to use their expertise for the good of our foreign policy. It is not a matter of recommending that the German‑Danish minority model be blindly imitated. Unfortunately the conflicts in today’s world are too complex for that. But I do believe that your experiences in the north of Germany can help us to identify important factors for the resolution of minority conflicts.

For all our sakes, it is to be hoped that this special Schleswig‑Holstein question doesn’t drive us mad, but rather that it inspires us to work together productively to resolve conflicts.

Thank you very much!

Related content


Top of page