Stuttgart Speech on Europe by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock

16.02.2023 - Speech

Seventy years ago, at Christmas in 1952, two dozen teenagers came together on a sports field in Ludwigsburg, not far from here – to play football.

They were not professional players. The match was not broadcast on the radio or television. And the winners would not receive any trophy or prize.

That doesn’t sound very exciting – it could be a U9 game or a local side’s Sunday kick-around today.

But this football match was historic. It was anything but a matter of course. And I expect that nobody who was there ever forgot it.

Because this game, between the youth teams of Sportvereinigung 07 Ludwigsburg and FC Sochaux-Montbéliard, was not just any friendly match. It was the first football match between a German and a French team on German soil following the end of the Second World War – at least that is what historians’ research tells us.

Today, I think, we can scarcely imagine what this football match meant at the time, seven years after the end of the war. Some French fathers had fought as soldiers, fought against Germans. Some of them, as a result, didn’t want to let their sons travel to Germany to play football at first – understandably, it must be said. Because Germany was the country that just a few years before had inflicted a murderous war on their homeland. The country that was responsible for every French family having dead to mourn.

But there were people on both sides of the border, particularly in France, football coaches, mayors, parents, children, who said: We’re going to do it. We’re going to do it anyway. Because we want peace and reconciliation – and in some cases, perhaps, just to play football. And yet this match, between Germany and France, in the heart of Europe, was so much more. They organised it because they were human, because they wanted to meet, to get to know each other – at first only on a football pitch.

The mayor of Ludwigsburg, incidentally, was ill and unable to greet the French visiting side on their arrival in December 1952. And so the Director of the Franco-German Institute filled in for him and welcomed the young French players. I mention this because the Institute is this year celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of its founding. And Ms Keller is here representing it today – a very warm welcome and congratulations on your Institute’s seventy-fifth anniversary!

All of us, in Germany, in France and across Europe, owe it in part to this football match that we are here together today. We owe it to the people who, in their communities and associations, in their parliaments and governments, in the face of resistance, fought for reconciliation. Reconciliation did not simply spring into being. Our shared Europe did not simply spring into being. It was built.

You are chosen “to master your life and the future”. President Charles de Gaulle addressed this sentence to the young women and men of Germany in his famous speech in 1962, also in Ludwigsburg. Of course, it was not without a generous helping of de Gaulle’s characteristic pathos. But I believe so many people, at the time, proved precisely that – they brought these words to life. They had the courage to get to work, despite all of the doubts and difficulties, to change Europe, their Europe, their future, for the better – as masters of the life and the future of our continent.

We owe it to their courage that France, our most important neighbour, has today become our best friend, too. And it was their passion and dedication that, out of a continent of violence, after 1945, made a new Europe. A continent of peace and freedom.

I am telling this story of the 22 young footballers from the year 1952, and I am mentioning de Gaulle’s speech ten years later, not because they are such wonderful anecdotes or romantic reminders of the early days of Franco-German reconciliation. But because, in my role as Foreign Minister, I am so often confronted with our past. And always feel what a responsibility that is – and what lessons it teaches us.

And, for me, the most important lesson from Franco-German reconciliation is that it did not simply spring into being. All those involved braved the scepticism and resistance of parents, coaches, neighbours, classmates and above all a sceptical public to take action, because they themselves believed that it was right, because it was their conviction. If they had simply bowed to the dictates of “the prevailing mood” – or today we would say of “likes” – and that had been the yardstick, then it is likely that neither this football match nor the Elysée Treaty would have existed, much less European integration.

In a democracy, all politics flows from the people – that is its essence. But at the same time, it is the job of politicians in a democracy not to simply follow and parrot prevailing opinions. No, their job is to build majorities for what they believe to be right in consideration of their responsibility – not least when that requires courage and struggle.

This was true after 1945, when brave people in Europe laid the foundations of European integration – and it is true today, when we talk about our peace in Europe. We are living in a difficult time that we did not choose for ourselves. A year ago, we woke up in a different world. But it is our world. It is our time. And therefore our responsibility, too.

In my role as Foreign Minister over the last year, this year of a terrible war, I have met many people in many places in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, who witnessed the Second World War. And it was at a cemetery in Warsaw that I heard the most urgent of their appeals. An older woman there said to me: Ms Baerbock, don’t ask me about what I witnessed – you are now the witness of your time. Some day, you will be asked: What did you do? And perhaps, more to the point: What did you not do? That is what our responsibility means in these difficult times. The generation after 1945 had the courage to do what they thought was right, to take their destiny into their own hands – and it is to them that we owe our peaceful and free Europe today.

I would say that there is nobody for whom this Europe has become more of a home than you here in Baden-Württemberg. Minister-President, Winfried Kretschmann, you and the people of Baden-Württemberg quite rightly describe yourselves as the Land “at the heart of Europe” – although I must say that we do the same in Brandenburg. But that is the wonderful thing. Our Europe has grown – and so our heart has grown bigger, too.

Where barriers and border officials once stood, the tram now takes you from Kehl to Strasbourg every ten minutes. The high-speed train from Stuttgart Central Station to Gare de l’Est in Paris takes just three hours and ten minutes. And I am happy to say, in my role as a representative of the Federal Government, too, that a direct high-speed connection between Paris and Berlin will be possible starting in 2024.

Living and breathing Europe – that is also what you did in the spring of 2020 when your French friends on the other side of the border called you and told you how many severely ill COVID patients were filling their intensive care wards, how they could no longer look after them all. And this is precisely what Europe means. That you, and you personally, dear Winfried, on the other end of the line, said: Then they’ll come to us.

This solidarity is what distinguishes you – it is what distinguishes our shared Europe. And this solidarity is something that we have also been seeing for a year now – and for which we are deeply grateful, as Foreign Minister, as Minister-President, as mayor – in our villages, towns and cities, in daycares and schools, as children, women and some men from Ukraine are welcomed there by you, by us.

I am thinking of the Freiburgers who are standing by the people in their partner city of Lviv – providing emergency generators, beds, batteries and repeated donations. I am also thinking of the more than 150,000 Ukrainians who are living here in Baden-Württemberg, and many of whom are now working here, who are going to daycare or school here – despite the fact that places were already scarce.

But for us, for you, it was a matter of course, at a time when people had to decide which side they were on, to make it clear that we stand by the side of people who have fled to Germany in the face of war, bombs and terror. Because this, too, is our European responsibility.

How precious this Europe is – that is something that many people here in Germany have probably only really realised over the last twelve months. As you said earlier, Europe was for a long time not a topic that interested people. But suddenly we are realising that this united Europe is our life assurance policy.

We Germans perhaps saw this Europe for far too long as a matter of course. I often notice this when I speak to my Baltic colleagues. We Germans acted a little as if this Europe had simply sprung into being. Particularly for someone like me, who was born in 1980 and has spent the greater part of their life in a reunited Germany, this peaceful and united Europe was simply utterly normal. But today, we are seeing that this Europe is not, after all, a matter of course. It is in danger. And so we must protect it together.

And this Europe comprises not just the European Union but our peaceful European order. The order that was built from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s onwards – a shared space for security and freedom throughout Europe. This space is more than just the European Union, as exemplified not least by the Central and Eastern European states, including Ukraine, as a member of the Council of Europe, an OSCE participating State.

A few weeks ago I was in Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, just 35 kilometres from the border with Russia. I met with schoolgirls there – in a warming centre, because Russian rockets have destroyed the city’s power plants and people are freezing in their homes in temperatures of -10 or -15.

One of the girls, 16 years old, said to me: “Before the war I played a lot of volleyball with my friends. But now my sports hall is in ruins.” And she would not be allowed to visit this sports hall any more anyway, nor her school. Because when the air raid sirens sound, the young people have just 45 seconds.

Just 45 seconds to take cover – under a table, in a doorway if you can, and in a bomb shelter if you’re very lucky. But gyms and schools don’t have bomb shelters, and so these gyms and schools, if they have not been destroyed, are closed and have been for almost a year. Because 45 seconds is how long it takes for the Russian rockets to fall in Kharkiv when they are fired from neighbouring Russian territory.

In 45 seconds, you can survive – but these seconds are too short a time for a normal life. And that is precisely what is at stake, that is why we have been supporting Ukraine since 24 February 2022 – providing humanitarian support such as generators for warming centres, financial support for the organisation of food relief on the ground, and also weapons. So that this schoolgirl, this sixteen-year-old can some day return to doing what she most wishes for. Simply going to school, playing volleyball – and not just thinking about 45 seconds.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For thirty years now, our children have been going to school in a reunited Germany and a united Europe and have been able to meet up with their friends as a matter of course – without having to think about war. They play handball, volleyball, football – and unlike in 1952, here in Baden-Württemberg in particular, games and tournaments in the country next door are no longer anything special at all.

And this is precisely why we are focusing so much on Ukraine. Because this war there must not be allowed to become something we are used to. Not something that just plays on in the background when we switch on the news each evening or when we discuss foreign policy in the German Bundestag. This war must never be allowed to become normality. That is why we are working every day for peace, every day and every night. And so long as people cannot live in peace, we will continue – as hard as it is. Because our security is Central and Eastern Europe’s security, too.

One of the greatest achievements of the united Europe and the peaceful European order, which we agreed on in the Helsinki Final Act, is the clear rejection of any violent redrawing of borders using tanks and bombs. If we were to abandon this principle now – and I can understand that some people are saying: the whole thing has to end at some point – yes, it has to end – but if we achieve this end by distancing ourselves from this principle of peace, if we simply accepted the annexations in Ukraine, then we would no longer be safe in Europe, nor perhaps anywhere in the world. Because just about every country in this world has a larger neighbour. What we are doing now, we are doing for the peaceful European order, for Ukraine, but also to defend the Charter of the United Nations.

Because we are the masters of our life and our future, we look upon our time differently than we did before 24 February 2022. This does not mean casting aside all of our old principles – quite the opposite. What we must do now is strengthen what has always made us strong. Compassion, attention, empathy, investing not just in military matters – even if we are now having to learn the hard way that we need to invest in our defensive capabilities – soft power, exchange between people, sustainability and justice.

This is why, now in particular, at a time when we are strengthening NATO and welcoming two new members, Finland and Sweden, when we are investing in our own defensive capabilities, the Federal Government is writing a National Security Strategy which covers a great deal more than just military defence. When we talk about security, we also mean the protection of our hospitals and power lines. Because we know that security in the twenty-first century covers much more than just tanks and rockets – it also means protecting our critical infrastructure, protecting our democracies against disinformation, against hatred and hate speech.

In line with this understanding, we see our National Security Strategy as a strategy for integrated security. And so we are coordinating not just within the Federal Government and with our European partners and friends but also, not least, with the Länder.

Today a journalist asked me when I was last in Baden-Württemberg. My answer was: I can tell you precisely, it was last summer on my cross-country trip for the National Security Strategy, in Karlsruhe – to talk to members of the public there about what security actually means to them. To police officers and firefighters, to schoolchildren and parents, to our Jewish communities, to the local residents and the mayor of Karlsruhe.

And one member of the public there in Karlsruhe summed up what we are concerned with today. She said: Security in Ukraine is also a matter of my security, I can see that on my heating bill. And that is exactly what we mean. Seeing that what we do here, what we consume and import here, comes from somewhere – and when that place is not safe, our security is affected, too.

This understanding drives not only our work on the National Security Strategy but also our joint efforts, at this time when our security faces such challenges, to build up our European Union. A Union that one day – I firmly believe – will have over thirty members, including Ukraine, Moldova, the Western Balkan states. A Union that has the right institutional set-up for that. And one that is capable of advocating on the world stage for its values, its interests and its freedom – together with our international partners and friends.

And the same is true now as in the days of Adenauer and de Gaulle. A European Union that is capable of those things cannot exist without the Franco-German friendship. In difficult times and crises affecting the EU, it was time and again Franco-German efforts that drove the progress of integration – as with the Elysée Treaty, whose sixtieth anniversary we have just celebrated in Paris.

Today it is our task, as witnesses, as masters of our time, to once again take such bold steps to drive progress onward. In a Union that has become much larger, not as Franco-German know-it-alls. But as those who, being the largest and strongest members, take on responsibility. That applies on a small scale, for example in cross-border cooperation, which you engage in here in Baden-Württemberg day in, day out, where it is a matter of course to cross the border to get to work or to study and meet friends.

And it applies to the great European issues, as set out in the Treaty of Aachen. It applies to the EU’s competitiveness, to enhanced cooperation on security and to the EU’s united front on the world stage.

And it is clear that, in a European Union with over thirty members, we will certainly not be the masters of our future if we do not succeed in making important decisions quickly. In recent months we have seen time and again how individual member states have prevented a strong, shared European stance within the Council – for example on human rights issues.

I believe that we can no longer afford this. For me, this too is the watershed. This is why the Federal Government is campaigning for the EU to be able to take more decisions by qualified majority, particularly now, particularly in the field of Common Foreign and Security Policy.

And of course that also means that Germany can then be outvoted in the Council. That already happens today on issues that are decided with a qualified majority – most recently in December in a vote on the sustainable use of plant protection products. We were not pleased, our opinion in the Federal Government was a different one. Nobody likes being outvoted – but sometimes it is necessary in order to make progress – a small hint for the Bundesrat, too.

And putting ourselves in smaller countries’ shoes is what is crucial in order to make progress. Because of course, an awful lot of smaller countries say, Annalena, that’s easy for you to say as Germany’s Foreign Minister – but the next time you’ll turn up the pressure and then it won’t happen any more – that much realpolitik is always in play as well. This means that if we want to convince others that this is now the right path, is in all of our interests, then it is important for us to build confidence. For us Germans in these times in particular to take others’ interests and concerns into consideration.

And so I would like to make a suggestion here today for how we can move down this path step by step, and not by wielding a sledgehammer because we Germans want it that way. How we can make better use of the European treaties – for the benefit of us all, our security and foreign policy interests.

For example, the Council recently approved the EU training mission for Ukrainian soldiers – with a decision that technically needed to be unanimous. That would not have happened in the past – but in light of how urgently necessary it is, we chose the option of using “constructive abstentions”. Meaning that the Hungarians, who were in truth opposed, did not block EU decisions but instead “constructively abstained”.

We need a pragmatic solution such as this for other issues, too – for example human rights issues – or we can use the passerelle clause that is already enshrined in the EU Treaties, which would make it possible to approve majority voting in individual policy areas, such as human rights policy or the greatest security challenge of our time, climate diplomacy.

I know, that all sounds rather technical. And some people may be thinking, what a typical Brussels rigmarole. But I believe what is crucial in this phase is to understand that there are moments when we cannot let time pass us by. Because Europe has always grown in waves, and Europe has always been strong in times when we faced particular challenges. And it is precisely this that makes me believe now is the time to strengthen the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Around twenty years ago, in the first Stuttgart Speech on Europe, Valéry Giscard D’Estaing also called for a technical innovation, a diplomatic service for the European Union. At the time, that was outrageous. What on Earth – does that mean no more German embassies, the EU is going to take over diplomacy for all of the member states? But today it is a reality and a matter of course, and an absolute boon for my foreign policy work in particular. Today the European External Action Service represents the European Union around the world.

And if we could make that happen twenty years ago, why shouldn’t we be able to make the idea of majority voting in the field of Common Foreign and Security Policy happen today? What’s crucial is for us to get to work.

That also goes for Europe’s economic and technological sovereignty. It goes for the issue that is so important for your policy in Baden-Württemberg: bringing innovative power and entrepreneurship into the world – and the world to Baden-Württemberg.

We have discussed Russia’s war at great length and in great depth over the last year. We have drawn lessons from it – as the Minister-President and I previously discussed with a number of business representatives from Baden-Württemberg – and reflected on what it means for the future.

It means that, as the world changes, we must change the way we do things, including in economic policy. Otherwise, the risk is that at some point others will be the masters of our life and our future.

Because we are living in a world in which there are aggressive autocracies that aim to enforce the law of the strong with tanks and bombs. And at the same time we can see how many countries in the world stand by international law, by a fair economic order. And I have seen first-hand around the world that these are not just the typical Western democracies. If we look at the vote just under a year ago in the General Assembly, we find over 140 states. They are not just democratic countries. But they are the countries that say, together, international law and fair treaties protect us all.

One response to such a world is a sovereign European Union that invests in its own strength, reduces its dependencies and above all is ready for new partnerships with these more than 140 countries. To me, European sovereignty with strong foreign and security policy means cooperation now more than ever, wherever possible, but without being naive – and independence as Europeans where necessary. That is strategic sovereignty for Europe. That is international strength, that is international cooperation.

Because we have all seen the fateful consequences of making ourselves dependent on energy from Russia over decades and staking everything on the principle of hope. We have seen what can happen when our businesses gear their supply chains or their entire business model too heavily towards states that do not share our values. And the lesson from this should not be to point fingers at who was to blame, when, and how – or who was right, when, and how. But simply to ensure that nothing like this happens to us again.

What is clear is that the short-term profit interests of individual corporations may be legitimate, but they do not necessarily align with the overall long-term interests of a national economy. It is therefore our task as the Federal Government to take into account these overall interests – together with every level, the municipalities, the Länder, as well as the whole of the European Union.

And so it is risky, in my view, for individual corporations to be so heavily dependent on sales on the Chinese market that they would be completely incapacitated if this market were to disappear. When individual businesses willingly accept concentration risks, that is not in the overall interests of the national economy. Or when we are so dependent on intermediate goods and raw materials that we can no longer produce our renewable energy ourselves.

But this does not mean that we must decouple – particularly not from China, one of the largest economies in the world. That will not work in an interconnected global economy. And it would be the opposite of integrated security. Because without China – as we saw in the pandemic – we are unable to take action at all in some areas and unable to bring the climate crisis under control.

Instead, our response must be – as many businesses particularly here in Baden-Württemberg are doing, SMEs and “hidden champions” – to reduce one-sided and risky dependencies and to diversify together. The broader the base of the European economy, the more stable it is.

We are pursuing this approach not just within the Federal Government, but of course also together within the European Union. And so we are now cooperating closely, with regard to the green transformation and economic cooperation, with countries in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, to ensure new partnerships. Partnerships that protect the climate and the environment and do not lure countries into dependencies and over-indebtedness. The EU is therefore negotiating sustainable trade agreements – and investing in infrastructure initiatives such as the Global Gateway.

But neither the Federal Government nor Europe can build partnerships such as these alone. Partnerships such as these need businesses from the regions and the Länder. Businesses such as yours here in Baden-Württemberg that set standards worldwide, that have achieved technology leadership worldwide, that have already opened up access worldwide.

Only when we build our security together – across municipalities, universities, football pitches, the Länder, the Federal Government and Europe – can we ensure lasting peace.

Just like seventy years ago, at the first meeting between the young players from the German team Sportvereinigung 07 Ludwigsburg and the French FC Sochaux. When they did not ask, the fathers, the players, the young people: But what are other people doing? When they decided: I’m going to do it, I’m going to get involved.

A local newspaper wrote on 27 December 1952, the day that the French footballers left Ludwigsburg: “As they leave our city again this morning, many prejudices are likely to have been broken down on both sides.”

That is foreign policy – dismantling prejudice, on a small scale, to make a contribution to the bigger picture. That is what matters today, too. For us to ask ourselves, every day, what we can do, what our contribution is – in order to dismantle prejudice, to leave this war behind us.

I don’t know how fast it will happen, but we are working every day towards peace. Towards a just peace, towards a peace that allows sixteen-year-olds in Ukraine to play volleyball again, too. Towards a peace that currently requires us not to merely focus on applause, but to accept that we will face pushback, too.

Because we are the witnesses of our own time. Because we are working to become the masters of our future.

Because we want nothing other than for the sixteen-year-old in Kharkiv, the next time she is counting down 45 seconds, to be thinking not of a bunker but perhaps of a break in her volleyball game.

We are the masters of our life, our future and our Europe – now as before.

Thank you very much.


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