Speech by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to the German Bundestag on the German Government’s motion on continuing the participation of armed German forces in EUNAVFOR MED Operation SOPHIA

02.06.2017 - Speech

Madam President,
Fellow members of this House,

We are discussing the extension of the mandate for EUNAVFOR MED Operation SOPHIA today. In the first instance, this is of course a very concrete and specific question. But I think we must be aware in this debate that we are experiencing a period of fundamental shifts in the world; a period in which old certainties no longer apply in many ways – a period of escalating conflicts, unstable countries, increased migration flows towards Europe, but above all, migration between poor countries.

On the one hand, there is growing insecurity. On the other hand, we face the problem of no longer really knowing which countries in the world are still our partners in overcoming such challenges humanely, democratically and peacefully. Yesterday’s decision by the new US Administration under Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement naturally has the dramatic consequence, should this decision be upheld in the coming years, that there will be yet another reason for people to migrate or flee, yet another reason for war and civil war. The reason has to do with water and the few patches of agricultural land that that will remain in some regions.

That is why we not only need to address the traditional reasons for forced migration, which are bad enough, but also very long‑term developments such as climate change, which robs people of their livelihoods. That is why withdrawing from an international climate agreement also means turning one’s back on the fight against the causes of forced migration, displacement and migration. I see this as an extraordinarily bad development.

It shows that even with those we used to refer to as “the West”, we no longer have the same point of view on topics such as migration and its causes, let alone the same vocabulary.

The German Government firmly believes that in view of these shifts, Europe must step up and take on greater responsibility for its own security and for shaping international policies. That is certainly no easy task, as Europe was not founded as a global political actor, but rather with more of an internal focus. We are only learning now that we must express our ideas on cooperation and on tackling the great tasks and challenges in the world more as Europeans and not only as individual member states. More than ever, we need to take joint and decisive action in order to overcome the challenges posed by unstable countries in our neighbourhood, displacement and unmanaged migration.

At the start of the week, I hosted high-level actors from this field – UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. They all said that the challenges we are experiencing as a result of refugee movements and migration are only just beginning.

They all agreed that we will sometimes need to use military means to prevent worse things from happening. But we will not resolve any conflict anywhere or foster stabilisation through military means alone. On the contrary, we only stand a chance of truly overcoming these challenges if we invest in crisis and disaster prevention and the fight against hunger and poverty and if we create opportunities.

The organisations say that 240 million people worldwide are migrants – 65 million of them are refugees. Contrary to what we in Europe and Germany may sometimes feel, 90 percent of all these flows of refugees and migrants are not in our part of the world, but rather in the global South. However, that simply means that the main burden is carried by those who are already poor and already face far more difficult circumstances.

There are also the devastating effects of human smuggling, pursued as a business model by criminal organisations and people smugglers, as well as corruption, poor governance and of course terrorism and trade in weapons and drugs. Human traffickers have no compunction about putting people’s lives in danger on the Mediterranean every day.

The main aim of EUNAVFOR MED Operation SOPHIA is to put a stop to the people smugglers’ inhumane practices. The soldiers in the operation, 100 of whom currently come from Germany, have saved over 38,700 victims of these criminals from drowning since June 2015. They have sunk 416 boats owned by smugglers and arrested 112 alleged smugglers.

I am aware that there are sometimes discussions on whether we are perhaps actually encouraging the smugglers, letting them think “Well, other people will rescue the refugees”. However, I believe that there is no alternative to such a rescue operation. It has saved the lives of almost 40,000 people. This enormous figure shows clearly that the operation is truly needed.

German units alone have inspected 202 ships to help enforce the arms embargo. So first and foremost, I would like to thank all those who rescue people from drowning in the Mediterranean.

We are grateful to the women and men of the German navy who serve on the ships. But I would also like to thank the volunteers from NGOs, the helpers on the merchant vessels and the European and Italian coastguards who are on duty every day.

I would also like to expressly thank Italian Prime Minister Gentiloni’s Government. Italy provides safe harbours for refugees and migrants. Above all, it is a sign of solidarity that Italy takes in so many people who have been rescued.

However, this gratitude should not lead us to believe that such help can be provided forever. My fellow member Müller has rightfully interjected to say that we cannot leave the Italians to cope with this alone. They are currently helping us to avoid a situation whereby many of those rescued come to Germany, as they have not been waving them through. It is time to say many thanks.

But the increase of almost 50 percent compared with last year’s figures shows that Italy is of course reaching its limits. That is why we must agree on a fair distribution system in Europe. However, I do not think we will achieve this if we do not also work better together in general on other issues in Europe.

I firmly believe that other countries such as Italy, France and Greece will only be more willing to work with us on migration issues if we - Germany and other strong European countries - foster initiatives on growth and tackling unemployment and youth unemployment in Europe and thereby help them.

Ladies and gentlemen, a policy that refuses to budge on one thing but demands action on another will fail. Other countries will only be prepared to get involved if we make progress on policies aimed at stronger growth, flexibility towards countries that undertake reforms, and help for southern and western Europe. After all, not only eastern Europe opposes the distribution of refugees – in particular, we are seeing opposition from the countries that belong to what was formerly, in inverted commas, “West Europe”, and which see Germany more as an obstacle to their economic growth and thus soundly refuse to work together on migration issues. These two things go hand in hand.

However, the people smugglers’ cynical business model is inhumane. A human life means nothing to them – all they care about is that the journey has been paid for. The smugglers use the money they make to subvert stability in Libya, as the collapse of the state in Libya has left them with a lawless area in which to operate. The operation that we are voting on here today plays a vital role in curbing the smugglers’ activities and destroying their business model. Obviously, we do not want Libya to be further destabilised.

But the operation is only part of what we are doing and what we need to do with regard to the situation in Libya. We need to look at it objectively. The security situation is unstable. The implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement brokered by the United Nations is faltering. The Presidency Council and the Libyan Government of National Accord are still not in a position to govern the entire country. When there are positive signs, as was the case recently, the process quickly comes under pressure again due to violent extremists.

In this situation, we cannot simply watch and wait, no matter how difficult it is to achieve results. We Europeans must realise that an unstable Libya at the outer borders of the Schengen area, even if we are talking about a maritime border, poses an immediate threat to us as neighbours and entails the risk of the Mediterranean increasingly becoming a gigantic cemetery.

We will only be able to stabilise Libya and end the refugee drama in the Mediterranean if we take a joint European approach. The fact that different countries are active in Libya, including countries such as Italy and France, which are perceived as former colonial powers, and others such as Germany, leads to considerable difficulties in Libya. What the country needs is a joint European approach and a joint European strategy. It does not need a policy that reflects the various countries’ national interests.

Naturally, the German Government’s long‑term goals are to work with the EU to foster stability in Libya and in the countries to the south of the EU, to support state structures, conflict resolution and better migration management in the region's countries of origin and transit countries, and to improve opportunities for people in their native countries. We share the view – I am also saying this because Gerd Müller is here – that military means are sometimes needed, but that ultimately stability is only created by all these things together. That is why what we do there together is a good investment.

Bilaterally, Germany provides support as one of the largest donors to Libya. Through the international Stabilisation Facility for Libya, which we initiated, we are carrying out concrete projects all over the country. This fund makes it possible to provide tangible help rapidly. We support endeavours to make the municipalities stronger and improve services. We foster initiatives aimed at reconciliation and mediation. The German Government also provides humanitarian aid to alleviate suffering.

The European Union has a civilian mission for Libya, EUBAM Libya, and is continuing its efforts to create a working basis for this mission from Tunis. Germany and the European Union also support the United Nations mission led by Special Representative Martin Kobler. Furthermore, the German Government is working to implement the EU migration partnerships.

But we need to make one thing clear – under the conditions currently prevailing in Libya, we cannot think about organising external reception centres for refugees in the country. Anyone who has seen pictures of these detention centres there, which are nothing but the worst type of prison, will understand why an ambassador made the rather politically incorrect comparison when he informed us by letter a few months ago that the conditions were like those in a concentration camp.

The international community must succeed in bringing these detention centres under the control of the United Nations, with adherence to UNHCR standards. If needs be, we must also be willing to provide security forces for this. There is no other way to do it. I think we agree on what we want to achieve in the mission, but also on what needs to happen in the near future in Libya, especially as regards these detention centres.

Thank you for listening.

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