A warm welcome to you at the Civil Society Forum – it’s great to have you in Berlin!
When I became German Foreign Minister last year, one of my first trips abroad was to the Western Balkans.
And I vividly recall the meetings I had with you – representatives of civil society:
With journalists who work with great determination to get to the bottom of corruption cases.
With activists who search for missing persons and promote reconciliation between former enemies.
The work of civil society is crucial.
I’m convinced that foreign policy is about more than contacts between ministers and capitals.
It’s also about facilitating exchange between students or academics.
It’s about listening to the ideas of researchers and activists.
And, in many cases, it’s such input that makes us in government realise:
There’s an issue that we should take up with our counterparts at our next meeting.
Or a fresh idea that can help us resolve a diplomatic impasse.
That’s why the Civil Society Forum is and will remain at the core of the Berlin Process.
Together, we are united by one goal: bringing your countries into the European Union.
For this, we need your insights and your criticism – and we’re privileged to support your work: from youth exchanges to climate protection to defending independent journalists.
That’s all the more important at a time when Russia, with its aggression against Ukraine, has brought war back to the European continent.
President Putin is attacking everything we believe in: freedom, democracy and human rights.
Many of you experienced the horrors of war yourself – in the Western Balkans, just over 20 years ago.
You know what it feels like when mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers will never hug their children, their siblings again.
That’s why I’m grateful that you have been making your voices heard:
Against Russia’s war and its brutal violence.
And for a European future for the Western Balkans – where children, women and men can live in freedom and in peace together.
Yes, reconciliation takes time. European integration takes time.
But I’m deeply convinced that, together, we can build this future.