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Allow me to offer you a warm welcome to the Weltsaal for this year’s Ambassadors Conference.
I am most delighted to welcome you, Chrystia, as our guest of honour. Having you here today brings back good memories of the first time we met in Berlin in April. It was really a special meeting. We were literally finishing each other’s sentences. It took only a few minutes for us to realise that we share exactly the same concerns about the erosion of the rules-based international order.
So we were immediately able to focus on the question at hand: what can our countries, what can Canada, what can Germany, do to strengthen the stability of that order? I will come to that later on. First of all, allow me to say how great it is to have you here today. We are looking forward to your speech; welcome again to Berlin.
Unlike many of you, this is my first Ambassadors Conference. I’m very excited about the coming days and am looking forward to taking stock of our foreign policy with you. In so doing, we want to set our sights on the future. What do we as the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Government – and soon also as a member of the UN Security Council – want to achieve?
In view of the combined expertise here in this room, I hope that this conference will not only offer intelligent analyses, but that we will also come up with operative solutions. We must bring the strength that we in the foreign service have to bear on the ground.
Nothing can be taken for granted any more in foreign policy. The future is open and it can be shaped. But it also poses unknown risks. This dichotomy challenges us each and every day.
“The Jungle Grows Back” is the title of US political scientist Robert Kagan’s new book. Kagan argues that, with the US is retreating as an enforcer of order, the world is now returning towards its original natural state.
A free interplay of powers with changing alliances in which the strongest dictate the rules.
Not at all a rosy prospect. After all, we Germans in particular can have no interest in a “jungle growing back in the world order”. We must resist this to the best of our ability. And we must lay our hands on the right tools when the jungle beckons.
When I say that we are no longer able to take things for granted, then I’m not just referring to the policy of the US Government. Russia, China, the crises in our neighbourhood, the cracks within the European Union – all of these things challenge us in very different ways.
However, “America First” affects us as Germans so much because we are concerned about the transatlantic partnership. Because we invest in this partnership and have often benefited from it on a very personal level.
America isn’t just any old partner for us, but is our closest partner outside Europe. And allow me quite deliberately to add that we not only must, but also intend, to do everything we can to ensure that this remains the case.
We must adapt our policies to the new situation to achieve this, however. This is not at all targeted against Washington. Far from it. But we must take the new tone coming from the US capital into consideration in our foreign policy actions.
When Europe is branded in the same breath as an adversary along with Russia and China, when the NATO alliance is almost casually called into question, then this isn’t just a question of rhetoric. This gives rise to a new strategic reality that we must come to grips with.
We therefore need a new, balanced partnership with the US. In order to regain our own leeway and to respond to this new reality in a flexible manner.
To do this, we must, firstly, invest more in our cooperation in areas in which we have common interests. This applies first and foremost to security policy. As partners in NATO or in the fight against terrorism, the Americans will be indispensable for us for the foreseeable future.
But when things that we take for granted disappear, then this can only mean one thing for us. We Europeans must assume greater responsibility, and especially for our security – and this is in our own most fundamental interests. By strengthening the European pillar of the transatlantic alliance, we are creating the conditions for ensuring that Americans and Europeans can rely on each other also in the future.
With its turnaround in defence spending, the Federal Government has set out on this path that, while it is not without its difficulties on the domestic political stage, has one clear objective in mind, namely that we want a European Security and Defence Union.
It is also clear that the framework for European military engagement is always diplomacy, civilian crisis management and conflict prevention. The Federal Foreign Office in particular has a wealth of valuable experience and is able to bring its influence to bear – whether in Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq or Syria. This is what we contribute to the transatlantic partnership.
We will, secondly, also have to exert greater influence where Washington is withdrawing – not only financially, but above all politically.
This applies in particular to regions such as the Western Balkans, the Middle East and Africa, where we Europeans have important security policy and economic interests.
This also applies to key international organisations such as the UN and the WTO. It goes without saying that we will not be able to fill all of the gaps.
But, together with others, we can at least work to ensure that the emerging vacuum doesn’t lead to still greater instability. In so doing, we are sending a signal – a signal that the importance of international organisations for us isn’t merely limited to a short-term return on our investment.
When our values and interests are at risk of falling by the wayside in Washington, we will, thirdly, have to voice our objections or pursue our own alternative courses of action.
Let’s take Iran as an example. It was important that we responded quickly to the US sanctions that have now come back into force and offered European companies legal protection against these. Together with the British, French and others, we are also working to maintain business exchanges and the payment transaction system with Iran. I know that there are many difficult specific questions out there, most of which have yet to be resolved. But we have, at the very least, managed so far to avoid an escalation. That’s no small feat when you consider the alternative – a nuclear arms race in the Middle East with predictably devastating consequences.
Fourthly, a transatlantic partnership fit for the future depends on our finding our way back to a dialogue among partners. This is what the Deutschlandjahr USA, which is starting in October, seeks to do.
We want to create opportunities for exchanging ideas with Americans – and not only in New York, Washington and Los Angeles.
If the election of Donald Trump showed us one thing, then it is that we may not know today’s America – especially what are known as the “flyover states” – as well as we thought we did. I am therefore delighted that, alongside Ambassador Haber, our eight Consuls General in the US and representatives of intermediary organisations and foundations are with us here today.
All of them must help us to establish new connections, identify social trends and make our positions clear – also above and beyond the political elite.
Incidentally, this doesn’t only go for the US. In times of fake news and echo chambers with increasing options for digital networking, it is not enough only to talk to government representatives. We should seek to bring our influence even more strongly to bear on societies and win new supporters for our ideas there. I know that all of you are doing this already, but this will become even more important in the future.
It’s clear that we will only achieve a new balance in our partnership with the US when Europe increases its clout on the world stage. This is why a sovereign and strong Europe is our key foreign policy priority.
We must work on this with all our might as the Federal Foreign Office and German Government.
Europe United means pooling sovereignty where nation states are no longer able to muster the strength that a united Europe would have.
This applies in particular to our willingness and ability as Europeans to stand up for the cause of security and stability in our neighbourhood. Who else but Europe should do this – in the Western Balkans, North Africa and the Sahel region? The US is, regrettably, doing this to an ever lesser degree. And Russia and China are doing this only in the pursuit of their own interests, which often conflict with our own.
But the costs of war, poverty and displacement are borne by us Europeans.
We therefore want to establish a civilian European Stabilisation Corps to strengthen the civilian side of the Common Security and Defence Policy following the progress made in the area of military cooperation.
One component will be the foundation of a centre of excellence for civil crisis management here in Berlin that will pool experience, recruit civilian experts and prepare them for deployments. We are also working on ideas to speed up the European Union’s crisis response and to safeguard European funding for crisis deployments. I know that these are no easy tasks, but they are worth the effort.
A sovereign Europe also means asserting ourselves as a global economic power and supporter of just globalisation.
The more others focus on the law of the strong, be this strength political or economic, the more we must counter this with Europe and the multilateral order.
In this context, the Economic Partnership Agreement recently signed between the EU and Japan is a real success. Not only are we creating the largest free trade zone in the world through this agreement, we are also sending a clear message against protectionism and zero sum thinking. There should be further agreements with countries that, like us, stand up for free and fair trade. And that includes African countries.
We want to support the African Union in setting up an African free trade zone.
And we will use our new EU strategy on connecting Europe and Asia to offer our Eurasian neighbours opportunities to work more closely with us in the fields of business, technology and infrastructure.
Washington’s sanctions policy is also forcing us to draw up European answers. Europe and Germany are also affected when the US suddenly and without consultation imposes sanctions – many of which are unspecific – on Russia, China and Turkey, as well as possibly on others among our most important trade partners in the future.
We need to react to this and to strengthen Europe’s autonomy and sovereignty in trade, economic and financial policy.
That will not be easy, but we have made a start. We are working on proposals on how we can make payment channels and systems such as SWIFT more autonomous and how we can set up a European currency fund.
However, in all this, one aspect is particularly important to me – if we want to work towards a strong and sovereign Europe, then the goal can never be “Europe first”.
On the contrary, establishing connections and making compromises are part of the European Union’s DNA. That goes for inside the EU, but also for outside it.
That is why a sovereign Europe can and must become and remain a cornerstone of the international order.
We will only achieve this if Europe is united internally and if the values and principles that we defend worldwide are also put into practice in Europe itself. Every loss of our credibility weakens our ability to assert ourselves externally. That is why there can be no cutting corners when it comes to the rule of law, for example.
But to be honest, going around Europe pointing our finger at others like some sort of head teacher from Berlin can very quickly become counterproductive.
We need to promote our positions. We need to understand the social realities facing our partners in Europe more clearly in order to be able to formulate messages that will be heard. And this is where you, too, come into play.
Not too long ago, there was a debate about why we still need embassies in EU member states. I think that the current situation in the European Union speaks for itself. We need them more urgently than has been the case for a long time!
Our two year term on the United Nations Security Council will start in a few months’ time.
The high number of votes we received is proof of the high regard our country enjoys worldwide. During my three trips to New York, I saw that this was a team effort by the entire ministry and all of our missions abroad. And I would like to thank you once again for that.
However, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. The next two years will be challenging for us. People are expecting a great deal of us. That is also something I have repeatedly sensed during my trips abroad.
Even now, there is no shortage of crises and conflicts on the Security Council agenda – Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, Mali, the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The list is long – and you don’t need a crystal ball to know that there will be further crises.
We will need to produce results – and not only here in Berlin or in New York or Geneva. During our term on the Security Council, a phrase you know well will apply even more than it already does – “a team worldwide”.
That is why we should use the next two years as an opportunity to dovetail the work of Head Office and our missions abroad even more closely. The global situation requires us to be able to conduct campaigns in an extremely professional way all over the world and at almost any time of day or night.
That also includes a new communication and information culture. I hope that the first steps towards greater transparency are also being felt abroad, as you and your staff are our antenna in this conflict-ridden world.
We also need your far-sighted reporting and astute analyses from the relevant regions, particularly from Africa.
Only then will we be able to bring about solutions through our own concepts and initiatives, and moreover to do so when a crisis is still at its peak. And we need to be willing to underpin this by playing a concrete role on the ground. All of this can only be done in a team.
That also applies to our main goal of making the United Nations better equipped to prevent crises and conflicts. For example, we want to add the impact of climate change on security to the agenda.
If we help to contain crises and at best perhaps even to prevent conflicts, that will also foster trust in the United Nations itself.
And in making our seat on the Security Council as European as possible, we will play a part in making a sovereign Europe a cornerstone of the multilateral order.
Wherever I hold talks – most recently in Japan and South Korea – there is an ever greater focus on Germany as regards how we can curb the threat of the rules-based world order being eroded.
To put it bluntly, the animals in Robert Kagan’s jungle know instinctively what to do in the case of imminent danger – fight or flight. I don’t see either as an option for us. However, there are also some intelligent animals that unite in a pack in order to combat the dangers of the wild.
Chrystia, we too had an in depth discussion on how we can prevent the international order from becoming a jungle. We came up with the idea of an alliance for multilateralism.
We are thinking here about a network of partners who stand up together for the preservation and further development of the rules-based order, who defend multilateralism and who are willing to use political capital to this end because they understand what multilateralism truly means. Multilateralism means investing in an order when doing so does not lead to an immediate benefit for oneself, but secure in the knowledge that one can rely on this order when needed one day.
This means that an alliance for multilateralism cannot be an exclusive club of those who mean well or an echo chamber of liberal democracies. Our alliance is open to all those who firmly believe in multilateralism.
It is not directed against anyone, but instead strives to reach joint solutions to global problems. Such problems include climate change, increasing protectionism and the approach to the global refugee crisis.
We don’t need any new organisations or formats. The aim is to support a cornerstone of the order by working more closely together in existing institutions.
This will not enable us to solve the problems of the world overnight. Or to stick with Robert Kagan’s metaphor, you need a great many hard-working gardeners and very large shears to keep on top of the jungle’s rampant growth.
But it is not enough to simply lament the end of rules-based multilateralism, as quite a number of people in Germany do.
I am also counting on your support in this initiative, as you are best placed to identify new partners and topics for our alliance. That goes in particular for partners in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
During my many trips in the first months of my term of office, I saw how dedicated and professional you are in your work on the ground. I was very impressed by that. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you very much for this. I am also grateful to your families and of course to your staff, both Germany-based and local employees.
I am aware that the living conditions are not easy in many places. In some cases, you face danger and deprivation. But we want to do everything we can here in Berlin to provide you with the best-possible support.
We need you and your insights and impressions from abroad. We look forward to receiving your suggestions.
Please ask for feedback on them and take part in the discussions we are holding in Berlin now during the Ambassadors Conference, but also when you return to your temporary home.
Please give my best regards to your staff and tell them that we are looking for gardeners to ensure that the jungle does not grow back in the field of international relations.
Esteemed colleagues, thank you very much!
And now, Chrystia, the floor is yours!