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We are lucky in Europe. Our continent is – and this is partly thanks to the European Union as a unique peace project – largely characterised by peace and friendship. Since the end of the Second World War, we have grown ever closer and on days like these in particular, we are well advised to recall our sense of community. Unfortunately, we can all feel the forces that are tugging us apart. And that has not only been the case since the now imminent meaningful vote in the House of Commons.
The trend of retreating to the nation-state and believing that one is better off alone poses a threat. This notion is based on an obvious fallacy, one that will permanently weaken us and lead to division. That is what we need to address, not least so future generations do not remember us as the people who jeopardised peace in Europe – a huge feat after the end of the Second World War – out of pure and unadulterated egocentrism.
Naturally, things are far worse in other parts of the world, where it is not a matter of political division or the weakening of a strong multilateral system, but rather of violent conflicts and wars with countless civilian casualties.
Ladies and gentlemen, what happens in a place that has been marked by fighting and, in some cases, years of conflict? What are the prospects when a ceasefire reveals a country whose infrastructure has been destroyed? How can reconciliation, let alone new social cohesion, be brought about?
These questions must primarily be answered by the population of a country itself. However, the international community can support this process. We in the German Government refer to such support as “stabilisation”. We support political processes in conflict management, strengthen legitimate stakeholders and foster peaceful conflict resolution.
The aim of our stabilisation measures is to create a safe environment and to visibly improve living conditions in fragile contexts. After a conflict has ended, we want to enable legitimate local structures of order to offer the public something more appealing than the status quo of violent conflict as soon as possible.
Stabilisation thus also creates the first prerequisites for reconciliation between parties to a conflict and for establishing fundamental consensus in society – the foundation for lasting political stability, participatory political structures and long-term development. The broadest and most inclusive participation possible by all population groups is crucial to success.
Allow me to mention one example – Afghanistan.
Along with KfW and the Aga Khan Development Network, we have provided 112 million euros for smaller infrastructure projects in northern Afghanistan since 2010, building schools, roads, bridges and government buildings in four provinces in the northern part of the country. In places where infrastructure is built, children can attend school once again and the local administration can do its work in a safe environment, the outlook is brighter. The wish for a better future – for a peaceful future – no longer seems so far-fetched.
This type of support requires the right kind of structures. KfW and the Federal Foreign Office have undergone similar processes in this regard. In the latter, this led to the establishment of the Directorate-General for Stabilisation. And in KfW, it led to the decision to make cooperation in fragile contexts the third pillar of the development bank, alongside financing in developing and transitional countries and climate financing.
In both cases, further efforts were and are needed in order to overcome institutional inertia and long-standing principles in development cooperation. A process of that kind involves a huge amount of work, but it is worthwhile in the end.
Ladies and gentlemen, we need to be able to react rapidly and flexibly to changing political circumstances in crisis contexts. That is what stabilisation can achieve, as its main aims are to ensure that a post-conflict vacuum cannot come about in the first place and to show the public that we support the desire for peace. Naturally, arriving on the ground without delay involves greater risks. This is not something we do blindly or rashly, but rather for good political reasons and in the knowledge that there can be no absolute security in crisis contexts. During and immediately after a crisis, people expect rapid support. We must make use of this momentum time and again.
We have worked very well with KfW for years and there is great trust between us. Our cooperation goes beyond Afghanistan. In Iraq, for example, we have provided an untied loan of 500 million euros. And in the context of Syria, we have taken the risk of setting up an internationally unique financing instrument in the Syria Recovery Trust Fund, which has played a crucial role in providing support to legitimate civilian stakeholders, even under the most difficult conditions.
The importance of the Syria Recovery Trust Fund goes far beyond that of a financing instrument alone, as its steering bodies provide a unique forum for political exchange with Syria, with partners who are not always easy.
The joint projects between the Federal Foreign Office and KfW stand for what can be achieved in fragile contexts and with the help of the means available to us. Our measures deliver verifiable political value-added and, as confirmed for example by the research conducted alongside our stabilisation efforts in northern Afghanistan, achieve an impact in fragile contexts that lasts beyond the changing security situations.
Ladies and gentlemen, our approach can be used in various fragile contexts. No matter the specific crisis context we are talking about, the speed of positive change after the end of a conflict is particularly relevant to the impact of the stabilisation measures. Naturally, the public must play a role in this process. Time and again, we must seek participatory and the most inclusive solutions in order to strengthen the legitimacy of public action and to make the peace dividend tangible for everyone, as that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the overarching goals of stabilisation measures.
Ladies and gentlemen, the current situation in Afghanistan shows that stabilisation remains a risky business. The level of violence in the country has not improved and the Taliban have not been pushed back. Reports on the supposed plans for US withdrawal are leading to anxiety among the stakeholders and damaging the efforts to foster a political process, which have been more intensive than ever in recent months. In the eighteenth year of our engagement in Afghanistan, we should not attempt to whitewash the situation. But neither should we give in to pessimism. Stabilisation is and will remain a cornerstone of German foreign-policy work. It completes the German Government’s joined-up approach for greater peace and security.
I look forward to hearing the viewpoints of His Highness, whose foundation has been active in many fragile contexts for decades, and to the discussion with you.