Check against delivery.
Professors and Teachers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen! But first and foremost: Dear Students!
On my first visit to London as Germany’s Minister of Defence, it was important to me to talk to you, too. Because you are the future – the future of your home countries, but also the future of the European idea.
This is not just a result of your comparatively young age – if you don’t mind my saying that. Neither is it because of your origins or because many of you will soon assume highly responsible positions. You also represent the future of the European idea because you study, research and work at one of the most renowned academic institutions in the world.
This academic excellence is inextricably linked to a certain mindset. A mindset that is characteristic of this university, this city, this part of the world: It draws on a long tradition rooted in the Enlightenment and liberalism.
And whatever one’s definition of what we call the “Western world”, or “Europe”, or “Britain” – it cannot succeed without the ideas of the Enlightenment and liberalism. This tradition teaches us that true freedom means neither isolation nor arbitrariness. True freedom means openness, exchange and cooperation – on a solid foundation of individual responsibility.
This also applies to international politics.
The combination of national responsibility and international cooperation is key to many of the problems people face today – people like me, who currently bear political responsibility, as well as you – the next generation.
I will be more specific in a minute, but let us just continue to speak about general principles for a moment – we’re at a university, after all!
One of the most famous persons ever to teach at this school was Karl Popper. His life and thought are a reflection of what we Europeans have experienced and learned in the 20th century. His family, assimilated Austrian Jews with roots in Hungary and Silesia, were killed by the National Socialist regime. Popper fled to New Zealand and returned to Europe, to London, only after the war had ended.
During that time, he wrote his most important work of social philosophy: “The Open Society and Its Enemies”. In this book, he explained how national socialism, communism and any other anti-democratic ideology will inevitably lead to violence and oppression. That successful human coexistence requires an open society in which, based on a foundation of inalienable principles, everyone respects everyone else as an individual.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is the underlying conviction that connects the British and the German people, and this is what makes us European. And it goes to the heart of the defining question of our times: How can we in our open societies succeed in withstanding the pressure that we are subjected to from the outside and the inside?
All of you are urgently aware of the strategic situation: Liberal democracy has come under siege by authoritarian ideologies. By great powers such as China and Russia in the field of international politics, and by terrorist sects such as so-called Islamic State. Also, through confusion and discontent in the area of domestic policy, which plays into the hands of the Pied Pipers of politics from the far left and far right of the political spectrum.
In tackling these challenges, it will be a crucial task for all of us to strengthen the active moderate forces at the centre of our society. What I mean by that is that we must rediscover a common ground in our society. A common ground regarding what we stand for and where we are heading together.
We will not achieve this by going back to a supposedly “golden” past in which everything is assumed to have been better.
We will achieve this through innovation and creativity. So that we can again fulfil the promise of an open society in the 21st century, making it something that all citizens can experience.
The promise of justice and fairness, of sustainability.
The promise that representative democracy serves the common good and is capable of solving problems. That it makes it easier for all of us to live self-determined lives.
The promise that making an effort will pay off, that anyone will be able to provide for their family and raise their children safely.
An open society that can rely on such promises does not need to fear the competition of other ideas.
How we perform in this competition is therefore very much in our own hands.
I am very optimistic in this regard, because I know what strength we have – not only in economic or military terms, but a strength that comes from our diversity and unlimited creativity.
But we must have the courage to make a start. Because only in daring to attempt what is new will we be able to hold onto what is time-tested. This is very much in line with Popper, who wrote that “only freedom can make security more secure”.
I am saying this especially in my role as defence minister. For in a time of uncertainty and rapid, profound change, it is remembering our intellectual heritage, our tradition of Enlightenment, responsibility and freedom that provides a sense of community and orientation. Orientation for specific political action.
Visiting Britain as the German Minister of Defence and the Chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany today, I know that I am visiting friends. I have felt this during all the conversations I have had today, whether with my counterpart Ben Wallace or with His Royal Highness, Prince Harry.
I also feel, and I know, that our two countries have a special responsibility right now. Precisely because we have the same foundations, because we are faced with the same challenges, and because we are strong. Because others are looking to us to see whether we will be able to use our strength wisely.
I will not beat about the bush: Brexit is a calamity. It harms the United Kingdom, it harms Europe – and it also harms my country, because it tears apart what has grown together. Because it consumes a lot of energy that we might have spent on better things.
More than a year ago, I explained this fact in an article in the “Times”, in which I also wrote, however, that the British will always have friends in Germany, even if they want to leave the EU. For when the citizens of this old and proud democracy make a decision, this decision is valid and valuable.
Which is why I am glad that we finally have more clarity now. It is also clear that Brexit is not the end of cooperation between Britain and Europe, and much less the end of cooperation between Britain and Germany. Instead, it is the beginning of a new level of intensity.
My predecessor, former Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, said it last week, right here, with the words: “Old friends – new beginnings”.
This is about seeing the opportunities presented by the new situation, and seizing these opportunities. This is the challenge faced by both our countries now. Germans and Britons value the cooperation between our nations. The sober, reliable, matter-of-course style of this special partnership. A large part of our cooperation, however, was organised – and sometimes obstructed – within the bodies and established processes of the European Union. Now we can, and must, rethink and reshape this cooperation.
Of course, the details of the future relations between the EU and the United Kingdom will cause us all some headache. There will be no cherry picking; there will have to be some painful compromises. But I, for one, feel that the negotiations will be fair and friendly.
We continue to extend our hand in friendship, because we Germans want to remain close to our British friends even after Brexit. Prime Minister Johnson put it in a nutshell when he said that Britain was “leaving the EU, not Europe”. I’ll take his word for it.
Because the European nations are bound together by more than just belonging to the same institution. We are connected by common interests and common values, which translate into very concrete political action.
When we speak of an open society, it means opposing hatred and violence, marginalisation, xenophobia and antisemitism, every day, in all situations, however ordinary.
We are all in this together, no one fights alone.
When we speak of prosperity, it means intensifying our trade relations and keeping them free of tariffs and restrictions. Germany is Britain’s most important trade partner after the United States. This must remain so, even without the protection of the European Union.
Again, we are in this together, and no one fights alone.
When we speak of preserving the integrity of creation, it means that we take climate protection seriously. That we invest in climate-neutral technologies and ensure, for example, that we use steel whose production generates little or no CO2Kohlendioxid.
Again, we fight for this together, not alone.
When we speak of managing digitalisation in such a way that it enhances people’s lives instead of controlling them, this also means insisting on security standards that can only be fulfilled by companies which handle our data responsibly.
Again, we are in this together, no one fights alone.
And when we speak of indivisible European security, it means that we will help our allies protect their borders. That we will not simply accept the annexation of Crimea and the continued aggression in Eastern Ukraine. That the Russian state cannot, without consequences, assassinate people it would like to get rid of on our territory.
Again, we must do this together, not alone.
And if we want to achieve a peaceful resolution of conflicts and a pacification of crises in North Africa and the Middle East, that means that we keep open the lines of communication with Russia.
This type of diplomacy is again something we must do together, not alone.
Cooperation between our two countries is pragmatic and successful. Now, we must preserve this spirit – and find new paths to explore together.
In security and defence policy, we are setting a good example. Our 2018 Joint Vision Statement was the right response to the Brexit referendum. The Statement outlines our intention to cooperate even more closely and effectively in all areas of defence policy.
To see how comradeship works, we only have to look to our military personnel, who practice it every day. In virtually all conflict areas of the world, British and German soldiers are standing shoulder to shoulder, in defence of peace and freedom – in Afghanistan, in Kosovo, in Mali and the Baltics, in the fight against ISISIntegrated SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) System and on the UN mission in South Sudan.
And particularly with regard to the current situation in the Middle East, our close partnership has paid off. It is based on common interests, such as the fight against ISISIntegrated SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) System. We have achieved a lot in this context, and now we must secure what we have achieved. We cannot, as a result of tensions between Iran and the United States, relent in our efforts to fight ISISIntegrated SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) System, giving it a chance to recover. Therefore, it would be a good idea for the main players of the Counter-Daesh Coalition to meet soon in order to decide on further measures. An opportunity would present itself on the margins of the Munich Security Conference in mid-February, for instance. Britain and Germany bear great responsibility within this forum, a responsibility that we accept.
And we are well prepared, because our bilateral cooperation is well-established.
We can tell that from our joint training, for example, which pays off during operations. Every year, hundreds of British and German troops are being trained in their respective host countries.
The stationing of British troops in Germany since World War II has also contributed, as it had a profound, positive influence on our relationship. I am glad that we can continue to count on a British presence in Germany in the future.
Today, here in London, I signed the agreement that the international Invictus Games for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women will be held in Düsseldorf, in Germany, in 2022. We are very happy about that, and there is enormous support in Germany for this event. It also illustrates the trust between Germany and the United Kingdom.
Our armaments cooperation is also increasingly gaining in significance. The fact that we have a reliable A400M today to conduct strategic air transport operations is a result of our joint investment and of the joint know-how of our engineers. The same applies to the Eurofighter, or Typhoon, as it is typically referred to here. I think it is important that we continue to work on such projects together in the future.
This means that Britain cannot be categorically excluded from EU programmes and that we must find workable rules for the participation of third states. Because the guiding principle underlying all measures of the European Union should be to make Europe stronger.
This holds particularly true for the Common Security and Defence Policy. I know that Britain has always been sceptical towards whatever it is that we are doing in Brussels. London has always reminded us that structures and concept papers alone are not enough, but that ultimately, there have to be military capabilities – and the willingness to use them, if necessary. Moreover, London has always reminded us that all European nations only have a “single set of forces”. That we should not wastefully duplicate in the EU what we already have in NATO.
I will say it quite openly: We have always appreciated this admonishing voice in the European debates. And we will miss it in the European Union. I think my country has a responsibility to push even more for a true added value to be created by EU initiatives such as PESCOPermanent Structured Cooperation. This will result in more options for Europe in terms of security and military capabilities. The prerequisite for this is recognising that any measure taken to strengthen the EU must also strengthen NATO.
The transatlantic alliance remains the cornerstone of European security. NATO – and reliable ties with the United States – are indispensable for European defence. This is why it is so important that Germany and Britain continue their committed participation in NATO. For example as a Framework Nation as part of the Framework Nations Concept introduced by Germany, with the aim of establishing operational multinational formations.
I am also convinced, however, that – especially after Brexit – we will need formats beyond NATO for Germany and Britain to conduct an effective exchange on European security. In my opinion, the E3 format consisting of our two countries and France has been very successful. We established it during the Iran nuclear deal negotiations and have revisited it repeatedly ever since. For example as a forum to discuss new approaches to protecting the population and ensuring a safe and autonomous return of refugees after the Turkish military operation in Syria.
With regard to the current situation in Iraq and with a view to continuing the fight against ISISIntegrated SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) System, the E3 format is also serving us well. That is because it is not about bureaucratic rules or excluding other stakeholders, but about finding pragmatic solutions to problems.
I regard the E3 format as an important future link between the mindsets of the EU and NATO. It is more than just another format. It is based on the fundamental conviction that working together makes us stronger. Each one of us is a strong, free and sovereign nation. We will remain free and sovereign, but we will only become stronger if we find more points of contact. If people with different national backgrounds work together towards a common goal.
Like our soldiers do in training and on operations. Like you do at this university.
It is therefore my hope that Britons and Germans join forces to ensure that the next generations of Europeans enjoy freedom and prosperity.
Thank you very much.