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Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the second and third reading of the Brexit Transition Bill in the German Bundestag

jeu, 01/17/2019 - 15:56

15 January was not a good day for the European Union. The vote by the House of Commons was a serious setback, as it significantly increased the probability of a no-deal Brexit. Nevertheless, this path is by no means preordained. We will do everything we can in the coming days and weeks to ensure that the UK only leaves the EU with an agreement – and not without one. But since Tuesday, we only know what British MPs do not want. We still don’t know what the UK wants instead. Fellow members of this house, that won’t get us anywhere. We are also spelling this out to our British colleagues in no uncertain terms. In the final analysis, we cannot negotiate with ourselves.

Esteemed colleagues, I am aware that many people are now hoping for an exit from Brexit, for a new referendum, for a postponement of the withdrawal date under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. And yes, I personally also wish that the British had never voted for Brexit.

But at the moment, all thoughts on such options are mere speculation, as the UK Government has so far rejected each – and I mean each – of them. Without a request from the UK, the withdrawal date will not be extended. And without a majority in the UK parliament, there will not be a second referendum. That is the reality we face here.

And that is why we must tell London loudly and clearly that the time for games is now over.

The ball is in the UK’s court. All those in positions of responsibility in London now have a duty to reach consensus and to state clearly which option a majority in London supports. Perhaps some people in the UK should remember Shakespeare, who wrote:

“Happy thou art not / For what thou hast not, still thou striv’st to get / And what thou hast, forget’st.”

The Government and House of Commons in London intend to discuss a proposal on Monday, and the European Union is willing to look closely at it. However, it is scarcely conceivable that the Withdrawal Agreement will be reopened for discussion. We made that very clear at all times in the run-up to the vote and the decision in London has not altered our position in any way. Nor have our principles changed, particularly as regards the integrity of the internal market with its four fundamental freedoms.

We have negotiated intensely with the UK for two years. I think that we – and by “we” I mean everyone in the European Union – were creative and flexible. We took the UK Government’s red lines into account and we made compromises.

In doing so, both sides’ goals were taken into account. This agreement is a compromise for both sides. It includes what was important, namely legal certainty for the business sector, a transition period to allow us enough time to negotiate the future relationship properly, the prevention of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and in particular, the protection of citizens’ rights. As regards possibly extending the withdrawal date under Article 50, the UK would first need to state clearly what it wants to achieve. This means there must be clarity in order to be able to answer the questions of “whether” and “how long”.

All of you know that we need to keep sight of the forthcoming European elections. Should the British not vote in these elections, but hold a referendum afterwards and then end up staying in the European Union?

Or should they vote in the European elections and then decide that they will leave the EU after all?

That’s something of a conundrum.

Ladies and gentlemen, if there has been one positive element in this process, then it was the unity and resolve of the 27 European Union Member States. We must preserve this unity beyond Brexit and indeed now in this phase.

We will need this unity later on for a strong and sovereign Europe – a Europe that will continue working as closely as possible with the UK as a partner and friend in an increasingly complex world. We actually need the British more than ever for this.

Irrespective of how the debate in the UK turns out in the coming weeks, we are prepared for all scenarios. We are continuing our plans for a no-deal Brexit and will step up our work on them. The aim is to prevent a negative impact on the public and business sector to the greatest possible extent.

You are familiar with the measures we have taken. The focus is on three sets of legislation. The law that allows British limited companies to change into a German type of company has already entered into force. One of the two laws we are currently discussing is aimed at cushioning possible negative effects on pensions, health insurance and education grants. The other one will address and reduce risks affecting the stability of the financial markets. Furthermore, and as you just discussed, we have started recruiting additional customs officers. We are also hiring more staff in our licensing authorities so that we can, for example, continue to issue licences for important medical products quickly and reliably. Finally, we are working on an ordinance that will grant UK citizens a transitional period to clarify their future residence status in Germany in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

In addition, we are of course working closely with the Länder, civil society, business sector and academia on all the matters that will need to be addressed. We are also liaising closely with our European partners, the Council and the European Commission to ensure that national and European measures are dovetailed.

To put it briefly, we are prepared, but we are also aware that a no-deal Brexit would harm us all, possibly or indeed very probably causing more harm to the public in the UK than to us.

We can thus only appeal to our British colleagues and say that while you certainly proved your love of black humour in recent days, we are now counting on your legendary pragmatism and realism.

Thank you very much.

Foreign Minister Maas on the terrorist attack in Nairobi

mar, 01/15/2019 - 19:00

Foreign Minister Maas issued the following statement on today’s terrorist attack in Nairobi:

We are shocked by the despicable terrorist attack in Nairobi and condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims, and we wish the injured a speedy recovery. At this difficult time, Germany stands as a partner alongside Kenya. We will not relax our efforts to promote stability and security in the region.”

Background information:

In the afternoon of 15 January, an attack was perpetrated on the Dusit hotel and office complex on Riverside Drive in Nairobi. Explosives were used in the attack, and several armed terrorists forced their way into the hotel complex and shot at passers-by. According to various sources, the Somali Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for this act.


Keynote speech by Minister of State Niels Annen at the event Rethinking Fragile States – Using Stabilisation Measure Experiences for the Future

mar, 01/15/2019 - 18:30

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We are lucky in Europe. Our continent is – and this is partly thanks to the European Union as a unique peace project – largely characterised by peace and friendship. Since the end of the Second World War, we have grown ever closer and on days like these in particular, we are well advised to recall our sense of community. Unfortunately, we can all feel the forces that are tugging us apart. And that has not only been the case since the now imminent meaningful vote in the House of Commons. 

The trend of retreating to the nation-state and believing that one is better off alone poses a threat. This notion is based on an obvious fallacy, one that will permanently weaken us and lead to division. That is what we need to address, not least so future generations do not remember us as the people who jeopardised peace in Europe – a huge feat after the end of the Second World War – out of pure and unadulterated egocentrism.

Naturally, things are far worse in other parts of the world, where it is not a matter of political division or the weakening of a strong multilateral system, but rather of violent conflicts and wars with countless civilian casualties. 

Ladies and gentlemen, what happens in a place that has been marked by fighting and, in some cases, years of conflict? What are the prospects when a ceasefire reveals a country whose infrastructure has been destroyed? How can reconciliation, let alone new social cohesion, be brought about?

These questions must primarily be answered by the population of a country itself. However, the international community can support this process. We in the German Government refer to such support as “stabilisation”. We support political processes in conflict management, strengthen legitimate stakeholders and foster peaceful conflict resolution.

The aim of our stabilisation measures is to create a safe environment and to visibly improve living conditions in fragile contexts. After a conflict has ended, we want to enable legitimate local structures of order to offer the public something more appealing than the status quo of violent conflict as soon as possible. 

Stabilisation thus also creates the first prerequisites for reconciliation between parties to a conflict and for establishing fundamental consensus in society – the foundation for lasting political stability, participatory political structures and long-term development. The broadest and most inclusive participation possible by all population groups is crucial to success. 

Allow me to mention one example – Afghanistan. 

Along with KfW and the Aga Khan Development Network, we have provided 112 million euros for smaller infrastructure projects in northern Afghanistan since 2010, building schools, roads, bridges and government buildings in four provinces in the northern part of the country. In places where infrastructure is built, children can attend school once again and the local administration can do its work in a safe environment, the outlook is brighter. The wish for a better future – for a peaceful future – no longer seems so far-fetched. 

This type of support requires the right kind of structures. KfW and the Federal Foreign Office have undergone similar processes in this regard. In the latter, this led to the establishment of the Directorate-General for Stabilisation. And in KfW, it led to the decision to make cooperation in fragile contexts the third pillar of the development bank, alongside financing in developing and transitional countries and climate financing. 

In both cases, further efforts were and are needed in order to overcome institutional inertia and long-standing principles in development cooperation. A process of that kind involves a huge amount of work, but it is worthwhile in the end. 

Ladies and gentlemen, we need to be able to react rapidly and flexibly to changing political circumstances in crisis contexts. That is what stabilisation can achieve, as its main aims are to ensure that a post-conflict vacuum cannot come about in the first place and to show the public that we support the desire for peace. Naturally, arriving on the ground without delay involves greater risks. This is not something we do blindly or rashly, but rather for good political reasons and in the knowledge that there can be no absolute security in crisis contexts. During and immediately after a crisis, people expect rapid support. We must make use of this momentum time and again. 

We have worked very well with KfW for years and there is great trust between us. Our cooperation goes beyond Afghanistan. In Iraq, for example, we have provided an untied loan of 500 million euros. And in the context of Syria, we have taken the risk of setting up an internationally unique financing instrument in the Syria Recovery Trust Fund, which has played a crucial role in providing support to legitimate civilian stakeholders, even under the most difficult conditions. 

The importance of the Syria Recovery Trust Fund goes far beyond that of a financing instrument alone, as its steering bodies provide a unique forum for political exchange with Syria, with partners who are not always easy. 

The joint projects between the Federal Foreign Office and KfW stand for what can be achieved in fragile contexts and with the help of the means available to us. Our measures deliver verifiable political value-added and, as confirmed for example by the research conducted alongside our stabilisation efforts in northern Afghanistan, achieve an impact in fragile contexts that lasts beyond the changing security situations. 

Ladies and gentlemen, our approach can be used in various fragile contexts. No matter the specific crisis context we are talking about, the speed of positive change after the end of a conflict is particularly relevant to the impact of the stabilisation measures. Naturally, the public must play a role in this process. Time and again, we must seek participatory and the most inclusive solutions in order to strengthen the legitimacy of public action and to make the peace dividend tangible for everyone, as that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the overarching goals of stabilisation measures. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the current situation in Afghanistan shows that stabilisation remains a risky business. The level of violence in the country has not improved and the Taliban have not been pushed back. Reports on the supposed plans for US withdrawal are leading to anxiety among the stakeholders and damaging the efforts to foster a political process, which have been more intensive than ever in recent months. In the eighteenth year of our engagement in Afghanistan, we should not attempt to whitewash the situation. But neither should we give in to pessimism. Stabilisation is and will remain a cornerstone of German foreign-policy work. It completes the German Government’s joined-up approach for greater peace and security.  

I look forward to hearing the viewpoints of His Highness, whose foundation has been active in many fragile contexts for decades, and to the discussion with you. 



Human Rights Commissioner Kofler on the trial of Huang Qi

mar, 01/15/2019 - 16:37

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (15 January) on the trial of Huang Qi:

I am following very closely the proceedings against Chinese human rights defender Huang Qi, in which the trial began on Monday, 14 January 2019 in Mianyang. I am concerned that Huang Qi only had access to his chosen lawyers at a late stage, and only occasionally. Moreover, some of his lawyers had their licence to practise law revoked. Under these circumstances, a fair trial is impossible.


I therefore call upon the Chinese institutions to conduct the trial in accordance with rule of law principles and relevant UN conventions. China must act upon the declared aim of the Chinese leadership to strengthen the rule of law. I also call on the Chinese institutions to take account of Huang Qi’s problematic health and consider whether he can be released from detention immediately on humanitarian grounds.


Huang Qi’s 85-year-old mother Pu Wenqing is lobbying hard for her son. I am worried because, since December, it has not been possible to contact her. I ask the Chinese institutions to listen to her, to respect her safety and freedom and to allow her access to her son.

Background information:

Huang Qi has worked for human rights in China for many years. He became known within China and abroad for his work for missing persons and the victims of the 2008 earthquake in Wenchuan, Sichuan province. Huang Qi has long been seriously and chronically ill. The United Nations has described his detention as arbitrary.

Human Rights Commissioner Kofler and French Human Rights Ambassador on the situation in Chechnya

mar, 01/15/2019 - 14:35

Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office Bärbel Kofler and French Ambassador for Human Rights François Croquette issued the following statement today (15 January) on the situation in Chechnya:

We are deeply concerned by the reports that in Chechnya members of sexual minorities have once again been arrested and tortured, in some cases even resulting in death. 



The Russian authorities need to investigate the reports by human rights organisations as soon as possible and ensure protection and support for all people under threat. 


As the international community has repeatedly emphasised: Violent crimes must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account.


We urgently appeal to Russia once again to implement the recommendations contained in the report of OSCE rapporteur Professor Benedek.

Background information: 

According to the Russian non-governmental organisation LGBT Network, approximately 40 LGBTI persons have been arrested since the end of December 2018. At least two people have died after being abused. Similar reports were published in April and June 2017.

In December 2018, a report on human rights abuses in Chechnya, mentioning these and other allegations, was published by the Moscow Mechanism Rapporteur of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.


Foreign Minister Maas on the Yemen conference at the Federal Foreign Office

mar, 01/15/2019 - 13:26

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued the following statement today (15 January) on the situation in Yemen and current international efforts to help initiate a peace process:

A few weeks ago, an unhoped for breakthrough was achieved in the long running and complex conflict in Yemen that has had such catastrophic consequences for the civilian population. Engaging in direct talks, the parties to the conflict agreed on a number of confidence building measures.



Initial steps have been implemented at the port and in the province of Hodeidah. Additional action must now be taken, under the leadership of the United Nations, to make further progress. Germany will support these efforts, and it is to this end that we have invited international partners and key actors to a conference in Berlin.


Meanwhile, fighting continues unabated in other parts of the country. The humanitarian situation is deteriorating more and more the longer the conflict drags on.


This makes it all the more important to use this small but real window of opportunity. We must work to make the international community’s support for the upcoming process as constructive and strong as possible. This includes ensuring that further progress is not impeded by a lack of funds or lengthy administrative processes. 


Foreign Minister Maas to open conference on Yemen

mar, 01/15/2019 - 12:47

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is to open the High Level Strategic Dialogue on the Peace Process and Prospects for Stabilisation in Yemen at the Federal Foreign Office on Wednesday, 16 January 2019.
It will be attended by, among other officials, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths and Resident Coordinator of the UN in Yemen Lise Grande.

Minister Heiko Maas on the agreement between Skopje and Athens on the country name

ven, 01/11/2019 - 19:20

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued the following statement today (11 January) on the implementation of the agreement between Skopje and Athens on the country name:

The resolution of the dispute between Skopje and Athens on the country name is in the home stretch. I count on the Greek Parliament to now approve the agreement and on North Macedonia being able to join NATO and start accession negotiations with the EU in the near future.



The dispute between Athens and Skopje on the country name lasted over 27 years. Those in positions of responsibility, particularly Prime Minister Tsipras and Prime Minister Zaev, made huge efforts to finally resolve this conflict. 


They provided an encouraging example that a determined focus on practical issues, perseverance and political courage in diplomacy lead to success. This sends a hopeful message to the entire region.

Background information

On 11 January, Parliament in Skopje approved the constitutional amendments needed to implement the Prespa Agreement with Greece (settlement of the difference on the name). These amendments will enter into force following ratification of the agreement by Greece. After 27 years of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, Athens and Skopje signed the bilateral agreement settling the difference on the name on 17 June 2018. Under this agreement, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be called the Republic of North Macedonia in the future. In return, Greece will no longer block North Macedonia’s accession to NATO or the start of EU accession negotiations with the country. 

Statement by Human Rights Commissioner Kofler on the situation in the Sudan

ven, 01/11/2019 - 18:02

Dr Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (11 January) on the situation in the Sudan:

I am very concerned about the Sudanese Government’s reaction to the ongoing protests in the Sudan. In recent days, violence has been used several times against people who were exercising their right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. 



The deaths at demonstrations in recent days and reports on the alleged use of tear gas on 9 January in a hospital in Omdurman, where demonstrators had fled, are a cause of great concern to me. 


I call on the Sudanese Government to investigate the use of violence by the security forces against peaceful demonstrators and to hold those responsible to account. 


The journalists, members of the opposition and human rights activists who have been detained in connection with the protests must be released without delay. 


I call on all sides to refrain from using violence.

Background information:

For the past three weeks, there have been nationwide protests in the Sudan in which 19 people (according to official figures), but probably over 40 people (according to figures provided by human rights defenders via social media) have been killed so far. The security forces have mainly used tear gas, but have also repeatedly fired live ammunition, in order to break up the demonstrations, which began in response to increased bread prices and the catastrophic economic and supply situation. Despite great anger with the Government, the demonstrators have remained peaceful. However, the headquarters of the Government party were burned down in several cities. Over 800 demonstrators, as well as several members of the opposition, journalists and human rights activists, have been arrested so far. Many were released immediately, but have to report regularly to the security services. During the largest protest so far, which took place in Omdurman on 9 January, the security forces’ response was particularly brutal. At least three people were killed. Protesters who had fled to a nearby hospital or brought injured people there were pursued as far as the emergency room and beaten. According to several reports, tear gas was fired into the emergency room. 

Statement by the Federal Foreign Office on fighting corruption in Guatemala

ven, 01/11/2019 - 12:25

A Federal Foreign Office Spokesperson issued the following statement today (11 January) on the announcement by the Guatemalan Government of its intention to terminate the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala ahead of schedule:

We are very concerned and disappointed about the announcement by the Guatemalan Government that it will terminate the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) ahead of schedule. The German Government expects the Guatemalan Government to rethink this decision, which in the meantime has been provisionally overturned by the Constitutional Court of Guatemala. It is important that the CICIG can continue to work unhindered until its mandate ends in September 2019. 



In the eleven years of its existence, the Commission has played an important role in strengthening the rule of law in Guatemala. The CICIG sends a message to people throughout the region that it is possible to take effective steps against corruption and impunity. Germany is an important donor to and supporter of the CICIG.



Guatemala is urged to continue its efforts to strengthen the rule of law and democracy for the benefit of all citizens of the country.

Background information:

To reduce the high levels of impunity and corruption in the country, Guatemala asked the United Nations and the international community to establish an International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemal – CICIG). The Commission began its work in January 2008. Its achievements include uncovering a corruption scandal at the Guatemalan Tax and Customs Authority in April 2015. The CICIG is financed by voluntary contributions from the international community. The European Union is one of the most important donors. Germany has supported the CICIG by providing almost 5.5 million euros since 2009. 
On 28 August, the Guatemalan Government announced that it did not intend to renew the mandate of the CICIG beyond 2019. It then terminated the agreement with immediate effect on 7 January 2019. Following appeals against this termination, the Constitutional Court suspended the Government’s decision on 9 January and instructed the authorities to enable the CICIG to continue fulfilling its functions.


Human Rights Commissioner Kofler on the detention of Oyub Titiev

jeu, 01/10/2019 - 18:11

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement marking the anniversary of 10 January 2018, the date of the arrest of Oyub Titiev, the office director of the Memorial Human Rights Centre in Grozny (Chechnya) :

For one year now, Oyub Titiev has been in custody, and his criminal trial has lasted several months so far. It is high time for Oyub Titiev to be released! Russia should follow the clear recommendations of OSCE Rapporteur Professor Benedek. 



It is not acceptable to have regions in Europe in which human rights defenders cannot work. Oyub Titiev insists that, also in Chechnya, the rights of the local population, including their right to life and physical integrity, must be fully respected. 



He and all Memorial staff must be able to work unhindered.

Background information:

On 9 January 2018, Oyub Titiev, the director of the Chechnya office of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, was arrested for alleged possession of drugs. Titiev denies the allegations; he says that the drugs were placed on his person during the arrest. The German Government has doubts as to whether rule-of-law standards have been upheld during the proceedings. Oyub Titiev’s predecessor, Natalia Estemirova, was murdered in 2009. 
The first day of the main trial in Titiev’s case was held in the city of Shali on 3 July 2018. Observers of the proceedings included the German Embassy. In November 2018, they were also followed by Member of the German Bundestag Nils Schmid. 


In October 2018, the Council of Europe awarded Oyub Titiev the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. In December 2018, Oyub Titiev was awarded the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights by Foreign Ministers Heiko Maas and Jean-Yves Le Drian.


In December 2018, a report on “alleged human rights violations and impunity in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation” was published by the Moscow Mechanism Rapporteur of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The report also addresses Titiev’s case. It describes the evidence against him as “obviously fabricated”, calls for his release, and recommends that his trial be held outside the Chechen Republic.



Federal Foreign Office on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

jeu, 01/10/2019 - 17:39

A Federal Foreign Office Spokesperson issued the following statement today (10 January) on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

We are following developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo very closely. 


The German Government calls on all sides to refrain from violence and to seek peaceful solutions using the mechanisms provided. 



We have taken note of the provisional results of the presidential elections published by the Congolese electoral commission. We have also taken note of the fact that these results have been contested by parts of the opposition.



We welcome the important role played by the Congolese civilian election observers throughout the electoral process.



We are coordinating our position closely with our partners in the European Union, Africa and the United Nations. The UN Security Council will consider the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo tomorrow.

Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the the New Year reception of the German Eastern Business Association (OAOEV)

jeu, 01/10/2019 - 17:07

First of all, thank you very much much, Dr Büchele, for inviting me here today. I really was delighted, especially given that I have a reputation as a bit of a critic of Russia within the Federal Government. And so perhaps this is a good opportunity for everyone to get their own impression, straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

I would also like to thank you, Dr Büchele, for your introductory remarks, particularly with regard to Europe.
I think, in a year when Europe is gearing up for elections to the European Parliament, one can say it. And to my mind you are absolutely right. What you described as “Europe united” is one of the most important points on our agenda at the Federal Foreign Office. 
For two reasons. To put it rather bluntly: we are living in the age of “America first”. Perhaps that will soon be followed by “Brexit first” and whatever else. But basically this is a development that has to do with the rise of populist movements putting their money on national approaches. And that is dangerous. That’s why I am firmly convinced that there can be only one answer, both as regards the values to which we are committed – democracy, freedom and human rights – and as regards our interests, our legitimate interests. And that answer is: “Europe”.

Paul-Henri Spaak, a former Prime Minister of Belgium and one of the forgotten founding fathers of the European Union, once said that there are only two kinds of countries in Europe: small countries and small countries that have not yet realised that they are small. I think there’s something in that. Especially today, in an age of challenges, an age of geostrategic power games. And by that I don’t just mean “America first”, but also China, and Russia. We would be well advised to seek unity within the European Union in order to defend our values and interests.

And the other reason why I firmly believe the correct path is not isolationism, protectionism and all the other things the populists want, is this: all the major challenges we are facing just now are very different. But there is one thing they have in common: they know no borders. Globalisation knows no borders. Climate change knows no borders. Digitisation knows no borders. Migration by its very nature is about overcoming borders. And that is why, at a time when we are facing such challenges, the only thing we can do is to remain steadfast and work resolutely to ensure that there is no relapse into national approaches, but that what we term multilateralism remains in place in future.
But the way things are going just now, this can no longer be taken for granted. And we need to do more to this end than we have been used to doing. So one thing I would add, speaking as a representative of my generation who grew up in West Germany, is this: everything that goes to make my live good and enjoyable – freedom, the rule of law, civil rights – was already there. I didn’t have to fight for it. And I know that many of my generation regard all that as being a given, because they don’t know it any other way.

If I look at developments in the world, and if I look at developments in some European countries, but especially beyond Europe, then I come to the conclusion that the era of givens is over. And that it is not just a matter of enjoying the rights we have, rights which others fought for for us decades ago. No, we must also defend these rights. 

That’s why I wish there were broader political debate on a whole range of issues. And on many of the issues we deal with.
Mr Berger, whom you know from your cooperation, is here this evening too. One thing has become very clear to us over the past few months: the link between politics and commerce, two areas that come together in foreign trade, is becoming ever closer. That is why I can say to you, given that we are at a New Year reception, we may be looking back, but we are also looking to the future. The last year, with all the experiences it brought me, is one that I would call intensive.

All the conversations I have had, whether here in Berlin, in New York, Moscow, or Warsaw, have made it very, very clear just how great the challenges we are facing are, and how different the various approaches to resolving them.

And I do not get the impression that will be any less the case this year, ladies and gentlemen, and I don’t honestly think you do either. 
I think this is true as much for your work in the German Eastern Business Association as it is for us in the Federal Foreign Office. Particularly, as I said, because the link between foreign policy and commerce is becoming ever closer. You can see that when you look at trade disputes, new tariffs, punitive tariffs. But also in the fact that economic sanctions have become an ever more intensive foreign-policy instrument.

At a time when fears for the future of the global economy are growing – and of course that has something to do with these developments – economic exchange with our Eastern neighbours is, as we believe, extremely important. 
In my view, you and your organisation, which is a fusion of organisations, clearly illustrate how the sum of Germany’s external trade with the 29 countries in which you are active, as you outlined, Dr Büchele, is greater than our total trade with the United States and China together. I am not sure that the broad public in our country is really aware of that fact.
Trade with the Visegrad states alone is worth more than that with China, and several times more than that with Russia.

For that reason, ladies and gentlemen, the issues you deal with are issues which have a key impact on the competitiveness of the German economy. 
And it is clear that “your” region, too, has been impacted by the turbulences of the global economy. The IMF has revised its global growth projection down by 0.2 percentage points, citing trade disputes in particular.

There is a worrying underlying trend, one that we in the Federal Foreign Office are extremely concerned with at present: the rules-based global order – and I say this quite deliberately – not just the global economic order, is increasingly being called into question. 

Trade policy is becoming a foreign-policy instrument. Regrettably, national egoism and zero-sum thinking are on the increase. 
This has a fatal consequence, because with the rise of nationalist approaches comes the increasing danger of serious conflicts – not only political conflicts, but also, as we are seeing at present, trade conflicts.

As current developments show, this is also true in Central and Eastern Europe, and across Central Asia to Vladivostok. 

•    I am thinking here of the Sea of Azov, which you mentioned earlier, Dr Büchele. This conflict and these events have shown us how quickly the Russia-Ukraine conflict could escalate at any time. 
Moreover, policymakers will be intensely concerned with the discussion of Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty over the coming weeks, too. And I hope we will succeed in finding a solution. Certainly, we will be more closely concerned with global arms control in future. And in this context we want to make good use of our membership – now ten days in – of the United Nations Security Council.

•    Dr Büchele, you mentioned the Western Balkans. This morning I met the Kosovar Foreign Minister. When I see how difficult relations are between Kosovo and Serbia, when I see punitive tariffs being imposed, a policy of non-recognition of Kosovo by Serbia, then this is anything but reassuring.
Ultimately, the increasing link between politics and commerce is obvious here, too.

In all these cases, it is true that if there are no universally binding rules, if there is no predictability, reliability or transparency, tensions will mount, to the detriment of all involved. This necessarily has consequences for the economy. 

And that is why, ladies and gentlemen, one goal of our work at present, as banal as it sounds, is to stabilise the international order. And as I indicated earlier, that can only succeed if, above all, we Europeans stand united within the EU. 

But this also applies to the question of what approach we want to take to our Eastern neighbours outside the EU. 

We are of the opinion that we need a European Ostpolitik. Not like that during the Cold War, but one which has two dimensions: an internal dimension and and external dimension. Within the EU, we need a culture of common, coordinated action in our approach to our Eastern neighbourhood. 

We must – and this is the reality of the current situation – at long last overcome the minimal consensus in Brussels regarding our Eastern neighbourhood. That will not be enough.  

For only then will a strong, joint policy vis-à-vis our neighbours outside the European Union be at all possible. 

Let me give you a few specific examples of what we are aiming for. Because the situation within the EU just now is that we are debating how the EU member states to our East in particular are to be kept in the EU. Not in formal terms, but through joint solutions to the major challenges. And I also believe we need to pay much more attention to this than we have done in the past.
That is why I am pleased that
•    we are moving forward step by step with our positive Polish-German agenda, for example, on which we agreed at the intergovernmental consultations in Warsaw last November. Even if there are some points in German-Polish relations that are certainly being criticised, the fact that trade between the two countries keeps setting new records – most recently 110 billion euros – is an indication of the potential we want to continue to tap. 

•    The Slovak Foreign Minister and I have agreed on intensified exchange between our two Governments, something that has hitherto not existed at all. 

•    In addition, we will not only intensify the successful dialogue with Czechia which has been in place since 2015, but will also extend it to cover additional areas. 

•    By participating in the Three Seas Initiative launched by Central and Eastern European partners, we want to play our part in helping Central Europe to grow closer together at the heart of the European Union. 

The position was different a few months ago, because we in Germany could not make up our minds to join such an Initiative, because there was felt to be a danger that Eastern European states would join forces in order to carry divisive tendencies over into the European Union. I reached the view relatively quickly that the best way to prevent that from happening, and to turn it into a positive agenda, is to sit at the same table and offer Germany’s services as a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe. I believe we are well suited to such a role.

Finally, it is above all a signal to our Eastern European neighbours that we take their concerns seriously, that we are prepared to involve them in our decision-making processes.

We want to shape the future of the European Union and European foreign policy together with them. This offer is all the more pertinent post Brexit – completely irrespective of whether it is an orderly or no-deal Brexit. Brexit, on which crucial decisions are due to be taken next week, and which we hope will at least take the form of an orderly withdrawal, will necessitate some strategic reorientation. We will have to intensify our bilateral relations with the United Kingdom, because it is far too important a partner, in both political and economic terms. But we in the European Union will see how much we will miss the British. And there, I believe, lies potential for Eastern Europe, potential we can take up.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The core element of a new European Ostpolitik is, naturally, our relationship with Russia. Partly, of course, because of the geography. Partly because of our shared interest in security in Europe. And partly because of the close ties between Germans and Russians. And that also has something to do with the history of our country and with Russian history. However, I also believe it has to be said – and to be quite honest, it is no more than reality – that Russia has gambled away trust over the past few years. Nevertheless, we are committed to having Russia as a partner in foreign policy, because we know that no solutions can be found to the major conflicts – in Ukraine, obviously, but also in Syria and elsewhere – without Russia. 

And the fact that, for a few days now, we have been on the United Nations Security Council along with Russia, is another reason for close coordination, as I have agreed with my counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.  

Also because there has been a lot of discussion and much has been written about what relations with Russia are like under Foreign Minister Maas, or how they have developed, but I sometimes have the impression that no-one has actually looked very closely at what is actually happening. 

Allow me to mention a few examples. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a large number of bilateral formats have been suspended. Some of them are going to be revived: for instance, the German-Russian High Level Working Group on Security has been in place again since mid-November. It has already met several times and is utterly essential for joint consultations on and coordination of security policy issues. And Germany was the one in NATO who called for the NATO-Russia Council, which had also been extinct for a good while, to be convened; not only was the motion carried, but the Council has in fact met and is due to meet again to discuss issues relating to the denunciation of the INF Treaty.
This month, I shall be travelling to Moscow once again to meet my Russian colleague and talk not only about the future of the INF Treaty, but also about economic reform in Russia, something many of you have already stated very clearly is vital, with continued economic reform being the prerequisite for any future massive investment in Russia on your part.

Ladies and gentlemen,
That is why we want the closest possible cooperation with Russia, based as much as possible on trust – and this must also be a priority of European Ostpolitik.

But to get to that stage, we need a real, honest dialogue. We also need clear principles. The more complex our relationship is, the clearer the language must be. So I believe it is right that wherever there are problems – and there are problems – we should address them frankly. To be honest, I don’t know that anything else would be possible with Sergey Lavrov anyway. And I also said quite frankly that this, too, is a prerequisite for gaining Russia’s respect in foreign policy. So: ask Sergey Lavrov about our cooperation! Count the formats and initiatives we have launched or revived at bilateral level over the past few months. It is more joint and bilateral activities than there have been in recent years. 
And then we come to a matter which follows me almost everywhere I travel: Nord Stream 2. It can occasionally be pretty grotesque: here at home, you’re not exactly regarded as understanding Russia, but wherever you travel abroad, you’re constantly being criticised for a project with Russia, namely Nord Stream 2. So, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to talk a bit about that.

It is true that this issue is addressed repeatedly in various formats and organisations by many of our Eastern European neighbours, with whom I am keen to maintain good relations. But it has now also become an issue in NATO. And even sitting in the United Nations General Assembly, listening to the US President’s speech, I have to hear that we in Germany are taking the wrong course, because taking part in this project is making ourselves dependent on Russia. That there is objectively no truth in that is not something I need to spell out here, I don’t think. Various other things in that speech I had the privilege of listening to took a bit of getting used to. In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, the US President criticised three countries: Iran, Venezuela and Germany. I don’t feel quite right in that company. And I think that came across in some of the TV coverage. 
However, I want to state quite clearly here today, ladies and gentlemen, our position on Nord Stream 2 has not changed. It is not a case of Germany and Russia going their own way.
That is what we tell all the project’s critics – both in Europe and in Washington. Questions relating to European energy policy must be decided in Europe, nowhere else. And of course, and this is something else I want to state, we are not indifferent to Ukraine in all this. 

That is why, ladies and gentlemen, President Putin’s assurance last year that natural gas would continue to be pumped through Ukraine, including when Nord Stream 2 is built, is an assurance we have to work to get implemented. But it is an assurance - and this assurance would not exist if we were not involved in this project. If, as some people want, we withdraw from the project, some people assume the project will then come to naught. I cannot judge that. The message from Russia says different. And even if Denmark does not grant authorisation, there is already an alternative route through international waters which does not need Danish approval. And who’s to say it won’t be possible to find other suppliers who would build the pipeline anyway, just a bit later. But there is one thing you have to realise, as I always tell my Ukrainian friends: if we do not make the effort, and if we do not have the possibility to talk to the Russian side about this while Nord Stream 2 is being constructed; if we are no longer involved and if, because of sanctions, the European companies – we’re not just talking about German companies – are forced out, then there will be no-one else lobbying for an alternative gas transit through Ukraine. You should have a think about whether that is really your aim.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is our stance on this question. We also believe that this position reflects Ukraine’s interests, and that any other approach would mean even greater problems for the Ukrainian side. There is no need for me here to go into the matter of having to consider whether Washington might impose unilateral sanctions over Nord Stream 2.

That is not the correct course, as I have told my colleague Mike Pompeo several times. 

However, Nord Stream 2 aside, the question of sanctions will continue to concern us. 
And so I would like to stress once again, because it is a question not only of American sanctions, but also of EU sanctions, that in our view, sanctions are never an end in themselves; rather, they are a political instrument. No-one is more determined than Germany and France to find a political solution to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine at long last. My colleague Jean-Yves Le Drian and I will try again in the coming weeks to sit down with our Ukrainian and Russian friends. True, the stand-off in the Sea of Azov has not made things easier, but this cannot become a persistent conflict. Yet the efficacy and duration of the EU sanctions continue to depend on this conflict.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Important as Russia is, Ostpolitik is more than our policy on Russia. A new European Ostpolitik must also cover Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the Southern Caucasus, the countries of Central Asia and South-Eastern Europe.
Because “the East” has long ceased to be a monolithic bloc clearly delineated from the West. 

With that in mind, we want to use next year’s tenth anniversary of the Eastern Partnership and our EU Council Presidency in 2020 to provide new impetus. 

In Ukraine, the focus will be on implementing reforms more quickly and consistently. Powerful anti-corruption institutions and consistent decentralisation are the priorities here. There are many joint projects with Ukraine in this context.

We will also continue to seek a resolution to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, because as long as it continues, there will inevitably be limits to the region’s general potential for development. 

In the Western Balkans, the European perspective remains key to regional stability. For the transition process to be successful, it will therefore be important for Europe to keep its promise: whoever implements reforms successfully, whoever cooperates with neighbours, like Macedonia, must also advance in the accession process. This was the promise we made these countries, and promises should be kept. If we do not keep our promise, these countries will find another geostrategic orientation, not Europe. And that cannot be in our interest.

Regional cooperation is the buzzword in Central Asia, too. Recently the countries of the region have been working more closely together, and as the EU we want to respond to that. 

One important element in this connection is the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy, a project we pushed hard for in Brussels, and a project which many of you are supporting in joint formats. I would like to thank you very much for that. We regard this not as a rival to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative but an offer of closer cooperation on the basis of recognised rules and standards and designed above all for sustainability. 

We have no interest in granting countries in the region loans with which we ultimately make them open to blackmail. There are some who have had different experiences. That is why this is an important initiative and a really good offer for countries in the region, and we will continue to pursue it with great commitment. 

That is one reason why we set up a joint working group with German business. I hope that together we will make gradual progress in that body. 

Ladies and gentlemen,
Without a doubt, 2019 will be a challenging year in foreign and trade policy. But I believe the conditions and opportunities are good. I have tried to sketch out a few of them here, and also to highlight our political support for them. The fact that we have focused much more on Eastern Europe in foreign policy in recent months is an indication that it will be possible to make use of these opportunities. 
Your companies make vital contributions here. In the end, Germany will remain a key state for development in Eastern Europe. When it comes right down to it, however, your presence on the ground is also of particular significance.
You show the governments of these countries the advantages of an open, networked, free economy with clear and fair rules. 

Let me assure you of this: wherever the Federal Foreign Office and its missions abroad can help you, be it in Berlin, at trade fairs or business events in the region, do not hesitate to approach us. We will do whatever we can.

In the end we are not only a partner in foreign trade and investment; we are also a partner in working towards a rules-based world order, a partner in strengthening relations with countries and people in the area from Prague to Vladivostok.

That is our goal, and I think it is your goal, too. So, notwithstanding the challenges, 2019 will also offer great potential, and I would be delighted if we were to work as closely together as we have done in the past.

On that note, allow me to wish you all a happy and successful 2019.


Foreign Minister Maas on the opening match of the IHF Handball World Championship between Germany and a joint team from South and North Korea

jeu, 01/10/2019 - 13:25

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas today (10 January) issued the following statement on the opening match of the IHF Handball World Championship between Germany and a joint team from South and North Korea:

We all remember the moving scenes as the athletes from South and North Korea entered the stadium together at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang a year ago.



Since then, the Korean peninsula has seen the start of a political thaw which many would have believed impossible. Intensive talks between South and North over the past year have led to the two countries moving closer together in virtually all areas. Sport played a key role in this development from the outset.



When a united “Team Korea” comprising players from South and North meets our national German team this evening in the opening match of the IHF Handball World Championship, it will be a symbol of hope for all of us. Even though I am of course keeping my fingers crossed for the German team, I am also very happy for the Korean team, which is sending a strong signal for peace and reconciliation.

Verbatim: Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the importance of the European Union

mer, 01/09/2019 - 19:00

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued the following statement to “Die Welt” newspaper:

We stand for the free world and free trade. Europe – not protectionism and isolationism – is the answer to the resurgence of nationalism. We can only defend our values and assert our interests as part of the EU. Whether we are talking about climate change, migration or digital transformation, no country in Europe can overcome the global challenges on its own.


To this end, we must keep the European Union together. We also need a new Ostpolitik, that is, a European Ostpolitik. One thing we need to do in this context is to take into account the interests of Eastern Europeans, who feel far more threatened by Russia than others do.

Verbatum: Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the new Franco-German Treaty

mer, 01/09/2019 - 11:36

On the occasion of today’s Cabinet decision (9 January) on the signing of the new Franco-German Treaty (Treaty of Aachen), Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued the following statement to RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland:

Fifty-six years ago, Germany and France drew the lessons from their bloody past by concluding the historic Élysée Treaty, setting out a major new course for their relationship. Thus, what for centuries had been regarded as a traditional enmity was able to develop into Franco-German friendship, and the confrontation that time and again led to wars which wreaked havoc on Europe became the engine of European integration.



With the new Franco-German Treaty we are now focusing on our common future. We are pooling our strengths to ensure our countries are well equipped to face future challenges in fields such as digitalisation, education and technology. We are creating the conditions for closer integration in the border regions, thus offering practical solutions to our citizens on issues such as day care for their children, health care and school education.



And we are joining forces to fight for a strong Europe, that is capable of taking action, a peaceful world and a rules-based international order.



At a time when populists once again propagate national egotism as the way forward, we also want to send a strong message that our cooperation does not result in a loss of sovereignty but rather makes us stronger.



Germany and France will thus not only remain committed to the success story that is European integration. We are also laying the foundations for the next generation to continue on this path.

Statement by Foreign Minister Maas on the new Franco-German Treaty

mer, 01/09/2019 - 11:04

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued the following statement today (9 January) on today’s Cabinet decision on the signing of the new Franco-German Treaty (Treaty of Aachen): 

Together, Germany and France are spelling out that now in particular we need more – not less – cooperation in order to resolve the questions of the future.


In less than a year, we have successfully negotiated an ambitious new treaty, thus realigning our relations with a view to the future.


Our aim is to improve our citizens’ daily lives. To this end, one of our goals is to provide concrete and practical solutions in the border regions. We also want to further intensify our joint efforts at the international level on behalf of peace and security, in the UN Security Council and beyond.

The European Union remains the key element of our friendship. In the Treaty of Aachen, we express our commitment to a strong, sustainable and sovereign Europe.

Background information:

The Cabinet gave its consent today to the signing of the Treaty on Franco-German Cooperation and Integration. The Treaty of Aachen will be signed by Federal Chancellor Merkel and President Macron in Aachen on 22 January 2019. 
The new Treaty will not replace the Elysée Treaty of 1963, but rather build on it. Both treaties will be on an equal footing. 

Statement by the Federal Foreign Office on Iran

mar, 01/08/2019 - 18:32

A Federal Foreign Office Spokesperson issued the following statement today (8 January):  

The Council of the European Union agreed today to adopt restrictive measures as a result of Iranian intelligence agency activities in Europe.


Our stance remains clear – we will not tolerate activities or plans for attacks by Iranian intelligence agencies in Europe. Germany and its European partners have strongly condemned these activities.


It has been made absolutely clear several times to the Iranian side that such unacceptable conduct has consequences. Germany was thus one of the countries to propose that two individuals and one entity be listed in connection with Iranian intelligence agency activities in the EU.



We are working intensively to uphold the Vienna nuclear agreement (JCPOA) with Iran. To this end, it is essential that Iran continues to meet its obligations under the agreement.  

 

Address by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the occasion of the Meeting of Ireland’s Ambassadors and Consuls General

mar, 01/08/2019 - 15:52

Thank you, Simon, for the warm welcome! Go raibh maith agat!

I heard that there is a saying in Ireland: “Broken Irish is better than clever English”. But my Irish is broken beyond repair – so I hope that you will forgive me for sticking to English.

When Simon invited me to come to Dublin and to speak here today, it reminded me of a little story I had heard about him.

You may know that, some 20 years ago, Simon and his family sailed around the world to raise money for victims of the Chernobyl disaster. One day, one of Simon’s brothers was celebrating his birthday on the boat. They were in the middle of the ocean. So Simon and his brothers figured that it was safe to send out a radio message, inviting other boat crews to join the Irish birthday party.

But they didn’t think about the effect that the message “party on the Irish boat” would have on German sailors.

Reportedly, Simon and his brothers were quite surprised when a German ship pulled up to join the celebration. And what was even more surprising: The Germans brought not only drinks, but also good music. The result was a great Irish-German party in the middle of the ocean.

So, when Simon invited me to join your Irish ambassadors’ party here today, I just had to accept.

Of course, ladies and gentlemen, I am here to celebrate the Irish-German friendship and 100 years of independent Irish diplomacy. But our meeting also signals European unity in challenging times.

The international seas we are navigating these days are rough:

Concerns over security in Europe are growing. As Russia violates the INF Treaty, a new arms race in Europe looms on the horizon.

The potential withdrawal of US troops from Syria raises serious questions about America’s role in global security.

Also – with the United Kingdom – a true global player will soon be leaving the European Union.

Brexit is less than three months away, and the final outcome is up in the air. Even a no-deal scenario is still an option – despite the serious damage that this would cause on both sides.

There is too much at stake to take this lightly. We urge our British friends to act responsibly and unite behind the agreement that we have spent so much time and effort negotiating.

I will leave it to the bookmakers and fortune-tellers to predict the results of discussions in London. However, there are three takeaways from the Brexit process and the current state of world affairs that I would like to share with you today.

The first is: We are strong when we stand together. During the Brexit negotiations, all 27 Member States agreed on a common position – and stood by it.

This unity includes full solidarity with Ireland. We insisted, and still do, that a hard border dividing the Irish island is unacceptable. And yes, some people called us stubborn.

But the truth is: Avoiding a hard border in Ireland is a fundamental concern. It is a matter of principle, a question of identity for the European Union. A union that, more than anything else, serves one purpose: To build and maintain peace in Europe.

As Germans, we understand how walls and borders can threaten peace. We believe in the peace-making power of European unity.

A belief we share with you, the Irish. Your Good Friday Agreement is living proof of this principle.

I hope that European unity will inspire us far beyond Brexit. It is in the spirit of unity that we can build a stronger and more sovereign Europe. But, to do so, we must make sure that Europe has answers to our long-term challenges:

  • We need a joint commitment to invest in a more balanced transatlantic partnership.
  • We need a strategy to handle the economic and political ambitions of China.
  • We need an ambitious European policy towards our neighbours in Africa.

And we need a new European Ostpolitik. A policy that takes the interests of all Member States into account, but also allows the European Union to bring its influence to bear on its Eastern neighbours.

All of this will require a different approach to decision-making in Brussels. The Commission has proposed majority voting on issues of foreign and security policy. These proposals are useful and deserve strong follow-up.

Unity does not mean unanimity. A strong majority can be more effective than a weak consensus.

I am convinced that all Member States will benefit from more effective decision-making – no matter how large or small they are.

We should also focus on better implementation of EU foreign policy. The External Action Service is doing excellent work. But we need new instruments to improve coherence.

Some proposals are already underway. Take the implementation of PESCO projects. Take the strengthening of the civilian side of the Common Security and Defence Policy, with a new Centre of Excellence in Berlin. These are steps in the right direction. But more work needs to be done.

This includes giving the EU a budget for the future. A budget that focuses

  • on research and innovation,
  • on security for the citizens of Europe,
  • on the proper management of migration,
  • and on strong European foreign policy.

Ladies and gentlemen,
There is a second takeaway from Brexit and the current state of world affairs: We must not take our rules-based international order for granted.

A month ago, Secretary Pompeo said at a conference in Brussels that “multilateralism has too often become an end unto itself”. Only the nation-state, he added, can reassert sovereignty in a changing world.

I am not sure that this is true – even in the case of the United States. But I do know that it would be the wrong path for Europe.

In a world marked by great power competition, no single European country has the clout to defend its interests without partners.

For us Europeans, pooling sovereignty has never meant losing it. On the contrary: Pooling sovereignty enables us to win back influence that we have lost as nation-states.

Only if we Europeans learn to speak with one voice, will that voice be heard. And let me be clear: And this voice must reflect the diversity of all EU countries, large and small. We certainly need some good Irish “craic” in the mix.

An Irish friend once told me that Ireland only gained true sovereignty when it entered the European Union. I am not a historian, so I am not able to confirm that.

But today, you are discussing how to double Ireland’s “global footprint”. That footprint is also a result of Ireland’s European integration and its openness to the world.

For the Irish, nationalism does not mean “taking back control”, as the Brexiteers claim. In fact, nationalism means “losing control”. That should also be our message when we confront nationalists and populists in the next European elections this year.

International cooperation, a willingness to compromise and the acceptance of a common set of rules lie at the heart of our European success story. Multilateralism is in our DNA.

Therefore, the European Union must be the first to defend and reform the rules-based international order.

Let me give you some examples:

We know that free trade and commerce are the foundation of our prosperity. Therefore, we are working together to dissuade our American friends from new tariffs and trade barriers. But at the same time, we are seeking even closer cooperation with Washington and others to reform the WTO and to address valid concerns over unfair competition.

Our goal is a positive agenda for trade. The signing of the EU-Japan free-trade agreement was a great step in that regard. Reaching an agreement with Mercosur countries could soon be another.

And, ladies and gentlemen, we also need to strengthen the UN system. Germany has just taken a seat on the Security Council for two years. We want to be a strong voice for a rules-based international order, for peace and security. A voice for gender equality, arms control and the fight against poverty. In essence, a European voice.

Indeed, we would be delighted to hand over our seat to Ireland in 2021. Because we know that you share our commitment to multilateralism, pragmatism in the search for peace, and a passion for human rights. So, that is why we are glad to support your candidature.

As Europeans, we must be at the heart of an “Alliance for Multilateralism”. An alliance that already includes partners such as Canada, Japan and Australia, who share our goals and concerns.

Together, we aim to strengthen cooperation on issues such as climate change, protectionism, migration and arms control.

I would like to encourage all of you to support this initiative. As diplomats, you are best placed to identify new partners in Asia, Latin America or Africa. Please reach out to your host countries and spread the message: There is no better partner than Europe in the struggle for a rules-based international order.

Ladies and gentlemen,

My third takeaway from the Brexit process is: A strong Europe needs strong foundations. Brexit shook these foundations. We even worried about other countries following the UK’s example.

Fortunately, our foundations proved more solid than many of us had thought.

They are based on values like freedom, social justice, the rule of law, mutual respect and cooperation.

These values should not divide us, but rather bind us closer together. We have therefore proposed a new instrument: A peer-review mechanism that promotes a common understanding of European values, without any finger-pointing.

Last but not least, strong foundations require strong bilateral relations.

2019 marks the 90th anniversary of diplomatic ties between our two countries. In 1930, your first ambassador to Germany, Daniel Binchy, reported back to Dublin: “I think I may sum up German public opinion towards Ireland as one of uninformed sympathy.” That’s not bad.

Uninformed sympathy ... I don’t know if you would still use those words today, Ambassador Collins.

But I can assure you that there is lots of sympathy. Many Germans feel passionate about Ireland – about its culture, its landscapes and especially its people.

And as you know, Simon, that group of fans includes me, already since my backpacking days here in Ireland.

Your colleagues in Berlin have even created a new way to describe this sympathy. In their review of Irish-German relations, they coined the term “affinity diaspora”.

The affinity diaspora harbors great potential for our bilateral relations. When I first visited Dublin in April of last year, Simon and I agreed to cooperate closer than ever. We decided to join efforts to keep Europe together. To make it work even better for the good of our citizens.

A few weeks ago, we adopted a “Joint Plan of Action”. You could also call it a German-Irish roadmap for the years to come.

It covers all sectors, from peace and crisis prevention to financial stability.

We will enhance joint research activities.

And we will foster bilateral exchanges to bring people from Ireland and Germany even closer together.

This is because we want to make sure that Ambassador Collins and Ambassador Potzel will report about “informed sympathy” in one of their next cables to Dublin and Berlin.

These bilateral efforts are also steps towards greater European unity. So, wherever you are posted in the world, let me encourage you to reach out to your German colleagues! I can promise you that every proposal is welcome – whether it is a German-Irish aid project in Africa or a joint initiative in Brussels, Geneva or New York.

Ladies and gentlemen,
When your Ambassador Binchy returned to Ireland in 1932, he published an essay in which he warned of a “return to the wilderness” across Europe. His words would prove all too true in the dark days and years that followed.

Many will say that his words ring like a warning bell today. But we are by no means without hope. A united Europe can prevent the wilderness from returning. And, in that struggle, Germany couldn’t wish for a better partner than Ireland.

There is no doubt that 2019 will be a challenging year. A year in which we will need friends and partners.

Friends who are willing to work with us for a strong and sovereign Europe.

Friends who will help us strengthen multilateralism.

Friends who believe in European values and cooperation.

In essence: Friends like Ireland.

Thank you, Simon – and thanks to all of you – for being that friend. And let me add: When seas get rough, don’t forget that a friendly German boat may be closer than you think.

Thank you very much!