Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the opening of the Bali Democracy Forum

14.09.2018 - Speech
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Bali Democracy Forum - Berlin Chapter
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the “Bali Democracy Forum - Berlin Chapter”© Florian Gaertner/photothek.net

Foreign Minister Marsudi,
Members of Parliament,
Bali Democracy Forum participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Our topic today is migration and democracy. To be frank, the conflicting interests within this field are being discussed rather a lot in Germany at the moment. 

And yes, I quite deliberately describe it in those terms. I don’t mean that the so-called migration question in and of itself represents a problem for democracy. Migration isn’t really a “question” anyway, certainly not one we could answer with “yes” or “no”. 

Migration is a fact. It is as old as our planet. 

Nevertheless, the migration debate is threatening to split our societies. We’re seeing that around the EU and also right here in Germany. The divided camps seem irreconcilably opposed. Some even want to see migration as the source of all political problems. 

Migration is being misused as a means of polarising debate. People are stirring up and misusing anxieties that only indirectly have anything to do with migration – fears about pensions, care for the elderly, jobs, security, education, and anxieties about the consequences of globalisation and digitisation in general. 

Those challenges are faceless. They can’t be brought to account. And above all, they can’t be shut out. 

Almost 70 million people around the world were fleeing conflicts or persecution at the end of 2017, and the numbers are rising. Add to that the millions of people leaving their homes for economic or social reasons. 

The idea that this global trend is something we could deal with at the national level – the very idea sounds frankly naive.

If we really want to tackle the challenges of migration, we will need international vision and multilateral cooperation.

I know, Foreign Minister Masudi, that Indonesia and the ASEAN countries see this exactly the same way. We also share a vital interest in strong and universally applicable international rules – on migration as well as, I am sure, in many other areas. We furthermore share an interest in fair burden-sharing and strong international organisations.

This reminds me of the day when the elections to the Security Council were held in New York, as we spent that day together too. I am glad to be with you on the United Nations Security Council as of next year and particularly look forward to working even more closely together. I am aware that Indonesia has always been a leading light within the United Nations. I therefore think we will be good partners. Let us stand together to fight for multilateralism, which is more essential than ever at this time – not least when it comes to matters of migration, our topic today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Given the polarised debate raging on all five continents, it is nigh-on miraculous that the international community managed to reach an agreement on the topic of refugees and migration early this summer. 

The consultations on a Global Compact on Refugees and a Global Compact for Migration came to successful conclusions. 

More than 190 countries found agreement on what is a very complex and, as we know, emotionally highly charged subject. That was another victory for multilateralism – and such victories are very important, especially these days!

Thanks to the completed negotiations on the Global Compact for Migration, we now have a draft for a comprehensive management framework for international migration, and that has political resonance. 

It is the result of years of discussion among the members of the United Nations, civil society, the private sector, scientists, national parliaments and countless other indispensable players. 

A colossal and encouraging joint effort! It’s encouraging because it manages to balance the interests of countries of origin, transit countries and destinations while not losing sight, crucially, of people’s actual needs.

The Global Forum on Migration and Development, an informal forum bringing together not only states but private-sector interests and civil society under German-Moroccan chairmanship, played a very important role there.

Alongside Indonesia and the other supporters of the Bali Democracy Forum, we now want to work to see the UN member states adopt the Global Compact for Migration at the summit in Marrakech and then, of course, translate it into reality.

No less important are the negotiations on the Global Compact on Refugees, which will be on the agenda for adoption by the United Nations General Assembly this December. We need an answer to the question of what fairer international burden-sharing and division of responsibility might look like. The pressure on all countries to deliver is correspondingly high. 

Let me just mention humanitarian resettlement as one example. More than a million people are in urgent need of this solution. 

Germany and Europe are making substantive contributions. However, the only way we are going to get close to solving this problem is if other countries show willingness to admit asylum seekers rather than reduce their involvement. That’s something for us to work on together, ASEAN and EU members equally.

It is a country’s treatment of refugees that shows how sincere its dedication to human dignity really is. 

A number of countries in the immediate vicinity of conflicts – I’m thinking of Jordan, Lebanon and Bangladesh, for example, but also several in East Africa – have already demonstrated extraordinary solidarity. 

We have great respect for that. But respect alone is not enough. These countries deserve our support, and I can assure them on behalf of Germany, as the second-largest provider of humanitarian aid, that we will not abandon the countries hosting refugees, neither now nor in future. But others need to play their part too and shoulder their fair share.

Since 2015, some 3.5 million people have applied for asylum in Europe alone. Germany is now the sixth-largest refugee host country in the world. Measured against the scale of that challenge, I feel we have achieved a lot in our country too, for all the debate that is raging.

Nevertheless, the topic of refugees and migration has become the greatest source of discord between us Europeans in recent years. Ignoring that won’t do any good. If you need evidence of how divided the EU is on this issue, just look at the fact that an EU member state – Hungary – has joined the US in withdrawing from the Global Compact for Migration. We deeply regret that, for Europe must live by the values it professes to hold dear. Only then can we credibly defend those values, both internally and vis à vis the rest of the world.

We are therefore going to be looking for ways for overcome those divisions. We need to find solutions. If certain countries refuse to take in refugees, then they will have to do more in other areas, such as tackling the causes of displacement. That too is a legitimate way of showing solidarity, not only in Europe but around the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

None of that is possible without civil society. It is not only in helping asylum seekers that civil society plays a vital role.

The huge task of integrating migrants into their host communities can also only be achieved if civil society is strong. Strong civil society is one of the defining characteristics of a democracy. 

I am therefore most particularly pleased that the Bali Democracy Forum brings together representatives of civil society from our two regions. Please continue to give a voice to those who are most directly affected when we discuss refugees and migration, namely the actual people who are voluntarily or involuntarily living far from their homelands. Too often are their voices lost these days amid the clamour of populists and nationalists.  

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me in closing to say something that I think gets far too little airtime in the heated debate currently raging in Germany, but that is extremely important to me: migrants are part of our society. And there can be no question about that. They are our neighbours, our colleagues. They are our friends. They are mothers and fathers of great kids. They are an asset to our country. 

Migration isn’t the source of our problems; nationalism is. We are seeing that not only in Germany but around the world. We see it everywhere where autocracy gains a foothold, where pluralism is suppressed, where openness and freedom give way to exclusion and walls. This development is nothing less than an attack on our liberal democracy, respect and tolerance.

What we therefore need now is for all democrats and all democracies to stand united. We need to achieve in our democratic societies the same objective we achieved internationally with the Global Compact for Migration – namely understanding and dialogue. 

This means all of us are called upon to defend democracy against the attacks of its enemies. 

On 3 September, Chemnitz showed us how that is done. Some 65,000 people said “we are more than that” and held a concert sending a strong message by their superior numbers to reject racism and right-wing extremism. 

On that day, Chemnitz was not synonymous with xenophobia and hatred; Chemnitz made itself a symbol of heart over hate.

It made me think of a quote from German artist Joseph Beuys, who once said that democracy needs to be sung. I would add that democracy needs to be loved. Democracy needs to be fought for. But above all, democracy needs to be lived. Ultimately, democracy is what we make of it, ladies and gentlemen. 

We mustn’t tire of working for the cohesion of our societies, which is more urgently needed than ever. That, after all, is the only way for integration to succeed – in Germany, in Europe and around the world.

On that note, let me reiterate: welcome to the Federal Foreign Office, welcome to Berlin! 


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