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Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the budget debate in the German Bundestag

27.11.2019 - Speech

I have just come from an all‑staff meeting in the Federal Foreign Office. Perhaps this type of meeting is a good reflection of the success or failure of budget discussions, as it is attended by the people who carry out our foreign policy abroad, often under the most difficult circumstances, that is, by the staff of the Federal Foreign Office. I can assure you that they are happy about this budget.

Foreign Minister Maas in the German Bundestag
Foreign Minister Maas in the German Bundestag© dpa

To be honest, if you have a budget that was significantly increased during the decision-making process and is now an unprecedented record-breaking amount of almost six billion euros, then I find it hard to understand how people can still find something to criticise about it. I wonder what else they want. The best-ever budget of all time? A budget that smashes all previous records? Let me also say that the opposition members here with us today would be happy to present this budget and would portray it very differently if they were in government. Let’s not forget that.

Fellow members of this House, yes, this has to do with the greater demands placed on foreign policy. Allow me to mention just a few examples.

The Syria Constitutional Committee finally met in Geneva. Months of argument preceded this meeting. We provided significant political, logistical and financial support to this process, and will continue to do so. We will also continue to urge that this committee does not end up being mere window dressing, but rather that everyone, and that includes the Assad regime, seriously endeavours to play a part in bringing about the political settlement the conflict needs.

António Guterres was in Berlin yesterday. We talked about what Germany can do to help join up the various formats – the Small Group and the Astana Group – in order to pave the way to a political settlement.

The Berlin Process is currently underway in Libya. German-led talks with Libya’s neighbouring countries, but also with Libya itself, began several weeks ago. We are discussing how we can achieve a political settlement to this war, which has been going on for far too long and is currently spreading throughout the country in a way we thought now belonged to the past.

A Normandy format summit on the Ukraine conflict will take place on 9 December. Here, too, we and our French friends are leading the way as regards using the positive momentum since President Zelensky took office to revive the Minsk process.

In Afghanistan, following the resumption of talks with the Taliban, the United States has asked us and Norway to hold a peace conference aimed at achieving a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan Government.

There are now some positive signs in Yemen that the Houthis and Saudis will hold face‑to‑face talks. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has asked if we would be willing to host the peace talks that may result, as a follow‑up to the talks held in Stockholm last December.

Anyone who sees this and talks about Germany’s responsibility in the world must recognise that in all the crises we currently face, we have now mostly taken on the leading role in conflict resolution. I think this is a good way to take on responsibility in the world.

That also applies to the Security Council, which not only involves crisis diplomacy, but also crisis prevention. We are putting the topics of nuclear disarmament, climate change and women in conflicts on the agenda and have achieved results that were unfortunately not possible at an earlier stage.

What we have discussed here concerns the great increase in demand for humanitarian assistance. When you are so involved in trying to resolve international conflicts, people also expect you to supply material goods to help those on the ground and they expect you to have a plan for rebuilding the countries concerned. In other words, they expect humanitarian assistance, stabilisation and capacity-building. The budget provides a good basis for this.

Europe will also demand more of us than ever before. Our Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe starts next November and we are also getting ready for our EU Presidency in the second half of next year. There is more than enough to do as regards establishing the closest possible future relations with the UK; implementing a real European foreign policy towards countries such as Russia or China; negotiating the financial framework for the next seven years – something we have already achieved, as reflected in this budget; and, as Doris Barnett mentioned, building up crisis-management capabilities, including with a view to the conflicts in our neighbourhood. To this end, we will establish a European centre of excellence in Berlin next year and thus take on the leading role in Europe in this field, too.

The same goes for NATO. Despite all the different views on it, we in the German Government have taken a very united stance towards the public. We want the NATO we need and our transatlantic relations to be fit for the future. We do need to discuss the proposals on the table, but we require sound processes for this, as there is no use constantly making new suggestions unless they achieve results. A Wise Men Group – by the way, Madeleine Albright was its last head – was set up, thus creating the basis for a joint strategic platform for working together in NATO. That’s how things are done in international organisations.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion I would like to add that we do not do any of this alone and nor are we alone. Over 60 countries have now joined our Alliance for Multilateralism. We are working together on eight concrete initiatives on topics ranging from disarmament to protecting human rights. We just saw what we can achieve in Geneva, where at our initiative 125 countries agreed on guidelines for dealing with lethal autonomous weapons systems, following years of negotiations.

All in all, German foreign policy is not disruptive. It is the opposite of disruptive. Instead, it strives to offer an alternative to the disruptive reality. Our role in solving international conflicts means that we play a part in creating more peace in the world. This budget will certainly help us to do that.

Thank you very much.

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