“Bucharest, Berlin, Brussels – united for a sovereign, strong Europe”. Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Romanian Ambassadors Conference.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaking in Bucharest at the Romanian Ambassadors Conference, © Florian Gaertner / photothek.net
In his address to the Romanian Ambassadors Conference, Heiko Maas spoke about expectations and hopes for the country’s upcoming EU Council Presidency. He also touched upon the domestic political and social tensions in Romania.
I am delighted and honoured to be your guest today. Thank you very much for the invitation. I would also like to thank you sincerely, Teodor, for inviting me. You are a most experienced and level headed colleague among the European foreign ministers, one whose words command tremendous respect at our meetings, and so I am most delighted that you have invited me here today.
I was fortunate enough to be able to practice opening an ambassadors conference in Berlin this morning, where German ambassadors are meeting from today, and I wish to convey the very warmest greetings from your colleagues in Germany, ladies and gentlemen.
This continuity is purely coincidental, but it makes it easier for me to bridge the gap in my mind between Berlin and Bucharest, and from thence to Brussels and the rest of the world.
The first connection is, without any doubt, our long common German Romanian history. This year, you are celebrating the centenary of the foundation of the modern Romanian state. Your country has been characterised by ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity from the outset. Indeed, Romania is something like a Europe avant la lettre.
The German minority, which is building bridges in relations between Romania, Germany and Europe to this day, has also played its part in this. It stands for what unites our two countries.
The fact that the German language, German university courses and dual vocational training enjoy such great popularity in Romania today is a wonderful by product of this heritage. We are delighted to see this and also most grateful.
The challenges of the future are another thing that unites us. This morning, I told your German colleagues that we can no longer take anything for granted in foreign policy. And I called to mind the immense and difficult challenges that arise from this, above all for us as Europeans.
A great son of your country, Eugène Ionesco, once put it a little less diplomatically when he said: “Those who have grown accustomed to the absurd will get along just fine in our age.”
In recent decades, we grew accustomed to being able to rely upon our American friends. That we stand together as partners, allies and friends, and we must continue to do so in the future.
It would therefore seem absurd for us in the EU to have to think about responses to US tariffs that are imposed with national security in the US in mind. And, of course, we are concerned when President Trump, in the same breath, brands the EU as an adversary of the US along with Russia and China and calls NATO into question almost casually.
This isn’t just a question of rhetoric. The fact is that we are facing a new strategic reality. I therefore find myself asking the following increasingly often:
•Are the things that we consider to be absurd today perhaps a return to the normal state of affairs at the end of the day?
•A return to a world in which a handful of great powers struggle for influence and, ultimately, the strongest dictates the rules?
•Were the past few decades during which Europe was able to develop peacefully under the protection of the Americans perhaps not the rule, but a historical exception?
These are not reassuring prospects for Europe. We have seen the harbingers of the disintegration of the world order for years now. They appear above all where spheres of influence collide, in and around Europe. The conflicts in Ukraine, the Caucasus and Transnistria are painful examples.
If the US in this situation now appears to want to retreat from its role as a global guarantor of order, then this would hit us Europeans particularly hard.
This brings me to another bridge between Bucharest and Berlin. Countries such as Romania and Germany benefit more than others from rules based cooperation, from open markets and cooperation with the US on security issues. At the same time, we are less and less able to stand up for our interests effectively at the global level on our own.
Our response to “America First” must be Europe United.
I consider building a sovereign and strong Europe to be the key foreign policy task that we face.
When I say “we”, then it goes without saying that I also mean Romania. And I mean you, ladies and gentlemen.
The UK will soon be leaving the EU. “Italians first” is the rallying cry that can be heard coming from sections of the Government in Rome. Meanwhile, Poland is locked in a dispute with the European Commission regarding its judicial reform. The Franco German motor will also not be able to drive Europe forward alone – as important as Franco German cooperation is, incidentally, also in trilateral consultation with Romania.
As a large member state, Romania is shouldering responsibility for the whole of Europe already today. We are immensely grateful for this.
•We value Romania’s contribution to security on the southeastern flank of the EU and NATO, as a main contributor of troops in the Multi national Brigade in which we are cooperating closely.
•We support Romania’s efforts to shape the EU’s Eastern Partnership.
•Romania is also leading the way when it comes to protecting minority rights in Europe. No other country in the EU is home to a staggering 20 national minorities.
Allow me to say quite candidly that we would like to see Romania speak out still more often and more audibly. Because Romania is important for us and for Europe. We’re counting on the Romanians’ pro European voice – especially as a counterweight to the populists and eurosceptics elsewhere, of whom there are unfortunately far too many.
Romania’s EU Council Presidency in the first half of 2019 will be an opportunity for this. Like Germany, Romania will, from the beginning of its Trio Presidency, be able to help shape a period of 18 months.
Difficult issues are on the agenda in the form of Brexit, negotiations for the next Multiannual Financial Framework and the ongoing debate on migration.
I’m sure that Romania will rise to these challenges. We in Germany stand ready, should you so desire, to support you in terms of personnel and substance.
As holders of the presidency, we will seek to build bridges over the next two years – this is another thing that Berlin and Bucharest have in common. We must also be prepared to throw some of our pre conceived ideas over board – in the interests of the greater whole. It is not without self criticism that I say that Germany is prepared to do just that.
In recent years, we too have perhaps not always been entirely forward looking when it comes to European policy issues. But we stand by your side when it comes to overcoming what divides us in Europe.
The biggest source of division between us Europeans in recent years has been the issue of migration. And it will continue to divide us if we restrict our solidarity to the issue of fixed quotas for the redistribution of refugees.
European solidarity can be expressed in other ways. Romania has shown this by getting involved in programmes to resettle refugees. This sign of solidarity from a southeast European country was important and has been received very positively in Germany.
We also need such signals when it comes to finding solutions for the boats currently arriving in the Mediterranean. Each and every sign of solidarity counts. Romania also has a special role to play in this regard – as the holder of the EU Council Presidency and also, of course, on account of its border with Bulgaria and the maritime border with Turkey.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A sovereign and strong Europe must speak with one voice on the world stage. We need, at long last, a common foreign and security policy that is worthy of the name. All too often, the principle of unanimity condemns us to a policy of the lowest common denominator. And yet there are certainly areas in which majority voting would be conceivable for all member states. We should engage in intensive discussions on this issue in the coming months.
As far as security policy is concerned, our partnership with the US will remain indispensable for us Europeans for the foreseeable future. But the certainties are waning – and not only since the election of President Trump. It is therefore in our own fundamental interest to take decisive steps now in the direction of a European Security and Defence Union – as Europe’s contribution to the transatlantic alliance, and also as an independent European project for the future.
For only when we Europeans take greater responsibility will we create the conditions for ensuring that Americans and Europeans can continue to rely on each other in the future.
The Permanent Structured Cooperation that we agreed to at the end of 2017 was a major step towards greater European independence. Further steps must now follow.
What is also missing is a breakthrough on the civilian side – in the field of the “civilian CSDP”. I could, for example, entertain the idea of a civilian European Stabilisation Corps that could quickly second civilian experts from all member states to crisis regions – lawyers, administrative experts, police trainers and mediators.
One component could be the foundation, planned by Germany, of a centre of excellence for civil crisis management in Berlin that pools expertise and prepares experts from all member states for such missions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Europe’s voice in the world will only be respected, however, if we have sufficient credibility. Apparent double standards will immediately be exploited by Europe’s opponents. Europe must live by the values that it has set for itself – democracy, the rule of law, human rights and freedom of the press.
Each and every member state bears responsibility for this because we all represent Europe on the world stage. And so we are all judged on such issues.
Romania has acknowledged this and has chosen the issue of a community of shared values as a focus of its Presidency. We will do our utmost to support this.
However, allow me to be candid, as a friend and partner, and say that we are concerned that it is precisely this discussion of values that has polarised politics and society in Romania for the past year and a half. What concerns us is not the fact that debates are being held per se; this is a necessary facet of free democracies. It is the harshness of this discussion, which has even led to violent clashes.
I firmly believe that it is possible in the area of judicial reform to strike the right balance between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of power and to reach a compromise that brings society together. I want to offer every conceivable form of support by the Federal Government with regard to strengthening the rule of law and searching for the middle ground. Internationally renowned experts such as the Venice Commission are also potential “honest brokers”.
I believe that we should establish such expertise also within the EU. This can be achieved with the help of a peer review mechanism that, working impartially, formulates recommendations for all member states. Another element could be an agency for strengthening fundamental rights.
Above all, I would like to see a public dialogue on what constitutes our values.
I think that we would all stand to benefit from that. After all, Romania needs to close ranks right now in order to focus all of its energies on the major political tasks of the next few years. And we Germans need a united, strong Romania as a partner in Europe and the world – more than ever before.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In addition to the cracks on the domestic stage, a sovereign and strong Europe must also guard itself against divisions from without. China has clear ambitions with respect to power politics, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, which, depending on your perspective, are intended to mark the start or endpoint of the new Chinese Silk Road.
Germany’s relations with Beijing are close. With a trade volume of just under 190 billion euros, China was our most important trading partner in 2017.
But we have seen time and again just how little influence we sometimes wield in Beijing. We don’t have the strength alone, as a nation state. We lack the strength of a single European voice.
Subregional groupings such as the 16+1 format – revealingly, the Chinese call it the 1+16 format – must not create any economic or political dependencies and thus divide the EU. We need a common European policy in our dealings with China. Only then will China perceive us as a partner on an equal footing. If our cohesion is undermined, then we will all lose out in the end.
The same goes for Russia. As Europeans, we must defend the principles of the European peace and security order, just as we did together and with all due resolve following the annexation of Crimea. We continue to do just that to this day.
I’m glad that we’re able to count on Romania in these endeavours – also on account of experiences in its neighbourhood.
The Transnistria question continues to demand our attention and commitment. And we share Romania’s concern that Russia is becoming increasingly self confident in the Black Sea region. Just as in the Baltic, we need stronger commitment on the part of the EU also here in the southeast – with Romania as a central pillar.
We should bring together all of these strands in a new European Ostpolitik. This is not a question of applying a Cold War policy to the entirely different realities of the present day. We need to achieve an understanding between all EU member states regarding the bases for united action vis à vis our eastern neighbours. The concerns of all of the member states, and the experiences and perspectives of the countries of Eastern Europe beyond Russia, must also be factored into such a policy.
We need a balance between security interests and the economic, cultural and human ties that we want to strengthen.
Depending on their political perspective and historic experience, some will emphasise dialogue more while others will place the focus on putting water between themselves and Russia. However, I believe that it is important for us to develop a culture of common, coordinated action in our approach to our eastern neighbourhood. After all, the EU needs, in the long term, good neighbourly relations in a spirit of trust with Russia – in the interests of its own security, and also because we need the Russians to be on board with constructive solutions to the major conflicts outside Europe. This is the expectation that we have here.
An important step towards the closer integration of Central and Eastern Europe is the Three Seas Initiative, in which Romania has assumed a leading role. I must admit that the Trimarium was initially viewed with a pinch of scepticism by some here in Germany. The presumption was that this constituted a new, private club within the EU.
I was never convinced by that assessment. By inviting President of the Commission Jean Claude Juncker to the forthcoming summit in Bucharest, Romania has clearly shown that the Three Seas Initiative is not intended to divide the EU. That was an important gesture. I can only offer you my congratulations on this example of forward looking foreign policy.
We were also happy to accept your invitation to the summit in Bucharest. As a country bordering the Baltic Sea, we consider ourselves to be a natural part of this region.
German companies, which, after all, are among the largest employers here in Romania, also benefit from investments in infrastructure, energy, technology and education.
But it is also in our own interest to strengthen security cooperation in the region within the framework of the EU.
Taking our own steps to ensure stability in our neighbourhood must be the core objective of European foreign policy. It goes without saying that this also applies to the countries of the Western Balkans. If these countries lose faith in their prospects of accession, then others will fill this gap – and not necessarily to Europe’s advantage.
It is good to know that Romania is at our side when it comes to driving the accession process forward in the coming years.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When I talk about a sovereign and strong Europe, then I don’t mean “Europe First” as opposed to “America First”, “Russia First” or “China First”. Europe is not cut out to circle the wagons against the rest of the world. Cooperation and the ability to compromise are part of the EU’s DNA, both internally and externally.
If we concentrate on these strengths, then Europe has the potential to become a cornerstone of the international order. Part of the “alliance for multilateralism”, a network of like minded states that work together to defend multilateralism.
There is great interest in tackling problems such as climate change, protectionism and the funding gaps in international organisations together with us Europeans. I am also pleased that our Austrian friends intend to make progress under their presidency on the question as to how Europe can support the multilateral system.
This is something that can be built on under the Romanian and, subsequently, the German presidency. A sovereign and strong Europe must not only be part of an alliance for multilateralism, but at its nerve centre.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It would be a wonderful irony of history were the uncertainties of our age to take us in this direction.
Perhaps we simply have to get used to this only seemingly absurd thought, to take a leaf or two out of Eugène Ionesco’s book.
Much will depend upon us in the coming years in Europe – on Berlin, and also on Bucharest in particular. That, ladies and gentlemen, gives me hope. It gives me hope because we share the same values on so many issues. Because we enjoy a good bilateral partnership that we want to develop further. Because Romania not only accepts all of the challenges that we face in Europe, but is prepared to tackle them head on.
I hope that you will enjoy good discussions and a successful conference.
Many thanks for listening, and thank you for your kind invitation.