Address by Ambassador Andreas Michaelis at the 71th Königswinter Conference 2021

Ambassador Andreas Michaelis

Ambassador Andreas Michaelis, © German Embassy London


Opening this year's Königswinter Conference, Ambassador Andreas Michaelis focussed on the Covid pandemic and geopolitical shifts, on climate change and  the post-Brexit reality.

Lord Frost,

Ambassador Horstmann, Sir Michael (Arthur),

Members of Parliament,

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren Mitglieder des Deutschen Bundestages,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Königswinter Conference is special!

It’s a pleasure for me to have this opportunity to return to the Königswinter Conference.

Königswinter is one the most – if not the most – well-established and influential bilateral conference in German politics. On the one hand, this might be because of its long-standing tradition: with 71 years of age, Königswinter has surpassed the working age of most humans.

Yet, I believe more important for the success of Königswinter is its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Having been founded shortly after the atrocities of the Second World War, Königswinter not only lived through substantial changes in its surroundings, the Königswinter Conferences were privileged fora to discuss these changes and our response to them. And yet again, Königswinter will – I am sure – adapt successfully to the circumstances that surround us in the summer of 21. These circumstances present quite a bit of change indeed.

In my opening remark, I would like to focus on three dynamics that currently change German and British lives and policy-making: (1) the Covid pandemic and geopolitical shifts, (2) Climate Change and (3) the post-Brexit reality. Certainly, what all three topics have in common is the need to adapt to a new reality on a multilateral Level.

Global Environment has changed dramatically: the Covid pandemic and geopolitical shifts

Change is characteristic for the global environment we live in. In fact, looking back at the past few years, it seems fair to say that the defining parameters changed seldom more quickly. Covid has profoundly altered the lives of German and British people. It reminded us how connected and inter-dependent the world has become, from travelling to supply chains. And all of this comes on top of the greatest challenge of this century: transforming the way we are living to protect the climate!

The pandemic illustrates the consequences of finding coordinated solutions – or the consequences of failing to do so. The global vaccine initiative GAVI and the COVAX Facility are a good example for that. Without multilateral cooperation on distributing vaccines to all continents and countries, the success of the vaccination campaign is at risk as new variants may emerge at any moment. Assisting less well-off countries is therefore not only a moral obligation, it is also an absolute necessity. The G7 summit has made that quite clear.

When we look at the international policy environment the G7 summit has also made clear that we better get ready for some geopolitical shifts and fundamental changes in our foreign policy environment. The coming months and years will be different.

First and foremost: the US is back! But - let us be honest - we do not know yet how this translates into concrete action and policy. China has become a variable in most equations of international policy. It will not disappear from our agenda again, but we cannot spell out in detail what that means for our joint policy approaches and alliance strategies. The EU will have to face up to many challenges to its foreign and security policy. The Union is only too aware that the available arsenal to do this is not very impressive. We clearly have to invest into our capacity, instruments and structures in order to become an able foreign and security policy actor. The next years will be decisive in this regard. France and Germany will set the agenda for this effort. They will do this while holding very important national elections. The focus will of course not just be on CSDP. It will be far more comprehensive and touch on many other policy areas of the EU. We will have to see how and at what level these trends become relevant for the relationship of the EU and Germany to the UK.

COP 26

Next to the sudden changes caused by Covid and geopolitical shifts, there is also a more gradual change process. And this has reached a decisive point -  climate change. It bears the danger of being underestimated as its consequences – as grave as they are – only become visible step-by-step. However, it seems like in the summer of 21 the warning bells are finally being heard.

We greatly appreciate that the UK is hosting the COP-26 conference. You can count on our support to make this conference a success. Germany fully shares the goal to build on the Paris Accord and enhance its rulebook. We need to define a credible path to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

Germany strongly welcomes the thematic campaigns introduced by the UK for COP 26 and their contribution to tangible progress on sectoral transformation. We are and will continue to contribute substantively to the campaigns.

Global goals and rules are necessary but they will not suffice. Many tools will be needed to reach our ambitious goal in time, with none of them working unilaterally. For instance, we need to build infrastructure that allows us to exchange renewable energy when needed, as Germany and Norway just did last month with a new 630km grid.

The increased dynamism in international climate policy is encouraging and gives rise to hope that we will be able to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. The latest figures show that thanks to recent NDC submissions, global warming might be limited to only 2.4 °C instead of 3 °C or more. This is still way too much, but it shows that progress is possible. 1,5 °C must be our lodestar. That is why ambitious new NDCs and long-term goals are one of the critical issues for COP 26.

Another interesting observation is a perceived trend in environmental court rulings. Within the last weeks, the German constitutional court required the government to lay out the long-term plan for climate protection in greater detail. In the Netherlands, a court spelled out greater responsibility to protect the climate with regard to the company “Shell”. These developments suggest that governments are increasingly under pressure to act – be it because of civil society or, as in this case, because of court rulings.

The German government reacted with resolve to the ruling of the constitutional court and increased our national climate targets from 55% to 65% for 2030, to 88% by 2040 and we want to get climate neutral already by 2045 instead of 2050. We also included clearer guidance for emission reduction pathways after 2030. This is a tall order. The next German government will have to define the policies which allow us to reach these targets.

The post-Brexit reality

This brings me to the third topic: the post-Brexit reality. In an important way this amounts to relations between the EU and the UK and bilateral relations between Germany and the UK.

Let me be very clear about an important point. My government fully accepts that Brexit has happened. We need to move on. We are not going to repeat the mistake of Orpheus. There is no point in looking back and bathe in sentimental feelings about the past. The past is the past and we need to find a new way to structure and live the important partnership between the UK and Germany. In a pragmatic and energetic way.

We should move obstacles away. We should mobilise our civil societies. We should define the principles and structure – the platform as it were – on which we want to base our cooperation. The earlier we come up with a road map for the development of our bilateral relationship the better for its quality.

Let me add to the post-Brexit pragmatism and realism that guides us: we are, of course, respecting British sovereignty and Union. And so are our partners in the EU. I would not dwell on this if it wasn't for questions being asked recently. Well, sometimes you have to state the obvious. It is, however, also true that we would save ourselves a lot of time if the obvious was not repeatedly being questioned.

It is encouraging that we have managed to agree on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement! One year ago, many people would not have betted on this breakthrough. The TCA is a very comprehensive agreement and a good basis for future relations between the EU and the UK.

But this can only be the start! What we need now is full implementation. This is true for the TCA as well as the Withdrawal Agreement – including its Protocol on Ireland/ Northern Ireland. The protocol was the outcome of negotiations between the UK and the EU – and its full implementation is the only way to secure the Good Friday Agreement and peace and stability in Northern Ireland, while at the same time protecting the integrity of the EU’s single market. This is our firm conviction!

What we need to do now is to fully implement it. In my view, we should de-politicise the question and deal with the open questions in the relevant technical fora.

Hence, we fully support the European Commission’s pragmatic approach and constructive proposals. Unilateral decisions are never very useful when it comes to bilateral relations.

Not only in NI do we notice numerous complications in cross-border activities in daily life. From fishery to migration, from research to security and defence – some of these might be “teething problems”. But many of these are a direct consequence of Brexit. They are structural problems that will remain and that we have to deal with – and the TCA and the Withdrawal Agreement are the basis for it.

Within the next year, we need to put great effort into dealing with these distortions and finding pragmatic solutions where possible. Otherwise, people, businesses and academia will become frustrated and seek their fortune elsewhere. The close ties that took decades to be built shall not be eroded by daily frustrations. Generating new ideas to these problems is one of the strengths of Königswinter!

One area in which I would very much appreciate finding new approaches is the exchange between young people. Experiencing a different country - its language, people and culture – in a young age can shape our view on each other. Probably many of you have had the pleasure to make such an experience or exchange at some point. One possibility could be to open the UK’s Youth Mobility Scheme to EU citizens.

Corona, Climate Change and a new structure for our bilateral relations are but a few topics that require our shared attention. Many other areas will require British-German cooperation to no lesser extent. Allow me to mention just a few:

Regarding China, we need to maintain our multifaceted approach: China is a strategic partner, a competitor, and a systemic rival. China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, a lack of reciprocity as well as fundamental differences in values make this increasingly difficult. At the same time, however, we face global challenges – think of climate change again! - that we cannot overcome without this partnership.  This is also how we approach China in our transatlantic cooperation.

Regarding NATO, it is important to adapt the Alliance to current and emerging challenges, while not losing sight of its core tasks. In order to achieve this, strengthening the Alliance’s political dimension, based on our common values, must go hand in hand with a sustained investment to maintain NATO’s technological edge. Ambitious and strengthened NATO-EU cooperation remains a priority for us, as well. Our countries can significantly contribute to these goals by working together on implementing the 2030 agenda and when updating the Strategic Concept.

With a view to the transatlantic relationship, US-President Biden has just been to the G7 meeting in Cornwall, the NATO summit and the EU-US summit in Brussels. His key message was that the US remain committed to our joint security and will work closely with us to tackle the most important global challenges. We should pick up this revitalised outreach to partners and jointly shape solutions contributing to Euro-Atlantic security.

Against this background, we continue to regret that it was not possible to agree on a structured EU-UK cooperation in the area of foreign and security policy. We continue to believe that this would be an important step forward.

Why does this matter? It matters because it shapes the way we are approaching things in the context of the regional and international dimension.

As Germans and as Europeans we favour what I would call “Deep Alliances”. For us, the EU is a deep alliance. Deep alliances are very different from what can be called “Ad-hoc or functional alliances”. These are more short lived, purpose built. Ad-hoc alliances are characterised by weak institutional foundations. Deep alliances, on the other hand, work in a way that once you feel antagonised by alliance policy or even partners, once you are fed up and would like to walk away, you stay.

The question that needs to be asked and answered over and above the bilateral quality of our relationship is, therefore, the following: Can we enter into a deep alliance with the UK post Brexit? And if the answer is 'Yes', in which way will this be done.

Whatever the answer to this question, we can certainly count on our established trusted relationship as well as shared values. They include the rule of law, democracy, human rights, free speech, free trade, social and environmental responsibility, and, crucially, support for a liberal rules-based international order.

These values are shared by the UK, Germany and the EU. They are guiding principles also for our external actions.

In this spirit: FCDO and the Auswärtiges Amt are preparing a Joint Declaration of Intent to be signed by the German Foreign Minister and the British Foreign Secretary. Its goal is to establish a regular Strategic Dialogue on foreign policy. The idea is also to compensate the loss of daily interaction in Brussels. The purpose of the Joint Declaration is to state our joint values, principles and also objectives in international relations and to create a regular exchange on foreign policy to facilitate coordinated and joint policies.

Of course, impact of government-to-government dialogue is limited with regard to furthering of bilateral relations. What counts are our civil societies. They need to be in touch. But are we paying attention to each other in the summer of 21?

There is quite a lot of attention in the German media about what happens in the UK. Vice versa, I would say, that is slightly different. The coverage of the upcoming elections for the Bundestag are an indicator. However, this is not altogether new. I think we are not too far from the truth if we say: the average Briton and the average German don't wake up in the morning wondering about how things are going in Germany, or in the UK for that matter. For some this may be good news. People stay relaxed and don't get too excited when it comes to the quality of the relationship between our two countries. For us at Königswinter, however, this is not at all good news. We need active support and interest if we are going to preserve and stimulate our cooperation. We, therefore, need to look more carefully at the specific focus of our civil societies. Are there signs of exhaustion after many years of intense Brexit debate? Is there less interest today? Have we closed the Brexit chapter without opening or even writing the next chapter?

We need a real effort in stepping-up other areas of our bilateral activities which rely on a wide variety of actors, such as civil-society and business. This includes the Königswinter Conference! Our responsibility as governments is to provide the opportunities for our societies to interact. The Königswinter Conference is the ideal forum to provide us with our homework – I am looking forward to the discussions.

As a final remark, I was informed that the Königswinter Conference will soon experience another kind of change – albeit a regrettable one. This year will be the final conference under the leadership of Sir Michael Arthur as well as Ambassador Hans-Henning Horstmann. You put so many years of great effort into making Königswinter such a unique forum of bilateral exchange. In the name of countless participants over these years: thank you very much for your passion to constantly nurture British-German relations!

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