Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to the German Bundestag on the debate concerning the Federal Foreign Office budget for 2021

09.12.2020 - Speech

Alois Karl, I am tempted to address your comments on the situation of kings in Bavaria, but I shall refrain from doing so. I will limit myself to pointing out that stories about kings in Bavaria don’t always have a happy ending.

That’s all I have to say about kings, and now I would like to say something about another noble, namely you, Mr Graf Lambsdorff. In your speech, you once again claimed that the Federal Government was unable to provide a suitable response to the reforms proposed by Emmanuel Macron shortly before the 2017 Bundestag election. That was good timing, just before a new Federal Government was to take office. All I can say is – if you and your party had not spent so long holding sham coalition negotiations, the new Federal Government would have taken office sooner and been able to respond even more quickly.

Because it did respond. Its response is titled “Treaty of Aachen”. This treaty describes Franco-German cooperation and our two countries’ aims for Europe. It has attracted so much attention within Europe that many colleagues have shared with me their concerns that Germany and France are working together too closely.

This Franco-German axis has in fact proven that it works, specifically in July amidst the heated debate within the European Union over the financing of the Recovery Fund. It was a Franco-German proposal that changed the course of the entire debate. This proposal prevented a rift between North and South and showed that the Franco-German axis works, indeed better than ever, Mr Graf Lambsdorff.

I have also been told that I should in fact be removed from office because I have congratulated the future US President. To make myself very clear – including to the assortment of frustrated Germans – I once again formally congratulate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on their electoral triumph. We look forward to working with them and we believe that this is an auspicious moment for the whole world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The outcome of the election in the United States will of course change many things on the world stage. However, I am quite sure that while many things will improve, not everything will change, and that we in Europe must not be tempted to let up in our efforts.

We must focus on three areas in particular:

We need a new transatlantic deal. The first, imminent test will be the fight against the pandemic. We have heard different messages on this subject from the US in the past. The issue now is the equitable global distribution of vaccines. Joe Biden wants to bring the US back into the WHO, which will enable us to work closely with his administration and help ensure that the vaccine which will soon be available reaches not just those who can afford it but, above all, those who need it.

The same goes for climate change mitigation. If the US rejoins the Paris Agreement, we can resume our joint efforts on that front, too.

We recently discussed the findings of the reflection group which we launched within NATO. We talked about how we want to strengthen NATO and the transatlantic relationship, with greater contributions from both Germany and Europe.

We also want to coordinate with the US more closely in the future on issues relating to the Middle East, Afghanistan, Russia and China. The chances of solving the conflicts and crises around the world – of which there are too many which have not been solved in recent years – will improve if Europe and the United States join forces once again.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We must also make progress on the issue of a sovereign Europe, which is one of the focal points of our Presidency of the Council of the EU. We have invested in our security or our digital capabilities in recent years not because Donald Trump wanted us to, but because it is in our vested European interest to do so. And we must continue down this path, which, by the way, is not at all antithetical to the transatlantic partnership, but rather is essential if we are to remain, or to once again become, a relevant, independent and respected partner of the US.

That is why Europe is, even now, taking on responsibility for foreign and security policy matters in neighbouring regions from the Sahel to the Middle East. With the Strategic Compass, the European Peace Facility and also the PESCO framework, which is now open to third countries, we have laid additional groundwork to increase Europe’s ability to act, something we will need in light of the transatlantic bond.

What can we expect in the coming year, particularly in terms of humanitarian issues, for example? Humanitarian organisations expect that 2021 will see more people in need of assistance than ever before. Germany is already the second-largest humanitarian donor worldwide. I would like to thank you for the significant funding which we have received in the budget negotiations for humanitarian assistance – on behalf of millions of people who will benefit from this in the coming year.

We will also continue to work on the issue of arms control. The US and Russia must extend the New START Treaty by February. And Germany and Europe will also play a pivotal role in the future of the nuclear agreement with Iran, at next year’s NPT Review Conference. We are closely involved in all of the preparations for this. I believe that, with the changes in the US, many things will once again become possible which have been out of reach in recent years.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The funding provided in this budget will also enable investment in strong foreign policy. Allow me to name three examples:

Just under a year ago, we organised the Libya Conference here in Berlin. Many people said it would be a failure, and there were indeed many setbacks. Now, we are seeing a lasting ceasefire in Libya, lasting political agreements, the resolution of economic problems such as the oil blockade, and a fixed date for elections. Germany’s work in Libya has been worthwhile. We have played a large part in ensuring that this country finally has a chance at a better future once again.

The same goes for eastern Ukraine. There, we have been negotiating for years within the Normandy format to find a way of implementing the Minsk agreements – and for a long time this was largely unsuccessful. Now there is a ceasefire which has lasted longer than ever before. There may be another exchange of prisoners in the coming weeks. We will keep pushing ahead via this format until we are able to implement the Minsk agreements and ensure peace in eastern Ukraine.

The same goes for Afghanistan. Peace talks are taking place, and both sides have asked Germany and Norway to support this process and perhaps even to host the next round of talks – this is further proof of what Germany’s foreign policy can achieve.

Our foreign policy is perhaps not as loud as what we have become accustomed to from other quarters. But it is effective, and it enjoys an outstanding reputation around the world.

Thank you very much.

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