Policy statement by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel

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Mr President, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

In the light of current events in Ukraine, allow me to begin with a few words on the situation there. The pressure generated by the demonstrations has quite evidently made it possible now for serious talks to take place between the President and the Opposition on essential political reforms. With all the means at our disposal, the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Federal Chancellery and the German Embassy in Kyiv are supporting the efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict and are championing the legitimate concerns of the Opposition. To this end we are also in close contact with High Representative Catherine Ashton and we shall continue our efforts in the coming hours and days.

Since the EU summit on the Eastern Partnership in Vilnius at the end of November, many people in Ukraine have shown, by their courageous demonstrations, that they do not want to turn their backs on Europe. On the contrary, they are campaigning for the same values by which we in the European Union are also guided, and for this reason they must be heard.

The door to the signing of the EU Association Agreement by Ukraine remains open. And there is still a need to avert the danger that countries of the Eastern Partnership may perceive relations with the European Union and relations with Russia as alternatives; I am convinced that this danger can indeed be averted through patient negotiation. This is precisely what European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso reiterated to President Putin at yesterday’s EU-Russia summit. The Federal Government will likewise continue unrelentingly to make this point to Russia for the benefit of everyone in the region.

Ladies and gentlemen, before moving on to consider the coming years, we should take a brief look back to the start of this century. At that time, Germany was regarded as “the sick man of Europe”. The social market economy that had long been the hallmark of our country in the 20th century was seen at home and abroad as something of a discontinued model. Many thought that our economic and social system had become too stolid and too outdated to satisfy the demands of 21st-century globalisation. And today, ten years on? Today we can say that Germany has not been in such good shape for a long time. The economy is growing. Employment is at its highest level since reunification. People are more optimistic than they have ever been since the Wall came down. And no longer is anyone suggesting that the social market economy is a discontinued model, let alone calling Germany “the sick man of Europe”.

On the contrary, Germany is the engine of European growth; Germany is an anchor of stability in Europe. We emerged more rapidly and stronger from the global economic and financial crisis than other countries. We are playing a key part in ensuring that the European sovereign debt crisis can be resolved. An absolutely decisive factor in this success story has been the interaction of the social partners, the interaction between employers and trade unions, which – together with judicious political decisions – gives our country the stability and strength that are necessary today. They are necessary if we aspire to overcome the crises and challenges of our age – not simply to muddle through somehow but to overcome them in such a way that the values and interests of Germany and Europe can continue to make their mark in future in a fiercely competitive world. That is my aspiration, and it is the aspiration of the governing Grand Coalition. We do not aspire simply to muddle through the global and European financial and debt crises somehow or other but to emerge from them stronger than we were when they began. We do not aspire simply to deal somehow or other with the major challenges of our time such as protecting our climate, securing access to energy and combating asymmetric threats but to deal with them in a way that does justice to our values and our interests.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is more important than ever before. Globalisation has long since pervaded even the smallest corners of our world. Today there are more than seven billion people living in the world. They all want to share in prosperity. As an exporting country, we are intertwined with other nations in many different ways. No nation can confine itself any more to considering only its own concerns; if it still does so, it will sooner or later inflict harm on itself.

In the 1950s, only one per cent of the world’s population had a life expectancy in excess of 70 years. Nowadays, more than half of the world’s inhabitants will reach the age of 70. This statistic alone gives us some idea of the dimensions of the demographic development with which Germany, of course – like other nations – must learn how to deal.

The opportunities offered by digital technology and the Internet are changing our lives at a frenetic pace. They are creating a virtually endless range of communication and information forms, but at the same time they have almost unforeseeable implications for the protection of that which is private and personal and which should remain so.

It goes without saying that we must keep pace with the global and digital dynamics of our age. What is more, a country such as Germany, with Europe’s largest and strongest economy, must be – and seek to be – in the vanguard of this development, not in order to subjugate us to it but rather to recognise the opportunities it undoubtedly offers and to make use of them too. This applies to our researchers and developers, it applies to our education system, it applies to our companies and workers, and it applies to the way we obtain our energy supplies.

Keeping pace with these dynamics, being in the vanguard of this development, is one of the great creative tasks, politically and ethically, of our generation. It cannot be successfully performed without a compass. That compass is the social market economy, because it has always been more than an economic system, because it is an economic and social order that combines economic power with social justice. The social market economy is our compass, because its principles are timeless and yet they move with the times and can be further developed, which has happened as the life of our nations has acquired new environmental and international dimensions.

The social market economy is our compass, because it focuses on the individual like no other economic and social order. That is precisely what a system must do – focus its activity on people. Since I took office in November 2005, that principle has guided my understanding of my role as Chancellor of all Germans and of all people living in Germany, whatever their origins; it will continue to guide me in future, and it guides the governing Grand Coalition of CDU, CSU and SPD.

Policymaking that does not put the state or associations or special interests at the heart of political activity but puts people at its heart can lay the foundations for a good life in Germany and Europe. The sources of a good life are freedom, the rule of law, political stability, economic strength and justice. The Grand Coalition Government wants to make the sources of a good life accessible to all, which means opening the best possible opportunities to everyone.

We always give people the benefit of the doubt. Whenever we balance major and minor interests, whenever we exercise discretion, we decide in favour of people. In this way we serve the people and our country. We are shaping Germany’s future, to cite the plain and simple motto of the coalition agreement concluded by the CDU, CSU and SPD.

In so doing, we focus firstly on sound finances, secondly on investments in our country’s future, thirdly on strengthening the cohesion of our society and fourthly on Germany’s ability to take on responsibility in Europe and the world. These four points are not listed in order of precedence; they all rank equally. Without sound finances we could not shape our future. Without targeted investments in the future of our country, cost savings would be an academic exercise. Without the reinforcement of our social cohesion, our country would lose much of its social stability, which has, after all, been a guarantor of our economic success. If Germany were unable to assume responsibility in Europe and the world, we would be harming our allies and partners as well as ourselves, our values and our interests; we would be damaging ourselves politically and economically.

It is barely more than five years ago that we saw where the irresponsible excesses of the markets, overindebtedness and inadequate regulation of the international financial markets can lead. We saw how the crisis erupted out of the blue, with horrific consequences for every nation on earth, including Germany. We had to cope at that time with one of the worst-ever economic slumps, and indeed the worst in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is to the lasting credit of the government of that time, the coalition of CDU, CSU and SPD, that, together with industry and labour, it guided Germany so quickly and so successfully out of that crisis.

Germany, however, cannot keep this enduring success to itself. The paramount objective of policymaking that puts people at the heart of political action must be to ensure that everyone, the whole world, learns the lessons of that crisis. One of these is – and will always be – that no financial player, product or location can be left without adequate regulation; financial operators must be made to act responsibly by means of a tax on financial transactions.

The fact is that, even in an international social market economy, the state is the guardian of the system. Germany is assuming responsibility in Europe and the world so that this very perception of the state as guardian of the system can take hold.

To this end, progress in the regulation of financial markets, that is to say progress truly worthy of the name, is imperative if we are to keep the promise we have made to the people. By this I mean the promise that such a devastating global financial crisis will never be allowed to happen again. To sum it up in a single sentence, whoever takes risks will be liable for losses, and the taxpayer will no longer have to foot the bill.

Some objectives have been achieved. Much remains to be done. This is why the rules for a banking union in Europe are so important; when it comes to the recovery and resolution of banks, we attach crucial importance to the observance of a clear liability cascade.

Ladies and gentlemen, all of us have to understand that it is no longer sufficient – if ever it was – to rely on our own strength and efforts. In concrete terms, this means that Germany will only remain strong in the long run if Europe is strong too, that Germany will only prosper in the long run if Europe is prospering too. Even now, however, I cannot spare us the following exhortation: although the European debt crisis may no longer be hogging the daily headlines, we must nevertheless be aware that the situation is at best under control. This does not mean that it has been permanently and sustainably overcome. Although we have an economic and monetary union in which each national decision has implications for all other member states of that union, it is also the case that we have a monetary union in which the provision for coordination of economic policies remains far from adequate. Without decisive progress, without a quantum leap in this direction, we shall not overcome the European sovereign debt crisis. We may find some way of learning to live with it, but that will not enable us to maintain our place in the forefront of global development. It will not let us emerge stronger from the crisis than we were when it erupted. Yet that must be Europe’s prime goal – to be stronger after the crisis than before it – and, because this is so, we must not be fooled by the present deceptive calm. Yes, it is true that Europe has come a long way on the road to stability and growth, but it is also true that we must not relax our efforts to make provision for the future.

For this we must deepen our economic and monetary union and thereby rectify the omission made at the inception of EMU, namely the failure to establish a genuine economic union alongside monetary union. To this end we must also strengthen the European institutions. In a genuine economic union, there will be no alternative to a more binding regime. I firmly believe that the European Treaties must be further developed for that purpose.

The goal is a Europe that pools its resources and focuses on the major challenges. All European policies, energy and climate policy, the shaping of the internal market and external trade relations must be judged on whether or not they help to bolster Europe’s economic strength and so contribute to well-being and employment, for these policies, together with national reform efforts, form the basis for the creation of new growth and sustainable employment for the people of Europe.

European policymaking must likewise put people at the heart of political activity. It should make people’s everyday lives easier, not harder. It should improve, not impair, the basic conditions for commitment, initiative and enterprise. For this reason, those who want Europe and who want Europe to prosper must be prepared to make Europe more stable, closer to the people, stronger, more unified and fairer; and, of course, they must also do their homework in their own countries.

Germanyis doing its homework. Since 2012 – earlier than the target date – it has been meeting the debt-capping requirements. A structurally balanced budget has been drawn up for 2014. From 2015, we intend to manage without any net new debt at all. Bringing an end to new debt in this way after decades in which we kept incurring new debts as a matter of course from year to year is not only indicative of sound finances – it is also a key dictate of justice and hence of social market economics in action.

This is only achievable if we set clear priorities for our expenditure and invest systematically in the future. In so doing, we must keep reminding ourselves that the people of our country will accept our system of government only if there are also local structures on which they can rely. For this reason, the federal treasury will continue to ease the burdens borne by local authorities; it will do so this year by taking over full responsibility for pensioners’ income support and in subsequent years by making an incremental contribution to integration assistance that will eventually rise to five billion euros.

The talks with the Länder in the context of the coalition negotiations, by the way, once again highlighted the fundamental need for a restructuring of financial relations between the Federation and the Länder, which should be linked to a clear definition of federal, state and municipal responsibilities. By this summer, the Federal Government will make a proposal as to how the requisite talks can be conducted.

Ladies and gentlemen, among the key reasons why our budgetary situation is so healthy are the growth of the economy and the millions of employees, self-employed persons and businesses that have contributed to its growth. That has resulted in a new record for tax revenues. This is another reason why politicians owe it to people to demonstrate that we live within our means and that we are not increasing current taxes or introducing new ones.

Despite all these successes, however, we must not rest on our laurels, because our country will continue to need a strong economy and a high employment rate. The governing Grand Coalition has been creating the right conditions for these, for example by altering the structure of the Federal Government in a key area, combining the economics and energy portfolios into a single ministry. We decided to do that because we are convinced that the only way to safeguard our prosperity is with a strong industrial base comprising large and medium-sized enterprises, the absolute prerequisite for which is green, safe and affordable energy supplies for our companies as well as for our population.

Germanyhas set out on the way to an energy revolution. It has decided to abandon its decades-long energy mix, the main ingredients of which were fossil fuels and nuclear power. No comparable country in the world is embarking on such a radical shift in its energy supply. The decision is backed by the overwhelming majority of Germans.

But let us be under no illusions, for the world is watching with a mixture of bafflement and curiosity to see whether and how we are going to achieve this transformation. If we succeed, I am convinced that our conversion strategy will be another German export hit. Besides, I am also convinced that, if any country can pull off this energy revolution, that country is Germany.

By 2050, we want to generate 80% of our electricity from renewable energy sources. Renewables already account for 25% of our electricity generation today, and this figure is set to rise to between 40 and 45% by 2025 and between 55 and 60% by 2035. With this linear development schedule, we can achieve our development target of 80%, though only if our industry can compete globally and electricity remains affordable for everyone.

Now that they account for 25% of electricity generation, renewables are no longer in a niche market. So far, it has made sense to support them through our environmental policy. Now, however, as an increasingly vital pillar of power generation, they must be integrated into the general energy market. The yardstick for the development of renewables must be predictability and cost-efficiency. For this reason, the linear development schedule must also be enshrined in binding provisions. The various forms of renewable energy must be made marketable as quickly as possible; their development and the development of the transport networks must go hand in hand.

We can see that this is a Herculean task which requires a concerted national effort. This is one of the reasons why I have spoken of the Grand Coalition as a coalition for major tasks. And the energy revolution, more than any other political task, must not be focused on special interests but on people.

It cannot succeed unless everyone – federal, state and local authorities, associations and every individual – is prepared to break the mould and pursue only one aim, namely the common good. If that happens, I am convinced that the energy revolution will indeed be a success and provide another exemplary illustration of the environmental and social market economy in action.

The cabinet has adopted the guidelines presented by the Federal Minister of Economics. They are the basis for the Renewable Energy Sources Act (Revision) Bill, which is scheduled for adoption in cabinet on 9 April and for adoption by the Bundestag and Bundesrat before the summer recess. Together with the development of the grid and decisions on reserves of power-station capacity to guarantee energy supplies, the bill will create the framework for the realisation of the energy revolution.

In the forthcoming deliberations, which will surely not be easy, the Federal Government will try to obtain the support of a broad majority, for the larger the majority, I firmly believe, the higher will be the level of public acceptance. Be that as it may, we have no time to lose, and so we must simultaneously make every effort to ensure that our decisions will be accepted in Brussels too. At the same time, we must embed the energy revolution in an ambitious national and European climate strategy. It is good that the Commission, by setting an ambitious 40% reduction target for CO2emissions, has unequivocally re-emphasised Europe’s pilot role in the international effort to combat climate change.

Germanywill also do everything in its power to press for a universally binding agreement on climate change. Together with France, we are working for the success of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of 2015, for its culmination in a binding instrument for the global reduction of greenhouse gases from 2020.

We are also pressing for a functioning system of emissions trading in Europe, so that environment-friendly power stations such as modern gas-fired plants are finally given a fair chance to compete again in the marketplace.

In order to arrive at an overarching strategy for the construction sector which incorporates the climate dimension, the Federal Government has combined the environment and building portfolios into a single ministry. In this way we can achieve our national climate targets in the realms of energy efficiency and building renovation too. Our economy and our trades businesses, moreover, can benefit too. Environmental protection, in the environmental and social market economy, creates jobs.

Ladies and gentlemen, a decade ago, when five million people in Germany were unemployed, many doubted whether one of the great certainties that the social market economy had guaranteed for decades would remain justifiable in the future, namely the certainty that employees would prosper if their company was prospering. The effects of globalisation shook this basic tenet. Reforms that had been delayed or avoided for years became indispensable. And so the Schröder Government introduced Agenda 2010, which formed the basis for further reforms enacted by the Grand Coalition of 2005 to 2009 and by the subsequent Christian‑Liberal Federal Government. As a result of these reforms, our country now has more people in employment than ever before. Unemployment is below three million, and youth unemployment is the lowest in Europe.

There is, however, a down side too. The indispensable measures to make employment legislation more flexible created new scope for abuses. The Christian-Liberal Federal Government has already closed some of the loopholes, but the Grand Coalition will have to make more adjustments.

The specific area where these abuses occur is temporary employment services, which are subject to a maximum placement period of 18 months. A temporary employee must now receive the same pay as an equivalent member of the regular workforce after nine months at the latest, and in future the works council must be informed whenever work and services contracts are concluded.

It is the common conviction of the CDU, the CSU and the SPD that those who work full-time must earn more than when they are not in work. Accordingly, no one who has a heart is ready to dismiss out of hand the instrument of a minimum wage. Yet anyone who has a heart must also ensure that the very understandable wish for a decent wage does not result in unemployment for people who are now in work.

The coalition negotiations on a statutory minimum wage of €8.50 from 2015 have examined all the facets of this dilemma. The result is a compromise in which – and I say this because I firmly believe it to be true – the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. The minimum wage of €8.50 will apply from the start of 2015. We have, however, agreed that collective agreements with a wage floor of less than €8.50 can remain in force until the end of 2016. Such collective agreements may still be concluded in the course of this year. Let me say quite explicitly that this arrangement gives employers and trade unions complete freedom to make use of such agreements and gives them every opportunity to do so wherever necessary in order to save jobs.

In future, such collective agreements may be declared generally binding in a simplified procedure, since they are in the public interest. This provision, moreover, further strengthens the partnership between management and labour, which is a key feature of the social market economy, and there are indeed some areas in which it needs reinforcement.

A strong social market economy requires internationally competitive enterprises. We know from our own experience that the economy works particularly well when women and men have equal opportunities. That is why we are introducing a minimum quota of 30% female membership on works councils of companies where full codetermination is compulsory and of listed companies; this will apply to works councils elected in or after 2016. Years of gentle cajoling have not helped. That is why we must now take this step.

Ladies and gentlemen, our social security schemes are among the best in the world. To keep it that way, they must meet the expectations of the present generation as well as the requirements of future generations. In short, they must contend with demographic trends in our country. This is the purpose of the phased introduction of a pensionable age of 67 by 2029. Today far more people in the 55-65 age bracket have employment opportunities than was the case only a few years ago. This development must be continued.

Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind that, in introducing a retirement age of 67, we excluded those who had been contributing to the pensions scheme for 45 years. We shall now be altering this arrangement. For people with 45 contributory years, including time spent on full unemployment benefit based on previous earnings, we shall be introducing a deduction‑free pension, payable initially from the recipient’s 63rd birthday, with the pensionable age for this group rising gradually to 65 by the beginning of the 2030s. Let me add that we must endeavour in the meantime to ensure considerable further improvement in job prospects for those with a long employment history.

Moreover, we are determined not to close our eyes to the fact that many women are demanding fair recognition of their child-rearing efforts. What is the situation today? Under the current pensions legislation, three years are credited for the upbringing of children born after 1992 but only one year for children born in earlier years. In many people’s eyes that is unfair.

Policymakers who put people at the heart of their political activity must change that, and we want to do so. Over the last few years we have made great efforts to enhance the compatibility of family and working life by increasing the number of places in day nurseries, improving opportunities for flexible working hours and introducing a parental allowance with paternal leave. In this legislative term we shall make it easier for parents to work part-time by means of the parental allowance-plus scheme as well as continuing to increase the number of places in day nurseries. Mothers who bore their children before 1992 had nothing like the opportunities to combine family life with a career that exist today. That is why we intend to add at least one more reckonable year in our pensions legislation for these mothers – more than nine million women – in recognition of their child-rearing efforts.

Because of the favourable employment situation, the pensions scheme can meet this commitment. We are, however, aware that we shall have to top up part of this appropriation in the medium term with further tax subsidies from the federal budget.

In addition, we shall improve incapacity pensions. That is imperative, because incapacity for work is one of the main reasons for poverty among older people today. As you know, we have introduced this same legislative package today and referred it to Parliament for deliberation.

The humanity of a society is chiefly reflected in the way it deals with its weakest members. It is revealed in situations in which people depend on protection and assistance, in other words when they are old and when they are sick. Medical progress constantly offers new cures and treatments. Our life expectancy is steadily growing, and at the same time more and more people are reliant on care. Everyone must receive the medical care that he or she needs, and everyone must be able to die in dignity. These are the key tasks facing those responsible for our health and care system.

The Federal Government wants to ensure that medical care is improved, especially in the case of treatment by specialist consultants. Everyone must be treated quickly and well. The high quality of our medical care must continue to be safeguarded, particularly in rural areas. The development of telemedicine, moreover, will play a key role in this respect.

Over the next four years we shall be increasing our contributions to long-term care by a total of 25% in relation to current spending. The additional funds will be devoted firstly to improving care services, to which end we shall also be reducing bureaucracy, secondly to providing for better training and payment of carers in order to alleviate the shortage of nursing staff that exists in many places and, thirdly, to building up a demographic reserve to protect future generations from excessively heavy burdens. We shall also improve the provision of hospice accommodation and palliative medicine.

Yet in all of this we must never forget that family members still account for most care provision. In so doing, they often stretch their capacities to the limits and not infrequently beyond. They are the silent heroes of our society. This is yet another illustration of the fact that families are the core of our society. That is why we are working for a good and reliable framework within which they can perform that function.

Ladies and gentlemen, in view of the changing age structure of our society, investments in research and education are the only long-term guarantor of our country’s ability to perform and prosper in the global marketplace. In many areas, we must be up there with the best in the world. This is why we invest three per cent of our GDP in research and development, which puts us among the leading countries in Europe, though not always necessarily in the world.

Our high-tech strategy is setting benchmarks for frontline research. The Federal Government intends to maintain its 3% investment in research over the coming years. In addition, the federal treasury will also ease the pressure on the Länder by assuming responsibility for the entire growth in resources allocated to non-university research, including the Länder share, and by contributing for the first time to the basic funding of universities in order to prevent any undue widening of the funding gap between non-university research and university teaching and research.

The past few years have seen an increase of over 50% in the number of new entrants to higher education. That is gratifying, but in this legislative term the Federal Government will also focus special attention on the other pillar of our education system, namely the dual system of vocational training, which is a trade mark of our social market economy.

We want to develop the present Training Pact into a “Pact for Basic and Continuing Training”, in which trade unions will once more participate in future alongside employers. Without exceptionally well-trained people, Germany would not have its strong economy.

In the coming years, fewer and fewer young people in Germany will enter working life. We must therefore ensure that every young person has the opportunity to receive a good education. This begins with the expansion of day-nursery provision, to which the federal treasury will continue to contribute. It continues with our careers-advice initiative Chance Beruf, which the Federal Government intends to roll out nationwide. We shall continue the Higher Education Pact. Students who drop out of higher education will have an opportunity in future to embark on vocational training under the dual system. Young people over the age of 25 who have not yet obtained any vocational qualifications are to be given a second chance.

That is also a pivotal aim of our integration policy. At this year’s integration summit, we have agreed that we shall focus as a matter of priority on the training of migrants. We shall also make young people from migrant backgrounds particularly welcome by abolishing the obligation for young people who were born and have grown up in Germany to opt for one nationality.

It is, moreover, a dictate of our social market economy that particular importance should attach to offering career prospects to younger people among the pool of unemployed, who still number almost three million, for if they have no prospects when they are young, they face decades of difficulty. In this context, may I say that I am indeed worried by the upturn in the number of long-term unemployed. Together with the Federal Employment Agency, we must try to reverse this trend. The federal treasury spends more than 30 billion euros a year to combat long-term unemployment. Every euro that is not needed for this purpose can be used for strategic projects.

In addition, we must, of course, remain open to skilled personnel from other countries. Germany will – and will have to – take the opportunities offered by freedom of movement in Europe. Nevertheless – and this must be said – we cannot close our eyes to potential abuses of free movement. We need to define clearly which persons from other European countries are entitled to welfare benefits and on what conditions. Given the entirely diverse welfare systems in the Member States of the European Union, the principle of freedom of movement must not degenerate in practice into welfare immigration.

Whether case law of the European Court of Justice in this matter will create a need for national or European action is not yet foreseeable. The possibility cannot be ruled out, however, because German courts have referred some pertinent cases to the European Court of Justice for its opinion. For this reason, the Federal Government has appointed a committee of state secretaries, with the Ministries of the Interior and of Labour and Social Affairs as the lead ministries, to resolve unanswered questions and to discuss possibilities of federal assistance for local authorities that are already particularly affected by the problem.

As a country in the centre of Europe, Germany is, of necessity, dependent on a functioning infrastructure. We have decided to develop the Ministry of Transport into a Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. We shall be investing another five billion euros from federal funds alone in the traditional transport structures for the period up to and including 2017. We shall extend the distance-related motorway user charge for heavy goods vehicles. For foreign-registered cars we shall introduce a motorway toll, which will not impose any additional costs on German vehicle holders.

The responsibilities of the Ministry of Transport are being extended to include the digital infrastructure. By 2018, everyone in Germany is to have fast Internet access. This is not simply a technological objective but a means of ensuring that people in rural areas in particular have equal access to education, medical care and economic activity. To this end, we shall pool all network developers into a network alliance. European and global investment conditions must be improved. This is indispensable if we consider the technology gap that already exists in many areas today between the United States of America or Asian countries and Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are becoming ever more acutely aware of the profound changes being wrought on our society by digitisation. Education, training, everyday work, industrial production are changing. Information from all parts of the world is available in seconds. Human communication is virtually limitless. Any volume of data relating to any individual can be stored. We want the Internet to remain an instrument of great promise, and for that reason we wish to protect it. We wish to protect it from destruction from within through criminal abuse and from non-transparent all-encompassing surveillance from outside.

It has become clear that the existing legal framework for preserving a reasonable balance between freedom and security is no longer adequate. An international framework does not exist yet. In other words, we are entering uncharted territory. Every single one of us is affected by this. That is why the Federal Government will be drawing up a digital agenda this year, with the Ministries of the Interior, of Economics and Energy and of Transport and Digital Infrastructure acting as joint lead bodies, and we shall be implementing it in the course of the legislative term. We are working all-out on a European General Data Protection Regulation, but in so doing we are taking great care to ensure that the protection of data in Germany is not unduly watered down by the standardisation of European data protection.

Half a year ago we were drastically confronted with issues of data security as a result of Edward Snowden’s exposures about the working practices of the US intelligence services. No one who bears political responsibility can seriously dispute the fact that the work of the intelligence services is crucial to our security and the safety of our citizens. No one who bears political responsibility can seriously dispute that, in the age of asymmetric threats, as exemplified by September 11, the work of the intelligence services has become even more important than it always was. Precisely because we want to be able to avert these threats, we attach great importance not only to the work of our own services but equally to cooperation with the intelligence services of our allies and partners.

It cannot be stressed often enough that we have received valuable information from our American counterparts in particular. Conversely, our own services also make valuable contributions within this international cooperative framework. The Parliamentary Control Panel is informed in each instance. At the same time, no one who bears political responsibility can seriously dispute that what we have been hearing for half a year about the work of the US intelligence services in particular raises some absolutely fundamental issues.

There is the issue of proportionality, the question whether the means with which we choose to confront a danger are commensurate with that danger. The Federal Government bears responsibility for protecting our citizens from attacks and crime, and it bears responsibility for protecting them from invasions of their privacy. It bears responsibility for our freedom and security. Since time immemorial, freedom and security have, to a degree, been conflicting aims. They must constantly be held in balance by those who make and apply the law.

We know that all too well in Germany from our lengthy discussions on domestic surveillance and data retention. So can it be right that our closest allies like the United States or the United Kingdom gain access to all conceivable kinds of data on the grounds that such action enhances their own security and that of their allies? We ourselves, the argument goes, derive some benefit from it. Can it be right to cite as a reason for engaging in such activity the fact that other countries in the world have been doing the same? Can it be right when the ultimate aim is no longer merely to ward off the threat of terrorism but also to gain advantages over allies, for example in negotiations at G20 summits or UN meetings – advantages which, over the years, I have always found to be utterly negligible in any case?

Our answer can only be no – these things cannot be right. They cannot be right because they affect the very essence of cooperation between friendly and allied states, namely mutual trust. Trust is the basis for peace and friendship between nations; how much more so is it the basis for cooperation between allied states! A strategy in which the end justifies the means, in which everything that is technically possible is realised, breaches trust and sows distrust. The result is not more security but less.

We are talking about this with the United States. I am convinced that friends and allies must be able and willing to agree on the principles of their cooperation in all areas, including internal security, and to do so in their own respective interests. The perceptions of the two sides are widely divergent at the present juncture. Many are saying that attempts to reach such an agreement are doomed to failure from the outset, that they are an unrealistic venture. That may be. The problem will certainly not be resolved and laid to rest by my paying one visit. Breaking off talks in other areas, such as those on a transatlantic free-trade agreement, would surely not really be helpful. Nor do I believe there are any of the other “levers” we have been hearing about so often in these past days that would force the United States to rethink. Besides, truculence has never been a recipe for success.

I am conducting these talks, and doing so very forcefully, on the strength of our arguments – nothing more and nothing less. But I believe we have good ones. The road is long, but it is surely worth following, because the potential for exhaustive recording of personal data acutely affects our lives. Accordingly, this task is an ethical imperative that has implications far beyond the security dimension. Billions of people who live in undemocratic countries are watching very closely today to see how the democratic world will respond to threats to its security – whether it will act sensitively with consummate self-assurance or whether it will saw at the very branch of individual freedom and dignity that makes it so appealing to those selfsame billions of people.

Yet for all the disputes, for all the disappointments and for all our divergent interests, I shall make it clear time and again that Germany could not wish for a better partner than the United States of America. The German-American and transatlantic partnerships are of paramount importance to us and will remain so.

We are engaged together in Afghanistan. Germany is prepared to continue participating beyond 2014 in training the security forces and building up the national economy. The prior condition is that President Karzai – and I say this most emphatically and recently said it to him personally – must sign the security agreement with the United States and NATO.

Germany is participating in missions in Kosovo, off the coasts of Somalia and Lebanon and in Mali. We intend not only to continue the mandate to train Malian security forces but also to reinforce our efforts there. Then there is the question how Germany can assist its French ally if need be in the EU bridging operation in the Central African Republic. I say “if need be”: this is not a German combat mission and would be no more than the provision of capacity for rescuing and treating the wounded. The perennial truth is that no conflict can be resolved by military means alone. That is what guides the Federal Government. German foreign and security policy is based on dovetailing military and civilian resources, and the events of recent years have further reinforced our belief in this approach.

In 2015, Germany will be taking over the presidency of the G8. During that year the UN will be setting new development goals. This redefinition of the development goals will therefore be one of the issues that dominates our presidency.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is not special interests that are at the heart of our action but people. The social market economy is our compass. This means that we put our faith in sound finances, investments in the future, reinforced social cohesion and Germany’s ability to assume responsibility in the world – for the sake of our values and our interests and because we know that these must be continually reasserted in the global arena.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. It was the first major cataclysm of the 20th century and was soon to be followed by another, the betrayal of all civilised values that was the Shoah, and then by the outbreak of the Second World War 75 years ago. From the perspective of those troubled times, the subsequent process of European unification that has brought us peace, freedom and prosperity seems like a miracle. We live today in a political system in which, unlike 100 years ago, a handful of people no longer determine the destiny of Europe in secret diplomacy but in which all 28 Member States, each with an equal voice and acting in cooperation with the European institutions, jointly shape things for the benefit of the people. The European Parliament, which an electorate of more than 375 million will be called to elect again in May, and the national parliaments ensure that Europe possesses the necessary democratic legitimacy and public support.

Sixty-five years ago, the Federal Republic of Germany was founded. Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. Ten years ago, we experienced the start of the eastward enlargement of the EU. Other borders in Europe were eliminated. We Germans and we Europeans have united for the better.

The new Federal Government will help to protect and preserve this good fortune by giving everyone access to the sources of a good life – freedom, political stability, the rule of law, economic strength and justice. That is our mission, and I crave your support for its fulfilment.

Thank you very much.