Philip D. Murphy
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany
Philip D. Murphy was appointed by the U.S. Senate as U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany in 2009. A native of the Boston, he graduated from Harvard University, spent 23 years at Goldman Sachs and held a variety of senior positions, including in Frankfurt, New York and Hong Kong, before becoming a Senior Director of the firm in 2003, a position he held until his retirement in 2006. After leaving Goldman Sachs, he served from 2006-2009 as the National Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Engaging Germany’s youth is a major focus of Ambassador Murphy’s, whether through town hall meetings, exchange programs or his regular communication through a variety of social media.
Thank you Sebastian Turner for inviting me to join you today at the opening of the Falling Walls Conference. Lieber Staatsekretär Georg Schütte, Mitglieder des Deutschen Bundestages, Exzellenzen, distinguished guests here in Berlin and to all those who are following this conference virtually from locations and countries around the world; it is a real honour to speak with you this morning. This is, as Sebastian said, an important date: on November 9th 1989 a wall fell here in Berlin. It signalled a new beginning for the people of Berlin, for the people of Germany, and for the entire world. It was a gift of freedom. And before I go on, this conference is rightfully about what happened 23 years ago, but let us never, ever, ever forget what happened 74 years ago today. But that gift was a hard one by the activists and dissidents who risked so much to demand a free and better life as well as the millions of people who never lost faith that a system built on tyranny and oppression could and would be overcome. And as gifts often do, it came with strings; it came with the responsibility to advance broader principles of freedom.
The Falling Walls Foundation, and the Falling Walls Annual Conference, remind us of the responsibility to tear down walls that stifle freedom in other ways: walls, for example built by discrimination and dissension, by prejudice and censorship. Those kinds of walls have multiple effects on our societies. For example, those kinds of walls, less visible than concrete and barbed wire barriers can inhibit innovation, knowledge, in the pursuit of science. They can dictate the kinds of relationships that exist between the institutions and individuals that conduct research in the public and increasing private institutions that support scholarship. They can create boundaries or walls between disciplines. But so many boundaries and walls between what we know and what we can do have fallen. They must, and I am convinced that they will, continue to fall. That is what this conference celebrates.
I commend all the great thinkers and innovators who are at the forefront of change. I was looking in particular at the panel and the distinguished guests that will follow me this morning, and I was so darned impressed. I salute you and all your fellow presenters at this Falling Walls Conference. I salute you and all the future presenters and conferences to come for your creativity and your ability to think new thoughts, for change takes place not only in research laboratories and even sometimes makeshift garage labs, but first and foremost in people’s minds.
However, in the exponentially expanding world of innovation and invention of the 21st century, it will be increasingly important to focus on how research is conducted, because change is complicated. That was perhaps one of the lessons learned of the election campaign that just came to an end in my country. Professional and political relationships are evermore complex. Sources of support for research and innovation and commercial implementation and spin-offs are evermore varied and also more volatile. And at the most basic level the need for education for our young people, the researchers and entrepreneurs and policymakers of the future, no matter where they come from, becomes evermore apparent.
In fact, I believe that education is one of the most basic tools you need to start chipping away at walls in order to make them fall. But change is not easy; as I am sure that Staatssekretär Georg Schütte and the members of the government here today, will agree. I am very proud of the relationships between the United States and Germany in the fields of science and technology. For example, last year we signed a memorandum between our two governments in the field of scientific cooperation. That memorandum made it official, because cooperation between German and American government sponsored labs and institutions of higher education has existed for years and years.
The American idea of academic freedom actually originated in Europe. Academic freedom was critical in enabling both teaching faculty and researchers to free themselves from sectarian religious domination and later to resist secular political control. In 1915 the American Association of University Professors Committee first articulated a statement of academic freedom in the United States. Half of the members of that committee were graduates of German universities. The modern research university could not have emerged without this commitment to academic freedom. I am proud of that historical connection, and I am proud that the connections between our institutions of higher education are today strong and dynamic, particularly in the field of research.
Our companies also engage and invest in research and development on both sides of the Atlantic. A large part of the R&D budget of Siemens, by example, is spent on projects at their U.S. based labs. Recently Volkswagen opened a state of the art factory in Tennessee in Chattanooga, which sets new standards in green production processes. The cars that are being produced there meet the new auto fuel efficiency and emission standards that President Barack Obama introduced soon after he took office.
Speaking of positive, constructive change, regulatory structures represent a major challenge for government, industry, in the research community. What is safe science? When do regulations become intrusive? When do they create obstacles and build walls? When do they clear them away? These are the challenges that face President Barack Obama as he embarks upon his second term. One of the strengths of his 2008 campaign was that Americans of different ideologies could project their own hopes on—at that point to Senator Obama—and believe that they were his as well. Right after the election in November of 2008, President-elect Barack Obama spoke about the style of leadership he wanted to emulate: one drawing from his reading of the history of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. As he put it, he admired Lincoln’s “deep-rooted honesty that allowed him to always be able to see the other person’s point of view and to look for the truth that is in the gap between people like you and me”.
Shortly before the election of 2012, President Obama spoke about the challenges of governing. It reminded me about former New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s famous comparison between, on the one hand, the poetry of an election campaign, and then the down-to-earth day in and day out prose of governing—one of those great quotes about politics in our country. Almost four years after being elected, the President admitted that he had underestimated the degree to which politics trump problem solving. Without assigning blame, the one thing that he said that had frustrated him the most over the last four years was that he had not been able to change the atmosphere in Washington to reflect the decency and common sense of ordinary people: Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. It is very telling that often in describing the very partisan atmosphere of the American political scene, people talk about running into walls of opposition. Clearly, these are walls that also need to fall. It is therefore significant that one of the first actions that newly re-elected President took was to call on leaders of the Republican Party to explore areas of future cooperation to move our country forward, and I might add those leaders returned the favour.
Tuesday night or, in fact, here early Wednesday morning when the re-elected President of the United States spoke to the American people, he pledged that he would not give up on this initial goals. “Democracy”, President Obama said, “in a nation of 300 million, can be noisy, messy, and complicated”—and boy, isn’t that the case.
By the way, over the past year, my colleagues and I at the embassy—and we also have five consulates in Germany—have spent a lot of time explaining to our German friends our noisy, messy, complicated electoral system. Americans, as the President said, have their own opinions and deeply held beliefs about which they can be very passionate. These arguments are a mark, however, of America’s so proudly held and also hard won freedom and democracy.
23 years ago here in Berlin, people risked their lives for a chance to argue, noisily if need be, about the issues that mattered to them, and about their hopes for the future—a future that in this globalised world of the 21st century we all share. But how do we get there? How do we move forward? President Barack Obama renewed his pledge of four years ago: “by itself”, he said, “the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end the gridlock or solve all our problems, or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin.” By the way, that is also how walls fall. Vielen Dank für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit.