In an interview published in the Potsdamer Neuste Nachrichten on 6 September 2016, Foreign Minister Steinmeier speaks about the OSCE meeting in Potsdam, the atmosphere in the city and its effect on his colleagues.
Mr Steinmeier, it was your decision to hold the OSCE Foreign Ministers Meeting in Potsdam. Why?
As this year’s holder of the OSCE Chairmanship, we wanted to try something new with the meeting in Potsdam: a meeting beyond the day-to-day business of foreign politics, without a set agenda, without a pile of files and without a huge army of civil servants. Instead, we wanted to have ample time and space to talk about the ongoing crises in Europe and about possible solutions in an intimate atmosphere. The feedback from my colleagues on our approach was good. Potsdam was the perfect venue. The testimonies to our chequered history between East and West come together here with our present in reunited Germany in a most immediate way. You sense that all over the city, especially at Glienicke Bridge, and this atmosphere also had a great impact on our discussions. I wanted to show something different to my colleagues, who until now have always come to Berlin for international conferences and have sometimes only seen the television tower there.
There was much criticism ahead of the meeting because the tight security measures meant that many key transport links had to be partially or completely suspended or blocked and there were also many restrictions in the city centre. Why is it important that such a meeting is held in a city and not in a remote rural area?
I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the people of Potsdam for their wonderful hospitality! The atmosphere around us was amazing. We were welcomed with open arms. Of course, I’m aware that a meeting of this calibre always entails some inconvenience for local people. Naturally, we wanted to show our international visitors Potsdam and all its sights. What’s more, especially at a time when international crises and conflicts are having an ever greater impact on the lives of every individual, it’s important that international politics is not too distant. After all, foreign policy is made for the people – I feel it’s important that these very people can watch it at close quarters now and again.
Did Potsdam enhance the atmosphere at the meeting?
Even for politicians, a change of scene can be helpful. It can enable them to look at ongoing crises and conflicts with fresh and open eyes – not only during our consultations in the hotel but also during the subsequent tram journey and the boat trip on the River Havel. It was clear to everyone when we walked over Glienicke Bridge together why we have to work to build bridges over the rifts between East and West, which are again deepening. The stories this bridge tells spell out an important message for foreign policy-makers today.
What did your colleagues think of Potsdam? After all, they did get to see some of the city.
The old tram and the boat trip to Glienicke Bridge were most certainly highlights. Most of my colleagues only knew of the Glienicke Bridge from school history lessons or from the film “Bridge of Spies”. And we had good weather! They really saw Potsdam at its best – as Foreign Minister, that makes me a little proud.
What impression did you have of the organisation of the meeting and of the reaction of people in Potsdam?
Everything was organised perfectly – right down to the very last detail. I would like to thank everyone involved – the almost one thousand police officers, the staff of the city of Potsdam and the boat operators, the hotel staff and my colleagues from the Federal Foreign Office. They all worked together in an excellent manner to make this meeting a success. I would like to thank the people of Potsdam for their patience and for being so relaxed about the “brouhaha”.
This interview was conducted by Peer Straube.