Speech by Federal Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel on 18 February 2017 at the 53rd Munich Security Conference

Mr Ischinger,
Esteemed colleagues,
Distinguished participants of this year’s Munich Security Conference,

The Internationale Wehrkundetagung in 1963 marked the start of an annual free and frank discussion – an event that has had a significant impact each year and remains a forum for discussion on a wide range of topics in the form of the Munich Security Conference. People from 125 countries are attending this year’s event. And as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, I would like to welcome them all warmly to Munich. The Minister President of Bavaria will of course also welcome the guests because Bavaria is something very special in Germany, but as Federal Chancellor, I also wish to do so.

Until 1990, this conference was dominated by the Cold War and the uncompromising confrontation between two blocs, as well as by nuclear deterrence. Thanks to the western partners’ cohesion and strength, we were able to experience the end of the Cold War and the achievement of the goals of values based cooperation, particularly those of transatlantic cooperation, in 1990.

This is why I would like to bid a very warm welcome once again to the delegation of the United States of America, and of course especially to the Vice President and to all those who have travelled from the United States. A very warm welcome to you!

Since then, the world has changed dramatically. Today, over a quarter of a century later, we no longer have two blocs. There is a new type of order. There is a new balance of power. The structure has become far more multilateral, but we still have a super power – the United States of America – and we still have a transatlantic link. We have a united Europe with 28 members. We have seen the rise of emerging economies, particularly in Asia.

To spell this out even more clearly, I looked at how gross world product has developed when I was preparing for this conference. We can say that it more or less tripled in the 25 years between 1990 and 2015. The United States’ GDP has also tripled. The European Union’s GDP has only doubled as regards the 28 Member States. China’s GDP has increased 28 fold. This means the EU now has a share of 22 percent of gross world product compared with its previous share of 31 percent. The United States of America has been able to maintain its share of one quarter, with a slight decrease from 26 to 25 percent. And China’s share has increased from two to 15 percent. That is an example of the shifts we are witnessing.

We are facing asymmetrical threats, particularly that of Islamist terrorism, starting on 11 September 2001. There are new conflicts as a result of civil wars, population growth and climate change. There is growing interdependence as a result of globalisation and the spread of digital technology. This means we do not have a fixed international order. Despite the end of the Cold War, relations with Russia remain on shaky ground – I say that now from a European perspective.

I firmly believe that the challenges of today’s world cannot be overcome by any one country alone. These challenges require joint efforts. This is why I believe we need multilateral international structures, which we must strengthen and make more efficient. This goes for the European Union, NATO and the United Nations. And it goes for a forum for which Germany is responsible this year, that is, the G20, whose presidency Germany currently holds. This group was set up at the level of Heads of State and Government in 2008 in response to the international financial crisis. Prior to that, it had only existed at Finance Minister level. At the time, we were only able to resolve this far reaching global crisis by working together. This was a good example of how we can also take multilateral action. That is why we chose the motto “shaping an interconnected world” for the G20 Presidency – in the firm belief that joint action strengthens everyone.

However, we now need to acknowledge that multilateral structures are not efficient enough in many areas, with the result that members of the public in almost all of our countries are asking if the multilateral approach is really the right one as regards solving problems or if there is a way to withdraw into protectionism and isolation. I firmly believe that it is worth fighting for joint international multilateral structures. However, we need to improve them in many ways.

In this regard, I would like to start with what we need to improve at home, that is, in the European Union. The European Union is in an exceptionally difficult phase. The outcome of the UK referendum means that we will no longer have 28 Member States in the future, but rather only 27. In my opinion, this is unfortunate – but it is a fact. The 27 Member States must ask themselves all the more how they can make their European Union a success. There are many things with which we cannot be satisfied.

First and foremost, the single market is the hallmark of the European Union. This single market, which also needs to be further expanded in response to the challenges of digital technology, must be of benefit. This means jobs, competitiveness and prosperity for the people. The social market economy in Germany was always a sound guiding principle for society as it led to prosperity for all. And this is also what people expect of the European Union.

Secondly, we need to strengthen our single currency. We have already experienced two profound crises in the European Union from which we have not yet fully recovered. One reason for this is that after we decided to introduce a single currency, the euro, we were not sufficiently prepared for crises and only put security mechanisms in place afterwards in order to safeguard the euro. We will need to continue working on this.

We have now also experienced the same thing as regards freedom of movement. You can move freely and without border controls in most EU Member States. But we were not prepared for the fact that pressure could arise at our external borders, for example as a result of refugee flows, and we had to take steps after this situation arose – through joint border police and many other measures – in order to safeguard this freedom of movement within the Union. We will also need to keep working on this.

The European Union thus needs to learn to concentrate more on the truly important challenges, that is, on competitiveness, jobs, internal security and international security. We will also need to think more in the coming years about where we have superfluous regulations that make our lives difficult and curtail our competitiveness. It cannot be the case that once we have reached an acquis communautaire, as we love to call it, that this is the last word. We must also allow amendments to be made.

Naturally, we want to maintain our friendly relations with the UK. We will also do more in the field of defence policy. The Treaty of Lisbon provides for structured cooperation between the EU Member States. The German and French Defence Ministers have taken the initiative to do more in this area. I think I am right in saying that almost all Member States say that, yes, if we want to be a security union, then we need to do more as regards defence policy. The EU is currently conducting 16 military operations and missions around the world. It covers over a third of the costs of UN peace missions. It is the largest provider of humanitarian aid in both Syria and Afghanistan.

But we need to do more to join up military capabilities. Our Defence Minister spoke about this in detail yesterday. We need leadership within the European Union to allow us to design a joined up approach that can include development policy and good governance, not only military capabilities. This will also enable us to make progress on an area that is particularly important to us in our relations with African countries, namely training and equipping soldiers locally. That is also important.

I firmly believe that European defence capability can never be seen as an alternative to NATO, but must always fit in with NATO’s capabilities. We also share this view.

Particularly when it comes to defence cooperation, Franco German initiatives have frequently played a major role. The Franco German Brigade was founded in 1989 and comprises 6,000 soldiers. We are now working on joint procurement projects. This is great progress. Apart from military cooperation, Germany and France have extremely close ties in other activities, such as internal security. When it comes to protecting the external borders, there are many Franco German initiatives, which will also become initiatives at European level.

As Mr Ischinger just mentioned, we took the initiative on an essential issue by establishing the Normandy format to address the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. I know that further talks will take place on the margins of this conference. Unfortunately, Mr Ischinger, I am unable to report that we have already met all the points in the Minsk agreement. But this agreement remains the basis for further endeavours. We need to continue working not only to further the political process, but also to finally ensure a lasting ceasefire, as people are profoundly unsettled when this does not exist.

The situation in Ukraine leads me on to NATO, the second major topic I wish to address. NATO became even more important for what I would describe as a very sad reason, that is because of the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is supporting the separatists. Why is this such a great concern? Why has it led to so much uncertainty? It has led to so much uncertainty – and we must repeatedly remind ourselves about this – because it violated the principle that brought us peace and security in Europe after the Second World War, namely the principle of territorial integrity. This principle is something on which the European peaceful order has been based since the Second World War. That is why we need to be so strict on this issue. If this principle no longer exists, the entire European order will be destabilised.

That is why we – the NATO Secretary General is also here with us – saw the need to strengthen the eastern flank. Germany is taking on responsibility for this in Lithuania; the United Kingdom is doing so in Estonia; and Canada and the United States of America are taking on responsibility in Latvia and Poland respectively. We are doing this in the spirit of Article 5 and assuring each other of our joint capacities and our support.

NATO has also been active in Afghanistan since 2001. This was where the fight against terrorism really began following the attacks on 11 September 2001. Germany is still active, including within NATO, along with 20 other nations in northern Afghanistan. I spoke with the Afghan President yesterday. We also need continued military support here. But we also need a political settlement in order to ensure a peaceful future for Afghanistan.

When we speak about NATO, these days the talk quickly turns to the financial contributions made by each member. I do not want to steer clear of this topic. Like all other countries at the NATO Summit in Wales – that was in 2014 – Germany made a commitment to reach the two percent target within ten years. I join the Defence Minister in saying that we will do our utmost to achieve this and that we feel committed to this target. However, I would also like to add that NATO is profoundly in Europe’s interest, in Germany’s interest and, I believe, also in the United States’ interest. It is a strong alliance of us all. That is why we will work hard and that is why we count on NATO being and remaining a project of joint interest.

Thirdly, ladies and gentlemen, there is a great threat. With regard to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, I mentioned the threat of Islamist terrorism, which has constantly grown since then through IS and other organisations such as Boko Haram. A Counter ISIL Coalition is now responding to this threat. In my view, it is active far beyond the NATO Member countries, naturally in Iraq and Syria. Germany is also involved in this coalition. I just spoke with the Turkish Prime Minister. We know how Turkey in particular, as a NATO partner, is adversely affected by the challenges of Islamist terrorism, by Da'esh and of course equally by PKK terrorism. I want to say very clearly here that Europeans cannot win the fight against Islamist terrorism on their own. We need the military strength of the United States of America. I say this because Islamist terrorism is also being perpetrated very close to the European Union’s external borders and thus has a strong impact on Europe. This is another reason why cooperation with the United States of America is of course very important for us.

But it is equally important to me that we included Islamic, Muslim countries in this coalition, as I believe that these countries in particular must play their part in spelling out that the cause of terrorism is not “Islam”, but rather a misguided form of Islam. That is why I also expect – and I have said this on various occasions – the Islamic religious authorities to speak out clearly about the difference between peaceful Islam and terrorism in the name of Islam. We who are not Muslims cannot do this in the same way the Islamic authorities can.

Ladies and gentlemen, terrorism has a wide ranging impact. It leads to forced migration. I want to underline here what countries around Syria and for example near Iraq have done to help. Turkey has taken in almost three million refugees. Jordan and Lebanon have reached the limits of what is feasible. That is why we have a joint responsibility here – I want to state explicitly that the European Union also has a responsibility – to take in refugees, to address the reasons why people flee, and to help people in need properly. We in Germany have taken on this responsibility along with a few European Member States. Unfortunately, we do not have a joint position on this issue within the European Union. But when you recall that Cyprus is one of Syria’s neighbouring countries, then you see that our external borders also run directly alongside Syria’s. This is why we cannot simply opt out of the question of how people who have been forced to flee are faring. We need to deal with this issue.

I would like to make a further remark on the fight against Islamist terrorism. At the start of my speech, I said that we unfortunately – this is my own point of view – have not been able to establish stable and permanently good relations with Russia in the past 25 years. But Russia is also a neighbouring country of the European Union. Russia is situated at our external border and is a neighbour of ours. That is why I will continue to advocate working towards good relations with Russia, despite our having different opinions on many issues. For me, this means continuing to stand by the NATO Russia Founding Act and not abandoning it even if times are hard – I would like to thank the NATO Secretary General for repeatedly holding meetings between Russia and NATO – and it means looking for common ground in the fight against Islamist terrorism. I believe that we share the exact same interests here and can also work together.

As a final point, I would like to speak about the role of multilateral institutions, particularly that of the United Nations. The contribution made by the United Nations’ work to overall security in the world, as well as the fact that the UN Secretary General is here with us today, is very good and important. After all, this conference now focuses on a very wide ranging definition of security that involves far more than the issue of defence cooperation. And I think this is right. Secretary General Guterres has put crisis prevention at the very top of the agenda of the United Nations’ future work. I can only support that. Every crisis and conflict that can be prevented and does not take place means we do not have to spend money on defence, but instead have a chance to foster development. Africa is an important neighbouring region of the European Union. That is why we need to put our heads together and think about how we can finally bring about dynamic development in Africa like that in Asia in recent decades, alongside classical development aid. This will also be a topic of our G20 Presidency. We have not come as far as I would like, but this is so important. Thanks to smartphones and the spread of digital technology, people now know what life is like in other places. The pressure caused by forced migration will only be overcome when there is development everywhere.

Ladies and gentlemen, we will address many of these topics during our G20 Presidency – the question of forced migration, the question of addressing the reasons why people flee, and the questions of global health and education, particularly the education of girls and women, so that they can live independent lives. I would therefore like to invite all of you to support us in various ways in shaping the G20 Presidency.

Thank you for your attention. It was an honour and a pleasure to give this speech today – in a year in which we all feel incredibly challenged and as if something is at stake. Will we continue being able to take joint action or will we revert to our individual roles? I call on us to find joint positions and I hope we will do so. Let us work together to make the world a better place. It will then be a better place for each and every one of us. Thank you very much indeed.