Keynote address by State Secretary Andreas Michaelis at the opening of the D10 Strategy Forum in Berlin

29.05.2019 - Speech

Welcome to the Federal Foreign Office! And especially to our guests from abroad: a very warm welcome to Berlin.

We are very honoured to host this year’s Meeting of the D-10 Strategy Forum. We do so in close collaboration with our partners from the Atlantic Council – represented by Barry Pavel – and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) – headed by Volker Perthes. Your contribution, Barry and Volker, and I would say your patience with us civil servants deserves a round of applause.
The D-10 format is really quite unique, bringing together a very special group of foreign policy insiders as well as think tankers and academia from like-minded democracies in more or less all time zones. Thus we should expect some of the finest minds of political thinking here in this room. I am sorry to miss the dinner later on to test this, but the celebration of Africa Day and Breaking the fast at the Egyptian Embassy are still on my schedule for tonight.

The common denominator of the D-10 is D, as in “Democratic”.
Our fundamental democratic principles and values, that’s what binds us together. And so there are two worries that unite us today: a) the erosion of these principles from within, as well as b) the rise of competing forms of government with very different views of those values and principles. So, as the D-10, we are facing inside as well as outside pressure and the jury is out: are we failing in answering those pressures, and if yes, how do we reverse this trend?

Let’s start with the erosion from within. Is democracy failing as a form of government?
European Elections last week have again shown a long term trend of growing populism, extreme political views on the fringes and polarization in our democracies. This is disheartening. On the other hand, the past two months clearly demonstrated that on a global scale democracy is still a very powerful concept: within the last 60 days, more than two billion people exercised their right to vote in free and fair elections (India, Indonesia, Australia, Spain, Ukraine, European Parliament). In Indonesia, people paid with their lives trying to make sure that every vote counts. And while authoritarianism may be attractive to ruling elites, people around the world still vote with their feet and turn to us in search of freedom, and a life in dignity and prosperity. And for those of you who like statistics: on a worldwide scale, the Democracy Index compiled by the Economist since 2006 has hardly budged at all in the past 13 years, neither up nor down. We should therefore be much more confident about the resilience of our democracy-based political model.

But maybe other forms of government are working even better?
We cannot deny that power relations in the world are shifting and tipping the balance in favour of non-democracies. This is partly due to the economic rise of China, which now holds a 20% share of world GDP. Today, China is the most important trading partner to over 120 countries – a great lever for its own policies. China is not using this lever in order to export its own, very unique form of autocracy. Rather China is creating stability for itself through increasing the dependency of others, to assure its own political survival in the long run. This is particularly true in China’s direct neighborhood – a unipolar and sinocentric Asia is the aim, and the full exploitation of political, military and economic power asymmetries is the means China has chosen to reach this aim.

And not just in Asia: Take China’s expanding military presences in Africa, but especially in the maritime domain stretching from the Indo-Pacific, into the Mediterranean, Baltic and Arctic Seas. This is coupled with Geo-economic initiatives like the Belt-and-road-initiative that extend from East Asia well into the heart of Europe. Both trends require us already today to reevaluate this new transregional actor. This re-evaluation is already underway within the EU (look for example at the counter offer to the Belt-and-Road-Initiative in in the shape of the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy) as well as in NATO, and it should be part of our conversations with partners from the Indo-Pacific region, which I have just visited last week.
Still, we are entering an era where China will hold a position so strong that a Chinese “co-authorship” of the emerging world order is a given. Already today, it is much easier to find solutions on global issues with China as a friend, not a foe.

Where does this leave the rules-based international order? Between a rock and a hard place?
Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China’s foreign policy has become much more assertive and China’s weight in global institutions like the U.N. has dramatically increased. It is now the third largest contributor to the regular U.N. budget, the second largest to the peacekeeping budget and a very substantial provider of personnel in U.N. peacekeeping missions.
At the same time, the United States is withdrawing from the multilateral system, and China often stands ready to fill the vacuum. UNESCO is a case in point. After the withdrawal by the US at the end of last year, China has become the largest financial contributor and most influential player. It is now using the organization to develop international norms for one of the most critical technologies of the future: Artificial Intelligence. But at UNESCO, the US is now unable to take part in the discussion.
Today, the key question is: how will some of these institutions look like in a few years from now? And who will be writing the rules of the new emerging international order? Right now the international order is in fact caught between a Chinese rock and a US hard place. Great power competition seems to evolve as the new dominant security paradigm.

And where does this leave Europe?
I would say: caught in the middle, and lacking a unified policy to defend its role. Formulating this “European Role” in upholding the international order is one of our most important tasks right now. Some thoughts on this:
First of all, Europe is absorbed with itself, trying its best to contain the worst fallouts of Brexit and coping with its inner unity. I have already mentioned the European Parliament elections last week. They have once again demonstrated how diverse and increasingly fragmented the political landscape in Europe is.
Secondly, Europe – and in particular Germany – has spent a long time not spending enough attention to honing the capabilities necessary to defend ourselves. We have to acknowledge that great power competition will require more European attention to the military challenges not only by Russia, but increasingly by China. This even more so, now that the US has started raising questions about its willingness to keep on playing the benevolent hegemon.
And thirdly, exploiting differences within the EU to push US interests even in cases where our strategic interests fully converge, e.g. on Iran and Russia, weakens the very partner the US needs if it wants to remain the leading power of the 21st century. And putting question marks behind the close and very successful economic relationship between the US and Europe is a lose-lose strategy for all of us.

This sounds bleak – what are our policy responses?
I am glad to say that already now, a number of policies have been put into action to counter what I would like to call our “transatlantic weaknesses”. Three practical examples:

  1. Europe, and Germany, have reacted with a substantial rise in defense spending, as highlighted by the NATO Secretary General during NATO’s 70th anniversary, and is paving the way towards a European Security and Defense Union. Contrary to concerns in the US, the European initiatives in the field of Defense have only one aim: To make the European allies of the US stronger. A strong Europe is in the strategic interest of the US. Therefore, the smallest doubt that the US is still in full support of the European project is creating such a vibrant reaction in Europe.
  2. Europe will address systemic economic differences vis-à-vis China more directly, with the aim to create a real level playing field. Germany will use its presidency of the EU in 2020 not only to host a full-fledged EU-China summit with all 27 Heads of State and Government from the EU, but we will also to further work for an European industrial strategy and a revision of our competition laws.
  3. Europe will build partnerships with like-minded countries that will bring us enormous benefits in an age where technology is becoming a game changer and big data is the most important resource. The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement which entered into force on February 1st is a huge step forward in this direction. By recognising equivalency of our data protection systems, we have created the world's largest safe data sphere of roughly 640 million people, almost double the size of the US.

So: we are not sitting idle.

Still, the D-10 need to step up their game if we want to play a role in shaping the 21st century order.
This is about defending today’s rules-based order as well as writing the new rules we need for the emerging world order. Even though China may be rising, we are still in a much stronger position to make sure a liberal and rules-based international order prevails. Together we account for 40% of the global GDP in purchase power parity. This gives us a substantial weight and legitimacy in international institutions and negotiations. While the US is the undisputed military superpower in the world, Europe has become its regulatory superpower. While the US is helping us to protect our regional security, the EU develops many of the rules that become the world’s standards, especially in emerging domains like cyber.

Together, we need to invest in the multilateral order. Individually, we cannot ensure the survival of institutions like the WTO, or sustain international human-rights law or global environmental standards. Collectively with other powers, we might succeed. United as D-10 and with the United States on board we surely would. And there are a lot of issues I have not even raised:

  • how do we make sure that the “couple franco-allemand” is able to deliver on its promise of being the motor of European integration? And, speaking of integration: how do we balance out the aim of a deeper union with the necessity to keep everybody on board?
  • How do we increase the fields of cooperation with Russia, while not giving in to its disruptive action
  • We have heard for twenty years now about the huge potential of the biggest democracy in the world, India. How can we help it bloom, based on our own values and principles?

Ladies and gentlemen,
As this is meant to be an evening of open, fruitful discussion and not of absolute truths, I have deliberately raised far more questions than I have answered. After all: I am the practitioner and you are the policy planners. It is your task to help us find policy responses to those questions. Even more importantly, it is your task as D-10 to enlarge the common ground among us. This is already the 7th meeting of this group, and maybe we all feel the seven-year-itch. There is an increasing degree of disunity among us. Overcoming this disunity however will be key to our success. With this thought I would like to leave you to enjoy the rest of the evening.

Thank you!

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