Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the Digital Democracy Festival of the Fundação Getulio Vargas in São Paulo

06.06.2023 - Speech

The first time I met President Lula, at the Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt – COP 27 –, he said to me:

“We can talk about everything. But there’s one chapter in German-Brazilian history that I’d like to forget.”

I was taken aback for a second and then I thought: ok, what could it be?

And then he broke into that friendly smile that in Europe, too, we all know so well, and said to me: “Seven to one.”

I can assure you that I won’t talk about football today.

Even though your greatest football star has always been my sporting idol: six times world women’s footballer of the year – Marta always inspired and spurred me on as a young player in our village football club. I believe that very many people remember her well.

Anyway, I don’t want to talk about football this evening even though football has a lot to do with democracy. In U9 teams in Germany, we learn before anything else that you can only play together if everyone respects the rules. And everyone understands that a red card is a red card. And that fair play unites us all.

This fair play, this cooperation, this concept of friendship, is something which closely links our two countries. I’ll therefore heed the words of your President and talk not about football but about friendship.

About friendship, that means what binds us and how we can shape our partnership together for the future. Even though, as you have just pointed out, President Leal, the challenges ahead are greater than ever before.

Our societies are united in the belief that people can decide for themselves which party to vote for, which profession to take up, who to love or how to live.

The legendary samba singer Elza Soares, who passed away last year, once sung – and this is going to be a bit difficult for me:

Sou meu próprio patrão – e ninguém me manda.” I am my own mistress. No one tells me what to do.

I believe this song struck a nerve with many of us. Here in Brazil, but also in Germany. And perhaps that applies in particular to women.

Because we all want to make our own decisions about our lives: as human beings, as men and women, as children and as young people. Above all, however, as societies – for that is the essence of our democracies.

As a society, in which the daughter of a cleaner and a factory worker from Rio de Janeiro can become one of the world’s greatest samba musicians.

As a society, in which a young boy from Pernambuco who cleaned shoes as a 12-year-old to support his family can assume the highest office of state.

It is these examples of upward social mobility and self-determination which make our countries strong.

Recently, however, we have seen time and again that we cannot take our lives in an open society for granted. That our security is fragile. That democracy and freedom don’t simply fall into our laps.

Even if many of you, and I too – as a young person, at least in our society, which is relatively old – were lucky enough to grow up in lasting peace and freedom.

When hundreds of people stormed the Parliament in Brasília on 8 January, we in Germany and in other parts of the world held our breath. It was an attack against the heart of Brazilian democracy. It was a demonstration of an extreme polarisation within society and a brutalisation in the political sphere – a dangerous development which we in Europe, as well as in Germany, have unfortunately also witnessed.

However, the fact that Brazil reacted with such resolve and unity to this attack also showed that democratic institutions, democratic societies, are robust.

In light of the talks we’d had here during the last few hours, I believe that these events not only gave new strength to your society but also to us in Europe.

And that is partly thanks to strong voices from civil society, such as that of the Fundação Getulio Vargas. Your academic analyses contribute facts and diversity to debates. In this way, you keep democracy vibrant. For example, with the democracy forum which you have organised with the German Embassy since 2018. I’m therefore very grateful that we can be here today, that we can come together for democracy today.

For the world is undergoing a radical change which poses a challenge to our democracies’ ability to act, not only domestically but also on the international stage.

Security and economic policy are becoming ever more interconnected.

Where we used to trust in the market’s invisible hand, perhaps sometimes naively, it’s now too often the hand of autocratic regimes which want to use companies as geopolitical instruments.

As democrats, we cannot withdraw now. Rather, we have to actively shape this change. That will enable us to remain mistresses of our own lives, as Elza Soares put it.

The challenges are huge. In my view, it’s also important in a democratic society that we politicians don’t imply that we can resolve everything by simply snapping our fingers. Because some things, some processes are arduous, because they take years and because they need compromises. Compromises are an essential part of our democracies. And the ability to compromise – the ability to say: the other is also right – that’s what distinguishes democratic societies and democratic parties from populists and autocrats.

We also see how hard the economic pressure is on democratic societies, how it paves the way for simple arguments, for fake news and populist answers.

We see that again very clearly at the moment with weak growth rates in many countries and rising prices around the world posing a challenge for societies. Expensive energy and food hit the poorest in our countries especially hard. Much harder in Brazil, of course, than in Germany – but in our country, too.

Uncertainties in supply chains jeopardise our supply of vital goods. In Germany, this affects antibiotics, and in Brazil fertilisers.

The digital revolution and artificial intelligence are not only creating new opportunities but also new risks for our democracies. From disinformation with deep fakes to autonomous weapon systems no longer controlled by humans.

The climate crisis has driven three times as many people from their homes around the world than regional conflicts. Only this February, dozens of people lost their lives due to flooding in the federal state of São Paulo.

And some authoritarian regimes want to divide the world up into spheres of influence and subjugate countries instead of respecting the self-determined development of all states.

With Russia’s attack on Ukraine, war has returned to Europe. This attack is not only a heavy blow against our European peaceful order but also against international law and the United Nations Charter.

Let me be quite clear: I can well understand that the threat posed by this war is perceived differently here in Latin America than in Europe.

I’ve heard it said all over the world: firstly, “Where were you when we needed you?” but also: “Where is Ukraine actually?” I can therefore fully understand why a mother from Itaquera or Campinas might say: “I’m more interested in the price of rice and beans in the supermarket this week than what’s happening in a country 11,000 kilometres away.”

However, we’re here together as two Ministers – and indeed the Federal President and the Federal Chancellor were here – not only because we want to intensify our mutual friendship or to stand up for our two democracies. We also want to explain that this war in Ukraine not only caught us Europeans out – who always believed that it was possible to live alongside Russia in peace, just as you here on your continent live side by side with your neighbouring countries – but that it’s Russia’s war against Ukraine which has driven up the price of food around the world, the price of rice and beans around the world.

Security and development are not opposite poles – they are mutually dependent. And if we were to ignore such a brutal violation of the United Nations Charter, the rules-based international order, then not only would an aggressor have won but free trade would then no longer have a chance.

For, just as in football, when some don’t stick to the rules, when they simply don’t accept the rules of the game, then there can no longer be fair play.

That’s why I’m calling on you here today – in my talks with the Government, in many different places – to join us in doing everything possible to finally restore peace in Ukraine.

I believe that begins with naming the aggressor. And it begins – and we’re more than grateful for this – with us raising our voices together in the United Nations. 142 states made it clear at the last General Assembly in February that we support our rules-based international order. Both Brazil and Germany, as well as many African countries, Asian countries – countries across the globe.

That means that we must stand up together for these rules in a multipolar world – not only in relation to Russia’s war of aggression but also far beyond that, wherever our rules-based international order is challenged.

For then we can all benefit together. And yes, a multipolar world is a different world than that of 1970. Fortunately, for otherwise our world would not have developed further. And life always continues to develop, otherwise we would all still be small children.

That’s why, in my view, learning from the mistakes of the past but, at the same time, recognising that we’re fortunate to be able to reshape the future together time and again is part and parcel of the political culture in a democracy.

For us, that also means – and this unites our two countries, Germany and Brazil – that the international institutions reflect this world as it is today. For example, with permanent seats for Africa and Latin America on the UN Security Council.

We’re building our global partnership together to this end. That’s our shared interest – and it’s based on our shared values.

And I believe that three things are crucial at this time.

First of all, securing sustainable trade relations which benefit everyone. Because security and development belong together.

There’s no place in Brazil which epitomises our strong economic cooperation more than São Paulo. More than 1000 German companies have made this city the largest hub for German business outside Europe. German companies are responsible for one in ten dollars of Brazilian industry’s value creation.

However, to ensure that our companies remain competitive in future, they have to be active on the leading markets of the future – from e-mobility to environmentally safe fertilisers. For it’s also true that your country has a larger trade volume with China than with all G7 countries taken together.

And the digital transformation will also radically change our economic model. According to a study by Goldman Sachs, artificial intelligence could replace 300 million jobs in the United States and Europe alone by 2025. At the same time, however, AI could increase the value of all goods and services produced annually by 7% by 2025. So what matters is how we use artificial intelligence. This, too, is a task for policymakers – shaping new processes and innovations. If we ensure that artificial intelligence serves humans and not the other way round then this is a huge opportunity.

We want to shape the transition that lies ahead together with you. Here’s a brief overview of what we’re doing in Europe: we’re not only investing massively in renewable energies and promoting European high-tech innovations but also focusing on the issues of the digital transformation and artificial intelligence. The European Chips Act alone will mobilise a total of 43 billion euro for the production of semiconductors. And it’s important to us to also learn from past mistakes: that we should not only rely on ourselves, not only look out for our own interests and that we should opt for openness rather than protectionism.

We’re shaping this change together with our partners because we benefit from the demand in Brazil, Argentina or Colombia, and also because we want to expand the economy, value chains and technological cooperation in the region together. Because we can learn from each other.

That’s why it’s so important to me that we don’t simply discuss lowering tariffs when we talk about trade and free trade agreements.

President Lula is absolutely right when he says with regard to the negotiations on the Mercosur agreement with the European Union: “This agreement must be inclusive and social.”

At the same time, I believe it’s important that this agreement is ecologically sustainable. Neither of us wants to put thumbscrews on our companies. However, we want to set the right incentives and rules, and we don’t want to pull down what we’ve built up with social standards, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Paris Agreement with our trade policy.

With the Mercosur agreement, we’re creating in one fell swoop the incentive for Brazilian producers to supply sustainable and deforestation-free products to a market of almost 450 million people. So together we can set global standards for social and sustainable trading partnerships in the 21st century.

And I know that there are some questions which are also being debated in our country: how can we make these social and sustainable criteria binding without slowing down the potential for development? But this always raises a counterquestion: what would be gained if we didn’t try to do this and, above all, what would happen if we didn’t succeed, if we simply failed to grasp this opportunity? Then others will set the standards. Partly because we Europeans have perhaps not done enough in the last few years to expand these relations and due to the challenges facing some governments here in the region, we have seen others – especially Chinese players – step in.

That’s why we’re so keen to expand the Mercosur agreement, which has already been negotiated, to include binding social and sustainable criteria. That’s why we want to modernise the agreement, thus making it clear that democracies, provided they work together, can resolve global challenges.

For in the current age, Mercosur is, in my view, more than just a trade agreement. It’s also a geopolitical response to issues in our societies on the value-added of democracy. We can show that democracies are better able to work together in an amicable manner, that it’s democracies which find solutions and not autocracies, where ultimately the law of the strong prevails.

That brings me to my second point: only those who are not completely dependent can act freely and hold their own in the economic sphere. Allow me to give you one example: in July 2020, there were several explosions in a large factory in China following an accident. Production had to be stopped as a result. The factory belonged to a Chinese company which manufactures polysilicon. This raw material is vital to the green transformation, for it’s needed to manufacture solar cells. The International Energy Agency estimates that 95% of polysilicon will soon be produced in China. Following the accident, the global supply of this raw material dropped abruptly by 10% and prices on the world market rose by 50%.

And that was due to just one accident in one factory – it was not politically managed. But this example shows that one-sided dependence, most certainly when it’s no accident but politically managed, makes us vulnerable.

That’s why we Europeans are placing our faith in new partners and old friendships and are intensifying our global partnerships.

For instance, we have decided along with Chile to promote the extraction and production of lithium – thus learning again from what was not optimal in the past.

With Brazil, too, we want to expand our energy partnership and do more to promote the sustainable extraction of raw materials. Imagine the opportunities this cooperation offers: only a few kilometres from here in São Bernardo do Campo, Mercedes has been manufacturing buses for almost 70 years. And these buses have been electric since 2002. You’re ahead of us here, for the buses in Germany are not electric yet.

One of the most important raw materials for the bus batteries is lithium. If we manage to ensure that lithium is not only extracted in Brazil but also processed there in the near future, then this production will be much, much less susceptible to supply shortages, enabling us to secure thousands of jobs locally, generate more local value creation and thus make ourselves less dependent on others. If our partners help us to make strategically important raw materials more accessible, then we’ll do it in a way that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable – and that is the value-added of our friendship, of our economic relations.

Because we Europeans, just like you, don’t want to trigger a new gold rush, or overexploitation, which allows a few to earn a fast buck but leaves behind contaminated soil for everyone. Instead, we can work on partnerships which not only make our supply chains more secure but also the lives of local people, especially those of the many Indigenous people in the affected regions.

And that brings me to the third point concerning our partnership: containing the climate crisis. At the international negotiations on climate change in Sharm el-Sheikh, President Lula also said to me: “Brazil is back on track with climate action.”

And I have to say that I was glad to hear that. Because the world has missed you, Brazil: O mundo estava com saudade do Brasil.

We can only contain this crisis if we work together. Nothing endangers our security and self-determination as much as the rising sea levels, which drive people out of coastal areas, or droughts, which destroy our farmers’ harvests. That’s why we need Brazil as a strong voice at the UN climate negotiations so that we can achieve an ambitious outcome this year in Dubai.

But we also need Brazil when it comes to lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Because your country is leading the way. We can learn a lot from you. Your country already generates almost 90% of its electricity from renewable energies. You’re therefore a world leader in green energy. You know better than I do that the Amazon stores more than 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 every year. It is scarcely possible for us to decommission a sufficient number of coal-fired power stations that produce as much carbon as this forest offsets every year.

This forest is one of our shared global tipping points.

That’s why it’s so important that the Brazilian Government has decided to better regulate the Amazon and to prevent illegal clearances. However, it’s equally important to remember that – we learned this when it came to phasing out coal – that this is always also about people: it’s important to gain the support of local people whose livelihoods depend on the forest being used in an environmentally safe manner, for example with sustainable cocoa cultivation.

Therefore, we’ve spoken – our Governments, as well as the EU and Brazil – about how we can set financial incentives so that forest conservation also fosters economic development.

The Amazon Fund is one of the world’s most successful climate finance instruments. And I’m glad that the German Government can further strengthen this instrument, this Fund, financially – especially now – and will continue to do so in future.

For it’s clear that we won’t meet the 1.5 degree target without Brazil. And, at the same time, we have a great opportunity to use our potential for a joint partnership, for a socially just, ecological and truly green transformation.

Ladies and gentlemen, students,

it was important to me to come here in person to talk about our partnership and, above all, to make concrete offers.

Let us reach out to each other and shape a future together which will benefit everyone.

A partnership which strengthens our democracies. Which shows that democracies are stronger than autocracies.

A future in which the strength of the law prevails and not the law of the strong.

A future in which people decide for themselves how they live and who they love.

A future in which our societies can develop freely.

A future, in which each and every one of us can say: I am my own mistress. No one tells me what to do. Sou meu próprio patrão, ninguém me manda.


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