Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Forum Hansestädte of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Bremen

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Forum Hansestädte of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Bremen

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Forum Hansestädte of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Bremen, © Thomas Trutschel

04.03.2019 - Speech

I would like to start by thanking your Mayor, who made sure that the Hanseatic City of Bremen was able to grant me asylum on Rosenmontag. This relieves me of a great number of events that would have plagued me elsewhere. But of course that’s not the only reason why I’m pleased to be here tonight – there are a great many interesting topics for us to discuss. I have already enjoyed a number of encounters here today, in particular with pupils from schools in this city, and the discussions that we held, also with regard to foreign policy, were most interesting. And, incidentally, the pupils showed great interest and were well informed – well done!

This would also appear to be an interesting gathering. Minister of State Annen has told us that most of the Members of the Parliament from Hamburg were actually born in Bremen, that while Ms Motschmann lives in Bremen these days, she attended school in Hamburg. I’m familiar with the rivalry between Hamburg and Bremen from the world of football. But I don’t want to go into the matter in any more detail for my own sake as I believe that this would make me relatively unpopular within very short order.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m also delighted that so many of you have come to this event on foreign policy, because I believe that there are not many individual policy fields that we are dealing with at the present time in which as much is going on and where so many important decisions are being taken right now. A phenomenal amount is happening at the moment and an incredible number of areas are being reordered. A great deal of things are happening, and we now have an opportunity to weigh in on the decisions that are being made. This isn’t easy, and I cannot say right now where we are headed. However, the fact that we are actively involved in these matters, also as a member of the UN Security Council, is really a great challenge.

Ladies and gentlemen, here in Bremen in particular, you might think that people have learned little in the course of the past centuries. I refer here not so much to the people of Bremen, but rather to others.

As long ago as the mid-12th century, the Hanseactic League was committed to the dismantlement of barriers, to common investment in security, to the free exchange of goods and ideas and to open trading routes and free trade. In the mid-12th century.

And today? Right now, if you study international politics, isolationism seems to be the order of the day – from trade barriers that have been put up to real walls that are being built.

Nationalist sentiments are becoming more widespread – unfortunately also here in Europe, and unfortunately also here in Germany.

In Europe, we will be facing critical watershed moments over the coming weeks.

•The UK is set to become the first member state to leave the EU. The British of all people, who are so cosmopolitan and liberal in many respects, have decided to withdraw from the EU. And I believe that this is an extraordinarily sad irony in the history of this region and this country.
•What is more, we will be electing a new European Parliament at the end of May. And all of the forecasts out there are predicting gains for populists and nationalists following these elections. I believe that this gives many people cause for concern. Right wing populism is a full on attack on the values that are particularly dear to our hearts and which we within the EU have enshrined as the fundamental values of the European idea.
I believe that we in Germany in particular should be especially mindful of the fact that new nationalism is the problem but never the solution. Our culture and our prosperity are greatly dependent on open borders and free trade.
Whether climate change, the digital transformation or migration, no single country in Europe can master these challenges alone – and this also goes for Germany. A former Belgian prime minister, a forgotten founding father of the EU, Paul Henri Spaak, had the following to say many decades ago: “There are only two kinds of state in Europe: small states, and small states that have not yet realised they are small.” And I believe that this rings truer than ever, particularly today. After all, we in Germany, as the strongest economy in Europe, will also no longer be able by ourselves to successfully advance our values and interests in a world that has long since ceased to be bipolar. And this is why isolationism and nationalism are nothing but a wrong turn on the path to political impotence.
•Our country, ladies and gentlemen, has a difficult past, but our parents’ generation carved out a modern Germany in the heart of Europe, one that is cosmopolitan and liberal at home, and a good neighbour and peaceful partner on the international stage. We have built this up over decades. And preserving this is our task, and one that will not be so easy if we consider the prevailing conditions of today. The EU is indeed not perfect, but I believe one thing to be abundantly clear, which is that the things that populists dangle before us as a solution are not a solution, not even a short-term one, even though they might have short-term impacts. However, despite all the challenges we face – globalisation, the digital transformation, climate change, migration – all of which are very complex and very different, they all have one thing in common, namely the fact that they all know no borders, and overcoming borders is at times a key part of this development. It is therefore completely illusory to believe that these challenges can still be addressed with national solutions as a way to find answers to the questions we are asking ourselves today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When we analyse the situation of the EU, then an open and doubtlessly self-critical perspective is indispensable.

The EU has been in permanent crisis mode since the Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. The wounds that the financial and economic crisis caused in southern European countries have still not healed today.

How should they, considering the fact that over one in two young people was out of work in Greece at one time or another during this period? While the economic situation in the EU has been improving again since 2016, the differences between the North and South, and also between West and East, have not become any smaller, but have, in some cases, even increased.

In 2015, a new source of discord was added to the mix in the form of migration policy, which continues to raise fundamental questions about the EU’s foundation of shared values to this day. The political polarisation that we have witnessed in Germany also finds its reflection at European level. And I would like, in addressing this point, to say that we are still not in a position in the EU today to find a response to the migration issue, or at any rate a practical or technical one. The way in which Europe has handled the question of how to distribute refugees coming to Europe is close to a damning indictment of the EU. We have seen private maritime rescuers patrolling the Mediterranean and how, every few weeks, a ship carrying rescued refugees attempts to call at a European port, in Spain, Gibraltar, Italy. And now these refugees are no longer allowed to enter port until sufficient European countries have been found to distribute these refugees among themselves. The upshot of this, to describe this in very practical terms, is that when a ship like this calls at a port, there are days’ worth of telephone chains between ministers of state and foreign ministers – I’ll take ten, you take ten, they’ll take five – until all of the 75 refugees on the boat have been divided up. During this time, the boat circles the Mediterranean Sea and is barred from entering any European port. This is, I believe, not only close to a damning indictment, but it is also undignified that we in the EU aren’t able to respond to this issue in an appropriate way. We are now not even at a point where we can say that all European member states must be involved in a distribution key for such situations. After all, we have already established that this didn’t work in the past, and I believe that people like Orban in Hungary will never be prepared to take part in such efforts, even in the future. And this is why only one solution is conceivable, namely that those who are prepared to do so should join forces, and this could apply to significantly more than half of all the EU member states. And those who don’t want to do this must do their part and take responsibility in other areas. Why shouldn’t it be possible for countries not taking in refugees to become more involved, for example in combating the wider causes of migration more effectively with respect to Africa? And yet we’re still unable to answer this question. This is, to my mind, a genuinely dangerous seed of division that we have carried with us for far too long within the EU. And this is also a question of trust. Rifts are opening up that are deep, rifts between North and South, and also between East and West, and even rifts that run within the member states of the EU themselves that can no longer be overlooked. And a great deal of trust has been lost, thereby weakening Europe’s ability to act. If I have learned one thing over the past few months with respect to international politics and diplomacy, then that is that one currency is irreplaceable, namely trust and reliability. And this currency is, regrettably, no longer to be found in many political fields in the form that we were perhaps familiar with and were able to rely upon in the past.

In view of the state of world affairs today, we Europeans simply cannot afford to gaze at our own navels. The world around us has become a different – less safe – place.

Our rules-based international order has long since been under fire – and, incidentally, not from just one direction. We are facing new competition between the great powers that is much more complex than the one we experienced during the Cold War.
•China’s economic and political rise since the 1980s has been historically unique, also as far as its speed is concerned. Forecasts predict that China will be the world’s largest economy by 2030 – ahead of the US.
•We Europeans can no longer be 100 percent certain that the US, at least in view of the policies it is currently pursuing, will continue to pledge its unconditional support for the transatlantic partnership.
•Meanwhile, Russia is flexing its military muscles once again and is seeking to deepen rifts in Western societies, and also to divide those who have joined forces there.

And if you take a look at all of this, then you get the impression that the law of the strong is increasingly holding sway over the strength of the law.

If we do nothing to oppose this, then one thing is at risk of happening, namely Europe risks becoming merely the object of global policy. However, we want to remain a player on the world stage, and this is why Europe must stand more united on the domestic and more resolutely on the international front than is currently the case. In short, Europe must become more self sufficient.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is easily said, and many people are saying this, by the way. The EU was, at least that is the impression that many had, conceived first and foremost as an inward-looking project.

The EU is about maintaining peace between the countries, making economic progress together and creating prosperity in all parts of the continent. This inward-looking Europe must now suddenly be an actor on the world stage in order to be able to stand up for its values and interests.

What does that mean for us in Europe?

Firstly, we need, in my estimation, a genuine European foreign policy.

I won’t deny that real progress has been made in this regard in recent years:
•The European External Action Service represents the EU in over 130 delegations around the world.
•We have established much closer coordination between member states on the issue of security and defence as part of what is known as “permanent structured cooperation”.
•What is more, we are deliberately according our membership of the UN Security Council a European focus. Irrespective of this European seat on the Security Council, France will assume the Presidency in March, followed by us in April. And we have, for the first time, rolled these two periods of four weeks into eight, as Germany and France have developed a joint programme for these two months. The French will start our projects, and we will complete France’s projects during our four weeks at the helm. And the P5, which are permanent members of the Security Council and wield greater influence, of course, will have to coordinate with the five European members of the Security Council, who have so far spoken with one voice on all issues – and this has indeed proven to be the case in the first few weeks.
So Europe’s seat on the Security Council is guaranteed inasmuch as the Europeans have so far managed to preserve their fundamental unity. This is extremely important because we want to speak with one voice also here if we intend to pursue a European foreign policy. And we have managed to do this, even though there are four non-permanent members and one permanent member in the form of France, which, of course, enjoys very different opportunities in this area.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In European foreign policy, the aim will also be to ascertain whether we are in a position to find a common European response to current international events on a short term basis. That is why I have been travelling Europe for weeks and months to hold discussions with my counterparts about whether we should seek to effect a structural change in the Foreign Affairs Council, namely to end the principle of unanimity and introduce the principle of majority voting there.

Allow me to give you one example. When we addressed the issue of Venezuela at the Foreign Affairs Council and talked about how to deal with Juan Guaidó, then 27 members (we’re still 28 at the present time) were in agreement, with the exception of one, which was of a different opinion. The member state in question didn’t want any recognition or to call for free, fair and democratic elections, but simply wanted to stay out of the whole thing. The upshot of this was that we were unable to issue a common statement as the EU in such an acute situation. And so each member state issued their own statement. Some didn’t issue any statement at all. This meant that we were only able to exert the influence that we wanted to exert in this situation to a limited extent. That is why I believe that there are situations, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case for all issues in general, but that it would make sense to define certain issues on which it is no longer necessary to reach unanimous decisions in the Foreign Affairs Council.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It goes without saying that our ability to act on the international stage is predicated on a minimum degree of unity on the domestic front.

For this, we must also strengthen economic and social cohesion in the EU – and that is the second pillar of a self-sufficient Europe. A more socially just Europe would be a key contribution to countering populists who abuse differences in Europe for their own ends.

Jacques Delors’ old saying that you cannot fall in love with the internal market is doubtlessly correct. But even if economic integration isn’t something that inflames the passion of Europeans – and it doesn’t have to do that – the EU has fulfilled the European promise of prosperity for decades. We have to continue to do this also in the future – even in times of crisis. And, in so doing, we must also manage to distribute prosperity in Europe more fairly.

•One priority is tax policy, for example. The EU must tackle tax evasion and avoidance more vigorously than has been the case so far. And the much-discussed digital tax would help to remedy an injustice rightly felt by members of the public. It is unacceptable that digital companies such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and the like make billions of euros in profits in Europe and, moreover, not only make billions of euros in profits, but also have a major impact on the way we communicate with each other and form opinions in Europe, all the while paying taxes on their profits abroad.
•Social security requires a stable economic foundation – and this also entails a single currency that is able to withstand crises. We have achieved important progress in this regard in the course of the euro crisis.
The European Stability Mechanism now has the clout to support member states even in severe crises, despite all of the discussion that there has been about this. But we mustn’t stop halfway in our efforts to reform our economic and monetary union.
We need to have put safety nets in place before a member state requires a bailout package. And within the Federal Government, the discussion surrounding unemployment reinsurance for the eurozone is an issue that we will continue to explore. The concept is relatively simple – those who receive financial support when times are hard pay it back when things begin to look up again. This avoids permanent transfers, contrary to everything that is sometimes said in public.
At the end of the day, this is about an insurance policy that protects our currency against renewed crises. It is relatively probable that such crises will occur. We should actually be at the forefront of this debate out of our own interest, and not only out of solidarity since for Germany as an export nation the wellbeing of our neighbours is in our fundamental interest.
•A currency area that is resistant to crises would make the euro more attractive for investors as an international reserve currency. We should seek to emancipate the euro from the dollar in the long term. After all, the US Government, and this is a new situation that we are having to face, is exploiting the dominance of the dollar for its foreign policy ends – for instance in its sanctions policy. Strengthening the euro’s international role would go hand in hand with greater European solidarity also in this area.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Strengthening the EU’s social dimension can help to dry up support for populism. But how can we deal with today’s populists who view the freedom, openness and tolerance of Europe as anathema? And if you take a closer look at the parliamentary elections that have been held in Europe in recent years and the successes that populists have achieved in the Netherlands, for example, and also in the Scandinavian countries, most recently in Sweden, you must actually come to the conclusion that it is not just social issues that populists address, but also cultural ones.

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, let us first of all confront the conspiracy theories of the Orbans and Salvinis of this world with our idea of an open, tolerant and free Europe clearly and vocally. That is the third priority for a self-sufficient Europe.

Despite all of the difficulties, there is no reason to be fatalistic. However, what I described just now is ultimately only effective in context. This is about social issues and about fear of loss of cultural identity, and we must find a response to this that takes all these things into account and also starts from the premise that there is no reason to be fatalistic. People are putting their trust in Europe, as the most recent Eurobarometer survey shows, for example. Trust has even increased, partly as a response to Brexit. Those are solid foundations that we can build on.

Nationalist sentiments and calls for isolation must be countered with a positive image of Europe, and I am absolutely certain that this will fall on fertile ground among our population. Freedom of movement, the single market and initiatives such as the Erasmus Programme – all these are European achievements that also continue to develop the European idea and which we must defend.

And another thing is especially important to me in this regard, namely that we Germans of all people, and this has unfortunately become a grey area especially among right-wing populists, must not stand idly by and tolerate anti-Semitic or racist tirades. I’m therefore glad that, following the most recent smear campaign, members of the European People’s Party are, too, at long last, making themselves clearly heard and no longer want to tolerate Orban’s constant breaking of taboos.

Words of hate will one day become deeds, a fact that we are aware of thanks to crime statistics. Anti-Semitic crimes are now on the rise throughout Europe. There were 1646 such crimes in Germany alone in the past year, and the numbers are increasing.
This is a disgrace for Germany, and also for Europe. And this is why, during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union next year, we will work to ensure that the fight against anti-Semitism becomes a much more prominent pan-European issue.

Only if Europe stands up for its values will it be perceived as a credible force on the international stage. Without credibility, Europe will not be able to hold its own.

And that’s why violations of the EU’s fundamental values must have consequences.

In the EU’s next financial framework, we will be discussing whether the disbursement of funds must therefore be made contingent upon compliance with the principles of the rule of law across the board. After all, in the candidate countries with which we are currently negotiating, the rule of law chapter is the most difficult chapter of all and stipulates the most stringent requirements. And we will inevitably also have to consider whether those who are already members of the EU, but who no longer fulfil the rule of law chapters required in accession negotiations, should also be subject within the EU to a sanctions mechanism that is not in place at the present time.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the beginning of my speech, I mentioned the Hanseatic League. In his book “Germany: Memories of a Nation”, British historian Neil Macgregor describes its downfall. He writes that it lacked a genuine structure, with the result that individual merchants turned their backs on the Hanseactic League, which then simply disintegrated.

What does this mean for today’s EU? It goes without saying that the EU has well-established structures. But are these structures really strong enough to withstand the challenges we face?

I believe that we have firm foundations, but the structures that we have must continue to be developed as a matter of urgency in order to create a genuinely self-sufficient Europe:

•A Europe that is capable of action and is prepared to play an influential role in global issues and crises and which will not just become an object of the same.
•A Europe that sticks together on the domestic front and makes good on its promise of prosperity for its citizens.
•A Europe that stands up in a credible manner for its values, convictions and interests, both at home and abroad.

In view of Germany’s geographical location, its history and its economic interconnectedness, it is in our national interest to play a leading role in helping to advance this Europe. This also involves investing still more in Europe and overcoming a number of long-cherished orthodoxies.

Germany’s security and prosperity depend on Europe, and national short-sightedness endangers this security and prosperity.

Two years before his death Helmut Schmidt said that the integration of the peoples of Europe was a matter of give and take from the very outset, and the ones who benefited most from this over the years were us Germans.

I fully agree with this assessment. We Germans should never cease to remind ourselves that the achievements of the EU are nothing to be taken for granted. I often experience this in discussions with people from my generation. I was born in 1966 and grew up in West Germany. I already had everything that makes life worth living, and I didn’t have to fight for anything – peace, relative prosperity, the rule of law, civil rights, freedom, democracy. They were all there. Sometimes I get the impression, when I follow some of the discussion in our country, that far too many people take all of this for granted. After all, these things have always been there. But if you look at all the developments I have described, in Europe, in our own country, in the world, then you must actually conclude that this is not a matter of course. Or at any rate, you must surmise that while you can accept this as a matter of course, there may also be situations in which you must be prepared to stand up for these things, more so than was the case in the past. And Europe presents a major opportunity for precisely this. Europe needs support because it, the European idea, is under attack, both at home and abroad. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Germany’s contributions to the success of the EU are not an act of generosity or charity for economically weaker countries.

They are a precondition for peace and prosperity also here in Germany – investments in our own future.

Thank you very much.


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