Thank you all for your kind words and warm welcome here today on this special and exciting occasion.
In the last few days, I have received various pieces of advice for this handover – including the tip that a speech peppered with quotes from Kissinger to Brandt is sure to leave an impression. But I would prefer to share with you my oldest daughter’s reaction when I told her that I will now be representing Germany on the world stage in the coming years. She said, “The world? Oh dear.” So she has quite the accurate idea of what awaits her mother: a very great deal of not always easy work.
And instead of listing all of the ongoing crises around the world for you today, I would particularly like to greet you and wholeheartedly thank you all – all those who have helped to lighten the load in recent days as I prepared to take on this challenging role, this great responsibility – and first and foremost you, Heiko Maas. You have my heartfelt thanks, not least because it is clear how much passion you have put into this job and what an accommodating and, above all, friendly spirit this handover has taken place in. And that is not just because we are lucky enough – in my generation as in those before it – to live in a liberal democracy. Even in liberal democracies, it cannot be taken for granted that outgoing politicians will organise a handover like this, perhaps with a tear in their eye, but above all else with plenty of team spirit, and will hold multiple meetings with their successor – I am deeply grateful to you for this, dear Heiko. During our conversations in recent days, you have given me a vivid picture of what awaits me.
And as Foreign Minister over the last four years you have achieved a great deal. You have worked tirelessly for European cohesion and the transatlantic partnership – and if we count back four years, those were certainly not simple endeavours. Germany’s unwavering solidarity with Israel has always been a particular priority for you – as it will be for me. With tenacity, with crisis diplomacy, you have achieved impressive results from Iran to Ukraine and in particular when it comes to Libya. And, as has already been mentioned, you have modernised the Federal Foreign Office by significantly increasing the number of women in leadership positions. You have our appreciation for all of this, and I am very, very grateful to be able to build on it.
The opportunity to stand here today in this Weltsaal fills me with humility and with joy. Humility in the face of the tasks that lie ahead of me, ahead of us, and the way that this place has shaped history over the past years and decades. And great joy as I look ahead to working with our partners around the globe and, above all, with you, the staff of the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, Bonn, Brandenburg an der Havel – a wonderful place – and, in particular, at our many, many missions all over the world.
Some of our colleagues watching via livestream are perhaps enjoying their morning coffee in New York, while others might be relaxing with an after-work drink at their screen in Sydney. And we are here between them at Werderscher Markt in Berlin. Sadly, the pandemic means that it is not possible for more of our colleagues to join us here in the Weltsaal. But to all of you, I would like to say thank you for everything that I will now be able to build on. Thank you for the opportunity for us to shape the coming years together.
I know – and it was tangible even on entering, within the first steps, on the stairs, and then as we sat together in the office – I know not just that this ministry is a powerhouse, that is common knowledge, but also how much passion drives it, and above all how much team spirit. Meeting with such a warm welcome, sensing even in the corridors that there is chemistry at work here, has left a deep impression on me. And then there is your sheer wealth of expertise. And the many people who work here – as Mr Tietz has just mentioned – for whom it is not merely a job but an absolute passion. And who achieve great things in extremely challenging conditions in the most dangerous places in the world, often with children in tow, not to mention in the midst of a pandemic – for this, you have my heartfelt thanks!
I hope to meet as many of you as possible in the coming months and years – if the virus allows. Your international experience, your expertise and advice will form the foundation of my foreign policy work. And I promise you that I will do my utmost to guide our country into the future with a modern foreign policy together with you. In doing so I will build on the contributions of my wonderful colleagues Dr Anna Lührmann, Katja Keul and Dr Tobias Lindner, whom I would like to take this opportunity to officially introduce as Ministers of State. And of course I will also have the support of our new State Secretary Susanne Baumann, to whom I would like to bid another warm welcome before we move on. I very much look forward to working with you all.
I am aware that difficult tasks lie ahead. Because the global political situation has changed fundamentally in recent years. The days in which we watched in disbelief as crises gathered pace are over. We are seeing new types of order emerge – and they are far from encouraging. We are living in a world without any real global leadership, and at the same time a world in which we can only tackle unprecedented challenges to humanity such as the climate crisis by working together. Where a globalised economy has not, after all, automatically led to a strengthening of democracy and human rights, and crises do not stop at borders. A world in which we are increasingly connected by trade and technology while also divided by growing geopolitical differences.
I strongly believe that, in such a world, the European role must be further strengthened, without – and this is the enormous challenge, and this is why it will be anything but easy – without falling into the trap of illusory might.
This means, first of all, building on established foundations. And I am deliberately mentioning this now because many of you, I am sure, particularly abroad, will have been asked in recent weeks: What’s going to happen now in Germany with the new government, after 16 years with Angela Merkel as Chancellor? Please tell the people who ask you this that, although the “traffic light coalition” – and I suspect that the translation for the German Ampelkoalition will be rather strange in some languages – is new for Germany, the world can continue to rely on our country. We stand firmly by European integration, the transatlantic alliance and our multilateral commitments: reliable on security policy, with clear foreign policy positions.
At the same time, this Government has pledged to modernise the country – also with a view to strengthening the foundations of our international role. However, this modernisation can only work if it is embedded internationally. Going it alone is doomed to failure in an interlinked and interconnected world. But at the same time it is undeniable that this joint approach faces resistance and growing challenges. We must face up to this dilemma. It might feel good to conjure up a better world in the form of rules and standards, and these are certainly important. But they alone will not bring us to our goal. Instead, we must engage in a hard-headed analysis of the way that actors such as China and Russia, as well as other states whom the Economist recently dubbed “midsized meddlers”, are seeking to gain advantages in a manner that we do not consider tenable. We must therefore – and I see this as one of the key challenges – reflect more on how we want to tackle this attitude of competition and opposition. Because we cannot afford to let the international community split into separate, irreconcilable camps.
German foreign policy thus relies on dialogue and cooperation, on a clear moral compass, and from time to time it requires resolve as well as creative action. We measure our partners by their actions and their international obligations, in particular the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of Paris, which we all have signed. This is not idealism for idealism’s sake – it forms the foundation of diplomatic work. This is the reason why we are negotiating with Iran in Vienna over its nuclear programme – together with the EU and the permanent members of the UN Security Council. This is the reason why we are supporting Ukraine in its efforts to stand up to Russian aggression and the illegal annexation of Crimea. This is the reason why we are insisting on the necessity of compliance with the international law of the sea in the Indo-Pacific and are seeking to further expand our partnerships in the region.
This form of values-led foreign policy is only credible, however, when we also critically examine our own actions. And so it is good that the German Bundestag will be taking time to review our mission in Afghanistan in the coming legislative period. After 20 years of involvement, we must also live up to our particular responsibility for Afghanistan. Currently, this primarily means humanitarian assistance for the millions of people in the country who are threatened by poverty and hunger. And it also means continuing to help people who are at risk there to reach other countries. The Federal Foreign Office has achieved a great deal on this front in recent weeks, with the new chartered flights – this too has already been mentioned. And in the most dreadful circumstances that we can imagine, individual members of staff risked their lives and gave their utmost on the ground in Kabul airport. It is impossible for us to really imagine what that was like from here in safe Berlin. Meanwhile, the desks of probably everyone in this room, and of many of our colleagues in the Bundestag who are here today, remain piled high with heart-breaking cases: children, families, spouses and especially a great many women and girls. Those of you who work in visa offices worldwide have to process these cases day in, day out. And so I see this issue with regard to Afghanistan and how we can continue to bolster our collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior in the coming weeks as one of the central issues at this already challenging time.
All of this aside, it remains true that Germany, in the heart of Europe, can do nothing without the European Union. It is and remains the linchpin of our foreign policy. And so I particularly hope to continue deepening our friendship with our French partners – building on your work, dear Heiko. In the knowledge that we are different, that all of us in Europe are different. That is, after all, precisely our strength, that we have different histories and that we understand and respect these histories. And in the knowledge that, while we and France will always have our differences when it comes to defence policy, the close ties between the French and German people are indispensable. Germany and France belong together and always will. And so the three-part trip that I am about to begin will take me to Paris, then to Brussels, and directly after that – because the important axis of the Weimar Triangle is very much needed, too – to Warsaw.
And the crucial question of how we can breathe life into the much-discussed concept of strategic sovereignty is in any case not primarily a military issue, but rather an economic and technological one. Europe’s strength – and several members from the Committee on the Affairs of the European Union are here with us, Michael Roth, and we have discussed this topic a great deal – Europe’s strength, including in its role as a major project for peace, has always been its ability to maximise its own capabilities through cooperation with others. Not only can we set standards and norms of our own, but we can also stipulate which products are sold on our market, the largest single market in the world. At the same time, we can ensure greater sovereignty in the way that we utilise investments in this single market, not only in terms of security strategy, when it comes to critical infrastructure, but also in the interest of connectivity. All of that sounds technical, it sounds small-scale, but this is the soft power that has driven Europe’s success story. Our connections with one another, our sense of solidarity and community, have made us the largest peace project in the world.
I see the strengthening of the transatlantic partnership in the same way. We must not only reinforce NATO and create a climate alliance; we must also, for example, forge ties between the EU’s new Global Gateway initiative and the United States’ Build Back Better World partnership. Our G7 Presidency offers a good starting point for both of these undertakings.
I would like to work with you to bolster the influence of the Federal Foreign Office when it comes to foreign economic policy and in particular international climate policy. Because we know that we can only achieve the Paris climate goals if we get industrialising and developing countries on board and shape the transformation processes required for this around the world together with them. To this end, we will take the lead on international Climate Change Conferences within the Federal Government and also negotiate at these conferences on Germany’s behalf in the future. This will change things, but primarily it will strengthen our ministry. We are expanding the relevant divisions and we will be welcoming new colleagues from the Federal Environment Ministry. As far as the precise structure is concerned – and this is my way of working generally – I would like to reach decisions together with you in the coming weeks, to reflect and indeed to continually critically examine our approach. It is important to me that, here of all places, we work on projects together, and that, no matter what level we are at, we continue to critically examine ourselves and naturally the minister, too. I believe that the Federal Foreign Office is the perfect place to do this and could not be better positioned.
At the same time, dear colleagues, it is clear to me that modern foreign policy no longer only takes place at international conferences and in the back rooms of government palaces – those days are long gone. As Foreign Minister, I see myself not only as the representative of a state, but above all as the representative of over 82 million very different people in our country, who in turn are connected with 450 million Europeans and almost 8 billion people worldwide. In liberal, modern democracies, foreign affairs are the affairs of the people as a whole. And in interconnected economies, they also affect the interests of various entrepreneurs, of every single worker and, above all else, of a great many young people who travel abroad for their studies, for work, for love or simply for the pleasure of travelling. Each and every individual contributes something different to our country – not least the more than 20 million Germans and others living here in Germany whose personal or family history has been partly shaped by migration. With their family ties around the world, they are also our best ambassadors.
And so I believe that, as part of a modern approach to foreign policy, we must act to bolster the diverse ties that people have around the world and not least focus more closely on younger people, children and teenagers, girls and young women in other countries, and must see the Federal Foreign Office as a platform for the Federal Republic of Germany’s external action, one which takes into consideration economic, environmental, workplace and transport issues – and not least the various dimensions of culture, which for good reason form the third pillar of this ministry’s work. On that note, I would once again like to wholeheartedly thank you, Michelle Müntefering, for everything that you have done here over the last few years.
This complexity is familiar to everyone in the Federal Foreign Office. Many of you may well be working on cultural affairs or the environment during your postings abroad. And if we create greater connections abroad, at our missions around the world, we will also feel the effects here in Berlin. When it comes to fighting the pandemic or the climate crisis or issuing humanitarian visas, we can only create effective policy if we look at the various different issues as a connected whole and tackle them as such.
In this spirit, I very much look forward to forging greater ties between us – by which I mean all of you out there in the world, those here in the ministry, me myself and our new team here at Werderscher Markt. And in closing, to do justice to the abundance of tasks that await, I will after all make use of a quote from Henry Kissinger. He once said: “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” In that spirit, I would like to say to you: If there is a crisis next week, I will count on your expertise and your support.
Thank you very much – and I truly look forward to working in this position of such great responsibility!