Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the presentation of the Theodor Wanner Award to Federica Mogherini

18.12.2019 - Speech

My dear Federica,

Federica Mogherini and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas
Federica Mogherini and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas© Thomas Trutschel / photothek

At the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair a year or so ago, you let the audience into the secret of your dream career. Ever since you could think, you said, you had wanted to be an author.

That hasn't happened so far. But perhaps you can take some consolation from the fact that, for the last five years, you have been doing a job from a different branch of the arts – you’ve been a conductor.

A conductor who has created a melodious choir from the many, many different European voices.

Admittedly – and no-one knows this better than you, Federica – this choir is not always easy. The individual members definitely all have their egos – and quite a few of them occasionally feel they should be given a solo.

Getting a harmonious sound out of this European choir was hard work. Not least because of the many confrontations in recent years – over the euro, or how to deal with refugees, or the debate on the rule of law – which opened up deep divides and unleashed forces of disintegration within the European Union.

Keeping Europe together despite all this, without resorting to threats and always trying to make sure no-one was drowned out, was an utterly amazing feat. And for that I would like to thank you most sincerely.

Not without reason did you repeatedly stress that you didn’t necessarily always share the view that “Europe needs to speak with one voice”. Because you were aware that the European Union, most likely soon just with 27 Member States, is made up of many voices.

And that the aim certainly cannot be to silence them. Rather, the aim must be to combine these voices and to make sure that, if possible, everyone is singing from the same song-sheet.

Nuanced but harmonic: that, I think, was the sound of European foreign policy under Maestra Mogherini.

And it brought you success. There are many examples to illustrate this. There was, of course,

  • the nuclear agreement with Iran. Without your untiring engagement, often far beyond the bounds of physical exhaustion, this success story for European diplomacy would have been impossible. That view is shared by all who were present.
  • But I am also thinking of the Global Strategy, which probably would not have existed without you. Because you saw that the world had changed, and that we Europeans would need to work much more closely together on foreign policy, security and defence, if we wanted to hold our own in this world. This insight will continue to guide us long after the end of your period in office. You laid the foundations for this work.
  • And I am thinking, too, of Operation Sophia off the coast of Libya, which has successfully combated traffickers and saved many people from drowning. You got this mission going, while others were still just at the talking stage. An act of humanity which, I find, is symptomatic of your whole approach. Always mindful of the impact – and free of all cynicism. There are many other examples in the field of international policy as well.


I very much hope that we can retain this approach in Europe. Because the world has become more cynical in recent years, more dissonant, or, as we say nowadays, disruptive.

We are experiencing Twitter diplomacy, with drumbeats and pretty often also an attempt to completely smash the instruments of the international order.

In such a world, it is more important than ever to make sure that our European choir is heard. There is no need to shout down others. But nor must Europe content itself with deafening silence.

Over the past few years, you have succeeded in making Europe able to communicate. And when you ask outside observers how, then two responses dominate: empathy and confidence.

What else but confidence can explain how you had the courage to publish the Global Strategy on the very day after the Brexit referendum? Not for a moment did you cease to believe in this Europe. Not even at that moment. When everyone was still reeling with shock at the result of the referendum, you were already urging us all to continue to work on our vision of Europe.

You once said: “Ambition is our choice. Responsibility is our choice.”

And although you have now stepped down from the podium, we will continue your work for an ambitious and responsible Europe. We owe you that.

The fact that the new Commission has set itself the goal of being a “geopolitical Commission” is, in my view, a direct legacy of your European mind-set. And we will do our utmost to support this goal, especially during the German Council Presidency next year.

There are more than enough tasks facing us:

  • shaping the closest possible relations with the UK post-Brexit,
  • implementing a genuine European foreign policy, particularly vis-à-vis countries like Russia and China,
  • further developing the transatlantic relationship,
  • negotiating the financial framework for the next seven years,
  • becoming even more ambitious on climate change mitigation, not least in the wake of the Madrid Summit, in order to ensure that the Green Deal is no mere empty promise,
  • improving our crisis management capabilities, particularly with a view to the conflicts in our neighbourhood, of which there are far too many,
  • and strengthening our democracies’ resilience in the digital world. It is to a large extent thanks to you that Europe has really got going in the past few years on this important issue for the future.

You have always regarded this as an indispensable step towards preserving and strengthening Europe’s sovereignty, also in the digital age. Because it is a question not just of strategic sovereignty, but of digital sovereignty.

And to that end, too, it is essential to maintain and strengthen the unity of the European Union.

A two, three or four-speed Europe, sought by some, was never your idea of Europe. Because you knew that a two-speed Europe would quickly become a two-class Europe.

That’s why it’s so important to coordinate closely even with difficult partners. Of course there have been, and still are, problems – for instance on rule-of-law issues in countries like Hungary, Poland and Romania. That’s why there are clear and resolute processes within the EU.

But we can only exert a real influence if we preserve existing bridges, rather than knocking them down, like some people are apparently thinking of doing. If countries in Central and Eastern Europe get the feeling that they are no longer actually supposed to be in the European avant garde, then we risk losing them. That would weaken Europe as a whole. And it would also do the rule of law in Europe a disservice.

If Europe wants to assert its interests and values, it cannot afford to dismantle itself. For the world has a keen ear for the dissonances within Europe.

That needs a readiness to compromise, and you, Federica, always understood that compromise is not a weakness. You are fully aware of the value of understanding, and you possess that rare ability among politicians to represent and further develop a different standpoint. And to realise that there will be no progress in this world without compromise.

In short, you translated the values of European enlightenment into the practicalities of policymaking.

And that is why you always also regarded European external policy as a cultural task. Because you recognised the need for diversity as an element of our fight against populism and nationalism.

And you appreciated that the beauty inherent in this cultural and human diversity is the basis for our identity in Europe.

You once put this very aptly and simply: “… there is no contradiction (...) between being a proud Roman, a proud Italian and a proud European.”

I often find myself recalling that sentence. I have often quoted it, and will continue to do so. Because it neatly sums up what I, too, think goes to make up Europe. The EU takes nothing away from our national or even regional identity. On the contrary, if gives us an additional identity. That is why Europe is not a loss, as some people are currently trying to convince us, but a huge benefit.

Amid the din of the populists, who are gaining in support in your country, too, it may not always be easy to get one’s messages across. However, this should make us all the more determined to be heard, to defend our values and our European culture, whose beauty and uniqueness comes from that very diversity.

You understood, better than many others, that Europe must always be not only an economic and political project, but also a cultural one.

Hence your commitment to a dialogue among and with the religions. Only a few months ago, you launched a new platform for this dialogue, and it will begin work next year.

And the fact that the Arab world has such great confidence in you is undoubtedly due not only to your familiarity with the region, but also the respect you pay in your work to other religions and cultures.

Just how important this aspect of your work was to you became clear back in 2016, when you made the importance of “cultural diplomacy” an integral part of the Global Strategy.

Evoking Willy Brandt: “Foreign policy is too important to be left to governments alone.”

Together we then put “culture and crisis” on the European agenda for 2017. Protection of cultural property was anchored as an element of the Common Security and Defence Policy – within the EU and beyond.

  • Along the Balkan Heritage Route, for example, which was a result of your commitment, and which can build bridges in this often crisis-torn region.
  • Or cultural preservation in Iraq, which is far more than just the mere conservation of treasures in a country which just a few years ago was on the brink of collapse along ethnic and religious lines.

We want to take further steps in this regard. For instance, by considering – under the guidance of the German Archaeological Institute – developing a small-scale response mechanism for the protection of cultural property – similar to the one run by the THW, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief. This, too, is largely a result of your work.


With the Theodor Wanner Award, the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) honours people who have made a particularly noteworthy contribution to dialogue among cultures.

Not only did you manage, month after month, the cultural differences, the many voices, the various egos and temperaments of Europe's Foreign Ministers. You were Europe’s strong voice for its friends and partners in the world. But also for those not our friends and partners.

Throughout the five years in which you were the director of our European choir, you displayed great sensitivity and determination to avoid hitting wrong notes. Although a great many demands were made of you.

Ultimately you set standards for the still relatively new position of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Looking at things today, we can be happy that you didn’t decide to become an author and write stories.

Instead, you wrote European history in Brussels and the world.

Many congratulations, and thank you for everything you did during your time in Office.


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