Speech by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung event on Foreign and Security Policy during Germany’s EU Council Presidency, Berlin, 27 May 2020

Ambassador Descôtes,

Mr Chairman, Norbert Lammert,

Johann Wadephul,

Mr Huotari,

Ladies and gentlemen

wherever you are – at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung or following us on live stream,


When the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung planned today’s event, the world was still a different place. A new decade had just begun, and such a milestone always brings hope of greater peace, stability and prosperity in the world. Just a few weeks ago, the euro area member states were on a sound economic growth course. Germany was heading for its sixth year with a balanced federal budget. It went without saying that EU citizens travelled throughout the Schengen area, whether for business or private purposes, without border controls and without face masks.


Just a few weeks ago, it seemed inconceivable that within a matter of days liberal democracies would have to adopt comprehensive measures including travel and contact restrictions, which in this country, too, constitute the most egregious curtailment of citizens’ civil liberties since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. These decisions were among the most difficult I have taken in my entire time as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. This virus is and will remain an affront to democracy.


The COVID‑19 pandemic has turned our world upside down – and with it the plans for the German EU Council Presidency, which we will assume for six months on 1 July. Crisis management has become a new priority. However, we also want to retain our original priorities and continue to address the issues that will define our future, in particular how to rebuild our economy in a climate-neutral way, how to advance the digital transformation and how to strengthen Europe’s role as an anchor of stability in the world. The COVID‑19 pandemic reveals how fundamental radical shifts cause us to take decisions with very long‑term consequences in a relatively short period of time.


I would like to thank the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung for inviting me to this event, which is an opportunity to consider the import of these truly transformative developments in the field of foreign and security policy in particular. Considering how to analyse and categorise these changes, as you are doing at today’s event, is important not least because we are faced with conflicting demands to which political answers are needed in word and in deed.


On the one hand, we are all expected to adhere to rules restricting contact and imposing a minimum distance to be maintained from relatives and friends, acquaintances and colleagues, in other words from everybody outside our households, thus enabling us to look out for others by keeping our distance. On the other hand, in this crisis, it is vitally important for the European family of states to become even more cohesive. The virus knows no borders, and so our response as the European Union must not stop at national borders. We must help each other wherever possible. After all, we know that Germany will only fare well in the long term if Europe fares well. And conversely, it is good for Europe if Germany is economically and politically strong.


Despite all the uncertainties we face, one thing is already clear to me: Europe can emerge stronger from the crisis than it entered it. If we are to fulfil this aspiration, we must in my opinion be guided by one leitmotif: European cohesion and solidarity – especially in this pandemic. This is the leitmotif of the pan-European forward-looking crisis management that will shape the German EU Council Presidency.


At the beginning of the pandemic, solidarity had to be put into action very quickly, for example when it came to supplying medical equipment to badly affected European partners, taking in seriously ill patients from these countries and bringing citizens of other European countries back from abroad together with many of our own German citizens in an unprecedented repatriation programme.


But of course much more is needed for a sustainable economic recovery which also safeguards convergence and cohesion. We need an extraordinary exertion to respond to this extraordinary challenge. This is also the end served by the proposals presented by President Emmanuel Macron of France and myself a few days ago. Today, the European Commission added its proposal. I look forward to further discussions among EU heads of state and government in which Germany and France will act in concert and in a targeted manner.


However, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to see even more. I would like to see the European Union show global solidarity and assume greater responsibility as well, especially in times of crisis. In many places, the pandemic will exacerbate existing conflicts and problems and will thus also test the European Union’s ability to act in foreign and security policy. This makes it all the more important for us to champion around the globe the values that we stand for within the European Union – solidarity, democracy, freedom and the protection of the dignity of all human beings. This is also vital in the context of cooperation with our international partners, who may be even more badly affected by the COVID‑19 pandemic and its consequences than we are.


During our Presidency of the Council, therefore, the focus will on the one hand be on internal matters, with budgetary constraints and economic reconstruction presenting us with difficult choices. On the other hand, however, we should always remember the importance of global engagement, especially in the current situation.


Over the past few years, Europe has acquired the reputation of being a reliable partner – be it as a trustworthy interlocutor in international fora or, for example, as regards the Iran dossier, civilian missions in Ukraine or training missions in Mali. We must build on this. Particularly in a destabilised world, it is in our European interest to be able to serve as an anchor of stability. Itself a project between individual states, the European Union is inherently a supporter of rules‑based multilateral cooperation. This is truer than ever in the crisis.


The fact that we as the European Union are capable of leading a global exertion was demonstrated recently by a pledging conference initiated by the European Commission. Eight billion US dollars were raised for the development, production and distribution of vaccines, therapeutic drugs and diagnostic tests. Germany and France made an outstanding contribution to this.


I see our German Presidency as an opportunity to further build Europe as a force for solidarity, able to act and able to shape change, assuming responsibility for peace and security in the world.


With this in mind, European relations with China, for example, will also be a foreign policy priority of our EU Council Presidency. The European Union has a great strategic interest in actively shaping cooperation with China, one of the key players of this century. In my talks, I have noticed time and again that the Chinese are surprised to hear so much talk of their country’s rise. For in their own eyes, this 5000‑year‑old civilisation is simply regaining the central place on the world stage that it enjoyed for centuries. When shaping our relations in future we must therefore not focus solely on expanding trade volumes or maintaining protocol, but must come to recognise the strength of China’s determination to take a leading role in the existing international architecture. We need not only to recognise this ambition, but should also confidently rise to the challenge it presents.


That is why we have a number of issues on our presidency agenda concerning our relations with China. We want to conclude the investment agreement that has been under negotiation for many years. This is, admittedly, a very ambitious project. We want to make progress on climate and environmental protection. We want to advance global health and exchange views on issues including how to improve transparency standards in the context of global pandemics. We also want to discuss our respective relations with Africa and work out how we can better coordinate our engagement and set the right standards to make sustainable development possible.


All these issues concerning EU‑China relations are ambitious enough in themselves. What makes them even more ambitious, of course, is the fact that China is not just any partner or competitor, but a country with which we have profound differences concerning the rule of law, freedom, democracy and human rights; just think of the situation in Hong Kong with regard to the “one country, two systems” principle. However, the fact that fundamental differences exist should not be an argument against exchange, dialogue and cooperation – especially not at a time when the dispute between the United States and China is becoming increasingly acrimonious. On the contrary, open, critical and constructive dialogue is more important than ever if we are to assert our European values and interests.


Ladies and gentlemen, another focus of our foreign policy this year is Africa. An EU summit with the African Union is planned for October. This is intended to serve the goal of enhanced cooperation in a spirit of partnership. Joint action to combat the coronavirus will of course also have to be part – but only one part – of this. It is already foreseeable, however, that many African countries will be severely hit by the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic. We must therefore find a joint response to the question of how these consequences can be mitigated. At the same time, we can also learn a great deal from African countries’ own experiences in dealing with pandemics. Our talks with Africa will also address issues such as the climate, migration, sustainable economic development and, of course, peace and security – to give just a few examples.


These are all areas in which Germany and Europe have significantly stepped up their political engagement in recent years.


Consider, for example, the civil war in Libya. The Berlin Conference on Libya in January helped support the United Nations’ peace efforts. Developments in Libya in recent weeks underline the fact that the parties must agree to the draft ceasefire negotiated by the United Nations and return to the negotiating table for there to be any chance of stabilising the country. In Libya and beyond, it will be important to ensure that European operations and missions continue as far as possible, within the framework of the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy. This can only be achieved in close coordination with partners such as the United Nations.


Ladies and gentlemen, Europe cannot overcome the challenges outlined above if it stands alone on the world stage. Europe needs partners and allies in order to meet and rise to the key challenges of our time with combined forces.


Europe’s most important partner is the United States of America. I am, of course, aware that cooperation with America is currently more difficult than we would like. This is true as regards climate policy, trade policy and now also with respect to the importance of international organisations in combatting the COVID‑19 pandemic. Nevertheless, I am firmly convinced that transatlantic relations, and our cooperation and alliance with the US and within NATO are and will remain a key pillar of our foreign and security policy. It is in our own national and European interest not only to preserve this pillar but also to strengthen it. For we depend on each other to uphold the global order, to maintain peace and stability, and to tackle the major issues of our time. Only in this way can we effectively champion our causes internationally.


We should never forget that Europe is not neutral. Europe is part of the political West. If Europe wants to assert itself and its values in the world – and we want to, we have to – we will only succeed if we do more than before to take our fate in our own hands and act as a reliable partner for the western community of shared values and interests. I view these two things as going together. They are two sides of the same coin.


Of course, this also affects our relations with Russia. There are many salient reasons to seek good relations with Russia. These include geographical proximity and shared history, global challenges and mutual economic relations. Of course, the world’s largest country also has many good reasons itself to want constructive relations with the European Union and Germany.


That is why I have worked to foster critical and constructive dialogue and peaceful coexistence ever since I became Chancellor. These must be based on the understanding that in international relations it is not the law of the strong that prevails, but rather the strength of the law. This perception of ourselves that underlies our external relations encompasses, for example, a commitment to the Helsinki Final Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. Russia has repeatedly violated the values and rules enshrined in these documents. It has created a belt of unresolved conflicts in its immediate vicinity and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in violation of international law. It supports puppet regimes in parts of eastern Ukraine and uses hybrid means to attack Western democracies, including Germany.


There is no doubt that Russia, too, will keep us busy during the EU Council Presidency. We will speak out whenever fundamental rules of international law are flouted. If no progress is made in the Minsk process, we will have to retain the existing sanctions.


There again, the Council Presidency gives us an opportunity to inject fresh impetus into our relations. This is important when it comes to issues such as Libya, Syria, climate protection and global health. And in this way we lend weight to our values both through our principles and our engagement.


Ladies and gentlemen, a virus with a diameter of 140 nanometres has become a global force to reckon with. The consequences of the pandemic will have a significant impact on our European Common Foreign and Security Policy for an indefinite period. During our Presidency, we want to help strengthen Europe internally, so that we can present ourselves to the external world as an anchor of solidarity and stability. Together we want to lead Europe to new strengths.


To bring my comments to a close, I would like to quote Konrad Adenauer. He was right when he said: “European unity was the dream of a few. It became the hope of many. It is now a necessity for us all.” With this in mind, I wish us all great strength to tackle the tasks ahead, and thank the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung once again for inviting me to this event. I hope you all enjoy your discussion now!


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