Closing speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth at the conference Winning Peace on 12 October 2018
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Two intensive conference days lie behind you during which you discussed the aftermath of the First World War, which can still be felt today, and the lessons we can learn from history. All of us had one key question on our lips, namely have we really learned from history? And what does this mean for the global challenges we currently face and for our future?
Prior to the conference, some of you may have asked yourselves whether there is any point today, in 2018, in studying a war that came to an end a hundred years ago. And yet we cannot answer the unresolved questions of today and tomorrow in a convincing manner unless we also look to the past. The future requires us to remember the past. Our aim is to learn lessons from the year 1918 that we can apply in 2018.
I’m delighted that you – both on the podium and in the audience – have engaged in a lively and productive exchange of ideas with one another over the past few days. I would like to thank you for your active contributions to this conference, Winning Peace, and for your open and enthusiastic discussions.
I don’t want to so much as even attempt to summarise the results of the six panel discussions. There will be a detailed publication on this by the Freie Universität Berlin in due course. What is more, today’s conference certainly doesn’t signal the end of the debates that were held here over the last two days.
Instead, allow me to share a few thoughts with you that are important to me.
One hundred years after the end of the First World War, it appears to me that we are once again living in a time of upheaval, a new watershed moment. Issues that enjoyed broad consensus 20 years ago, things that were very much taken for granted, are being debated again today.
Let me cite just a few examples: the resurgence of nationalism and populism, the regression to protectionism and isolationism in trade policy, the changing role of the US in the international order, and the divergence of interests within the European Union.
As at the beginning of the 20th century, there is a competition between different narratives and models of society once again today. We have witnessed our supposedly well-established international order being openly challenged in a number of quarters.
However, we need global coexistence based on rules if we are to preserve and promote peace and prosperity in the world. We need sustainable and functioning multilateral structures that are capable of responding effectively to crises and conflicts in the world, and even of preventing them wherever possible.
And we need active advocates for this form of global cooperation – people and institutions that fight persistently, courageously and decisively for the cause of multilateralism and ensure that common rules are observed.
One of the lessons from the post World War One period is this: if an international organisation of states – at that time, it was the League of Nations – fails, then the chances of peace dwindle. The primacy of national self interests above intergovernmental solidarity and international cooperation was one of the most fatal weaknesses of the League of Nations. Similar trends can be observed today.
It goes without saying that every state pursues its own economic and political interests – which is also perfectly legitimate. It is also clear, however, that a world in which national egotism prevails is a world of conflicts, insecurity and instability. This is why we must devote even greater efforts and even greater resources to support multilateralism.
For this, it is imperative that Europe act resolutely and speak with one voice, both on the domestic and on the international stage. After all, how could we Europeans credibly stand up for an international order based on rules and values if we are unable to successfully enforce such an order on a small scale at home, in Europe?
If the spirit of solidarity in the European community of states and shared values and our awareness of the value of peace are forfeit, then we risk exacerbating existing divisions in the European structure and opening up new cracks.
We must heed the warning signs. But succumbing to pessimism or indeed fatalism couldn’t be further from my mind. If Europe embraces the slogan “Europe United” and focuses on its strengths, then it has the potential to be a cornerstone of the international order and multilateralism also in the future. However, common European solutions will demand a great deal of us, specifically patience and the willingness to compromise. By their very nature, European solutions are not identical to German positions.
Europe not only has exceptionally great economic clout and dynamic innovative potential, but our reputation as the most important donor of humanitarian aid and funding for international cooperation, the appeal of Europe and its values – all of these strengths enable us to play a decisive role in shaping the global order.
In these endeavours, our main focus is on an alliance with friends and partners who share our values. However, the number of authoritarian regimes isn’t getting any smaller. Far from it. We also need to engage in a reasonable exchange with them geared towards achieving tangible results, while at the same time standing up for our values and fundamental principles. This is presenting us with a number of difficulties in our communication with our population at the present.
Looking to the West, an alliance for multilateralism cannot be viable in the long term without the support and active involvement of the US. This is another lesson from the post First World War period. The transatlantic partnership between Europe and the US created our free and rules based world order in the first place, an order that we now have to defend.
It is essential that we strengthen this transatlantic bond, also in the face of differences of opinion, and enshrine it at the heart of its international framework – NATO and the United Nations.
Looking to the East, I see a special responsibility for Germany, especially against the backdrop of two world wars, the Holocaust and fascism. Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik elicited the right lessons from history, making a vital contribution to the cause of peace and, ultimately, to the reunification of Germany and Europe.
But Eastern Europe is far more than just Russia. Ukraine and Belarus also emerged from the former Soviet Union. We owe them and other Eastern European countries just as much respect as Russia on account of our historic responsibility.
And we must never again create the impression that agreements between Germany and Russia are made at the expense of third parties. Today, we are witnessing a Russia that rejects the order that we established together with the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris. We need an open, honest dialogue on an equal footing with Russia, particularly in these difficult times. Irrespective of our current differences of opinion, we have a strong interest in Russia becoming a strategic partner. We will not be able to solve any of the current international problems if we do not remain in dialogue with Russia and seek common solutions.
A new European Ostpolitik is therefore on our agenda today. Together with our partner countries in NATO and in the EU – above all with our partner countries in the east – we want to shape a common policy with a view to Russia, Central Asia and the countries of the Eastern Partnership.
At this conference, you have discussed how we can “win peace”. We all know that there can only be losers if war breaks out. Germany can only win lasting peace if it is committed to keeping the transatlantic alliance and the EU as a whole together. If Germany builds bridges between East and West, North and South, and if we always strive to see the world from the perspective of others.
It is crucial that we never lose sight of this Federal Government’s declared primary objective, namely strengthening multilateralism and European cohesion.
Ladies and gentlemen,
One goal of the new alliance for multilateralism is particularly dear to my heart: justice. A stable, peaceful world order depends on this. This was neglected all too often in the past.
In the last three decades, the poverty rate has – in global terms – been reduced by more than half, while prosperity has grown at a rapid pace. Globalisation has enabled millions, if not billions, of people to lead better lives and has opened up new opportunities to access knowledge, education and culture.
And yet many people view globalisation with concern or even fear. You can find those who have lost out as a result of globalisation not only in textile factories in Bangladesh or the American rust belt, but right across our societies. These are people whose jobs have been outsourced to cheaper countries abroad, or whose skills have been replaced by new technologies.
Globalisation is a catalyst for exchange between cultures and people. Yet we cannot deny that it also has its downsides. Growing cultural unease is another issue. Many people feel like foreigners in their own country, are afraid of not belonging anymore. They believe that the lifestyles, traditions and habits to which they have become accustomed are under threat. The refugee movements act as a catalyst for these various fears. The appeal of open, diverse and liberal societies is on the wane while homogeneous concepts focused on isolationism are being promoted by populist nationalists in Europe and around the world.
While many have benefited from globalisation, it has also exacerbated inequality between social strata both worldwide and within societies. It beggars belief that the richest 10 percent of the global population own over 85 percent of the world’s wealth.
The fact that economic development is being driven forward without being flanked by sustainable social policy is making some members of the public no longer feel represented by the political system. This is a frightening analogy to the post war period after 1918 from which we can, indeed must, learn that solutions other than nationalism and isolationism are required today in order to take other people’s fears seriously.
We must pay particular attention today to the social impact of global economic relations – by promoting equal opportunities and education and taking resolute steps to tackle poverty and social disenfranchisement. And we must stress the fact that while diversity enriches us and makes us stronger, it cannot function without a common understanding of values.
All of us have an obligation to uphold these values. I believe that we all have a duty to promote dialogue in society on how much diversity is possible and how much community is needed.
In view of the historical experience of the 1930s, it is crucially important that we oppose protectionism time and again in the dialogue surrounding the global order. Germany and Europe can and must stand up for a free and fair, socially acceptable trading system – for a just globalisation.
A deeper cause of populism is disappointment over the fact that governments lack the necessary political ability to act when it comes to opposing growing inequality.
Ability to act isn’t something that politicians either have or have not. You have to want it, learn it or rediscover it, reach out for it. We need to break free from the idea that Europe holds us back in some way and make it clear that a sovereign, strong Europe doesn’t mean that we as nation states have to forgo something. The opposite is the case. Thanks to Europe, we are able to claw back political ability to act that the old fashioned nation state no longer has at all.
Will we, a hundred years from now, look back on a Europe that had all the prerequisites to be a powerful voice for freedom, democracy, diversity, justice and peace in the world, but which was torn asunder in the face of its internal contradictions? Or a Europe that, despite its differences, despite lengthy negotiation processes, fought for these values with all its might and achieved tangible results?
Will we look back on a world that was incapable of opposing growing inequality, the challenges of global migration and climate change and the threats to peace, even though it had all of the resources it needed for this at its disposal? Or an international community that read the signs of the times and took action before it was too late?
This is why Europe must become stronger, better and more sovereign. Not only politicians, but also civil society, economic actors and each and every member of the public bear responsibility for this. We must leave the comfort zone and stand up, fight and assume responsibility. It is up to all of us to resist the siren calls of nationalism and populism. It is high time we joined forces for peace, human rights and democracy.
Only then will we have genuinely learned the right lessons from the terrible tragedy of a hundred years ago, a tragedy that we have called to mind at this conference.