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Speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier to the German Bundestag during the budget debate

25.11.2015 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Madam President,
Fellow members of this House,

I returned to Berlin on Monday after several days in East Africa. There were people who asked whether it was right for me, as Foreign Minister, to fly to Africa in the midst of so many crises – in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine – and given the terrorist threat we currently face. My response was a clear “yes”. The Foreign Minister can and indeed must do so. I suspect that in years and decades past we all too often looked for reasons not to fly to Africa. Many of the things happening in Europe seemed more pressing than whatever was going on in our southern neighbourhood. But now we have to realise that the times when crises were “far away” have been left long behind, that seemingly distant problems don’t take long to land on our doorstep, and not just in the shape of refugees. Foreign policy therefore has to help consolidate peace and provide prospects for people in their homelands – such as Mozambique and Uganda where I was travelling – and promote regional cooperation, as we are currently doing with the states of East Africa, so that they will in future be able to deal on the spot with crises like that in Burundi.

This is most definitely not a secondary aspect of foreign policy! Which is exactly why I welcome the present draft budget. This draft budget strengthens the foreign policy toolkit across the board, from emergency humanitarian assistance to civilian crisis prevention, and even cultural relations and education policy. Before going any further let me thank the members of this distinguished House and the Budget Committee for the fact that we were so in accord with one another during the negotiations – with regard both to the pressing crises of today and to preventing the crises of tomorrow.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are of course all still feeling the impact of the horrific news from Paris. It weighs heavily on our minds. That evening started off perfectly normally. It was a pleasant evening in Paris. Young people were heading out to the pub, football fans were on their way to the stadium, music fans were setting off for the club. But it ended very differently. 130 people died that night. 340 were injured. Many of them are still in a critical condition.

The terrorism of “Islamic State” has arrived in Europe. But the truth of the matter is that the atrocities had been going on for a long time – in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya and in Nigeria. The violence there is much worse, and it is happening on a daily basis. Just yesterday there was another attack in Tunisia. Many of the people who are currently seeking refuge here are seeking refuge from this selfsame terror that IS is spreading in their homelands.

This terrorism is therefore an attack on everyone who wants to live in freedom and peace, be it here in Europe or elsewhere, be they Christian, Jew, atheist or Muslim. It is an attack on all inclusive societies, a concept the fanatics cannot bear and which they seek to destroy with bombs and bullets, by fear and terror. But a society gripped by fear, in which people cower at home, has lost the very essence that makes it worth living in. And that is precisely why we have to fight for our society! That is the message from thousands of towns in France, where in spite of the fear, the terror, the anger, in spite of all that, people defiantly sang the Marseillaise. That is the message that the Government and Parliament here in Berlin sent to our French allies the day after that night of terror: you are not alone. We will not abandon you. Esteemed colleagues, we will all live up to these words.

What do they mean in practice? What are we doing to combat terrorism? Of course, it remains true that terrorism cannot ultimately be defeated by military means. I am sure all of us here in this House agree with that proposition. Ultimately it is true. But it must be said that IS also has to be combated militarily if anything is to remain of Syria for us to pacify and bring new hope for the future. It would be wrong to limit ourselves to military means alone. But it would be naive to think we could manage without them. We will need both. I will do my utmost to ensure that political action and the political process are in the foreground, whatever we do.

Three things are important. Firstly, air strikes will be part of the military action against IS. This action must be continued. But it is clearer than ever before that we have to support the people fighting on the ground. We did that earlier than some others when we decided to give the Peshmerga in Iraq arms and training. This was the right way forward, regardless of all the difficulties facing the Kurds in northern Iraq. The advance of IS has been halted in northern Iraq, and some ground has even been regained. What we did in Iraq is not a blueprint. What worked there might not work elsewhere. But it is the reason why I said we should in any case try – without having any means of coercion – to unite as many of the Syrian forces as possible which oppose IS and are willing to fight IS.

It is important that we share the work with our international partners. The international community’s activities in Mali are a good example. The Cabinet has just been discussing these, and we will hold a parliamentary debate on Mali and increasing our contribution to MINUSMA in due course. If I may remind you, it is thanks to France that Mali has not entirely fallen into the hands of the Islamists and been destroyed. The fact that stabilisation measures are now a possibility there at all is related to France’s intervention – with all the difficulties it brought. We should not forget that.

I have another reason for mentioning Mali. I want to thank the members of the UN Mission and naturally also the German Bundeswehr soldiers for doing their duty there under hazardous conditions. Thank you all very much!

Supporting the Peshmerga, sharing the work in Mali – both of these are important achievements. I don’t think we need to be ashamed of what we are doing. We don’t need to hide our light under a bushel. But it’s been clear, at the latest since the French President’s talks with President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron, even before his talks with Federal Chancellor Merkel and with President Putin, that after the Paris tragedy, France does not want to simply carry on as before in Syria. France has expressly asked for support. I can’t yet say what exactly. Obviously we only have to give what we can, and what we believe is right. But we cannot refuse for no good reason. If we did, the pledge we made to our closest neighbours would be almost worthless. We owe it to ourselves, ladies and gentlemen, to maintain our credibility, even when it’s difficult. Or at least that’s my conviction.

The second dimension – the first was military action – is stabilising the arc of crisis from Libya to the Middle East. Stabilisation can only succeed where there are functioning state institutions. And only once stabilisation has occurred is it possible to deprive extremism and terrorism of their breeding grounds, and only then is it possible to develop new prospects for the people.

That’s why we made stabilisation a priority, both in the reorganisation of the Federal Foreign Office under Review 2014, and in this budget. I am glad that this draft budget attaches such weight to the priority area of stabilisation, crisis prevention and humanitarian assistance.

In all honesty, though, we can’t say that the more we spend, the fewer refugees there will be, let alone the fewer terrorist attacks. Foreign policy is not a pegged currency. But we can see, even today, what a difference our contribution has made. For example, 300,000 people in Syria now have working electricity again, thanks to our investments in the Syria Recovery Trust Fund and our work with partner organisations in repairing damaged electricity pylons. In Tikrit we are rebuilding hospitals, schools and water supplies so that most of the inhabitants can return to their homes. And yesterday, a group of 300 scholarship holders from Syria visited us in the Federal Foreign Office. They are attending German universities, preparing themselves in the hope they will one day be able to return to their home country and help with reconstruction there.

Lastly, the third dimension – the efforts to find a political solution, the political process we urgently need. I don’t want to repeat things other people have already said. I am glad we managed to get everybody to sit down together in Vienna. I am concerned that yesterday’s shooting down of an aircraft on the border between Syria and Turkey could set us back considerably. I am glad efforts are perhaps being made by the Turkish and Russian Governments to find common ground. I hope that the rumoured meeting between the Turkish and Russian Foreign Ministers will take place. If it does, there is still a chance that the endeavours to create political options, which we worked on so laboriously over two weekends in Vienna, could bear fruit.

All these three dimensions are important. Even if we are still in shock and grieving for the victims of Paris – we will not give in to despair, we will not be overwhelmed by a feeling of impotence. That is why talking about the budget is about more than money. This budget is the gateway to a policy that is not based on isolation and impotence, but on action. And action is needed if we are to make this world a little more peaceful than it currently is.

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