Speech by Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Federal President, Members of the Federal Convention, Fellow candidates, Ladies and Gentlemen, “You give me courage!” This reassuring statement made to me by a young woman two years ago, was something that I later often recalled. Today, I would like to pass it on to you.  

I express wholehearted thanks to you as members of this Federal Convention for the encouragement you have given me today on the way to the highest office in our state. I am overjoyed that you have chosen me and I maintain my great respect for this office.

My respect is made even greater by the fact that Joachim Gauck is present here today; a Federal President who has done this office good – and done our country good; a President who champions the cause of freedom and himself embodies the joy of freedom with every fibre of his being. I am deeply grateful to you, Federal President, and I am sure that I speak on behalf of us all in this regard. 

(Applause from the overwhelming majority of the Federal Convention)

I thank all those who elected me for their trust. And I make a pledge to all those who did not support me: I will work to win your trust, too, with equal respect for all democratic parties, for Government and Opposition and for the myriad of voices in our democracy.

Ladies and gentlemen, I realise that we are living in turbulent times. Many people in our country feel unsettled. As some of you may have heard me say more than once: the world appears to be “out of joint”. Yet many people also ask: what is the fundamental glue that holds together our society? And especially they ask: will this glue maintain its cohesive power in the future? And others ask: if the world is becoming increasingly insecure and if our country is so closely interwoven with this world, what does that mean for our security, for our future? These are also concerns I am aware of in our country, and which I take seriously.

Yet, in my position as Foreign Minister over the last few years, I have also experienced something different: “You give me courage!” It was a young woman in Tunisia who said this to me; an activist working to achieve democracy and human rights in her home country. When she made this statement, she didn’t mean me, or indeed my delegation. She meant our country, Germany.   

“You Germans give me courage”, she said.

Ladies and gentlemen, is it not surprising, is it not wonderful that this Germany, our “difficult fatherland”, as former President Gustav Heinemann called it, has become an anchor of hope for many in the world?

(Applause from the overwhelming majority of the Federal Convention)

We give other people courage and optimism, not because everything is good in our country, but because we have shown that things can get better, that peace can evolve in the aftermath of war, division be followed by reconciliation and the mania of ideologies replaced by some kind of political reason, and that we have been successful in so many ways in our country. We are reminded of all this on this day, the day of the Federal Convention.

When Theodor Heuss addressed the first Federal Convention, the people of Germany were still clearing away the rubble of war and dictatorship; they were building the Federal Republic stone by stone, a democracy which at the time was only able to take root on the foundation of the West. Ladies and gentlemen, whenever this foundation becomes shaky elsewhere today, we must strengthen our own commitment to it.

(Applause from the overwhelming majority of the Federal Convention)

When Roman Herzog later spoke to the Federal Convention, German unification was in its early days and a wind of change was blowing through the country; but there were also fears about this new future. Yet our society was able to overcome the calls of those who fanned the flames of xenophobia and resentment at that time and I am confident that we will do so again today.     

(Applause from the overwhelming majority of the Federal Convention)

When Johannes Rau stood here, reunified Germany was facing difficult decisions in the field of foreign policy due to the military mission in the Balkans, with a new responsibility in the world, which has since grown continuously and which we have accepted.

Ladies and gentlemen, together we have tackled so many challenges, and times were not always easy. A glance at the world, particularly Europe, makes clear that the current times are also not easy – yet they are our times. We bear the responsibility. And if we want to lend courage to others, then we must have courage ourselves.   

We need the courage to say what is fact and what is not fact. We must ourselves take on the task of distinguishing between facts and lies. Trust in one’s own judgement is the privilege of every citizen and is vital for every democracy.

We need the courage to listen to each other, the readiness not to put our own interests above all else, not to perceive the wrangling over solutions in a democracy as a sign of weakness, not to deny reality, but rather to seek to improve that reality.

 And we need the courage to preserve what we have. Freedom and democracy in a united Europe: we intend to, and must, work together to defend this foundation. It is not wholly unshakeable, yet I am convinced that it is sound.

No, we do not live in a remote Elysium. We are part of one world, with its risks, and there are risks in our country too. And yet, Ladies and gentlemen, there are few places in the world with as many opportunities as we have here. And who can have more cause than us to be optimistic?! So I say to you, fellow countrymen and countrywomen, let us be courageous! If we are then I am not worried about the future.

Thank you very much.

(Sustained applause from the overwhelming majority of the Federal Convention – the overwhelming majority of those present rise to their feet)