Federal Foreign Office staff,
Michael Roth, Michelle Müntefering, Niels Annen, Members of the German Bundestag,
State Secretaries, Walter Lindner and Rainer Sontowski,
Members of the Staff Council, Ms Wallat,
and esteemed colleagues – as I may now call you!
It is an immense honour to speak to you today as the new Foreign Minister.
First of all, I hope that you will forgive me for not knowing as much about the Federal Foreign Office as those who spoke before me. But I do know one thing already, which is that this is a very special institution!
One with a special responsibility, a special, almost 150‑year history – but above all, with staff for whom – and their families! – the Foreign Service of the Federal Republic of Germany is not a job, but a way of life. I have great respect for that fact alone.
Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed colleagues, Walter Lindner and Rainer Sontowski have paid tribute to Sigmar Gabriel’s work and expressed their gratitude to him. I too would like to join them and pay tribute to and thank him most sincerely.
Exceptional work has been done here this past year. The Federal Foreign Office stepped into the breach to help preserve the unity of the European Union while others prophesied its demise following Brexit and the successes of populist parties at the ballot box.
As regards policy on Turkey, we saw what diplomacy can achieve – with a combination of toughness and conciliation that produced results. Allow me to add that, yes, it is most fortunate that Deniz Yücel is finally free. But every journalist who is still wrongfully imprisoned or persecuted for political reasons is one too many!
The decisive issues of tomorrow, such as the rise of Asia, have been identified with foresight and have been integrated into the structure of the Federal Foreign Office and taken into account within its organisational make‑up. All this impressed many people, not least the diplomats of the Federal Foreign Office, over the past year. And this appears to be anything but easy. And it was no different for me.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As was mentioned just now, some people might consider my home region to be the farthest‑flung corner of Germany. The people who live there feel one thing in particular, namely that they live in the heart of Europe. My grandmother lived in the same town, street and building for her entire life. She had, as control of the Saarland went back and forth between Germany and France after the First and Second World Wars, five passports. Javier Solana apparently read this and wrote yesterday that the answer to this is Europe. And how right he is.
Schengen is just around the corner from my home. And for me, Schengen stands for the European Union’s ingenious integration project, for overcoming borders. I come from the heart of Europe, and I am a European at heart.
The Federal Foreign Office has, time and again, placed efforts to overcome the internal divisions of the European Union and its capacity to take action in foreign policy at the centre of its policy. I would like to continue in this vein, and not just out of passion for Europe, but also out of realism. The changes in the world force us to do this. In order to preserve our open borders and our societies, we must, whether we like it or not, go to even greater lengths to define and stand up for our interests.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There is a rift
- between those who support open-mindedness and tolerance and those who preach isolation and a return to nationalism;
- between those who believe in the positive power of democracy, open markets and vibrant civil societies and those who put the promise that is the authoritarian “strong hand” above the liberties of individuals;
- between those who believe in the fruits of international cooperation in accordance with common rules and those whose maxim on the world stage is “every man for himself”, who only show their unwillingness to compromise and who seek confrontation.
This rift, or so I believe, defines the lines along which German foreign policy will have to prove itself in the coming years.
What we once considered to be internal and external can scarcely be separated any more. The rift that I’m talking about doesn’t run somewhere along the world map for all to see, but penetrates deep into the West and into European societies. And in this legislative period it has even made its way into the German parliament.
Challenges to the liberal-democratic order do not begin and end at national borders and they show no regard for competences. We must take note and respond when other powers attempt to upset our internal order. Cyber attacks, propaganda tricks and different ways of bringing influence to bear economically and culturally are playing an increasingly important role in international relations. And in the age of globalisation and digitisation, protecting interests also begins at home.
I know and am certain that all of you are aware which side of the argument we take in this debate. But I believe that we must also acknowledge that the erosion of the liberal, rules-based and democratic order that we believe in runs far deeper than we would have thought possible years ago.
We must defend things that we once took for granted.
We must recast old partnerships and we must also find new partners.
We must continue to hone our arguments, expand our toolkit of instruments and prove that an open society, for all of its vulnerabilities, still provides the best basis for peace, human rights, prosperity and development.
And we must perhaps learn once again to become more pugnacious and to fight for what we believe to be indispensable.
A number of things are of central importance to me in this regard.
Firstly, our own orientation. My aforementioned former employer, the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, is only a few hundred metres from here on the opposite side of Hausvogteiplatz.
Over there, as Minister of Justice, I always relied on a compass, namely our Basic Law, as well as on the principles of democratic rule of law here in Germany, the treaties of the European Union and the rules of international law and those of international institutions.
I intend to take this compass with me to Werderscher Markt – I consider this to be a guide and source of reliability also in foreign policy. The more rapidly the world changes, the more vital this compass will become for this development. I believe that we should take good care of this compass and that – and this is also part and parcel of credibility and reliability – we must not shy away from debate when basic coordinates within the European member states are challenged.
We need the rule of law especially in the face of authoritarian powers. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in violation of international law and ongoing aggression against Ukraine are unacceptable. The crisis in Ukraine remains a test of our resolve and our unity – not only in the European Union, but also with our American allies. Germany will continue to play an active role in attempts to find a solution within the Normandy format, and will also continue to insist that the commitments made by the parties to the Minsk agreement be adhered to. It is true that Russia is and remains Europe’s largest neighbour. We need constructive channels of dialogue at as many levels as possible and with the necessary seriousness on both sides. When Russia defines itself ever more in contrast, and sometimes even opposition, to many in the West, then we may find this regrettable. But it changes the reality of our foreign policy nonetheless.
And please allow me to remark on current events. We are most concerned about the events surrounding the poison attack, and we take the UK Government’s assessment very seriously. It is also disappointing that Russia does not yet appear willing to assist with the inquiry. Moscow should create transparency and declare its position on the case – either bilaterally to the United Kingdom or within the framework of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It is clear that this must have consequences. The perpetrators must be brought to justice. We will remain in close contact with the UK Government on this issue. We understand full well that the United Kingdom had to respond.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Secondly, this is about responsibility. My predecessors not only described our country’s growing responsibility, but, above all, they assumed it – at negotiating tables in Minsk, Vienna and Lausanne, as well as in Brussels and New York.
I would like to continue this. I would like us to acknowledge our responsibility together and to shoulder it wherever it falls to us to do so.
Of course, no country in the world and none of our partners has a need for a German foreign policy that overestimates itself. But a German foreign policy that shies away from responsibility is just as wrong and, given the state of the world today, perhaps even more dangerous these past months.
This is another reason why it is good that the process of forming a government has been concluded at long last. It is good that this phase of uncertainty and party political navel-gazing has come to an end. We were focused on ourselves in Berlin for far too long.
You all know how great, in some cases too great, the world’s expectations are of us.
And I know from my predecessors that the Federal Foreign Office – with its professionalism, finely tuned sensors in the form of 230 missions abroad, and with the commitment of its staff – stands ready to assume this responsibility.
I would like to thank you for this and, by the same token, pledge that as Foreign Minister, together with the leadership of the Federal Foreign Office, I intend to ensure that our structures, processes and working conditions do not restrict, but unleash your commitment to the greatest possible extent.
The Federal Foreign Office recruits new staff members with the slogan “Ihr Arbeitsplatz, die Welt” – “your job, the world”. Therefore, the faster the world changes, the better we must make your jobs fit for it – and I not only want to focus on traditional foreign policy over the next few years, but I look forward, together with you and the Staff Council, to working to ensure that the Federal Foreign Office can be even better prepared for the coming years and decades.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thirdly, we need partners, both far away and close to home. We intend at long last to seize the European momentum from France with the same dynamism – but I also want us to get the many other member states that want to see a renewal of Europe on board in the process. Western and eastern Europe must not be allowed to drift further apart – and we Germans in the middle, especially with our painful experience of division, have a special responsibility here.
This week, my first trips will take me to Paris this evening and to Warsaw on Friday – and soon also to Israel. In the year marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, our fateful bond becomes especially tangible to us once again, just as the miracle of the friendship that has grown between us after the history that we share. I would like to say this much today: for me, this German-Israeli history is not only a matter of historical responsibility, but is a deep‑seated motivation behind my political action on a most personal level. I didn’t go into politics – with all due respect – because of Willy Brandt. I also didn’t go into politics because of the peace movement or environmental issues. I went into politics because of Auschwitz. And that’s why this part of our work is especially important to me.
A test of our partnerships looms. In the spring, Germany will apply for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. If our candidacy is successful, we will, for two years, jointly bear responsibility for what we in the UN Charter so ambitiously call the “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” as of January next year. Those who sit on the Security Council have to be prepared to take tough decisions. That was the case in 2003 when the Iraq war was at stake, and for the military intervention in Libya in 2011.
Responsibility for security policy, as I see it at any rate, is a core task of foreign policy – in the United Nations, as a NATO ally, and also in the European Union. We have taken important steps in recent months in particular with regard to establishing an EU foreign policy capable of taking decisions and an EU security and defence policy capable of taking action. We must not slacken our efforts here either.
And security calls for far more than military defence. Germany has greatly stepped up its efforts in the area of humanitarian assistance, and also in stabilisation and cultural relations policy. We will continue down this path, also supported by the coalition agreement, which is a very good basis for this – investing more money in these areas and strengthening structures in order to deploy these funds in a more targeted manner.
Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed colleagues,
Frank-Walter Steinmeier once said that the world was out of joint. I know that you’ve heard that a lot. And that still rings true. But I also fear that there isn’t a generally recognised blueprint for what a world “in joint” could look like. Seldom has the future been so uncertain and competition for the global order so fierce.
But I believe just as firmly that we can confidently accept this competition. For in this ability to ask questions, in the ability to exercise self-criticism, lies the strength of our own model at the end of the day. Contradiction is a force for renewal in liberal democracies, which are able to remedy undesirable developments and even overthrow the mighty. Those on the opposite side of the rift don’t do any of that. Autocracies can’t abide scrutiny – in most cases, they are scared to death of it.
Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed colleagues,
Allow me to conclude by addressing the people with whom we will tackle the tasks ahead of us at the helm of the Federal Foreign Office.
One of these figures is Michael Roth, who has already left the Weltsaal as a cabinet meeting has already begun at the Federal Chancellery, which means that I’ll either be late to or even absent from the first cabinet meeting; we’ll see. But you are familiar with Michael Roth and he is familiar with the Federal Foreign Office. I am most delighted that he’ll be staying with us and will continue to play a decisive role in shaping European policy.
Michelle Müntefering will join us as Minister of State and she possesses qualities that we are in need of here. As a trained journalist and member of the Subcommittee on Cultural and Education Policy Abroad, she has developed a keen sense for the shrinking spaces in which the media, civil rights and civil societies operate. Welcome! I’m looking forward to working with you.
Niels Annen is likewise no stranger to this institution on account of his many years at the German Bundestag, working in the area of foreign policy. I am extremely pleased that you are here to support us, Niels, on all of the matters that will make their way into our in‑trays.
The same is true of Walter Lindner. Walter, I am pleased that we will be working together. It makes sense when someone is new to ensure that someone stays who knows the Federal Foreign Office well and who is there to help you find your feet quickly in these topics and work. Allow me to offer you my sincere thanks for this.
Andreas Michaelis, in recent years you have deftly handled major foreign policy dossiers, including as Ambassador in Israel and then as Political Director. The highly complex negotiations surrounding the preservation of the atomic agreement with Iran and the wrangling over the Minsk agreement are only two particularly salient examples. I am extremely delighted that you will support me in our work in the future as State Secretary and I look forward to our good and close cooperation.
Esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
I come to this office with humility. Thank you for the trust that you have placed in me so far and for your cooperation. Permit me, by way of precaution, to ask you to be a little bit patient with me and to have strong nerves from time to time. Above all, however, I look forward to working together with you. Thank you very much.