Secretary-General Kofi Annan: Europe’s World Role in the 21st Century


BERLIN, 26 April (UNIC) — Following is the text of an address, the third in a series of ‘Berlin Speeches’, delivered today at Hotel Adlon in Berlin, Germany, by Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

I am deeply honoured by your invitation to me to give this third “Berliner Rede“. I know well, Mr. President, the importance you attach to these annual lectures, which you yourself inaugurated on this day in 1997. I am told that German society is still reverberating with the shock waves from the speech you made on that occasion. You challenged your countrymen to “cast off all their shackles“, and recover their belief in themselves as “a society which is on its way, full of confidence and joie de vivre, a society of tolerance and commitment“.

I am glad the German people have taken that challenge to heart because to me, as an outsider, it seems an excellent description of today’s Germany.

I am overwhelmed, as every visitor must be, by the speed and boldness with which you have rebuilt this historic capital city – and not least, this magnificent hotel.

I am also conscious, as everyone here must be, that this time and this place are heavily charged with symbolism.

Fifty-four years ago, in this place, one of the most vicious powers in human history was living its final, apocalyptic days. It was the moment of victory for the new-born United Nations, but the moment of utter destruction and despair for this city and this nation: the famous Stunde Null, or Hour Zero, of German history. From this spot, in whatever direction you looked, you could hardly have seen a single building still erect.

Fifty years ago, in this place, the line demarcating the occupation zones of victorious allies had been transformed into the front line between two mutually hostile power blocs, both armed with weapons of unimaginable destructive power. It also served as the frontier between two rival German states.

Thirty-eight years ago, in this place, the Wall was built, cutting off even the most elementary human contact between the two parts of the city.

But ten years ago the Wall was torn down again. It was one of those moments that gave hope to the whole human race – a moment when the non-violent action of ordinary people thirsting for freedom triumphs over oppression.

Nine years ago, in this place, the German people celebrated their peaceful reunification within the Federal Republic. Here I must pay tribute to former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who’s crucial contributions to that process are known throughout the world. I was pleased to be in attendance last week in New York when the East-West institute honoured him as its “statesman of the decade“.

And one week ago, Sir Norman Foster, who has just received the well deserved tribute of the 1999 Pritzker prize, handed over the key of the rebuilt Reichstag to the Speaker of the Federal Parliament. In one month’s time, Mr. President, your successor as Federal President will be elected in that building. In what was once the capital of kings and emperors, a truly democratic German republic will find its home.

It is indeed a historic moment, and I feel deeply privileged to share it with you. It seems also an appropriate moment to reflect on the process which, over half a century, has transformed the fortunes of this city and this country. For me, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, it is especially important to see what lessons the world as a whole can learn.

First of all, Mr. President, I am sure you were right to stress the role of “tolerance and commitment“. These two qualities, which complement each other, are at the centre of the German success story. You could not have achieved such a renaissance without an unshakeable commitment to succeed, going far beyond political leaders and deep into the whole society. It was and is a commitment, not only to rebuild the country, but also to change it; not only to succeed as a nation, but to measure success by a new yardstick; a commitment to peace abroad and – yes – to tolerance at home.

In the past, Germans achieved unity through war, and too many of them sought to preserve it through uniformity. Expressions of dissent were seen as signs of decadence. Any form of difference was liable to be viewed as alien, and therefore a factor of weakness, which had to be eliminated.

We all know to what tragic and extreme results that outlook led. What is encouraging is that today’s Germans seem even more aware of it than their neighbours and former victims. Some foreigners make fun of the seriousness with which you debate such issues as the design of the eagle that adorns the new Reichstag. But I think this seriousness is healthy. It is important to get such things right, and to do so through open and civilized debate.

Later today, I shall visit the rebuilt synagogue in Oranienburger Straße. I am only sorry there will not be time to visit the artists’ colony in the nearby “Tacheles“ as well. I have heard, Mr. President, that it is a wonderful example of the “joie de vivre“ you spoke about.

In their different ways, both these phenomena symbolize the understanding of today’s Germany that diversity is an element of strength, not weakness: something to be celebrated, not suppressed.

But, as you yourselves are the first to point out, Germany’s success is not the work of Germans alone. Nor does it affect only Germany. Rather, it is the centrepiece of a broader and even more spectacular transformation of Europe.

History knows few examples of a reconciliation so complete as the one we have witnessed among the nations of western Europe, after such a long and brutal period of conflict as the one that ended in 1945.

What made this possible? A necessary condition, perhaps, was the security that western Europe enjoyed, during the Cold War, thanks to the Atlantic alliance. But this by itself would never have been sufficient. The decisive innovation of post-war Europe has been the integration of separate nations within a single economic space, under a framework of shared law, inspired by shared democratic values. This has been achieved by a sustained effort of political vision and will, in which German statesmen, to Germany’s eternal credit, have played a leading role.

The gradual construction of the European Union may sometimes have seemed tedious to its citizens. Sometimes it has aroused understandable fears for the cherished traditions and identities of Europe’s historic nations.

The results are not perfect – what human enterprise ever is? But what has been achieved – what you on the inside already take for granted – is the envy and admiration of the world outside. There are many other regions of the world, I can assure you, whose peoples devoutly wish their leaders had the vision and courage to forge the same kind of multilateral bonds.

Of course, no political model can be simply transplanted from one part of the world to another. Each region has its own traditions and its own problems. Each must find its own solutions. But all could benefit, I have no doubt, by studying Europe’s achievement. Each should think carefully which parts of that achievement might be relevant to its own situation, and how they might best be adapted.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The European Union is not only a source of inspiration to other continents. It is also a great economic power. Measured by gross national product, the EU is now neck to neck with the United States. It is the world’s biggest market for the products of developing countries. And its new currency, the Euro, is on the way to becoming the second major international reserve asset and medium of exchange.

And yet we are constantly told that we live in a “uni-polar world“, in which there is only one superpower – the United States. What does that mean?

Often people speak as if it were simply a question of deploying troops. No doubt the ability and will to do that, in extreme circumstances, is important. But there are many other ways for one people to exercise influence over others – through trade, through culture, through diplomacy, and so on.

Much of the time, this kind of influence is acquired spontaneously, by the uncoordinated actions of thousands of private groups and individuals, without any formal political process. But when we say that a state or a community is powerful we imply that it is using its influence collectively and deliberately, to further certain objectives which its leaders have agreed upon.

Is Europe powerful, in that sense? Perhaps more so than many of its people realize, but still much less so than it could be. This is because Europeans’ capacity for thinking collectively and reaching joint decisions is still relatively underdeveloped, or limited to certain areas of policy. The impression outsiders often get is that of a European Union preoccupied with its own affairs, which does not play the role in the wider world that could be expected of it.

Of course, Europe is not a nation state, and most Europeans do not want it to be one. They are attached to their existing nations, and they have too much experience of the damage that big and powerful nation states can do.

Yet Europeans should ask themselves whether they are satisfied with the world as it is, or with the way it is going. If not, they surely should do something to make their influence more effective. Without sacrificing their distinct national identities and institutions, could they not develop a stronger capacity for acting as one in their external relations?

No doubt the Treaty of Amsterdam, which will soon be in force, is a step in the right direction. I look forward to the appointment of the Union’s first High Representative for foreign and security policy, with whom the United Nations will hope to establish a close partnership.

Of course, the part of the world which the Union most wants to influence is its own immediate neighbourhood. And there it certainly is having an impact.

When I spoke just now of reconciliation among the nations of western Europe, I was really a little behind the times. It is true that, in the first 40 years of European construction, only west European nations were free to participate. But in the last ten years central Europeans, in their turn, have been drawn into the process. That is very encouraging.

True, the road to full membership of the Union is proving longer and harder than they had hoped. But the prospect of membership has already been decisive in reconciling Germany with its eastern neighbours – just as, at an earlier stage, the common task of European construction helped reconcile the western ones.

More than that, the prospect of membership has helped central Europeans to settle, or at least to manage, their differences with each other. It has given them the courage and self-confidence to reform their economies. And it has given them a strong incentive to build democratic institutions, with entrenched respect for human and civil rights. The desire to achieve “European“ standards has been a strong force for democracy.

The process of enlarging the Union is notoriously slow and difficult – understandably, when the issues are so complex. But it has already shown itself a powerful instrument of confidence-building and conflict prevention.

At least, that has been the effect for countries in central Europe, for whom membership seems a close and achievable goal. But the picture is sadly different when one looks further afield, to countries in eastern Europe and the Balkans.

In many of those countries a sense of exclusion has taken root. People see little or no chance of ever being admitted to the Union, in any meaningful time-scale. Rightly or wrongly, they feel they are being discriminated against. Some believe that being denied any early prospect of membership also denies them much-needed foreign investment. And that belief tends to become self-fulfilling when – as is too often the case – they also feel no strong incentive to undertake economic reform, or to enforce high standards of law and governance.

That state of affairs is deeply worrying. It should be especially worrying to the peoples, and the leaders, of the European Union. European unity is a fine and inspiring slogan. It would be sad indeed if in practice it led only to a new division, with on one side a comfortable, prosperous, democratic western Europe – or west-and-central Europe – and on the other side an impoverished, war-torn, resentful eastern and south-eastern Europe. It will be especially sad, I think, if the Union gives the impression that any country is excluded because of its religious or cultural heritage.

I am not suggesting that the problem can be solved by simply throwing open the Union’s doors to all comers, abandoning any requirement that new members be able to accept and implement the framework of shared law and common values which binds the Union together. Such a policy would be suicidal.

What I do suggest, however, is that in the long run it would be equally self-destructive to focus only on the most promising candidates, while leaving the rest to fall farther and farther behind. If that happened, we should expect to see the rise of populist leaders playing on their people’s sense of resentment and victimization. Europe has already seen, and is still seeing, far too much of that kind of politics.

So we must not allow those for whom full membership remains at best a distant prospect to feel rejected, or to lose hope. It should not have required the present horrors in the Balkans to bring forth imaginative proposals for the reconstruction of south-eastern Europe. How much might have been avoided if such ideas had been actively pursued earlier!

At least let us pursue them with vigour now. And let political leaders throughout Europe not wait any longer – whether inside or outside the present EU – to reaffirm their vision of a wider Europe, one stretching beyond the eastern frontiers even of the enlarged Union.

One way to achieve this, I suggest, would be to give higher priority to building up those institutions which already embrace a wider Europe: the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the United Nations’ own Economic Commission for Europe. In these bodies, members and non-members of the EU sit side by side on equal terms. If the EU members paid more attention to them, and made greater use of them, the non-EU members’ sense of marginalization could be much reduced.

But it is not only within Europe that the EU has close neighbours. Geographically, some of the closest are to be found in North Africa and the Middle East.

These countries are not considered eligible for membership of the European Union, but economically many of them are acutely dependent on it. It is by far the most accessible market for their products. Only when that market is fully open to them can they hope to attract the investment they need for their own development.

Politically and socially too, the countries of the Maghreb have strong ties to the Union. Large communities of people of North African origin reside in western Europe. Through them, as well as through radio and television links, European culture and ideas are transmitted to their relatives on the other side of the Mediterranean. They themselves, by the same token, are closely affected by events in their countries of origin – especially, of course, when those events take such a traumatic form as they have done in Algeria, in recent years.

The European Union, therefore, has every reason to take a close interest in the fortunes of its southern neighbours, as well as its eastern ones, and to give them whatever assistance it can in managing their problems. Europe more than any other region of the world stands to gain from peace and economic development in the Middle East and North Africa, and has more to fear from continued conflict and poverty there.

I know there have been many initiatives and conferences on this theme. I hope they can soon be followed up by more concrete action.

But of course a great power’s concerns cannot be limited to its immediate neighbourhood – and nor, I submit, can its responsibilities. You also have a global role to play.

Mr. President, Ladies an Gentlemen:

The age we live in has been called “the new world disorder“.

In part that refers to some of the effects of the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Those events brought freedom and unity here in Berlin, and freed us all from the fear of instant annihilation. But they also destroyed what had been a predictable framework of international relations, within which – for better or worse – great powers could exercise control over many things, from the spread of weapons of mass-destruction to the demand of peoples for self-determination.

Today, we do not know for sure what has happened to parts of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal, or where some of the scientists and technicians who built it may be working.

Today, when leaders of small or medium-sized states break the rules of international behaviour, we can no longer expect their superpower patrons to call them to heel.

Today, in many parts of the world, national movements based on ethnicity have clashed with each other, causing bloodshed and mass displacement on a scale not seen since World War Two.

These are not the only ways in which international order seems to be breaking down. Terrorism, organized crime, illegal or irregular migration, the trade in illicit drugs, and also in human beings (especially children and women) – all these phenomena either ignore or actively exploit the existence of open international frontiers. National laws and police forces seem barely able to keep them at bay, let alone control them.

And then there are the threats to human life from the environment, which in turn (for the most part) derive from human pressure on the environment: desertification, loss of bio-diversity, depletion of non-renewable energy sources, climate change resulting from production of greenhouse gases or damage to the ozone layer.

A similar challenge is offered by the global spread of infectious diseases, of which HIV/Aids is the most alarming. All these things clearly call for some form of collective self-control by the human species.

Pressure on the environment is increased, of course, by the dizzyingly rapid increase in the earth’s human population. But many of these problems are caused less by sheer numbers than by patterns of consumption and production, both of which at present are very unequally distributed.

Problems of this type cannot be blamed on the end of the cold war. Nor should they be blamed in any simplistic way on the progress of technology.

Indeed, I firmly believe that technology, rightly used, can provide us with many of the solutions. But what is certain is that technology, especially information technology, has now left state frontiers far behind. So many transactions, which until recently involved the physical movement of goods or persons, or at least of bits of paper, are now carried on electronically, in that mysterious dimension known as “cyberspace“.

In the financial sector, these technical changes have coincided with liberalization, meaning a series of decisions by governments – sometimes negotiated, sometimes unilateral – to lift administrative controls on economic activity, which they realized were holding back growth. And technology and liberalization together have encouraged the growth of mega-corporations whose activities literally span the globe, and whose revenues sometimes surpass the gross national product of individual states. This is a global economy such as the world has never known before.

Alas, there are losers as well as winners from this process of globalization. And millions of people – whole countries, if not a whole continent – have been largely excluded from its benefits, trapped in systemic poverty.

All these are clearly global challenges. The solutions too must be global. They must be found through a democratic and inclusive process. They must be hammered out multilaterally, so that all states accept them as legitimate, and feel committed to implementing them. There has to be a forum where these issues can be debated openly – where all parties can feel they have a say. You will not be surprised to hear that, in my view, that forum must be the United Nations.

But the United Nations can play its full part in the world only if Europe plays its full part in the United Nations.

Already the European Union, taken as a whole, is by far the largest single contributor to the United Nations budget. Two of its members are permanent members of the Security Council. I know Germany too aspires to that high responsibility. I would welcome that, in the context of a broader reform. The Council needs to be more balanced, more representative, and to reflect the realities of the 21st century rather than those of 1945.

Unfortunately, agreement on other aspects of such a reform remains elusive. But one must persist. But even without institutional reform, Europe exerts great influence at the United Nations when its members not only speak with a single voice but concert their actions to achieve a common purpose,in a spirit of enlightened multilateralism.

It is not true that the world is “uni-polar“. I challenge that. There may be only one superpower, but that power, the United States, needs allies and supporters in order to achieve its goals. If other powers were as ready as the United States is to take on responsibilities in the global order, we should see more clearly that the world is in fact multi-polar – or at least, as Samuel Huntington puts it, “uni-multipolar“. We should also hear less talk about the United Nations being sidelined or marginalized.

If the world seems uni-polar, that is only because other powers are reluctant to shoulder their responsibilities. If the United Nations is sidelined, that is only because its member states are not making full use of it.

That is why, for me, it was not just an honour to be invited, twelve days ago, to a meeting of the European Council, under the presidency of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. It was a practical step forward, potentially of great importance. We wasted no time on speeches or ceremony. We concentrated on practical measures to deal with a major crisis in Europe. We considered how the war – and here I am talking about the war in Kosovo – could be ended in a manner consistent with the overriding need to ensure safety and freedom to all the peoples of the Balkans. And we agreed on emergency measures to relieve the terrible suffering of those who have been driven from their homes in Kosovo.

Mr. President, I thank you for your kind words just now about my statement of 9 April. As you know, that statement was supported by the European Council. I am glad to say it has since been welcomed by the members of the United Nations Security Council.

It is also my intention to appoint two diplomatic envoys to faciliate the peace process in Kosovo. As soon as I have completed the necessary consultations, those envoys will start immediately on an intensive search for a political solution to this crisis. I myself, as you know, am going from here to Moscow later this week, as part of the same quest.

What do we mean by a solution? In my view the only yardstick by which our efforts can be judged is whether they enable the refugees and internally displaced persons to return swiftly and safely to their homes. If the inhabitants of Kosovo can live in conditions of peace and security, with full respect for the civil and political rights of all, it will be a victory for Europe, for the United Nations, and for humanity. Anything short of that may be considered a failure.

Mr. President, I look forward to many more instances where the European Union will act with and through the United Nations, in the cause not only of peace in Europe but of peace and prosperity worldwide.

At this symbolic and hopeful moment of German and European history, let us all pledge ourselves to strive unceasingly for a better world. Let us remember the words of Goethe, the greatest of all German poets:

“Whoever unceasingly strives upward, him can we save.“ [Wer immer strebend sich bemüht, den können wir erlösen.]

Thank you very much.