Foreign Minister Cravinho, dear João,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Coming to Portugal for my first trip in this New Year is very special to me, also personally, because it was here in Portugal, as a small child, at the age of one and a half, that I learned to walk. My parents took me to your beautiful country after the Carnation Revolution.
Coming back here, privately, but also in my new job as Foreign Minister, always feels very special – also to places like your wonderful lighthouses in Sagres or in Cabo da Roca.
That is the most Western spot on our continent. People call it Fim da Europa - the end of Europe. Of course, this is true on a map, but we all know that Portugal is right at the heart of Europe.
I don't think the wonderful singer Mariza was thinking of the European Union when she wrote her fado “A Nossa Voz”. But this voice she's singing about could well be our European voice. She sings: “And out of one, we will be thousand hearts. And out of a thousand, one sole voice.”
I hope I will pronounce it correctly: “Uma Só Voz”. Last year, we needed this common voice, this unity, more than ever. And we showed this unity.
For Europe, 2022 was one of the most bitter years in our post-war history.
But the optimistic lesson we have learned is that when push comes to shove, Europe stands together. Uma so voz.
When I think about the year ahead, three things give me hope:
First of all, strong friendships like the one between our two countries. We already spoke about this, João: we want to make this friendship even stronger. We have therefore agreed to establish regular consultations on key questions that will be crucial for the years to come: on European affairs, on our cooperation with Lusophone countries in Africa and Latin America, on our relationship with China and on the fight of the climate crisis. Our goal is to approach these issues more strategically. But most of all, we want our partnership to lead to concrete projects that really make a difference for the people in our countries, because foreign policy is not only about ministers meeting and diplomats exchanging views. Foreign policy is about people. And that is why, at the German- Portuguese Forum this year, we are bringing together business leaders, academics and politicians – older ones, but also younger ones – so that we can learn from each other's experience and improve digital health care, or the financing mechanism for start-ups.
Another example of where we want to launch concrete new projects is in the field of marine fisheries. One of these is Seatraces, through which scientists from all over Europe will be researching methods to determine the origin of fish and seafood, so that consumers know where the fish that ends up on their plates actually comes from. This is not only a question of consumer protection, but also about combating illegal fishing. And it is about promoting small local fisheries that focus on sustainable fishing.
To set up projects like these, we need the help of all of you, ambassadors and consul generals. And therefore, I'm really thankful that you invited me today. Because your expertise, your commitment and your action is the fuel that makes our relationship so dynamic.
The second reason that makes me hopeful going into the New Year is something Portugal has been promoting for years: European unity. Uma só voz. During the last 11 months, as Europeans, we have given a firm response to Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine. Although Lisbon is more than 3000 kilometres away from Kyiv, Portugal has backed Ukraine from the start, together with its partners and friends. You've proved that unity and solidarity are not questions of geographical distance.
And I know that you, João, played a special role in this yourself.
I really would like to thank you for this. Your country has made clear, as have many others in Europe, that neutrality is not an option. Because if, in a situation of justice versus injustice, you stay neutral, you do not support the victim - you take the side of the oppressor.
I think for all of us, the strongest wish is for peace in 2023. But unfortunately, the world is not a world where you can simply wish for a better future. You have to build a better future. Ukraine is coming under targeted attack, with bombs and rockets, missiles and drones – on Christmas Eve, on New Year's Eve. Hospitals, electricity grids, power stations. Families, children, the elderly. This is an attack on humanity. And this is why we have to stand with the people of Ukraine as long as they need us. We have to stand with the victims, and on the side of justice.
In Germany, we have a history that tells us we have to be very careful in these kinds of situations. But when faced with this choice, we said that we not only have to stand on the side of Ukraine, but also on that of international law and the Charter of the United Nation.
We’ve had to realise in Germany that our European peace order is not something that is carved in stone. From when I learned to walk here in Portugal until now, more than 40 years later, I had the blessing of always living in a peaceful Europe and - most of my life - in a united Germany, at the heart of Europe. But obviously, this European peace order is not carved in stone, and we must not take our security for granted.
We are drafting a National Security Strategy. So that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past, also with a view to our past relationship with Russia.
This means that we are looking at all aspects of our security, through what we are calling an integrated security approach. Because security is a key question in practically all fields of politics, whether it be our defence, our energy supply, trade, or questions regarding supply chains and cyber.
Our vulnerabilities are not restricted to military questions. If major hospitals or train lines cannot operate because they have suffered cyberattacks, then that is a security question, too. If we are not able to provide medicine to our children, like against fever in Germany now, because supply chains are unreliable, that is a security question, too. If climate events like floods and droughts are destroying our forests, our villages, our livelihood, obviously that is one of the most dangerous security questions of our time. And the worst case scenario is when these events overlap.
This is why we are working on an integrated approach to our security. We must think internal and external security aspects together, because we can see - not only in Russia’s war but also before - that there is more than a grey zone in between them. You cannot separate the two. These are some of the key matters we are looking at as we are drafting our National Security Strategy.
With a view to Russia's ruthless war, it is clear to us that our strongest response lies in our unity, as partners and allies. That is what we have proved over the past months, and that is what we will continue to do, not only by helping our Ukrainian partners, but also by helping partners in other parts of the world deal with the damaging effects this war is having on people's welfare and on their economies.
As European diplomats, let us make clear in every bilateral conversation, at every public event, at every negotiation: a war of aggression is not an isolated event. It effects everybody in an interconnected world. But if we stand together in an interconnected world, we can be stronger than this war. This is, for me, the most important message for this new year.
And to be able to do so, we must be capable of acting efficiently and swiftly. I strongly believe that we have to get better in terms of the speed of our decision-making in the European Union, especially when it comes to foreign policy matters. In my view, we can no longer afford to have decisions blocked by individual member states for domestic reasons, because there might be a regional election coming up or because of a dispute in a national cabinet. Therefore, qualified majority voting can, in my point of view, lead to fairer and more efficient results for all of us.
I must say at this point that one of the reasons I look forward to meetings in Brussels every month is because I always sit next to my Portuguese counterpart. And we have been talking about this issue a lot because, as you know, it’s also set out in our coalition agreement that we have to talk about unanimity and qualified majority voting in foreign policy.
And I have heard your concerns, but also the concerns of others with regard to qualified majority voting on foreign and security policy matters. I would like to outline my ideas here because I think they can offer some food for thought, maybe for your discussions later on. Because obviously, you're right that regarding the question of security, if it touches one nation - because we are different countries, diverse as much as we are a union - there might be moments when there is a national concern which others do not share. And I know that it's not very nice to be outvoted in qualified majority decisions. Germany had to realise this most recently before Christmas, for example, in the vote on the sustainable use of plant protection products.
Even though I know that this is a situation that might be different for bigger and smaller states, I truly believe that now is not the time for theoretical discussions where some say “I'm 100% for qualified majority voting on foreign policies” while others say “I'm 100% against it” and we can write long essays on both views. I think this is the moment when we really have to sit down together and see how can we solve the problems. We sometimes have situations where we as the European Union want to act, but unfortunately are not even capable of drafting a press release because we don’t agree on 100% of the wording. Therefore, I suggest that we make better use of the possibilities the EU treaties give us already today.
One example: We recently set up a training mission for Ukrainian soldiers, a decision that required unanimity. After a long discussion, Hungary decided on a “constructive abstention”, allowing the others to go ahead.
We want to build on such pragmatic solutions so that, as the EU, we can live up to our responsibility as a strong global actor - be it through this form of constructive abstentions or the passerelle clause that is already provided for in the treaties, or by using qualified majority voting in special, specifically defined policy fields such as climate-related questions, sanctions or human rights.
And this brings me to the third reason that fills me with hope for the coming year: our strong partnerships beyond Europe, throughout the world.
Because we have shown in the last eleven months – not only when we as the EU 27 stood united – that we could make a difference, also for other countries. When we didn't have to say: well, let’s wait for the next EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting – and then maybe we can give you an answer. But when we responded directly to our international partners.
We have to realise how important this strong European partnership with other parts of the world is. I think what we need to do now is to offer partnerships that are in the interest of both sides.
Because the old narrative, saying: here is the West, the European Union and the United States, while there is what is referred to as the rest, or the Global South – this is not the reality we are living in anymore.
Not when you look at the different countries, or the strengths of different countries, on different continents. But also not when you look at people around the world. If you ask 23-year-old students – be it in Berlin, be it in Lisbon or in Libya, or in Ethiopia – how they define themselves.
I believe you would never get the answer: “I consider myself to be a person of the Global South.” Maybe the answer would be: “I consider myself an Ethiopian” or “a 23-year-old student”. Hopefully, many in Europe would define themselves as Europeans and not first of all as Germans or as Portuguese.
Therefore, I think that when we look at the current situation, what we have to realise is that we are not in the old confrontations of the Cold War. But we are entering a time of increasing systemic rivalry. Between those who want to preserve the international order and adhere to international law. And those that defy this order and the UN Charter.
We have seen in the votes at the General Assembly that this is not a 50:50 division, that this is not about a geographic division. We saw more than two-thirds of the world‘s countries standing up for international law, standing up for the international order, standing up for the United Nations Charter.
And we have to look in particular at those countries which had the courage to take a side and stand up, even though they were pressured or face dependencies vis-à-vis Russia or others.
As we look at Russia's imperialism, this is only one of the most visible expressions of the attitude of defying the UN Charter.
We also see how other actors are seeking to expand their influence by offering deals that might look good and cheap at first sight, but which risk creating long-term dependence.
China still maintains its coercive trade measures against Lithuania for political reasons. In Africa and Latin America, Beijing is buying political influence with cheap loans. In the UN system, China is trying to erode established norms on human rights.
It’s true that we need China’s cooperation on global issues, like biodiversity and climate change, but we are perceiving an increasingly blatant systemic rivalry.
To me, it is therefore crucial that what we extend to our global partners offers that are fair, sustainable and that reflect the interests of all sides.
The European Union’s Global Gateway programme is aimed at exactly this. The ideas and concepts for this are already there: from solar power plants in Botswana and Namibia to a train line in Burkina Faso and a wind power plant in Ghana.
Now is the time to get started with the actual work on these lighthouse projects.
And as you, dear João, mentioned in your keynote, Portugal can play an important role in this. By building on your long-standing partnerships in Lusophone countries like Angola and Mozambique, but also in countries in Latin America.
And what I've learned during the last 24 hours is that the global foreign policy you are practicing has a special benefit for the whole European Union. Because it's not targeted – like with other post-colonial countries – at certain regions only, and then also with a bad track record. You have, due to your history, strong ties to so many regions. These are also ties based on values, true partnerships which I believe Europe can really build on.
I liked what you said in your speech about our foreign trade and its strengths. Yes, we have to reengage, do outreach and build on this cooperation for the 21st century.
It’s not merely about trade. Geoeconomics are highly connected to geopolitical issues.
When we look, for example, at the strengthening of our cooperation with Latin America in the field of raw materials – which we need for our energy transitions – the numbers are quite telling.
For almost all such critical raw materials, the EU depends on imports – from 75 to 100 percent.
Particularly for its e-car batteries demand and to achieve climate neutrality, Europe will need around 18 times more lithium by as early as 2030.
Most of the lithium that the EU imports comes from Chile and Australia. But it is processed in China. This is not only bad for our carbon footprint, but also makes the supply chain less secure.
So if we are looking to intensify our partnership with Latin America or other partners around the world, we have to look at all these different aspects, because supply chain security matters.
And, therefore, I think especially ties to Latin America, to the new Bazilian Government – and you've just been there – are so important.
When we reengage in these partnerships, we also need to see where the most urgent needs of our partners lie. At the moment, for many, that’s not Russia, but rather their most urgent need is to revitalise their economies. We always have to put ourselves in the shoes of others to see what their most important concerns are.
Therefore, I believe that getting restarted with questions like Mercosur – maybe under a different name – is one of the most important topics we must deal with when we are doing our outreach to countries in Latin America.
We should bear in mind that their biggest security threat these days is not Russia’s war. It's also not supply chains with China. But it is the climate crisis. For most countries, this is the major security issue.
And therefore, I am really happy that we started a group among EU foreign ministers that is saying: we want to address climate security policy more intensively.
And I'm also very happy that – and I’ve said the same in Spain and in France –France is ready to use the huge potential of the Iberian peninsula for bringing green hydrogen to the rest of Europe.
It was great news that Prime Minister Costa, together with his counterparts from Spain and France, recently unveiled the plans for this important pipeline from the Iberian peninsula to Marseille.
Because our credibility in the fight against the climate crisis is worth a lot – we have to show that we are reducing our emissions. And I say it very clearly: Also for us, this is a highly important security issue. Not despite, but because of Russia’s war of aggression, our target to make Europe the first climate neutral continent is more important than ever.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I know that, as we look ahead to 2023, the tasks are challenging.
But we do have reason to approach this New Year with optimism: because the European Union is built on friendships like ours.
“Out of one, we will be a thousand hearts.” That is what Mariza sang.
And that is what the European Union is about: 450 million hearts, and a strong voice in the world.
Uma só voz!