Welcome Address by Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the Munich Security Conference

13.02.2016 - Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,

I bid you a very warm welcome to the Munich Security Conference!

And I am particularly pleased to welcome you not only in my capacity as German Foreign Minister, but also as Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

We decided to take on the chairmanship of this organisation in turbulent times. Unfortunately, these are also turbulent times in Europe. With the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the issue of war and peace has returned to our continent – an issue that seemed to have been resolved, at least in Europe.

Forty years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, 25 years after German reunification, after the end of the Cold War, we believed and hoped that peace had been permanently achieved on our continent and that the borders would no longer be called into question.

During times of new uncertainty, times in which the ghosts of the past have come back to haunt us – ghosts we believed we had banished for good – we need an organisation like the OSCE. And we want to use this organisation to renew dialogue, rebuild trust and restore security, as the motto of our chairmanship says. These are our priorities for 2016.

And I say very clearly here that seeking dialogue and keeping channels of communication open certainly does not mean that we ignore difficult topics or turn a blind eye when fundamental principles are thrown overboard by participating States.

On the contrary! Our dialogue cannot and must not hide the fact that key OSCE commitments were and are being broken – as in the case of the annexation by Russia.

It is equally clear that respect for human rights and democratic governance are integral parts of our common security. This is not up for debate!

But what goes for our chairmanship also goes for the future of the OSCE and peace in Europe: not talking to each other during times of crises cannot be the answer! We will not reach a solution this way. In fact, we will not even manage to de-escalate conflicts.

The OSCE’s expertise has helped us to make significant progress in the Ukraine crisis. We are still a long way from resolving the conflict. However, the OSCE and the brave men and women in the Special Monitoring Mission played a crucial role, also as regards bringing about the Minsk Agreement, which we are still struggling to have implemented. But without this Agreement, we would probably be on a far more dangerous path today. Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia just met in the Normandy format and discussed further steps.


Ladies and gentlemen,

These are turbulent times – and I do not say this only as the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, but also as the Foreign Minister of a European Union Member State. A veritable concoction of crises is boiling over in Europe – the euro crisis, the economic crisis, rampant right-wing populism, the Brexit debate, the refugee crisis.

I know that we usually speak here at the MSC about security crises outside the EU. But it is currently becoming clearer than almost ever before that the external and internal, like external crises and internal strength, are inextricably linked.

I for one firmly believe that we can only withstand the storms raging outside the EU – the storms I will discuss later on during the Foreign Ministers’ Panel – if we stand together in the EU rather than going our separate ways.

There is a great deal at stake. The forces pulling us apart in Europe are so enormous that we should show our resolve even here at the MSC and work hard together to ensure that we have the same EU at the time of next year’s MSC as we do today. This would be a great achievement. We need to fight for Europe – and we also need to fight for it at the MSC!

Thank you. I hope we will have a good conference.

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