Speech by Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier at an event marking the 150th anniversary of BASF

02.07.2015 - Speech

Malu Dreyer,
Colleagues and Members of the German Bundestag,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dr Bock,

When you invited me a few months ago to attend the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of BASF, no one thought that this fine birthday party would take place right in the middle of a highly turbulent week. A week in which we are grappling to preserve cohesion in the eurozone – while at the same time negotiating a peaceful, political settlement of the nuclear dispute with Iran. I have been shuttling backwards and forwards between these two negotiation tables since the weekend. And this struggle is likely to go on for quite a while longer yet.

It is therefore an even greater pleasure to be here with you tonight nevertheless. To congratulate BASF on its 150th birthday and to celebrate your company’s amazing success on this beautiful summer’s evening with you.


Ladies and gentlemen,

It doesn’t happen very often that I am invited to speak at an institution that is even older than the Federal Foreign Office and which, most notably, has even more locations throughout the world.

While the Federal Foreign Office is represented in more countries than BASF, you have virtually double as many locations as the Foreign Service with your almost 400 production sites worldwide. No matter where I have been in the world so far – and I get around a fair bit – BASF has been there already. Even in places long unvisited by any German Foreign Minister, such as Cuba, a country which I will soon be visiting for the very first time.

In many cases, BASF was already working in countries and valued as a partner long before they were on Germany’s or other Western countries’ agenda. Such as in China.

I still vividly recall when Mr Hambrecht – your predecessor, Mr Bock, – signed the agreement to expand the BASF site in Nanjing in the presence of the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. That was in 2006, and BASF had already been working in China for 121 years. BASF began to sell textile dyes, which back then numbered among the most important chemical products, in China as early as 1885, and is one of the few foreign companies that were active in the country as long ago as the time of the Chinese Empire.

What began life 150 years ago as the “Badische Anilin- & Soda-Fabrik” with 30 staff members is now the largest chemical company in the world. With over 100,000 employees, you generate an annual turnover of 74 billion euros. That is a phenomenal achievement and an impressive success story for which I wish to offer you my most sincere congratulations.


Ladies and gentlemen,

In the course of its history, BASF has experienced more than once, and in various places around the globe, the collapse of empires and the rise of new powers. Just like the political establishment, your company has, time and again, had to respond to change and upheaval.

And, like our entire country, you have had to come to terms as a German company with the history of Germany’s chemical industry in the last century.

The production of poisonous gases back in the First World War, the role played by the chemical industry after 1933, forced labour – these are the terrible abysses of our German history that also open up in the history of your company or predecessor companies.

A special responsibility arises from this particular history, one that applies to both the world of politics and business. After the horrors of war, Germany was granted the right to return again to the bosom of the international community. Just two days ago, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of our accession to NATO here in Berlin. Today, Germany is a free, sovereign country with a firm place among the world’s great democracies. And this is, for me, the basis of our international commitment today. It is clear that, especially our country, which was once a hell-raiser and a destroyer of order, must in this century be a force for order in a special way and must, more than others, be committed to political solutions to conflicts. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the foreign policy responsibility that emerges from our history.

But you too, as entrepreneurs, must also deal with the question of responsibility. And this is why it is right and proper that BASF was a founding member of the German Economy Foundation Initiative “Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future”, which not only supports victims of the National Socialist regime, but also promotes projects to keep memory alive and achieve understanding. This is important and necessary work, and I would like to thank you for this too.


Ladies and gentlemen,

At your company, you know what it feels like to strike out into a new age. You have helped to shape not only one, but several industrial revolutions, and have always been at the forefront of technological progress.

We need this experience of change and this capacity for renewal as a society. This experience is important for a globally interconnected country such as ours because it helps us to keep our bearings in times of profound social, political and economic change. Because we can learn from a company such as BASF and its employees how to set our sails in a mighty storm so that we reach the shore safely. We need this experience more than ever in times such as those we are experiencing right now.

At no point in all my political career can I recall a time in which so many international crises were coming as thick and fast as they are today. In a nutshell, the world has come loose from its moorings. While this is the analysis of a diplomat at the Federal Foreign Office, it could equally be from an analyst at BASF.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While today is no occasion for holding statesmanlike speeches, I would like, in my capacity as Foreign Minister, to make some brief remarks about the topic that is keeping us all busy at the moment, namely Greece.

We must be aware that this is far more than a mere financial matter. We must not fall prey to the illusion that this issue will be solved by the referendum on Sunday, no matter what the result will be – and we have an inkling what the outcome will be. The crisis will then enter a new phase in which we will still have to shoulder responsibility. Above all, we must be aware that we are not just talking about a Greek crisis. Should we, for the first time, see a country exit the eurozone, then that is, for those observing us from overseas – from the USA, China, India – the first sign that this Europe may not be able to solve its own problems by itself after all. This is also the reason why we have demonstrated so much flexibility in recent weeks. The struggle for Europe, the attempt to prevent the eurozone from falling apart, was the reason for our willingness to compromise, to which we held firm right until the last. But it wasn’t enough. The Greeks have left the negotiating table. We must now hope – and we can only hope as we cannot intervene in domestic processes – that the Greeks voting on Sunday are aware of the far-reaching consequences of their decision.

The other big topic this week is Iran. I have just come from Vienna.

We are standing on the brink of a historic opportunity to reach a political, and above all peaceful, settlement to an almost 30‑year nuclear conflict. Among the negotiating partners, I have observed a keenness to reach a successful conclusion now in this round of negotiations. But whether you are long-distance runners or not, you will know that, while you only have a short distance to cover at the end of a long run, the last stretch is often the most difficult. We hope and are lobbying Tehran to have the courage to overcome the last remaining obstacles. This is important for putting an end to this conflict.

For Mr Bock and many representatives of German industry, it is important to remove obstacles so that the excellent economic relations that once existed between Germany and Iran can be re‑established.

But there is a third reason for this. If we turn our attention to the Middle East and the developments we have been observing in the region over the last ten years, then one might be forgiven for the colloquial assessment that everything there is “going to pot”. In Syria, Iraq and Libya. If we manage to reach a responsible settlement with Iran, then this would, at last, be an encouraging signal for this crisis-ridden region in which state orders are eroding or have already disappeared in their entirety – that we are able to establish order through political negotiations where disorder was, for years, the staple diet.


Ladies and gentlemen,

As you can see, there is scarcely a foreign policy problem these days without economic aspects. And there is scarcely an economic problem these days that can be solved without a foreign policy dimension. At the same time, the political domain needs the expertise of companies such as yours for the many challenges that we currently face. For the question as to how we can feed the growing population around the world in the future without at the same time damaging our environment, for example. Or for questions relating to our energy supply. Without the chemical industry’s innovative potential, we will achieve neither sustainable electricity production nor improved energy efficiency.

This is not to mention the fact that we would not have the kind of prosperity that we as an industrial nation enjoy here in Germany without the chemical industry and its more than 400,000 employees. The chemical industry is an essential part of our value chain, and we are one of the few countries to still have this chain almost entirely within our own borders.

Most Germans have come to realise that chemical production is not a dirty primary industry. The chemical industry is high tech and, for a country lacking in raw materials, is a vital part of our export-driven economy that will continue to depend on high-quality, innovative products and industrial solutions.

All of these are big issues for the worlds of business and politics – issues that we must work on together for the sake of the future of our country and its people.

Mr Bock,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Happy birthday – Thank you very much!

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