Keynote address by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the 20th Ambassadors Conference

05.09.2022 - Speech

I am delighted that we can gather here today in these so difficult times – to send a clear signal, for this summer has not been like those in previous years.

This conference will centre on something that we could never have imagined even in our worst nightmares – the fact that war has returned to Europe and has been raging here now for six months. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has dominated not only your work but the work of all of us in the past months.

In Germany we now talk about security differently than we did just one year ago. That’s something I experienced in July during my trip around Germany to discuss the National Security Strategy, whether with volunteer fire brigades, on football pitches or at a pharmaceutical company.

Wherever I went, I met men, women, many young people and even children who had questions about their security, about our security.

And it wasn’t what we have perhaps experienced in previous years in connection with other issues, where it felt as if we were dealing with 82 million national coaches or 82 million virologists. We could have reached the point where we were suddenly confronted with 82 million foreign ministers.

But the debate is now being conducted differently. I think this is something you are all witnessing from your various locations in the world, whether on a football pitch or in your mission abroad.

Because people have a very keen sense that now we all have to stand together and that what we need isn’t a quickfire response but consideration of all the different questions that are cropping up in these times.

That’s why that trip was very meaningful for me. And I think all of us – because some of you accompanied me – sensed how much potential our country has if we not only face this situation together but also believe that together we can make a difference and grapple with the difficult questions that people are asking, even if we don’t always have an answer straight away. Some of the questions I heard were:

“How many Marder infantry combat vehicles do we now have? Where are they, and what’s going to happen with them?”

“Why was compulsory military service abolished?”

“What will happen if our public utilities are on the receiving end of a hybrid attack or if they simply go bankrupt?”

“How did we adapt our disaster risk reduction measures in the wake of the floods?”

And “How can Germany hold its own in a dangerous world?”

One woman in Karlsruhe said in no uncertain terms: “Well, Ms Baerbock, I’m telling you this: we’re not just talking here about the security of Ukraine. We’re talking about the security of Karlsruhe, too.”

And I stood there and thought: “Yes, she’s right.”

Karlsruhe’s security is bound up with the security of Ukraine. And Ukraine’s security is bound up with the security or the sense of security in Karlsruhe. Not just in Karlsruhe, but also in Cologne and Chemnitz.

Our concern for our own security and our view of our role in the world are very closely intertwined. That can be a weakness, but it can also be an absolute strength.

And I think the vast majority of people in our country understand that very well.

Recently, the front cover of The Economist featured a picture of a federal eagle hatching from an egg. That image is probably trying to suggest that Germany is emerging from its confines. We can think of that what we like. But it’s clear to me that at this point we can’t afford not to spread our wings. We have to be confident in determining how high we fly, instead of waiting for the wind to get behind us only to be taken by surprise when it blows in our faces.

For we can only jointly safeguard our peace, our freedom and the basis of our existence here in Europe if we stand up for our values and our interests in the world.

No one can dictate how high we fly. That is something we Europeans have to decide for ourselves.

In my view, two points here are crucial for our foreign policy.

First, a clear stance. The willingness to be clear about our position, not just as a matter of principle, but when our freedom and our values are called into question.

And second, policymaking that explains and elucidates, that listens and is willing to consider other perspectives in order to work with our partners to find concrete and realistic solutions. Hard power and soft power go hand in hand.

This approach to policymaking uses the entire toolbox of diplomacy and has a comprehensive concept of security to give people a better life. For that is what it is all about. It is not about reciprocal visits by foreign ministers, it is about the people in our countries and in countries all over the world.

We don’t make policies for textbooks or academic debates, we make them for men and women and children, for our common security.

With solid values, guided by our interests and focusing on solutions.

That is exactly how we have acted towards Russia in the past months, not Germany alone, but all of us as a strong European Union, together in NATO and in the G7 and with well over 100 other partners outside of these bodies. With our clear stand against the inhumane war, with concrete measures, with comprehensive assistance for our Ukrainian neighbours and friends, with sanctions, with investment in our security and with the expansion of our engagement within NATO.

With this unity in mind, we want to develop a transatlantic partnership for the 21st century. A partnership in leadership, as was proposed once before in 1989. But that was a completely different moment and, above all, not the right time in my opinion.

Yet in these times, that is precisely our task in the interests of our common security.

And to achieve it we need to rethink our concept of security in Europe.

The Federal Chancellor just gave a good and important speech on Europe in Prague. Work has already begun on many key issues that were raised in the speech, notably also here at the Federal Foreign Office. Now we are entering the crucial implementation phase. And that won’t all be plain sailing. Colleagues and guests, we need all of you for this task.

Last week I travelled to the Gymnich meeting to make that very point. For an EU that is fit for the future, we not only need to describe the problems, but we also need solutions and fresh ideas. Not ideas that have done the rounds here twenty times already and then been coordinated with other partners for three months, but ideas where people dare to throw something completely new into the ring.

That is why, at the Gymnich meeting, I submitted a proposal together with my French colleague on the realignment of our policy on Russia. For it is clear that if our European Union is to become more resilient and accept new members, we need reform. And we need a clear focus. Extending majority decisions is particularly crucial here, in the field of foreign policy.

With regard to the EU’s foreign policy, we need to be able to act as we have actually already been doing over the past six months. With this in mind, we will submit concrete proposals on institutional reform.

But I believe it’s important for us not just to wait for something to happen, but to use the time to get things done. That’s why at the joint meeting on the margins of Gymnich the aim wasn’t just to read out speaking notes. Prior to the meeting, the idea that (on the visa issue) there is a division between East and West pervaded the discussion, also in the public arena. But in my phone conversations and the text messages I exchanged in preparation for this meeting, I didn’t pick up on any sense of division. More than anything else, I sensed that my counterparts had questions and concerns.

If we had all just travelled to the Gymnich meeting with the idea that it was an informal meeting where nothing could be decided anyway, spent two hours exchanging views and just read out what was in our notes, I think the next few months would have proved to be very, very tough. If that had happened, one group would have stated their position as per their notes and another group would have held another position.

To realise what was happening at that moment and to say, perhaps undiplomatically, out of the box: “Come on, let’s just sit down together with three others in our roles as foreign ministers and write down what we’ve actually been discussing here for four hours, namely a common solution” – that allowed us to avoid a rift between East and West on the visa issue at that meeting.

That was important for me.

Now you could think: “Well, what does it matter, on that issue?” Because the real question, the elephant in the room, is the energy issue. That will be the crucial issue that is really going to be a test of our mettle over the coming months. Will we in Europe be able to cooperate in a spirit of solidarity to safeguard our energy supply for everyone on the continent or not?

But I think that if we hadn’t managed to find a joint solution on the visa issue, that would really have played into the hands of the Russian President.

And ultimately it became clear that if we don’t just focus on the headlines and the soundbites that are fed into the news tickers in the run-up to a meeting like this, but instead listen carefully during these sessions, then we realise that often something that is described as a division is actually a problem that hasn’t been put on the table. In the case of the visas it wasn’t the new visas that were the problem, but the 12 million visas that have been floating around here in Europe for years or months.

I’m describing this in so much detail here because I believe we need to prepare ourselves for these reports of division being one of the core components of Russia’s hybrid warfare in the coming months.

We need to be honest, not just the diplomats here at the Federal Foreign Office, but everyone in our society.

We need to understand that when a package of sanctions is agreed, it isn’t the case that everyone goes home after the meeting, like they used to do, saying: I got my way this time.“ But rather we need to be able to state confidently: ”Yes, we gave way on one point, because we need a joint package of sanctions.“ That is then the most important response we as the European Union have to give.

And not just for our own benefit, but also so that our partners and friends in the South can have the confidence that we Europeans are presenting a united front.

If we call upon other countries in the world to join us, they will only do so if they trust us to succeed together as Europeans.

That is why, in my opinion, our partnership with other parts of the world, with partners that are described as the Global South, is just as important as European unity at the moment.

That’s something I want to talk about.

And it starts with the actual term ”Global South“. To be honest, I find it a bit contentious, because it tries to position us in relation to the ”others“. But it tells us nothing about how our partners perceive themselves and nothing about the huge differences between the cultures, histories and interests of the countries that the term ”Global South“ often describes – in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Dear colleagues, it is in those countries that most of you have your postings.

And many of you have told me that in these countries the question of our reliability, our position, of how high we are flying in connection with Russia’s war is a very urgent one.

It is true that in March, we as the international community condemned Russia’s war of aggression by an overwhelming majority in the United Nations. 141 countries. But it is also true to say that countries representing more than half of the global population did not vote with us. Moreover, many countries do not support the sanctions against Russia.

And that is what has bothered me most in the past six months, alongside the daily loss of life and the suffering in Ukraine. It is something I haven’t been able to stop thinking about and one of our top priorities at the Federal Foreign Office.

For just about all my visits, when I am in your country but also when partners come here, I always have a note in my pocket saying how each country voted – not only to keep the issue of Russia on the agenda but also to understand why a country might not have voted with us.

To understand why, when there is a choice between right and wrong, between victims and perpetrators, a country would simply abstain.

And in that case it’s not enough to say: ”I think what you did was wrong. Please do things differently next time.“

If we want countries to vote differently next time or, as we have seen in the past six months, if we want countries to be willing to go along with a clause that they weren’t yet able to agree to in March – in the many bilateral declarations, or on meetings dealing with very different topics, the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons for example – it will only work if we go into meetings with plenty of questions and not just ready to defend our own position.

These talks are also the best guide for how to answer one of the most pressing questions I have been grappling with here at the Federal Foreign Office since I gave my inaugural speech on 8 December 2021: How should our approach to diplomacy in 2022 perhaps differ from what we did in 1970? As Foreign Minister, but also as the Federal Foreign Office?

Because this goes for me as Foreign Minister and for my Ministers of State, but also for many people here at the Federal Foreign Office: we have only limited experience of the Cold War. We are privileged to have been able to live in a reunited Europe for most of our lives. We have grown up in a digital world, and the same applies to many of the people with whom we now engage in talks.

And in many of my conversations with other foreign ministers I have heard this very sentiment expressed time and again: ”The world is different than it was in 1970, here in my African country, too.“ And these colleagues are not asking: ”Where were you in 1970?“ But rather: ”Where were you in recent years when we were in the throes of conflict?“

One colleague said: ”You posted a Tweet when the Houthis attacked us. But is one Tweet really adequate? Shouldn’t more have been done?“

But we are also being confronted with other big questions, such as: ”What are we supposed to do if you don’t want to sell us any helicopters? Then we’re forced to buy them from the Russians.“

Or, when I ask why our partners don’t support the sanctions packages, these partners ask me in turn: ”Well, how does it work when you announce that your coalition partner wanted something and you are supporting it? Do you go out there with confidence and explain it to the country? And if not, why do you then expect us to do that with the sanctions packages? If you really want us to present the decisions made in Europe to our people, it would be good if we didn’t have to say that’s what “the Europeans” wanted again but if instead we were told in advance that a new package of sanctions was coming and we could then say beforehand that we ourselves think it would be good to take a tougher line against Russia.“

I think in essence it centres on the foundation of diplomacy, its most precious commodity – trust and an honest word. Instead of using lots of words to say nothing.

Building this trust. Considering options. Confronting dilemmas through dialogue, and where necessary also through argument.

I think that in future these disputes, which are often challenging, need to be even more intense. And I definitely can’t achieve that on my own. I need help from you, the colleagues on the ground.

I saw how that can work last month in Morocco. And I don’t have to explain to anyone in this room that our relations in the past year have been anything but easy.

But the groundwork that was done particularly in the winter when I first arrived at the Federal Foreign Office, the process of listening to one another, made it possible for heated discussions to take place in the last few weeks and then during my visit, and consequently, through empathy and the desire to understand the other side’s perspective, through wrestling with the issues, for a solution to be found.

We are now seeing the success of this patient diplomacy. In the form of arrangements on new cooperation partnerships which serve the interests of both countries, on security issues but also on energy and climate issues. And the crucial point is that by adopting a clear stance but at the same time showing empathy as well as a willingness to listen and understand where the other side is coming from, we have not abandoned our own convictions, for example on the issue of the Western Sahara.

Instead, we have been looking for a pragmatic way forward that benefits everyone. And that is, I believe, what defines a solution-oriented foreign policy based on solid values.

The goal is to strengthen the confidence of our partners and use that to build bridges together.

Confidence in us as a partner who doesn’t simply employ chequebook diplomacy, who also doesn’t walk around preaching and pointing an accusing finger, but who listens and who invests in sustainable and equal partnerships.

And this requires us to have our own clear stance. The role of our country has changed. After the horrors of the Second World War that Germany unleashed on our neighbours, the most pressing and central task in our foreign policy was of course to ask for forgiveness and seek reconciliation, and in the following decades to show a willingness to confront our crimes with brutal honesty. When that process had been set in motion thanks to strong diplomacy that sought forgiveness and reconciliation, a new phase began – a phase of working together, quietly and gently, when in doubt also investing considerable financial resources, to forge a path towards a reunited Germany and a reunited Europe.

And today we are again in different times, when we are not only building on the trust shown in us by others but also to stand up for others as they stood up for us. And that is why our partners, especially our Eastern European neighbours and friends, want to know where we stand and where we are heading, as a strong partner in the EU.

And that is why I think it is important that we now state that confidently and clearly. That we make it clear that together, we stand for reliable rules, for our rules-based international order. That is the next stage. We are prepared to take the lead in assuming responsibility, to demonstrate what responsible leadership is in solidarity with our friends.

Admittedly, responsible leadership in a spirit of solidarity and the rules-based international order are rather cumbersome expressions. But that is the system that places the focus on human rights and human dignity. A system that prevents the strongest from calling the shots and the smallest from having to go along with them. A system that has not been devised by ”the West“, but which all of us, as a community of shared values, have agreed on, because it benefits all of us, particularly the smaller and weaker members.

And that is now being put to the test. We have now reached the point when we need to nail our colours to the mast, even in the face of tough opposition.

Russia’s war of aggression is the most brutal and blatant violation of our rules-based international order. But it is not the only one. We can see how authoritarian regimes in many parts of the world are attempting to expand their spheres of influence by revisionist means, not only with military force but also through business dealings, that are ostensibly quick and cheap but which hide what that often means: a descent into long-term dependency. That is a new challenge to which we intend to find answers also within the framework of the new China strategy.

We can see how Russia and others are spreading dangerous, false narratives in order to sow discord within our societies, but also between us and our partners. For example in many African countries, where Moscow is painting the picture of a cold, colonial West and thereby trying to shrug off the blame for the terrible suffering that its war and its consequences are inflicting on the people in Ukraine, but also on people throughout the world.

Our task is therefore not only to promote the rules-based international order and to stand up for it but also to expose these lies for what they are and to show what we have to offer.

I think we really have to tread very carefully if we think that those are just trivialities that we can overlook. But this hybrid war of aggression in a digital world with social media is conducted to a huge extent via language and not just via military means. And that is why in this speech I keep referring to our choice of words, because I think we need to use other forms of narrative.

One example is ”the West“, even though I’ve just used that term myself. I believe we create the wrong narrative when we say ”the West“ on the one hand and ”the Global South“ on the other. Rather – and this also makes the circle of states bigger than the supposed West – this is about the countries which, like our own, believe in an international, rules-based order.

Another example: it’s not the ”Ukraine war“. Ukraine is not waging a war, it is Russia which is waging war against Ukraine. That makes a difference when we’re talking about the war. And that’s why I think we have to differentiate.

For that reason, dear colleagues not currently based here at headquarters, we have once more refocused certain aspects of our ministry’s communication during the last few months. We’ve seen during the last few months that we have to take communication into account in all decisions concerning Russia’s war from the outset. That, too, is something which differs from diplomacy in 1970. We have to be able to communicate instantly when a new situation arises. To be self-reflective for a moment: we weren’t quick enough to communicate at the start with regard to the sanctions packages. The Russian spin machine was already up and running before we had even officially sent our sanctions package to our partners and friends.

And as for the grain issue, it was hard work setting the record straight. Looking back, you can see now that when we put together the sanctions packages, one of our main focuses should have been not to simply say : this is about gas and oil, which we want to sanction and stop consuming in future. Rather, we should also have said from the outset: these sanctions are not about medicines, nor about grain and food. If we want to rectify this in retrospect – and we subsequently managed to do that – then we may need to use tough language.

And that brings us back to the thin line between hard and soft powers. That is why I quite deliberately spoke of a grain war at the G7 meeting. Let me be frank: we will not allow the Russian narrative – ”they don’t want to let the grain leave Russia“ – to stand. However, now we come to the next step, the counter-communication, in this case from the Russians. We have to take that into account, too.

And I’d like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome representatives of the media. I believe it’s important to have critical media coverage at a time like this. At the same time, however, we have to understand what counter-communication means. That’s vitally important. For, of course, in the case of the ”grain war“, the Russian Foreign Ministry responded immediately with tough wording. And when these statements are reported word for word in the German press, then it’s a Russian narrative that gains the upper hand. In my view, we should not underestimate this battle of the narratives because this is a hybrid war.

That’s why I would like to thank you, colleagues, for your communication work during the last few months – and explicitly not only for briefings, visits and events.

I remember, for instance, a tweet from our Embassy in Pretoria which countered a cynical tweet from the Russian Embassy in that city with some very sharp humour. I know that many of you have talked in countless background talks with local journalists – whether it be in Delhi, Bogota or Nairobi – to get across our positions and what this war is about.

The work you’ve been doing is in keeping with what I see as the guiding principle of my communication: listen, explain, weigh up. And, when necessary, put forward counter-arguments. That’s communication for 21st century foreign policy. And it’s obvious that this triggers counter-communication. I therefore want to say to you: don’t worry about it. I know it’s always easier to say that on stage than it is to experience it in real life. And I know from experience that dealing with a shitstorm is not always easy. But I can tell you that it’ll happen no matter what you do, even if you’ve chosen your words carefully. Even then a false narrative may be created. So, my message to you is: carry on doing what you’re doing! Listen, explain, weigh up and, if necessary, put forward counter-arguments. Fast communication, clear language. And if the shitstorm comes, then we’ll get through it together.

Something else is clear, especially in social media. As the saying goes: if the cap fits, wear it.

A shitstorm doesn’t just mean that some people see things differently. And criticism is always good for self-reflection. Rather, it also means that you’ve been heard. And that’s important nowadays!

At the same time, we shouldn’t forget that if we don’t communicate, then that also sends a message. The Federal Republic of Germany has experienced that during the last few years. And I sense that in all of my visits, especially those to Eastern Europe in recent times. When we said: we’ll just keep silent after 2014. Or: a second gas pipeline could build a bridge. We also have to realise that that building a bridge in one direction can destroy a bridge in the other direction – perhaps especially with those who initially don’t communicate so loudly.

That means that if we don’t speak out because we’re concerned or afraid of provoking opposition, we can squander trust. There’s no point in looking back now and saying, ”What did we do to some of our Eastern European neighbours, when they said to us time and again – ‘Please listen to us, we’re afraid, we’re concerned’“. Instead, we have to look to the future and keep reminding ourselves: it’s a thin line. If we’re not loud and clear in any given situation, what does that mean for those that are smaller and weaker, who are perhaps unable to speak out?

For eloquent silence sends a message and can convey an attitude. Therefore, colleagues, communication lies at the heart of our diplomacy.

You must and indeed can only carefully weigh up in your host countries which local platforms and forums you use to get your message across. I just want to add that it was and is right that we have always taken into account in the last few years and decades that this is not just about communication between governments but, above all, with and for local people.

It’s crucial that we build on this, especially at a time when social media is so powerful. For foreign policy is conducted wherever people come together. And trust is created in the very places we support: universities, laboratories or the Alfred Wegener Institute in the Pacific island state of Palau. People who would otherwise not have met come together in these places. For instance, in the Global Centres of the German Academic Exchange Service in Viet Nam, Ghana or Colombia, where German and international researchers work together to find solutions to the challenges of our time – from the climate crisis to the pandemic.

This multifaceted cooperation is what creates trust and allows voices to be heard. And, by the way, this is also a key aspect of a feminist foreign policy which recognises that we learn and benefit from each other when we’re prepared to see things from the perspective of others. And that we benefit when more rather than fewer people sit around the table. I firmly believe that a crucial step towards being heard is to listen to others.

We have to be self-critical and ask ourselves whether we’ve listened enough in the past. Have we always taken the concerns of our partners in Africa seriously enough? I’m saying this particularly in view of our colonial past and of the situation some of our friends find themselves in at present due to their colonial past.

In these hard times, we can therefore point out time and again what important and right decisions were made – especially those which didn’t end up as headline news. The fact that, together with Nigeria, we’ve now initiated the return of the Benin Bronzes hasn’t received much media coverage here in Germany. In Nigeria, however, it’s a milestone. It’s right to tackle the dark chapters of our past.

We perhaps underestimated for far too long how we can strengthen and continue to gain credibility with such measures and how we can work together to help others, our friends, to tackle these steps, which are perhaps even more difficult for them. Because it’s clear that we can only pursue global foreign policy at European level and not only at German level. Such steps are our message to our partners and we will take many more in this sphere.

We’re listening to you, we stand together. We’re not just making you offers but rather finding solutions to issues that are important to you, even if it’s perhaps not our primary concern. And that’s why, during this brutal time of war, we’re now focusing so much on the global food crisis.

That’s the greatest concern of so many of our partners. Their biggest worry is often, to be quite frank, not the European peace order but how people there can survive in the coming months. That’s why we brought together more than 50 delegations from all over the world in late June in an effort to alleviate this terrible food crisis. And that, too, is a demonstration of our new understanding, of our desire to take concerted action with others as equal partners. We didn’t just bring together donor countries to discuss how they can help. Rather, we brought together donor countries and partners, above all the affected countries which are suffering most in this crisis, with the United Nations, but also with civil society and NGOs.

That was a major and important diplomatic feat. And this enabled us to pledge a further four billion dollars for global food security at the G7 summit in Elmau. We can see now when we do these things, even if they don’t completely resolve the global food crisis – that’s how brutal the reality is – that such measures are important because they send psychological messages in a globally interconnected world which is also interlinked by stock exchanges.

The prices for wheat and other grains are finally falling again. This is not only due to the fact that we have pledged four billion dollars but also because international financial players are observing whether politicians respond or are able to respond – and that leads to price fluctuations, whether it is grain or energy prices – or whether these financial players are banking on us allowing ourselves to be divided, either within our countries or globally.

That’s why we won’t ease up our efforts to tackle this global food crisis. And that’s why, in the context of the relief package announced this weekend, we mobilised not only 65 billion euro to help people in our country, partly as a measure to tackle this hybrid war of aggression, as well as social divisions in our country. But on top of this, this relief package also included up to one billion euro in this budget year for global food security, depending on how much funding is still available at the end of the year. Let me make it clear that we’re not only looking at the divisions in our country but also at international divisions.

This issue will therefore be discussed again at the meeting of the G7 Foreign Ministers in Münster, which African partners will attend as our guests. We take our responsibility to support men, women and children seriously. We want to help mitigate the impact of Russia’s brutal war of aggression. That’s why Germany is the second largest donor of humanitarian assistance – and we have to remain so.

Time and time again, I hear it being said that we’re only the world’s fourth largest economy. Why should we be the second largest donor? The answer is: because that’s our strength, our strength is the trust placed in us! Others have taken different measures in the military or in other spheres, regardless of whether we find that good or bad. Our strength is that people around the world – and not just countries but ordinary people – have trusted us for decades.

When the humanitarian situation escalates in their countries, whether it be due to flooding or the terrible Taliban regime, Germany is there as a strong donor. And, at the same time – and this is my approach in international climate policy – it’s important to spell out the truth and not play things down: we will only be effective if we aim to provide long-lasting alleviation. We have to tackle the causes.

This is especially true when it comes to the climate crisis. Unfortunately, it is – and will remain – the greatest security issue of our time. That’s why, looking ahead to the Climate Change Conference at the end of the year, we’re striving to ensure that the 1.5 degree target doesn’t remain a noble dream. That’s why, at a time when the European peace order is under attack, we’re entering into climate partnerships with countries such as South Africa, as well as many others. And we’re making it clear that we support climate finance for those countries around the world in most need of help.

That’s why we as the G7 are not only investing in treaties, agreements and pledges but continuing to invest in projects which offer people on the ground concrete solutions: measures that help farmers in West Africa to build sustainable irrigation systems; measures that help ensure that fishermen in the Pacific islands can feed their families despite shrinking catches and rising sea levels. We are also helping Costa Rica to produce green hydrogen in order to reduce emissions in industry and transport to zero. That is what I, and what we as the German Government, mean by a comprehensive, integrated foreign policy: a policy which is reliable, concrete, formative and based on solidarity. However, foreign policy is also seen as something in which all ministries have a part to play.

That’s also the difference to Russia’s supposed commitment to the security of African states. What do we see in the Sahel? Russia is showing absolutely no interest in the well-being of people there. Rather, it is focusing on financial profit, mineral resources and a so-called security partnership. Of course, that’s not sustainable.

But it’s not enough for us to say: dear partners in the Sahel, that’s not sustainable, choose us. Instead, we have to ask ourselves difficult questions – especially at this time. And it’s no secret that our own commitment in the Sahel, for example MINUSMA, is anything but easy at the moment. However, I want to stress again here that the mission there is helping to create security. It’s helping to keep terrorism in check. And yes, it’s true that we haven’t achieved all our goals in the last few years. However, the key question is: what would have happened if we hadn’t been there? Would women be able to visit the market, as they do now even in the current dangerous security situation? Would children be at school? Yes or no? I think the answer is no.

At the same time, in Mali we rely on a government which, unfortunately, is now increasingly intent on throwing a spanner in the works. For that reason, we’ve decided that we won’t simply withdraw when the first difficulties emerge. For we have a responsibility. However, we have told our Malian partners in no uncertain terms what we expect when it comes to our soldiers’ security. And if that doesn’t work, it will be difficult to stay.

These frank words are part and parcel of a steadfast and clear foreign policy: spelling out dilemmas and tackling them. And when I look beyond the Sahel, it’s clear that we also have to look at other regions of the world to see whether we have always met the needs of our partners in terms of security.

What is our answer to a partner in Asia which wants to protect itself from a large neighbour and is dependent on the military assistance of another autocratic state? – because we didn’t provide sufficient assistance in the past.

Here, too, we need an honest discussion and clear answers. And these are the very questions we will tackle in our National Security Strategy. Of course, it will have to contain key answers to Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. However, we mustn’t make the mistake of only looking at the overall security strategy exclusively from this angle. Our security cooperation with our partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Middle East will also play an important role in it. Namely, the question as to what we can offer our partners in light of increasing systemic rivalry. How we can meet not only our own needs but also theirs. Because we know that we must and will not withdraw from the world because a war is waging in our neighbourhood. We will live up to our responsibility. We will decide how high we fly.

That’s why we’re standing again for a seat on the Security Council in 2027/2028. And let me say this: it will be a difficult campaign because it will take place amidst an open global competition between systems.

Colleagues, your skills of persuasion, your empathy and your diplomatic expertise will be crucial. We are a partner on whom the world can count.

This includes, and this is also part of our foreign policy, our economic and energy relations. Here, too, it’s important that we continue to be active partners on the ground. We also need clarity and reliability here. For this is our greatest asset.

Here’s just one example of where, in my view, we can become even more visible in this sphere: in the EU, we’re making possible investments in Africa to the tune of 150 billion euro over the next five years. We’re doing this through Global Gateway, a package geared to long-term, sustainable partnerships.

In contrast, Russia did not follow up with the 2019 Russia-Africa summit with action. The overall volume of Russian direct investments amounts to less than 0.1% of European direct investments. Nevertheless, the impression has been created that there is strong Russian investment – partly because we’ve spoken about it so much.

Showing what we’re doing there as partners will be another key, central task. And it will be crucial to highlight the difference between our economic cooperation and that of others.

Of course, we hear objections such as: how do you want to bind partners closer to you and, at the same time, demand more from them in terms of environmental standards or human rights – in contrast, for example, to China’s practices when it comes to major infrastructure projects?

But I believe that, above all, we have to be better at explaining why these are not dilemmas and to argue that it’s in these states’ interest for us to promote these very issues. For investment security and human rights are two sides of the same coin. Because reliable rules provide the best investment protection for companies and because there can only be lasting prosperity and security if people’s rights are guaranteed.

The promotion of human rights is thus purely and simply interest-driven politics. We make this clear to our partners time and again. I believe we shouldn’t only say it but also believe and promote it.

For, in my view, this clear position is by no means a sign of weakness but a sign of our strength. Because our partners – and also the businesses who want to invest – know exactly where they stand with us.

A foreign minister colleague recently said to me, ”We need committed partners, not partners who just want to please us.“ This should be our guiding principle.

Colleagues, let’s be committed partners – self-assured and with strong values. Partners who listen and don’t shy away from conflicts. Because we deal with these conflicts with respect and empathy. And because we know that it’s precisely this honest communication which will ultimately enable us to find realistic solutions.

In my view, that’s responsible foreign policy in the 21st century. Spreading our wings with self-confidence and flying together with our European partners. Thank you very much.


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