2024 will be a Testing Year for Democracy

Federal President Steinmeier welcomed over 150 ambassadors and representatives of international organisations at his traditional New Year Reception

January 11th, 2024
Editorial, News from Berlin
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Just before the turn of the year, a book titled Worte in finsteren Zeiten (Words for dark times) was published. In it, 91 authors and public figures share words of hope and optimism in an attempt to counterbalance a general feeling of helplessness and speechlessness, given the gloomy state of the world.

It is a collection of poems, speeches and essays that are meant to give hope. The book collects writings by Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin and Franz Kafka – the 100th anniversary of whose death we are marking this year – as well as by Dževad Karahasan.

Words of optimism, like those of the French author Georges Perec: It is on a day like this one, a little later, a little earlier, that everything starts, that everything continues.

I am sure you already understand, Excellencies, the inherent power and meaning of language. Without it, one could hardly imagine conducting diplomacy. Part of your job description is finding suitable words for any occasion, whether the message be candid, empathetic or personal. Especially in times like these we need both: not just candour, but also clarification – in view of the tremendous changes taking place around the globe, in view of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the war in the Middle East, the fighting in the Sudan and the Sahel, and the worldwide crises we face. It is your job as ambassadors to create spaces for dialogue and exchange, spaces in which we can look for common ground – and I am sure you all agree with me on this. That is why I am pleased that this year, once again, so many of you have accepted my invitation, so that we can together embark on a fresh, new year of dialogue. I bid you a very warm welcome to Schloss Bellevue. Whether or not we can be hopeful about the new year also lies in the hands of each and every one of us.

The Reception for the Diplomatic Corps is a very nice New Year’s tradition. It, too, is an occasion for which fitting words need to be found, for what is happening in the world. That is part of my job description. Encouraging words, words of hope. As well as candid words, when it comes to the crises and challenges we collectively face.

The brutal terrorist attack of 7 October last year set off a new war in the Middle East. We here in Germany also see the effects of this conflict in the daily life of our communities. You all have certainly felt the impact in your work at the embassies: This war is having a profound emotional impact on people all around the world, including in our country. Germany stands at Israel’s side as it defends itself against terrorism. And Germany is committed to the upholding of international humanitarian law, to the protection of civilian lives and to alleviating the great human suffering in the Gaza Strip. I visited the Middle East recently, in late November, to assure Israel of our unwavering solidarity, and to hold talks in Qatar and Oman regarding the release of the Israeli hostages and possible ways of resolving the conflict. One thing, however, is clear: The only way to have permanent peace in the Middle East is for two independent states to provide for the security and future prospects of Israelis and Palestinians. We must never give up the hope for peace.

In Ukraine, people are already spending their second winter fighting a war against the Russian aggressor. Since the year began, we have again learned through Russia’s massive attacks that Putin will eschew no means in his illegal war against Ukraine. He even has no qualms about attacking civilian targets. On the contrary – it is specifically these attacks that are intended to wear down the population. Putin wants war, not peace. He wants to wipe Ukraine off the map. We continue to stand unwaveringly in solidarity with Ukraine. Germany is Ukraine’s second-largest supporter, and we will continue to work at European level, too, to ensure that Ukraine continues getting the support it needs. You can depend on Germany – that is true now, and it will continue to be true.

We all stand here today because we believe in the power of words and the power of communication. And because we know that there are challenges that we can and must face up to together. The greatest of these is without a doubt climate change, the effects of which are having an ever greater impact all around the world – in particular in countries that themselves contribute least to global warming. Whether it be East Africa, which suffered through its worst drought in 40 years right before being hit by severe flooding; whether it be devastating forest fires that threaten Australia’s unique wildlife; or whether it be deluges of water that wash away entire towns in Europe or threaten to sink island states in the South Seas: it is only by acting together that we will be able to successfully fight climate change and mitigate the dramatic effects of global warming. Since many countries in the world share this view, new alliances are being formed that can give us hope. At COP28, we saw what can be achieved when the international community takes concerted action and focuses on common goals – despite all differences.

Placing our hope in new partnerships that benefit both sides – that is what we, too, want, and it is what you as diplomats want. It is why, this year once again, I will travel to different regions of the world. My first trip abroad this year, in one and a half weeks, will take me back to South Asia, this time to Viet Nam and Thailand. I will also be returning to Africa, the eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region this year. We Germans have a keen interest in maintaining a wide range of partnerships – and I am grateful that many of my points of contact have gathered here today who share this same interest.

Ahead of us lies a year when, also in Europe, the focus will be on increasing cooperation. When it comes to European Parliament elections in the early summer, the democracies of Europe must prove they are robust. They must show they are stronger than the enemies of a united Europe, and stronger than those who believe that withdrawing into our national shell and pulling up the drawbridge is a cure-all answer to global challenges. Only very recently, we gathered in Paris for the funeral of a great European. The former President of the European Commission Jacques Delors, who once called on us to give a soul to Europe.

The UEFA European Championship that is being hosted here in Germany also promises to be a festive international gathering. Here, too, much like in international politics, thorough preparation, having a good team and observing the rules of fair play are key.

No-one knows that better than you, Excellencies! We already proved this last summer while playing penalty shoot-outs at the German Football Museum in Dortmund – although to my knowledge there is no replay footage that can be used as unequivocal evidence.

This year, our joint trip will take us to Brandenburg – that’s what I can tell you at this time. And I very much look forward to our outing. Not only because I myself lived in Brandenburg for many years while I was still an active politician, but also because Brandenburg is one of the five Länder that have been part of the Federal Republic since reunification and that share a special history.

This year, we will focus on the multifaceted history of East and West Germany as we mark both 75 years of our Basic Law and the 35th anniversary of the peaceful revolution. Both the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany and the successful struggle for democracy and freedom in East Germany – as well as German Unity – could never have been achieved without international support, without the trust of our European neighbours. In short, without the power of words and diplomacy. So that is why I already today want to cordially invite you to join us when we celebrate this birthday in May. Come join our celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Basic Law, the bedrock of our democracy!

Allow me to conclude by again expressing my sincere gratitude for the good cooperation we’ve enjoyed over the past year. It’s wonderful that you all are here today. Let us raise our glasses to a healthy New Year!


News from Berlin