Navigation and service

Berlin Address by Federal President Horst Köhler 1 October 2007

Bundespräsident Horst Köhler am Rednerpult vor blauem Hintergrund Berlin, 1 October 2007 Photo: Sandra Steins, BPA © Photo: Sandra Steins, BPA

"People's pursuit of happiness changes the world"

Here in Berlin some of the city's buses sport the slogan "Incredible India - only seven hours away". In reality, India is of course much closer because seven hours are only the flight time for travellers. In reality, India has long been just as close as most other countries: a mere mouse click away, buttons pressed on a telephone, an email from continent to continent. In the 21st century, almost all nations have become one another's neighbours. They are connected by rapidly growing flows of people, knowledge, images, goods and money.

We are all seeing and experiencing every day how the economic, political and cultural spheres of our lives are increasingly affecting and permeating one another around the world. Globalization is the word we tend to use here. Yet we have highly diverging views on the causes and consequences of globalization and how to assess it.

However we Germans need more clarity on globalization to be able to live self-determined lives. It is essential for political self-determination to bring our interests and values to bear in the international process to shape change; otherwise we lose our influence on it. Similarly, it is essential for political self-determination to prepare Germany for globalization at domestic level and in so doing fairly distribute the opportunities and burdens; otherwise our failure to do so will determine our fate. And it is in the interest of the personal self-determination of each and every one of us to consider what the change means in our own lives, how we can lend shape to it at that level and how we can at the same time preserve our own identity.

Globalization is neither a natural phenomenon nor simply the result of technical advances. It has been driven for centuries by peaceful trade and change. It is a process that is politically desired and has been purposely accelerated by opening markets and creating international institutions. It then received an added boost with the disappearance of the Iron Curtain and the arrival of China and India in the global economy. Through their work and aspirations, billions of people are furthering the process. Their pursuit of happiness is permeating and changing the world.

These changes are a source of concern for many people in the Western industrialized nations. They wonder if our states can continue to offer people what they need for freedom, work, prosperity and a fair deal for all members of society. Do they have the strength to impose rules on the developing global economy and effectively tackle problems such as cross-border environmental pollution and organized crime? Does globalization ultimately endanger our entire social model?

Such questions are legitimate. After all, the pressure of global competition is putting much to the test, whether businesses or the circumspection and effectiveness of all government action. There can be no doubt that there is social hardship, yet we remain a state based on social justice. Similarly we are not seeing a downward spiral in Western industrialized nations as far as public revenue or environmental protection is concerned. Drawing comparisons within Europe makes clear: Firstly, a state based on social justice which continually invests in the skills of its people is not a burden but a boon in international competition. There remains considerable scope here for different constellations in each country for example in terms of labour market, tax and social policy. Secondly, monetary stability and international trade provide better prerequisites for policy based on social justice than inflation and isolation. Thirdly, decisions on the distribution of prosperity can largely still be made at domestic level. Fourthly, some nations are clearly adapting cleverly and quickly to global change. They are restructuring the state to make it less of a care-provider and more of an activator that works to meet the challenges of the future. Where this works, societies are outward-looking and confident.

Studies also prove that across the broad spectrum of social models we have between Sweden and the United States, people all over the world feel that what the Western democracies are doing for their people and the possibilities thereby opened up are attractive and worth emulating.

All our experience shows that lasting economic success needs legal security, social consensus, well-trained and hard-working people enjoying their full scope to develop as well as good infrastructure. The more of this a country can offer, the more successful it is in globalization and the more it can help to structure that process. That is precisely why the state based on the rule of law, freedom and social justice has a future. It has become neither slow to act nor superfluous. At both international and domestic level, it is the most important player when it comes to tapping the opportunities of global change, limiting its risks and sharing the unavoidable burdens in a socially just fashion. In the face of the dispute between sectional interests, it remains the most important structure for deciding, based on democratic legitimacy, what is in the local and global interest.

It has also been predicted that globalization would impoverish developing countries more and more, that suffering there would become ever greater, working conditions ever worse, exploitation ever more brutal. But the reality is different. There has been a marked drop in infant mortality in most developing countries, while life expectation has increased by years. Never before have such large sections of the global population enjoyed such major leaps in living standards as in the last twenty or thirty years. In China alone, almost half a billion people have worked their way out of dire poverty since 1980. Child labour is on the decline. The proportion of the global population who can neither read nor write has dropped significantly and women have much better access to education. No state can any longer afford to ignore human rights, even if, unfortunately, they are far from being implemented everywhere. The most serious human rights violations are increasingly being punished by international courts. Even if the work is far from over - all in all globalization has triggered major progress in the poorer countries. For countless people, this is a real blessing.

The peaceful and fair competition between nations is certainly not always straightforward but it does generate inexhaustible strength. The decisive task for the 21st century is to channel this strength in such a way that it benefits all. Only if we can shape globalization in this way can we fight poverty, violence, environmental degradation and lawlessness around the world. We need a development policy for the entire planet.

A large part of humanity continues to live in deepest poverty. With its population of some one billion, the whole of Africa has for example no more income at its disposal than the some 20 million people in Bavaria and Lower Saxony. This poverty and weakness has two main causes: not being able to share sufficiently in globalization - mainly because of a lack of economic power and good governance - and being disadvantaged by states and private players who pursue their own interests with no regard for others.

That is the ugly side of globalization, the ruthlessness of the mighty, and unfortunately Europe plays a part here. For decades, Europe, too, used development aid primarily as an instrument of the Cold War and a way of promoting the export industry without really asking what people in the respective countries actually needed. Europe, too, is erecting trade barriers against developing countries, flooding them with food at dumping prices - at the expense of taxpayers here - and thereby destroying the very livelihood of rural societies. Europe, too, is fishing Africa's coasts dry and when criticized takes callous pleasure in pointing to agreements concluded. And then Europe reacts with surprise, pity and annoyance when more and more Africans make their way across the sea in their cockleshells to find an alternative to poverty and suffering.

I believe Europe should place its relations with poorer countries on a new foundation - also, incidentally, in its own interest. We do know that the development task for our planet is going to increase as a result of global population growth from a current six and half billion people to presumably more than nine billion by 2050. All of them have the right to food, clean water, education and perspectives which allow them to live in dignity. And they have the right to the same respect that we expect others to pay us.

The era of unilateralism is over. No government will be able to increase the well-being of its people in the long term without taking account of others. Those who believe they can force their will on other nations will meet fierce opposition. Those who damage the climate are harming people's livelihoods and will see that the majority will not put up with it in the long term. Those who trample on human rights, attack other states or harbour terrorists are losing power and respect. Those who harass minorities or disadvantage immigrants at national level, are losing credibility at international level. Those who live at the expense of others will at some stage be left standing alone. And those who exploit, corner or cheat others face the wrath of all because everyone is observing everyone else and, what is more, is communicating with everyone else about it.

It is truly much more reasonable to take the friendly approach. As the African proverb goes, "A smile is the shortest distance between two people". Those who promote shared interests and play fair, those who also want others to be successful, win trust and enjoy success in the long term. This is something every respectable businessman knows. It is in line with basic ethic standards. It is the aim of international law and is reflected by the elements shared by the world religions. Law, reason and faith all say the same: treat others like you would like to be treated yourself.

Of course, everyone isn't about to become brothers, that would be much too hard work. But the nations of the world are more than just a business community. They have become a community with a common destiny and for that reason also finally have to become a community which shares responsibility and learns together. Only then will planet earth remain inhabitable.

Even in the best case, this will not be the dawn of eternal peace. Educating one another to act in friendship takes time and there is always the dispute between legitimate interests. After all, confidence does not mean blind confidence and friendship does not mean agreeing to be exploited. Friendship does include the determination to punish violations of the rules quickly and severely. But even there we need to make clear: despite the conflicts of interests, let us not forget that we live in one world and that we need fair play instead of meanness, bread and books instead of arms, respect instead of arrogance!

The quickest way of helping the poorer countries of the world would be to put an end to the double standards in world trade policy. The current rules and practices make it difficult for these countries to become integrated into the world economy and are indeed preferential to certain sectors in the rich nations. This is very expensive for Northern taxpayers and consumers, and deprives the developing countries of urgently needed revenue. For example, the industrialized states spend almost one billion US dollars on agricultural subsidies every day. They also give the African states one billion dollars in agricultural assistance - per year.

A further obstacle hindering development by the poor countries is the industrialized nations' policy of imposing much higher customs duties on manufactured goods than on raw materials. This makes it hard for developing countries to establish their own manufacturing industries, which would provide more jobs and more income for the local population.

Granting the developing countries improved access to the markets of the industrialized states would be the best way to help them help themselves. Development cooperation must have the aim of nurturing the full potential of the indigenous talents and skills of the developing coun¬tries. And the countries' natural wealth must first and foremost benefit their own peoples. That is why we urgently need a pro-development world trade order.

The African countries have, with their New Partnership for Africa's Development (NePAD), invited the community of nations to work with them in a spirit of partnership. NePAD is expressly based on the self-imposed targets of peace and security, democracy, the rule of law and good governance, regional cooperation and integration in the world economy. The international community should view this overture as a chance for us all. It presupposes cooperation on the basis of equality. All participants will have to live up to their oft repeated words.

Just how urgently humanity is in need of cooperation is shown by climate change. It threatens everyone on the planet. Even if the areas we live in were not affected by desertification, storm tides and hurricanes, we would be affected by the flood of victims arriving from places that were. Both sides therefore have to acknowledge the problem and the need to take action. The industrialized states must dramatically reduce their emissions through improved technology and a change of lifestyle. And the emerging economies and developing countries have to find ways to improve living standards without their emissions increasing to match those of the industrialized nations today. This can be done if we work together, and at a fraction of the cost that would be incurred if the impending damage were to occur. I am convinced that the need to find new technologies to reduce pollution and use energy and resources more effi¬ciently will, in conjunction with scientific progress, lead to a new industrial revolution. Germany has every chance of setting the pace of change. This will demand focused effort, but it will also create new prosperity and jobs.

We will only be able to shape globalization to benefit everyone if we strengthen the United Nations. It is this organization that provides the natural and legitimate framework for a development policy for the entire planet. The United Nations is the indispensable platform from which to break free of the logic of war and pave the way for the "ethics and legality of non-violent con¬flict settlement" (Carl-Friedrich von Weizsäcker). Let us therefore roll up our sleeves and press ahead with the reform process begun by Kofi Annan. At stake is the coherence and focus of the policies of the United Nations. The triad of development, security and human rights must be viewed as a single whole and all political actions must be aimed at implementing it as such. However, all this will only happen if the larger states in particular have the will and strength to forge a new, cooperative brand of world politics.

Much could already be done if the various United Nations institutions were better coordinated and could thus make "delivering as one" a reality. And it is high time that the work of the interna¬tional financial organizations, the International Labour Organization and the World Trade Organization was linked more closely with that of the United Nations. Under the chair of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the heads of the major international organizations should draw up guidelines on how best to reconcile the various dimensions of economic, ecological and social development. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals should be taken as an important foundation for this endeavour.

It is also high time to give the emerging economies and developing countries a greater say in the decision-making of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The European Union could help achieve this by taking the far-sighted step of consolidating the voting rights of its Member States under a single directorship in each institution. In my experience this would tend to strengthen rather than diminish the influence of the European Union in these organizations.

Charles Mackay published his "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" in London in 1841. The book was reissued as a paperback in 1995 because it was so highly topical. The first chapters focus on incidents from the world of business and finance, including the "tulip mania" that gripped 17th century Holland. Tulips were a new discov¬ery from the Orient and had become so fashionable that the price rocketed sky high - making it possible to buy a house in Amsterdam for a handful of bulbs. Anyone could have known that the prices were purely speculative and that a bulb really could not cost much more than the price of growing it. But avarice and foolishness are old allies, and when the bulb market finally collapsed, many people lost everything.

The cast and scenery may change, but this same plot has been recycled time and again. We've just seen it happen with banks and mortgages. Of course, the international financial markets have significantly contributed to the growth of the world economy over the past two decades. But in view of their rapid expansion and complexity, there are certain questions to which we need firm answers: Where do the risks lie in these markets? How can we keep them under control? Who ultimately bears the risk should a crisis occur?

More and more people want to use the international capital markets as a way of saving for their retirement. If they are to do this, they must be able to rely on these markets. In this case, the markets must in turn be sufficiently amenable to political control and accountability for politicians to perform their supervisory functions. For what may be a simple loss to the relevant financial players can mean disaster to the individuals who have lost the bulk of their private retirement funds. And nobody can rule out the possibility that the next crisis on the international financial markets might cause massive damage to the world economy - and thereby to the work and income of people around the globe. It is probably best that we do not globalize the attitude so prevalent in the Rhineland: "Things have always worked out all right so far".

We have to know more about what goes on on the financial markets and the impact they have on the real economy. We therefore need an independent, competent institution that operates across national boundaries and is responsible for the stability of the international financial system as a whole. This should in my opinion be the prime mission of the International Mone¬tary Fund in the world of the 21st century.

Private sector activity has a significant impact on globalization. This is both desirable and indispensable. But the freedom to influence globalization also brings responsibility. This freedom may not be exercised without taking account of the global common good. That is why it is a good thing that the International Labour Organization is formulating basic standards to guarantee fair working conditions. We also need binding international agreements which, for example, make oil revenues more transparent, stop illegal logging in the rainforests and end the trade in blood diamonds. I am delighted that some 3,500 companies are already cooperating voluntarily with the United Nations under the Global Compact in order to foster respect for human rights, environmental protection and the observance of labour and social standards, and to advance the fight against corruption. A crucial contribution is also made by non-govern¬mental organizations, which together with the media, the trade unions and responsible consumers, campaign for the enforcement of human rights and bring globalization into line with the idea of sustainability. I can only encourage and beg everybody to support such initiatives.

The test of our credibility starts at home. So, what is Germany doing, and what is Europe doing, to shape globalization?

I believe that the world expects more of us Europeans than we are currently offering. It is thought that we have considerable strength and drive, but also that we treat our partners with respect and give others a fair chance. I think that Europe can and should play a far more active role in identifying the path that will lead to a worldwide community based on shared values and dedicated to peace. This path exists. It steers a course between the illusion that growing prosperity will automatically lead to the spread of democracy and the rule of law, and the fear of a clash of civilizations. We Europeans will admittedly only be able to contribute effectively if we manage increasingly to speak with a single voice on the fundamental issues of life.

Europe has experienced more wars, ideologies, fanaticism and crimes than many other parts of the world. It has perhaps grown slightly wearier than other places, more sceptical, but it has surely gained a bit of wisdom on the way. We can tell the world about our community which transcends the machinations of Empire and self-serving states. We can tell the world about our positive experience of personal liberty, about diversity as we live it, about our way of combining market forces with social justice, and about the successful transition made by various states after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. The world would be poorer without the European per¬spective on things. And it is therefore our duty to share this perspective with others.

We in turn can reflect on aspects that are stressed more strongly by our non-European partners, such as the individual's ties to the community, the value of respecting authority and the relationship between freedom, responsibility and truth to oneself. Many societies around the world are struggling to strike the right balance between these values. We Europeans, too, should clarify for ourselves and for others what we are serious about, what we feel bound by and what we will do in order to be true to ourselves.

Roman Herzog gave the very first Berlin Address ten years ago. Today we know that a jolt has gone around the world. In every corner of the globe, nations are gearing up for the global changes and international cooperation resembles a huge construction site where consultations, planning, renovations and extensions are taking place wherever you look.

What is Germany's contribution? First of all, we have much to offer - a constitution which is conducive to international cooperation, membership of the European Union and the key international organizations, trustworthiness. We have learned the lessons from the dark chapters of our past and proven our talent for freedom. Our achievements in rebuilding our country, our economic clout and our readiness to provide assistance have brought us worldwide recognition. Germany has a reputation for fairness and reliability.

We can build on that. Now more than ever, our task is to shape international cooperation by contributing good ideas and showing strong and well-coordinated commitment. Advancing international cooperation in spheres where one state acting on its own would have little chance of success, as well as creating legal certainty in the extended scope for action which German citizens and businesses now enjoy worldwide thanks to globalization, can almost be regarded as a mandate of our Basic Law. We can contribute much towards promoting good international legislation as well as towards helping to shape globalization in a way that benefits everyone - provided we have a sufficient number of well-trained personnel available and we know what we want.

But do we? Have we sufficiently thought through the tasks and links within and between foreign, security and development policy in the current international situation? Have we looked at them as a whole and ensured that they are solidly financed? And should our domestic debate not focus much more on the interaction between events in Germany and in the rest of the world, as well as on the question as to what has to be done in Germany if we are to remain well-placed in the world and to play an active role in its development?

Certainly, both can only succeed on the basis of a vibrant economy and society and not at their expense. What is our record so far, and what still remains to be done?

First of all, we Germans in particular have benefited from globalization. The fact that we succeeded in reconstructing our country after the Second World War and are now top of the international export league is largely thanks to our country's integration into the global economy. Today we enjoy an unprecedented level of prosperity.

However, it also has to be said that the inequality in the distribution of income in Germany has increased - not least because income from capital has risen much more than wages. Job security has diminished and people's working lives are subject to change and flux. Many Western industrialized nations are experiencing a similar development. Wages are under pressure because global competition has become tougher and because technological advances have been making an increasing number of simple jobs redundant. Although Germany's broad middle class continues to do quite well, there is an increasing fear of social decline and many people from low-income and less well-educated backgrounds cannot advance without assistance. I draw four conclusions from this. Firstly, in the past we only accepted growing inequality in income because the overall standard of living was rising for everyone. That has to remain the case. Some members of society cannot be allowed to advance at the expense of others! Secondly, employees should have a greater share in the profits and capital of the companies they work for. This would provide them with an additional source of income. Thirdly, those who fall on hard times through no fault of their own should continue to be able to rely on a social network and should receive effective assistance to enable them to get back on their feet quickly. And fourthly, everyone must finally be given a truly equal opportunity to receive a good education, as well as to achieve economic success and social advancement. Education is the key to social justice and social mobility.

It is also true to say that global competition is speeding up economic structural changes and is fostering a situation where people with few qualifications are particularly prone to unemployment. At the same time, we can see that branches such as mechanical engineering or medical technology are benefiting from the demand in the emerging economies and are thus finding it increasingly difficult to find sufficient qualified workers.

Astute observers are therefore claiming that the real conflict when it comes to globalization is not between rich and poor countries, for all countries can benefit from fair trade and the international division of labour. Rather, the actual conflict is within countries, between the winners and losers of structural change.

This development is not new. Technological progress, changes in consumer habits and competition among companies have always resulted in job losses. The mechanization of agriculture, for example, forced many hundreds of thousands of farmers and agricultural workers from the land. We have to accept structural change as part and parcel of a modern and successful economy - not only as a burden on those directly affected, whom we have to help, but much more as an opportunity, for such changes modernize a country and thus create new means of preserving prosperity and social protection. We all have to be prepared to embrace lifelong learning and to adapt time and again to new situations. And I would like to encourage the affluent in our country to do more for the common good, for example by getting involved in community foundations.

But everything depends on the actual and steady creation of new, competitive jobs which can be quickly filled with well-trained workers. This task can be mastered. The rapid fall in the unemployment rate in recent times is not only due to the favourable development of the global economy and to moderate collective agreements. The bold reforms carried out during the last few years have also played a major role. Today much lower economic growth suffices to create new jobs. This points the way ahead. I believe that full employment is possible in Germany. Let us put every effort into achieving this goal.

It would certainly be foolish to shut international competition out of Germany and Europe. Protectionism would safeguard structures which are no longer up-to-date and have to be made more efficient. Moreover, I suspect that those countries whose products we shut out would pay us back in kind and hamper our exports. Then our domestic economy would be weakened in that very area where it is particularly successful and where new jobs are being created. Isolationism is thus clearly not the solution. It would diminish our prosperity and ultimately lead to our decline, not to mention intellectual and cultural impoverishment.

Our task therefore is not to be successful against globalization but, rather, in and with it. Are we in good enough shape for this? The sober analysis of Germany's ability to meet the challenges of the future as set forth for example in the 2006 report published by the Social Science Research Centre Berlin highlights weaknesses: Germany's education system is not performing as well as those of some other Western industrialized states. A comprehensive overview of education, labour market and family policy reveals that Germany is not an effective and future-oriented state based on social justice at present. Many of the existing structures restrict rather than broaden citizens' scope for action. Above all, our country is finding it difficult to resolve current and new problems quickly and sustainably because the philosophy behind its foundation has created a political system which is not particularly fond of change and not particularly willing to learn. Mind you, none of the independent academics involved are calling for drastic changes. But they do state [I quote]: "Any measures taken are usually insufficient to make Germany fit for the future. What we need are reinforced efforts to coordinate, elaborate and push through priorities which make possible more productive solutions. What we need is a greater shift of priorities from the present to the future". [End of quote] Anyone who cares about Germany's future cannot be left cold by these findings. And they show that the world is not to blame for our weaknesses - we often stand in our own way!

But the progress achieved shows that these efforts are worthwhile. However, we must not stop halfway when it comes to renewal. We need both: agreement on the goals Germany wants to reach in everyone's interest and the effective commitment this will require from all decision-makers in the Federation, Länder, local communities, business and society. Common goals combined with decentralized competences: that should be the advantage of our federal system. Let us prove it!

For example, what is our strategy and what action are we taking to finally create the best possible educational opportunities for everyone, double the number of young engineers and triple the number of excellent academic achievements? Have we even set such goals? What would be the result if Germany really were to make every effort in the spheres of education and science? For example, would we offer Year Two pupils five lessons more per week? Would the proportion of young people wanting to study triple? Would we add another fifty cents to every euro the state and business currently spend on education and training? All of that would be necessary in order to be among the top OECD countries when it comes to education and science.

In order to take advantage of the opportunities presented to us by globalization we will, first of all and indeed above all, have to be ahead in the competition among knowledge societies for advances and innovation. At any rate, globalization will not prevent us from putting our house into order - it merely highlights how necessary it is. It is up to us.

I repeat, this is not about drastic changes. But we do need unceasing efforts to gradually make our country fit for the future. This will require self-reflection. What is estimable about Germany? What is worth preserving, also for future generations? We need to devote more attention to what gives us grounding and guidance - not with our backs turned to the rest of the world and in splendid isolation but in the realization of how much any active participation in the world depends on having a firmly established place in it. For no-one can feel at home in the global drift. Living together in harmony here in Germany enables us to play an active role in the world. Living together in harmony depends above all on giving, not taking, on commitment rather than resignation, on active citizenship rather than self-pity.

And what about each individual? What can we do in order to meet all these new challenges? - Much. First of all, we must not allow ourselves to be crushed by the pressure of the world, to be confused and overtaxed by the flood of images. Rather, we should focus on what is really important to us and know how we can influence this with our own actions. Indeed, learning and knowledge are crucial, for those who know nothing have to believe everything. Then, we should be inquisitive, sound out chances, have confidence in our own abilities, dive into the growing market of opportunities where there are so many good things to discover. We should engage with our globalized world, the lives and ideas of people in other countries.

Finally, we should take advantage of our own possibilities. We should vote, get involved and constantly inquire how things stand in relation to one another. And we should not only vote at elections: a recent article on working conditions in a Chinese toy factory stated: "The real boss of the "blood and sweat factories" is the bargain." We should therefore use our power as consumers to choose good and fair-trade products. We should stubbornly resist changing fashions, supposed constraints and secret seductions and, above all, be aware of not just the price but also the value. We should take good care of what money cannot buy: family, friends and good neighbours. We should test and extend our own limits - by playing sport, exercising our brains and taking part in further training. We should seek orientation and grounding - for example by experiencing nature or turning our attention to art, music and literature. And time and again, we should act with confidence to improve things a little every day. For globalization is simply life. It has to be shaped through day-to-day work and imagination, through untiring efforts and cheerful enthusiasm. That is what we are about, and it can change the world for the better. Let us rise to the challenge!