Speech by the High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the Willy Brandt Lecture 2016

Speech by the High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the Willy Brandt Lecture 2016 – “United we must stand. The European Union in testing times” at the Humboldt University of Berlin

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President, Professor,


It is really, really an honour for me to be here with you. You cannot imagine how much I feel this emotion of being here with you today hosted by Humboldt, one of the world’s most prestigious universities, the Willy Brandt Foundation and to hold this year’s Willy Brandt Lecture.

I can only be humbled to follow in the steps of my friend Jan Eliasson [Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations], my mentor, a great Italian President, a great European, a great friend of Germany, Giorgio Napolitano, and all the other great men who spoke during the previous Willy Brandt Lectures. And I said “men” because I understand I am the first woman to receive this honour – I thank you for that, I hope this will open the way for many other women to follow my steps.

One of the previous lecturers – the Nobel Peace Prize winner [Mohamed] ElBaradei – described Willy Brandt as, I quote, “a man of vision and realism.” Vision and realism. These two words often go together when we talk about a previous generation of European leaders. Tonight, I would like to talk about both of these qualities – vision and realism – and why they are incredibly needed in today’s Europe. And let me mention that I believe just today Pope Francis recalled to all of us the need for strong visionary leadership in our continent.

But before I get to that, I would like to spend just a few words on the place where we are. It might be normal for you, but it is not so normal for me. It gives me a very special feeling to be so close to the Brandenburg Gate, and on this side of the Gate. It is hard, very hard for someone from my generation, to believe that just over 25 years ago, the only human presence on this square were military patrols. And I believe all the young people sitting around us have the same kind of feeling. A wall was built right here, at the heart of Europe, and it was not that long ago.

I have a feeling that most of us, Europeans, are forgetting about that. Certainly not the Berliners, probably – probably – not the majority of the Germans, but the majority of Europeans, I feel, is starting to lose this memory. The memory is beginning to fade. The memory of the wall, the memory of division right in the heart of Europe. The stories of those who managed to flee from DDR [Deutsche Demokratische Republik]. The fear, real fear of military confrontation right here in Europe, only a few decades ago.

In November 1989 I was sixteen years old. I was in high school and that is more or less the age when I began to look at the world and try to understand politics – and the Italian politics is never easy to understand – but also to question what happens around you. And my understanding of Europe begins exactly at that time with the fall of the Berlin wall. It begins with a continent, a city, a country finally reunited and free.

And I remember very well that day. I felt – maybe for the first time – truly European. Just a few years later we would hear for the first time the name European Union. For my generation, the European Union is an open Brandenburg Gate. It is the end of border controls, the Erasmus. It is the reunification of Germany, the Single Market, the freedom from fear of yet another war. For my generation, the European unity, Union, is the reality of a dream of peace and freedom coming true. And my generation lived somehow the luxury of the European Union.

Today the European Union integration is the indispensable factor we need. Here the title “United we must stand”. It is a bit scary but this is the shift we have lived. In 1989, in the 90s, Europe was the dream of a luxury: freedom of movement, the friendship, the openness to the world. Today, it is a necessity.

Today – let me go one step back – we cannot even imagine a war inside our continent. But if we go back for a moment to 1971, the year Willy Brandt received the Nobel Peace Prize, two years before I was born. In his Nobel lecture, Brandt said Europe was still incredibly vital. And he said still already at that time. So maybe this crisis we are feeling is not that new. But he made two predictions for the future. The first one was that the European Economic Community would turn into something more, into a real Union capable of taking responsibility in world affairs.

When he got to the second prediction, Brandt almost apologised to the audience because he knew it was so dreamy that it would sound impossible. What Brandt had in mind was a European Union of Peace for the entire European continent. It was 1971. The continent was divided, Germany was divided, Berlin was divided and Europe was at the heart of the Cold War.

But for visionaries like Willy Brandt, the European Union has always been a peace project. And one really had to be a visionary to imagine peace in Europe back in 1971.

And yet it is only 40 years ago; nothing in history, nothing. Today it’s almost hard to understand, almost hard to imagine for most people sitting in this room. Seventy years of peace is something Europe had never seen before in history. Our continent has been at war forever. The Germans and the French, two European peoples, have been at war for a thousand years. When you look at Strasbourg, at its magnificent cathedral, you see the excellence of our European culture, the incredible beauty we built and the folly of ten centuries of war. Today, Strasbourg stands as the symbol of the most incredible and successful peace project in human history.

But this is not simply about France and Germany. My own country, my beloved country, went to war twice for the city of Fiume, in Rijeka. Fascism was born on the myth of retaking Fiume. For 50 years we fought and died. And today Italy, Croatia and Slovenia are all part of the same Union, the same European Union. And where there was war, there is not even a border anymore. That was not that far away, that was not that long ago.

For my country, the European Union has been a peace project as it has been for France and Germany, as it has been for Northern Ireland. The European Union has been a peace project; and this makes, mentioning Northern Ireland, the British decision only more painful. For our Member States in Central and Eastern Europe, the European Union has been a peace project and still is. And the list could continue for basically all of our countries.

This European peace project does not simply belong to our past. It is not just history. It is still very much a work in progress. In the nineties, Helmut Kohl used to say that,  I quote: “European integration comes down to the question of whether we will have war or peace in the 21st century.” I believe he was right. What he had in mind was of course the East of our continent, because only a European perspective could stabilise the countries freed from the Iron Curtain. But I am sure Kohl also had in mind the war in the Balkans and the European and international failure to prevent it. And here we come to today.

Whenever I go to the Western Balkans, any place in the Western Balkans, it is clear that our European Union is still a peace project – a vital peace project. Our diplomacy, our support for reforms and to reconciliation show that we still are a peace project, the only way to peace for that part of Europe. And we see that when we facilitate a dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade or when we talk with the young people, the young Europeans of Kosovo, they have the European Union in mind. And that is what keeps the dialogue, the reconciliation, peace, alive. So the European Union of peace is still a necessity for our continent.

The youth of the Balkans, they understand this very well. They dream our European Union. They dream the reunification of our Europe, and rightly so.

And let me tell you that doing this job, this incredible, wonderful job, I see Europe with the eyes of our neighbours, of our partners outside of our borders and I see the beauty of our Union. That is a luxury still that I am living.

But our own youth, here inside the European Union, is maybe losing sight of the meaning of our Union. And maybe not only our youth, I guess this is not a privilege only of the youngest ones. Europeans, the citizens of our Union, are losing sight of the meaning of our Union, of why we are together.

The children born in 1989 are now 27: some of you might be sitting here. They are young adults, they might be looking for a job or they might be trying to move in with their partner, facing all the difficulties of the tough life, especially after eight years of a difficult financial crisis. The memory of the wall is very remote, the memory of the war is not enough to justify the European Union. The past is not enough. The past is never enough.

And I would like to quote here what Giorgio Napolitano said in his Willy Brandt lecture, three years ago, that it is first and foremost for national political leaders to rediscover a “European pride.” He said that we need to rediscover that a united Europe is not only the reaction to the catastrophe of World War Two, but “the only effective answer to the challenges of now.”

The European Union cannot be just the 70 years of peace it has produced so far. The European Union is and has to be each and every achievement we produce today and from now on, if we manage to produce achievements together.

My friend Martin Schulz [President of the European Parliament] – that I understand is returning to Berlin – has explained it very clearly, I quote: “Our European unity is founded on a simple insight. Whenever we Europeans have been divided, the consequences for everyone have been disastrous; whenever we have stood together, it has brought better times for everyone.” And to balance politically I understand Angela Merkel [Chancellor of Germany] yesterday said: “The world does better when Europe does better”. So it seems to me that at least the German political leadership is very clear on why we need to stand together.

Here is the challenge for our daily work. Demonstrate every single day, every single day that together we are stronger. Demonstrate it through concrete facts and tangible results. The only way to save the European project – that yes is at risk -, the only way to save it is to invest in a Union that delivers on our citizens’ needs. And also on our citizens’ dreams, because life is not only made of needs.

The revolution we need for Europe is a simple one and still the most difficult one to make it work. The revolution we need in Europe is to make things work; to make our Union work. And it is a shared responsibility. The European Union is not a building in Brussels, you would not find it. It is not an institution. The European Union is the community of us Europeans working together, because we know that only together we can serve our own interests. Even our own national interests can be served only if we act together as Europeans. And it is not a paradox, I believe, that exactly in the biggest of the EU Member states, Germany, it is absolutely clear that no one is big enough in the world of today and that you need unity together with others to push forward your own agenda. It is pragmatism, it is not just idealism.

And to do so, to deliver, to make our Union work, we need the right mix of realism and vision; of pragmatism and ambition.

We need to focus on each small step we can take right now, each real improvement we can deliver in the short term. But, at the same time, we can only do so if we also manage to raise our sight over the dust and, believe me, there is plenty of dust these days.

But this is what we need to do. We need to understand what comes next, have a look at horizon and also, most of all, shape what will come next, shape the future, not giving up to our own power. Not only we can, but we must, we must stand together. And we must keep this in mind that the European Union is becoming more and more an indispensable power.

I know this might sound strange, in a moment when everyone in our continent seems to talk about Europe’s crisis. I never do, I apologize for that. But maybe it is because I see our Union through the eyes of our partners and friends outside of the Union. They do not see Europe in a crisis; they see Europe as a strong pole of stability, peace, democracy, economic growth, freedoms. They see our strength. So we need to realise our strength and how much we need to invest in it.

This is certainly true after the recent elections in the United States, but it is the outcome I believe of a much longer trend. Let me go back once again to Willy Brandt. In the first half of the 70s, Brandt believed that the fate of the world would no longer be determined only by the two super-powers. And in such world, he said, I quote: “The influence of a united Europe has become indispensable.” The indispensable Europe, now even more than then; today even more than in the 70s.

When Brandt spoke, it was a different time: the United States were heading towards a defeat in Vietnam; China was just beginning to engage on the global stage; and a regional war in the Middle East – that does not change that much – had sparked a global oil crisis. He was speaking at that time of Europe as an indispensable power. Forty years on, the connections between local, regional, and global dynamics have become much more intimate. New powers have risen.

And in a world of global forces and trends, power is much more diffuse than we could ever imagine. Still, we should not be afraid of this. It opens opportunities we never had in the past and Europe has the strength and the history that makes it able to understand and deal with complexity and diffusion of power; that is our strength.

At the beginning of this year, in January I believe, I was in Berlin again for the 60th birthday of my friend Frank-Walter Steinmeier [Foreign Minister of Germany]. And that day, Kofi Annan [former Secretary-General of the United Nations] gave a great lecture on the search for a new global order. By the way, it was a personal experience for me, because it is a strange way of celebrating a birthday, having lectures on the global order. But I understood something of the German approach to life.

Annan, at that occasion, explained that a world where power is more diffuse, I quote, “might indeed lead to confrontation. But it could also lead to a more balanced world order, in which the collective powers keep the ambitions of their peers in check.”

So the more complex and even dangerous our world becomes, the more indispensable our European Union is. We are indispensable because we are a superpower; I will come back to that. We are indispensable because we know that development and also security are sustainable in time or are just an illusion. And we are indispensable because our actions are based on a principled pragmatism.

A superpower: whenever I say this, whenever I say to an audience that the European Union is a super-power, I see certain scepticism in the audience. Once a journalist was insisting: ‘So, you believe Europe will become a superpower?’ No, I said, it is a superpower. I had to repeat it a couple of times and I understand this. We are constantly talking about our crisis, but think of it. We are the biggest global economy, bigger than the United States and China. Countries at all corners of the world ask us to cooperate on their security or to support their peace processes, from Colombia – I spoke to the President [José Manuel Santos] today, he is going to share his Nobel Peace Prize with us visiting Brussels the same day when he will receive it; we will wait for him in Brussels with the Foreign Ministers – to Indonesia, Myanmar or Africa. Our diplomacy allows us to act in every remote part of the planet – from the Arctic to the small Pacific islands. Our common work, 28 Member States together, allows us shape the global agenda on the international arena as we did with the climate change agreement last year, allowing its entry into force, protecting it or mediating and facilitating, achieving the nuclear deal with Iran [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)] or achieving global consensus on the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  That was the power of Europe.

Again: we are the first provider of humanitarian aid worldwide, the first provider of development aid worldwide, we are the first trade partner everywhere in the world. Sometimes we do not realise what we are. We are a superpower. And we need to be aware of it, because only if we are aware of our power we will make full use of it. Power is nothing if you do not use it.

And I believe we and our world need us, because we are indispensable for the power we have, yes, but most of all for the way we use it. I don’t see other global players that invest in the sustainable future the way we do. And I am afraid that in the coming years, we might be a little bit more lonely in the global scene when it comes to human rights or to sustainable development, or to climate. Still, the need for this indispensable power grows even bigger.

No one invests as much as we do in the education – first of all of our own young people, but also of the children who are around us in our region. No one invests as much as we do in the education of Syrian children who fled their homes or those who are still in Syria. The European Union is by far the first provider of education for Syrian children, in Syria and around. By the way we are also the ones – the ones, not among the ones – who are providing humanitarian aid in Syria and around. I don’t see many others doing as much as we are for this. No one does as much as we do to try and recognise that refugees are not born refugees, they are people and human beings. They have a past before being a refugee and they will have a future after having been a refugee.

A few days ago – to move from a region to another – I was in Senegal, just the day before yesterday. And there for instances we are not just creating jobs for young people. We are also training workers in strategic sectors where the potential for growth is higher, investing in their productivity and their future skills. In this way we are also investing in security in the region and in this way we are also investing in security for Europe.

We launched a new External Investment Plan to accompany private investors in fragile states that will mobilise in this way private investments in fragile areas all across Africa and the Mediterranean: we will create new opportunities at the same time for our European business, which means to European jobs, and contribute to the stabilisation of our region and our neighbour, Africa.

This is the European way. This is the European way to development: built on a decades-long experience, it’s innovative, and it’s forward-looking. Investing in others because we understood from our history that it is not charity. It is an investment in our present and own future.

And so is the European way to security. Our knowledge of war and peace is first-hand. Probably we are the continent that has the largest experience on war and peace. It comes straight from the textbook of European integration. We know that sustainable peace requires reconciliation and reconstruction. We know how to use our military might to save lives, train our partners, stabilise a country, and prevent a conflict. We understand that our neighbours’ fragility does not make us stronger, but on the contrary makes us more vulnerable. We know from our history that zero-sum games are just very brief illusions; you always lose.

This is something we have learnt through our own mistakes, and also our own successes. Today the European Union has the expertise and the resources to engage diplomatically and with its military missions. We support stability through trade and investments, and we work to prevent crises before they arise.

I said we are indispensable for the power we have, but also for the way we use it and for the causes we serve. We risk today to head towards a world ruled by – what someone has defined – brutal realism, where might simply makes the right. But this can be no foundation for a new global order, just for a chaos and if we are really, really lucky for  a controlled chaos, for management of chaos. Is this what we aspire to?

No real stability is possible when the interests of all peoples and of all groups are not taken into account. Repression creates anger, we know that, and injustice fosters discontent. This is what led us to our principled pragmatism. We understand interests, we understand power-politics, we are not naïve, we read complexity – we are the specialists of complexity, being Italian probably I am the specialist number one. But that’s we know that the protection of human rights, of fundamental freedoms, of pluralism is not just for naïve, it is not just values or principles, but is also a core European interest and the dichotomy between principles and values is not of today’s world. Investing in our values is the best way for protecting our interests today.

A power that builds on principled pragmatism, to me, is an indispensable power in today’s world. Think of Syria: there is no other way out of the Syrian disaster than having a principled pragmatism today. The war will not end without an agreement among global and regional powers. But no real solution can be built without a true reconciliation, one that takes into account the people of Syria, everyone’s legitimate demands, the call for a non-sectarian democracy, a multi-party system, a power-sharing, a real transition in Damascus, the emergency of a humanitarian pause, a cessation of hostilities, the humanitarian aid to be brought in the besieged areas. But also raising our sight from the dust, literally in this sense, the need to work in post-conflict, reconciliation, reconstruction in parallel with a political transition, with the need to include all parts of the Syrian society.  It will require a fine balance, for sure not the brutality we have seen so far and we continue to see these days. And the European Union is indispensable in finding such balance. This is the work we have started since a few weeks, trying to do together with the United Nations; trying to define with the regional powers the space for a political transition to start.

Our Union will be more and more indispensable for Syria, but also for the rest of the world and at the same time for our citizens – because our internal security goes together with the stability of our region.

We know that security is one of the top priorities of our citizens. This has changed. We spent 8 to 9 years where only economy counted. Now we have suddenly woken up to the need to protect our security – we are giving it for granted. But we know now that all these global trends, and the fragmentation of power and the insecurity, ultimately impact on real people, on real life. We have set the vision for acting together in the world; now we to make it real, to turn the vision into action.

I have quoted many tonight. I would rather decide not to quote a famous phrase by Helmut Schmidt: “Whoever has a vision, he should see the doctor.” Because I believe vision is something we need in the Europe of today.

Because here comes the difficult part of the job: keeping vision and action strictly bound one to the other. Move to the action using our vision. We use this expression in the Global Strategy on foreign and security policy I presented last summer, and we are now turning this into action, implementation. By the way it is not that difficult, believe me, to put together 28 interests of the Member States because there is a common interest we all share. If you take the national interest of each and every of the 28 – first of all, given that they define it themselves  with whatever coalition they have in government, it is quite easy to see what national interest is better served through common action. So I do not see that particular challenge too much.

The challenge comes on consistency. You define an interest, you define a policy, you define a vision. To turn this into action, then you need to be consistent, to put the political and economic resources where your interest and vision are. We might have a minor problem of consistency  in Europe in these days. But this is the difficult part of the job: to turn the vision into real action and common action.

Once again it is worth looking back to Willy Brandt, and also to the founding fathers – and a few mothers – of our Union. To Robert Schuman, for instance, who had the intuition that peace in Europe would sprawl from something as technical, pragmatic, something as small as the rules for the production of coal and steel.

I often say this to our friends in the Gulf: if the Europeans managed to move out of thousands of years of war based on economic cooperation it is because at a certain moment we woke up and realised that trading and doing business together was much more convenient than fighting each other and killing each other. It is quite common sense. It is an experience that other parts of the world might decide to go into in the coming future.

The pragmatism of that generation – of our European founding fathers and mothers – is of great use, I believe, in a volatile and un-strategic era like the one we live in. This is no time, I’m afraid, for great revolutions – or rather the revolution we need, the revolution of our times is to make things work, so it is very pragmatic; I would imagine that in Germany this works, a set of ideas for a revolution. We need to be humble, creative at the same time and this approach is also driving our work on Europe’s security and defence.

Our citizens and our partners – also outside of the European Union – are asking for a stronger Europe on security and defence, a security provider. And we could have launched a theoretical debate or even an ideological debate on, for instance, a European army. It would take months, probably years, and it would for sure lead nowhere. We would have opened a discussion on revising the Treaties, and the result would have been the same: we would have achieved simply nothing – or an interesting debate but nothing concrete.

We decided instead – and I take responsibility for that – to start with the Treaties we have, with the instruments we have and we have not used. We decided to start with something very concrete and make it work and on this then build the next steps. I have worked on a defence package, that is now completed, built on deliverable actions and a tight calendar for implementation. My team always looks at me a little bit upset when I say this is something we do not need to do next year, this is something we need to do next month. At first they say it is simply impossible, then I say the last month it was possible so we can push forward again.

Europe can be fast when we have a clear objective in mind, so next week I will present to the European Council the package on defence based on a common agreement we have with NATO, we presented just yesterday with the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO ministerial, to increase cooperation from maritime security to cyber defence.

An industrial and research defence fund and plan that the [European] Commission is supporting to look at the economy of scale of our industrial basis which might save money, because doing things together as Europeans would be much more convenient than multiplying capabilities all across the continent and look also at the instruments that the Treaties give us in security and defence that we haven’t used.

So our proposal is to make our defence spending more effective, through the European Defence Fund and incentives to joint programmes among Member States. We want the European Union that is able to react fast to crises, removing the political, technical and financial obstacles that have prevented the use some of our instruments, for instances the use of the Battlegroups.

And I have proposed to Member States to explore the possibility of a Permanent Structured Cooperation on defence matters. For instance, they could develop common capabilities, invest in shared projects, or create multinational formations – all instruments that the current Treaties foresee, but we have never used, we never even explored them.

Most of these proposals have already been endorsed by the Foreign Affairs Council and will start to be implemented – if the Heads of State and Government agree next week – already next year. We want the results to be visible to our citizens, to be visible in due time which is tomorrow and not the day after tomorrow Europe.

Because Europe has discussed about European defence for decades. Those of you who have the age that allows you to remember this or have studied European integration know that our founding fathers and mothers believed that European integration had to be built on two pillars: the Economic Community and the Defence Community. And the first failure of the Defence Community dates back to 1954. Then we had a second try: the Lisbon Treaty gives us instruments on security and defence but I believe we were quite distracted by the financial crisis and we forgot, let’s say, to explore the possibilities to use them.

So here we are, with concrete steps, we are finally moving towards a European Union of Security and Defence at the service of peace. Because also this is done in the European way. And believe me, the world of today needs a power, a superpower, including a military power, that has peace and conflict prevention in its DNA.

With vision and with realism we are trying to get there. Realism tells us to seek incremental steps. But a long-term vision should suggest not to settle for defence only. And this will be my last point. I apologise I have been a bit long, but the title was a bit broad. If we focus on defence only, we do something good, we do something that is needed in our times, but that might not be enough.

Greater integration of security cannot be a substitute for progress in other fields. I say it very clearly. My impression is that we are moving forward in defence, not because of Brexit of because of [Donald] Trump [US President-elect]. We are moving forward on defence today, even if it was very difficult for decades because today the Heads of State and Government might think that this is the safest way to go on European integration and that the other issues are more complicated, too divisive, no consensus. Good, we have consensus there, we have the possibility to move forward on this, we do that.

But I believe it would be a mistake to move forward on the European integration only on security and defence. I believe that there is no alternative for instance to greater solidarity in dealing with the refugee crisis. The entire European Union woke up a bit late from this, living with the illusion that this could be confined to some countries. And there is no alternative to greater investments for restarting the economic engine of Europe. I will not enter into this because that would be another hour probably, but you know what I mean.

Another famous quote from Willy Brandt – and I close here – says that: “Without realism, foreign policy becomes the field of dreamers. But a realist without imagination is an idiot.” It is a bit blunt, but I believe it gives a sense of where we are. It is a difficult balance to find indeed. But a Union that delivers can only be a Union with a vision. And the Union we dream is a Union with the vision, with action, that delivers. A Union we can build only together, day by day. And I am sure, I am one hundred per cent sure, that we will make it. I thank you very much.