Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the German-Argentine Chamber of Industry and Commerce

03.06.2016 - Speech

Ms Michetti,
Mr Genzone,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for your warm welcome. I’m delighted to be here. And I believe I can say the same for the high-level delegation from Germany which is accompanying me this evening: colleagues from the German Bundestag, as well as representatives of the German business community, academia and the cultural scene in my home country.

But before you all have a chance to get to know each other better over a good Argentine steak, I’m sure you’re looking forward to a 90‑minute speech on German-Argentine relations ...


I’ve been asked to talk this evening not only about German-Argentine relations but also – as I get around a bit as Foreign Minister – about the international environment in which we find ourselves.

I think that, just as for you in business, the situation in international politics is relatively hard to assess. That reminds me of a wonderful anecdote which Federal Foreign Office staff like to tell. It’s about a German ambassador, who has come to Head Office to report to the Foreign Minister about the situation in the country he’s posted to. However, it could, Ms Konner, just as easily be about the head of a German chamber of commerce or a manager abroad, who has to report to the board at headquarters in Germany.

As always, the board has little time and asks: “If you were to sum up the situation in your country in one word, what would it be?” The branch manager ponders and then says: “Good”. But that’s a bit too imprecise for the board after all, and so he asks again: “Hmm. And if you had two words?” The manager mulls over the question, and finally says: “Not good.”

Good – not good. Progress and crises. Forces that bind together and forces that pull apart – the situation is difficult to assess. The only certainty is that the international order is undergoing fundamental change. The many international crises and conflicts show that something is out of joint and we don’t yet know how to fix it.


The progress and positive signals we see here in Argentina are certainly very encouraging.

The new Government has reached an agreement with its creditors based on holdouts with impressive speed – and now the country can set course for the future. We Germans, we Europeans and many in the international community are prepared to support you as you head into the future. The German business community is also helping Argentina along this path – more than 170 German companies are operating in Argentina and I’m certain that it could be even more if the new confidence continues to grow.

And while I’m talking about positive signals, there are also some glimmers of hope in my field, foreign policy: here in this region they include the rapprochement between Cuba and the West, which will create many political, social and economic opportunities. In the Middle East, the region of the world worst affected by crises, we succeeded in achieving a breakthrough last summer in the negotiations with Iran. The agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme is not only the greatest disarmament success of the last few years but also means there is at least a chance that Iran will move towards opening up its society and economy and, above all, towards assuming a responsible role in its region.


That’s one side of the coin. There is, however, also the contrary trend. Powerful forces that pull apart are at work. International crises and conflicts are assuming proportions, and a complexity, that I have not yet seen in my political career.

Here in Argentina, you’re faced with instability in your neighbourhood, especially in your largest and economically most important neighbour, Brazil.

For us in Europe, the crises haven’t only moved closer to us – Syria, Libya, Ukraine – but have arrived in our midst: in the form of hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking shelter in Europe. Last year alone, one million people came to Germany and many citizens in my country are doing voluntary work to help ensure they have the best possible protection and shelter.

Second, inhuman Islamist terror is not only a scourge in the Middle East, but has also struck at the heart of Europe – with attacks on Brussels and our neighbours in Paris.

Third, we’re witnessing a new global power struggle. In Europe, we are being forced to come to grips with Russia’s return to a confrontational geopolitical mindset. With the annexation of Crimea, Russia – for the first time since the end of the Cold War – is openly calling into question the fundamental principles of Europe’s peaceful order. Bloody wars are being waged in the Middle East, against the backdrop of the struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for supremacy in the Muslim world.

Fourth, all of this is happening while globalisation, the spread of digital technology and the sense that boundaries are dissolving continue to advance. Many people increasingly regard this globalisation as a threat – and in Europe, unfortunately, people are reacting ever more frequently by calling for the drawbridge to be pulled up and for a repatriation of policies. What’s more, and this must be especially worrying for you in the business community, there is a new scepticism about interconnectivity and international trade. This will also play a role in the British referendum in three weeks’ time on whether the country should remain in the EU.


Ladies and gentlemen, I know that many of you have a deep personal affinity with Europe. And I also know that many people in Argentina have high expectations of Germany’s role in Europe. You may rest assured that Germany takes its responsibility for Europe very seriously. We want a united, strong EU which acts together.

However, I also have to say that we have to adapt our expectations in times of crisis. I’m convinced that we in Europe must stick together now. I believe that if we still have the same EU as we have today in a year’s time – the same members, the same institutions, the same fundamental values – then we’ll have achieved a lot.


That was a brief summary of the international situation and the problems we face. You can see that the picture is muddled. The world is changing. Those of us involved in foreign policy are already prepared – and the situation may be the same in some companies – for a world in which crisis is no longer an exceptional state of affairs but, rather, the new normality.

However, in the face of this uncertainty, we know that we have placed our faith in forces that bind together. We want to strengthen whatever binds us. I can see many new opportunities for this between our two countries, Argentina and Germany, and I want to talk about that this evening.


I can think of no better representative of this message than the German-Argentine Chamber of Industry and Commerce. It has been strengthening the binding forces between our two countries for no less than one hundred years.

It’s easy to say “one hundred years” without thinking about it, but you should remember that

the World Cup hadn’t even been invented one hundred years ago. German-Argentine relations were still completely unencumbered at that time ...

One hundred years ago was long before the time of Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi or – excuse me for mentioning this name – Mario Götze.

One hundred years ago, the Pope was still Italian. No‑one back then had ever considered the possibility of a German or Argentine Pope – let alone that one day one would hand over the pastoral staff to the other.

And one hundred years ago, no‑one in Buenos Aires had ever driven a Volkswagen car and no‑one in Berlin had ever danced a tango ...

Mr Genzone, Ms Konner, I’m not saying that the chamber of commerce invented all of these lovely things ... However, this is an ideal opportunity to pay tribute to the binding forces which this chamber has developed over the years. Next week’s vocational training summit springs to mind. This is also an ideal opportunity to thank you for your work and that of the chamber’s staff, also for this wonderful evening.


Strengthening the forces that bind together is also the aim of my visit to Argentina and there are two messages I would like to deliver.

The first message is: welcome back! Under President Macri, the Argentine Government has repeatedly stressed that its aim is to return to the world. This evening, I want to assure you that the world welcomes you!

We’re pleased with the offer by the Argentine Government to play a constructive role in tackling international crises. For I believe that my speech so far has shown that there are certainly enough challenges in the foreign policy field.

I spoke for a long time today with my Argentine counterpart Susana Malcorra and I sensed that this offer is serious. We talked about how we can do more in future to pull in the same direction when it comes to the fight against climate change or the UN peace missions. I’m especially pleased that Argentina is prepared to take in more Syrian refugees. We now have to find the best way to put this readiness into practice. For anyone who has seen the figures and migratory movements will realise that flight and migration are not German problems, nor purely European problems but, rather, a global issue.

The negotiations on a free trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur are also advancing. We’ve been negotiating this agreement since 1999! That’s not quite one hundred years – although it sometimes feels like it ... The fact that we’ve finally exchanged market access offers is not least thanks to the efforts of Foreign Minister Malcorra. Although there are still sensitive points on both sides, I believe there’s now a realistic chance that the agreement can be concluded. We want it and I’m sure that Argentina wants it, too.


My second message this evening is that I want to express my support as you move towards the future.

German newspapers have reported that not everyone is enthusiastic about the change of direction in Argentine politics and that resentment has been vocally expressed in the streets of Buenos Aires. We Germans know that times of renewal are also hard times. We know that they demand enormous sacrifices of so many people. It’s always the same when it comes to reforms: the burden is felt early on – but the rewards don’t come till later.

I’m not just saying that, for I know only too well how that feels. Some 12 years ago, Germany wasn’t the strong economic powerhouse it is today. Back then Germany was called the “sick man of Europe”. We had to carry out reforms, and we did just that. The Germans present this evening will recall that I worked for these reforms and that I lost elections because of them.

Reforms don’t necessarily lead to such an outcome, but there’s always a risk. It’s a huge challenge in democratic societies to bridge the time between the point at which the decision is taken to carry out reforms and the point at which growth and stability are restored. At such times, people demand that politicians prove that the sacrifices have paid off. Politicians, in turn, have to call for patience and uphold confidence in the future. I know only too well how difficult that is. Ultimately, though, the simple truth is that economic recovery won’t succeed without growth. Strengthening growth markets, winning back competitiveness, developing the ability to innovate – these are key to economic restructuring and renewal. As if that wasn’t a big enough challenge, efforts have to be undertaken to avoid social dislocation, which can discredit all these endeavours. It’s like squaring a circle! That requires discipline and professionalism of political players – and we saw much of that today in our talks in Buenos Aires.


Let me finish with three keywords which, in my experience, are part and parcel of the road to renewal:

First, one needs partners. The German business community – and many of them are here this evening – are ready to engage with Argentina as partners in innovation.

I’m thinking for example of urbanisation, of the opportunities here in Buenos Aires. I know there has already been much cooperation with Germany – for example, the Fraunhofer initiative “Morgenstadt – City of the Future”. However, I have also heard how much untapped potential there is, for example in the sphere of infrastructure and railway.

I’m also thinking of another major issue, namely energy. With the Renewable Energies Act and the dismantling of electricity subsidies in Argentina, a great need for renewal has emerged and the German business community is ready as a leading global partner to share its experience in the spheres of sustainability, renewables and energy efficiency.


The second keyword is confidence. Yes, the German business community wants to support the new start in Argentina. Some German companies have already announced further investment. However, the past is still very present for many. Some German enterprises are still waiting for their claims to be dealt with. That’s why concrete confidence-building steps are so important now. Punctual repayment to the Paris Club – most recently at the end of May – is part of this. A solution for the claims of German enterprises is also necessary so that we can again support Argentina with more investment and export guarantees. The huge interest in the recent issuance of government bonds shows that Argentina is on the right road. However, the road to reform takes time. The successes don’t come until late on. This, too, is a bit like football: sometimes nothing happens all through a game and then the deciding goal is scored in the 113th minute. However, I don’t want to start talking about Mario Götze again.


Rather, I want to come to my third and final keyword: young people! We discussed this issue this afternoon with the Science Minister and representatives of Argentine and German companies. We – as politicians – owe it to young people – but not only to them! Investing sufficiently in the future prospects of the young generation is crucial for the future of society as a whole. That applies to young academics – I hope, with the help of the German Academic Exchange Service, to welcome many Argentine students to Germany. However, it applies in particular to vocational training. The chamber of commerce has been coordinating the dual system of vocational training for German companies in Argentina for 40 years now. And I know how hard the chamber has worked towards next week’s vocational training summit. I therefore say to our Argentine partners: seize this opportunity – we’re ready to work with you to ensure that the dual system of vocational training has an even broader basis in Argentina.


Ladies and gentlemen,

There’s enough to do for our German-Argentine partnership. I wish we Germans would take a leaf out of Argentina’s book and could share its wonderful optimism.

It starts with the weather ... It’s said that Portenos smile during a storm because they believe God is taking a photo of them.

And what do you think it said in the official travel advice for our German delegation here in Buenos Aires? It wasn’t: take your tango shoes with you! Nor was it: don’t forget your steak knife! Rather, it was: take waterproof clothing.

So, let’s toast to optimism! Let’s place our faith in the forces that bind our two countries! I raise my glass to German-Argentine relations and the friendship between our peoples.

Thank you very much.

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