“Forum for Science Freedom of the Alliance of Science Organizations in Germany” - Greeting by Minister of State Michelle Müntefering

18.03.2019 - Speech

-- Check against delivery --

Indeed, 2019 is a special year: also because of the 250th birthday of Alexander von Humboldt.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity, together with Federal President Steinmeier, to follow in the footsteps of Alexander von Humboldt in Latin America.

There I found Humboldt's most impressive quote for me: “Nature is the greatest republic of freedom.”

Freedom, ladies and gentlemen, is today endangered in many ways: nature through man. But also man by man.

Likewise, the freedom of scholarship that we want to talk about today.

In the current report “Free to Think 2018” the Scholars at Risk network speaks of almost 300 attacks on academic institutions. That is almost 50 more worldwide than in the previous year.

And the number of such documented cases is increasing rapidly.

And that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Many cases are not documented at all.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m sorry to have to start this congress on a somewhat pessimistic note.

Because we will have to look where others deliberately negate the facts.

We are all witnesses to a new hostility towards science - in many places results are ignored because they do not fit into their world view.

Or research funding slashed where utility is questioned by ideology.

And people and scientists are affected by crises and wars in their work, but often also in person.

Although today, in the face of globalization, we have to rely on research and science and invest much more in it.

For all these reasons, we must speak of a “global crisis” for the freedom of science. We cannot ignore this development.

We have to do something.

That's why it's important that we work together to find common approaches to tackling this crisis.

That’s what it is about:

To protect the freedom of science. And with it, also a vital foundation for progress, development and prosperity.

Only with curiosity and knowledge, with exchange and international cooperation, we can find the right answers to the big questions of the time.

I’m grateful to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for organising this congress for the second time together with Freie Universität Berlin and the Scholars at Risk network.

And it is important that you have also won other alliance organisations as partners.

Together with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Federal Foreign Office has launched the Philipp Schwartz Initiative in order to support researchers who are forced to leave their home countries.

Some of them I could meet some time ago in the Ruhr area, my home region, and talked with them about their personal stories.

Last year, we created the Martin Roth Initiative to support artists as well.

For both initiatives we primarily had crisis areas or dictatorships in mind as regions of origin.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We Germans have a special responsibility here.

It was only 70 years ago when German scientists sought refuge and found refuge in other countries under the Nazi regime, including Philipp Schwartz in Turkey.

The people who come to us should be protected. And at the same time, we know that they bring something with them: ideas and great potential for innovation, innovation and progress.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Meanwhile, this issue is also topical within the EU.

And yet the freedom of science in particular is at the heart of the European system of values on which we founded the EU.

But we see: that even in Europe, the spirit of national populism is on the rise again.

I’m therefore all the more delighted that other European countries are doing something too. Our close partner France has established a similar initiative in the form of PAUSE.

Since 2017, researchers at risk are entitled to receive protection and support in France for a one‑year period.

Now the Philipp Schwartz Initiative and PAUSE are working together and are planning a joint project to strengthen European cooperation between organisations that are committed to scientific freedom.

This is a strong sign for the intensive ties and contacts between France and Germany AND for the freedom of science.

At the same time, this shouldn’t be restricted to the level of a bilateral initiative.

Our approach is deliberately to be open, open to cooperative partnerships with other European partners as well.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Treaty of Aachen, which both of our governments signed recently, continues Franco‑German cooperation as a motor for the project that is European integration.

Because of this the Treaty of Aachen also lays the foundations for even closer cooperation in research.

In the Treaty of Aachen, we agreed to closer cooperation on future technologies and with respect to the digital transformation, in particular in the area of innovation and artificial intelligence.

This is why we also support President Macron’s proposal to establish a network of European universities.

As a result, we promote cross-border cooperation between universities in Europe even more closely.

We are enjoying great success in this cooperation with the Franco‑German University, which is a network of 194 partner universities.

Last but not least, it is great that we have concretely stated cultural cooperation in the Aachen Treaty:

Because for the first time we have agreed to have German-French cultural institutes.

Now we put another sign of partnership on this field. A sign of the European values of freedom of expression and international research.

A sign of this: to find common and forward-looking answers to the challenges we currently face.

Especially in the year of European elections.

And especially at a time full of uncertainty in which populists and nationalists are claiming isolationism and the retreat to the nation state as solutions, France and Germany are pointing in a different direction;

We are continuing to move closer together, are joining forces and thus injecting energy into the cultural future of Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Ambassador Descôtes and I send a signal with our Joint Declaration. And we send a message: to all scientists, and also to all countries in which the freedom of science is restricted.

The freedom of science is a core, indeed elementary asset for both of our countries.

And scientists as well have responsibility. We can only live up to the responsibility for this world together.

At the end, I want to quote one of the biggest: Albert Einstein - whom you can also quote at the Humboldt Foundation.

He urged that science be used for progress. He said:

Concern for the people, and their fate must always be the main interest of all technical pursuits, (...) so that the products of our spirit bless the human race and not the curse.

Do not forget that about all your drawings and equations.

Thank you very much!


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