Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Angela Merkel, voted „The most powerful woman of the world“ by Forbes Magazine in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, has a profound background in the research of power. Merkel holds a Ph.D. in physics. After completing her studies in Leipzig, she became a researcher at the Central Institute of Physical Chemistry at the Academy of Science in Berlin Adlershof – until the Berlin Wall fell. The young scientist joined one of the newly founded democratic parties that merged into Helmut Kohl’s centre-right CDU. Within ten years, she was party chairwoman; within another five, German Chancellor. At the Falling Walls Conference Angela Merkel will outline which breakthroughs the world will be dealing with in the 21st Century.

Keynote. Breaking the Walls of the 21st Century. (2009)


Professor Turner, Senator Zöllner, ladies and gentlemen, allow me, first of all, to tell you that I will also see my colleagues, heads of state and government, today; so it is not as if I were willing to do without that pleasure. I very much wanted to come here, because I think that this particular event, and also the audience that I have the honour to address today, has also something to do with the changes in my life: changes that occurred very briefly after the ninth of November. Because, when on the ninth of November, in what was then East Berlin, in the evening I was able to witness the fall of the wall on Bornholmer Straße and immediately took the opportunity and just crossed the street to the other side, as it were. I was a natural scientist at the time, a physicist at the Academy of Sciences, the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry, as it was called then. I did not go to the Ku-Damm, but the next morning I went to Adlershof again, back to my place of work. I did not immediately want to put my head on my desk and try to sleep off the lack of sleep; therefore I postponed my first longer visit to West Berlin until Friday evening.

The fall of the wall at the time changed my life almost completely, but it certainly did not put a damper on my love for science. I am no longer as knowledgeable as I used to be, so I put in a little bit more emotion into it to compensate. The world of science has a very important priority in my work as a politician.

It is so interesting to see that this yearning for freedom, the courage to stand up for freedom, has time and again allowed for great changes to occur. So, the ninth of November is a very symbolic date in German history: in many respects, both dream and trauma are connected with this particular date. But, the ninth of November 1989, in many ways, allowed a dream to come true. Many were instrumental in making this possible. It would not have been possible, however, without the courage of the people in the then German Democratic Republic. No matter whether they had decided at the time to leave their country and to show that they were not convinced at all about the merits of the system, or whether they decided to try to combat the system from within, both forms of resistance were important in order to bring about the collapse of that system.

This in entirety was naturally connected with the courage that we had seen on display in Poland with the free elections of June 1989, the courage that was also shown all the way up to the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, and the many other instances that we saw- particularly in the Central and Eastern European countries, and at the very end of that period in Romania where dictatorship had a particularly harsh existence.

When tonight the heads of states and government of virtually all of the member states of the European Union will be our guests here in Berlin, this very clearly illustrates what we saw first on Bornholmer Strasse on the Ninth of November and at the other border crossing points- Brandenburg Gate, after all, was only opened in December- namely, the fact that this was a European event, a collapse of one part of what was until that point in time a bi-polar system: democracy, freedom and the principles of free market economy, had defeated the lack of freedom and a command economy.

The fact that this came about was probably even more due to science than many think today. Of course, the fall of the wall also came about because people showed courage; they stood up for their rights. But, they had also shown courage in the 50’s and 60’s, and time and again this unrest was put down. But what happened in the mid to end of the 80’s? What we saw here, in many ways, were the harbingers of what we call a science society and knowledge society. The prosperity of a country was made even more possible by scientific and technological advancements and through innovations than in the time after the Second World War and the beginning of the Federal Republic of Germany.

International communication and the possibility to exchange data in a different way than hitherto- and in a way that wasn’t all that easy to spy on- played certainly an important role.  Every letter could be opened and read. It became much more difficult to actually crack a computer technological data highway. But overall, through the high technological possibilities that were developed in the West, to make further development possible, people in the East Block were also needed who were able to think along different lines and by networking thoughts were able to create new ideas and innovations. That was when a system hit at the ceiling, because you cannot tell people: Please think only from 7:30 to 17:30; but when you leave your workplace stop immediately to reflect upon the society, because this is when the dictatorship of the labour class prevails: here nothing other than obedience exists. This did not fit together.

So, there were two different groups of people. There were people who were very good scientists, very good scholars, quite often they then tended to become dissident; some of them left the Republic. Or, on the other hand, you had people who had great minds, but who were reigned by the system and therefore hemmed; they thought: Well, if I am not allowed to think outside of my place of work, then I will not think during those eight hours that I am at my workplace either. Foundries, metal industries, and machinery production proved themselves to function quite well, but as soon as substantial advancement and prosperity engendered through the networking of new ideas, the more difficult it became for the system in the East Block to maintain its competitive edge.

Innovations made a very big contribution towards freedom forging ahead. I am not saying that everything is economised, but I am saying that the economic advantage that the West had due to the possibility of free thinking, played an important part in the widest sense that one could not limit thinking completely in the East.

This is a good piece of news, because all systems and society structures that wish to be successful, and that is what this tells us, cannot live without freedom. Politicians have to deal with that fact. I am sometimes looking from a different vantage point at matters today, because it makes life as a politician rather difficult when people think freely, but it is on the other hand, also much more pleasant, if not gratifying, when the whole of society is also participating in thinking and thinking out new policies. This is what I think we also ought to remember in all those cases where walls these days prevent us from co-existing peacefully and living together peacefully on this planet.

Today we meet as a united people. As I said on the occasion of the signing of the Treaties of Rome- the 50th Anniversary of that- this is a stroke of luck, working together as free nations. It also means that you have to show patience, each and everyone needs to be convinced, needs to be won over. You can see that when you look at how we in the European Union do our work. But, I cannot think of anything better than this way of going about it in the European Union. Because, if we look at how we shape policies today, in this united Germany, and think that this is a good way of going about it, and we wish others to join us, then we Germans, with our 80 million people, will not be able to go it alone anymore.

The world has 6.5 billion people, and there is a growing world population. It is true that in Europe, at the beginning of the 20th century, every fourth person in the world lived in Europe. At the end of this century, however, only every 13th inhabitant of this planet will be a European – not to speak of the Germans. If we Europeans actually want to bring our political weight to bare, if we want to inject new ideas into this world of today, we would be fairly well advised to corporate with others and to do that in concert with others. This goes incidentally for science and scientific development, just as for political projects- quite a lot of things simply can no longer be done alone.

But, I think that we are in a very good situation today. This good situation places us under an obligation. We need to contribute to come up with better solutions for the problems of this world. We have seen ourselves that the impossible suddenly becomes possible. That at least gives me time and again the strength to say, “well, why not try the impossible in other places of the world?” For example, in solving the Middle East process, or fighting international terrorism- the great challenges of our times. Here we have to chart completely new courses. We have to think of new and creative ways to tackle that. During the Cold War time, the world was split in two. It was rather predictable what might happen, and these two different camps had just one objective: they wanted to ensure their own survival. They wanted to win in this conflict, but each side did not want to encourage its own annihilation.

If you look at the asymmetrical threat we face today, that is quite a different threat- a threat of a different nature, because there are quite a number of people who are willing to sacrifice their own lives to serve what they perceive as a good cause. This simple principle of deterrence, as it worked in the Cold War, is no longer working today. We have to chart new courses, and we are doing so slowly. We are trying to probe for new ways and means as to how we counter these asymmetrical threats, those who are willing to commit terrorist acts. How can we master them by using democratic means? This is a fight we haven’t yet won, but we cannot shirk that responsibility either, because what is hidden behind that is a perception of man, where each individual is not worth anything – where they wish to erode democracy’s power and wish to destroy it, as we have seen on 9-11. Let us not shirk that responsibility; let us try to forge new policies, chart new courses- other courses than the ones that were appropriate for the Cold War time.

We all know through the painful lessons in European history that the capacity to show tolerance is one of the preconditions for actually being able to live on this planet as friends and partners. Tolerance doesn’t mean anything goes. It doesn’t mean you question certain basic values. But, it is quite difficult to actually show tolerance; tolerance means putting yourself into other people’s shoes, trying to think as they think, look at history the way they look at history, look at what they have experienced, and with this perspective try to understand the other person so that a common path can be found to forge ahead upon together.

This capacity was something that was lost to us for many decades, even centuries, in Europe, where people only thought in terms of their own invested interest, or in terms of their own national interests. Today it is very interesting when you have discussions around the table among partners of the European Union how difficult it sometimes is, and also how much knowledge is demanded from us about the history, culture and civilisation of other countries.

I well understand when the Czech President Klaus wishes to have an annex added to the Lisbon Treaty. But then when we come to property rights and the Cypress President says, “Well, but he also has an issue with a Turkish part of Cypress.” Then immediately you see that we simply do not know all that much about the intricacies of these property issues between one part of Cypress and the other part of Cypress and how to evaluate the Turkish interjections on that issue. So, you have to learn as much as possible if you want to tear down these modern walls about the rest of the world.

I think that is one of the big walls that are still dividing us in this globalised world. Quite often we have difficulties to actually ask the right questions and learning to ask the right questions, learning to ask for the right kind of information about the African continent, the Asian continent, in order to know it as well as we know our European home continent. That is the basic precondition for being actually genuinely tolerant without giving up your own values.

I think this generation, if I may talk about my generation- I know many of you in the audience are much younger than I am- we are not all that well prepared for this, because in our way of thinking we are very much determined by this bi-polar world. I still remember in the former GDR that African geography was made quite a simple thing: every second African State was more or less under the influence of the Americans, and the rest was under the influence of the Russians. I know quite a lot about those that were under the Soviet influence; the others- well, we were neither taught about them in geography nor in any other class in school.

It is not that easy any longer, because these countries, naturally because of the collapse of the Soviet Empire and there is no longer a Cold War, also try to chart their own course, go their own way. This gives rise to tribal conflicts, to post-colonial conflicts. So we have to know a little bit more about their history in order to give a valuable contribution to a peace process, for example. Now, when we talk about Eritrea and Somalia, and they being at loggerheads, we don’t know about the intricacies of their particular conflict; it is difficult for us. But, I must say that I am sometimes almost envious looking at young people who actually grow up in this new world and perhaps develop a much better understanding of this planet as our one world where we all need to solve, or need to do our bit to solve, these conflicts.

We have to tear down the wall between our needs and requirements for living and that which we believe to leave for future generations. Therewith a lot of challenges come upon us: financial and economic policies, as also with environmental policies. A peaceful coexistence will only be possible if we are able to develop a global order- a global framework.

Then we have to ask ourselves: is it sufficient for governments to cooperate? For example, in the international, economic and financial crises, we Europeans tend to say that this is intergovernmental cooperation, each country sort of forging its own policy and then trying to enter with other governments by more or less bilateral or multilateral agreements. But, in order to tackle these new challenges successfully, should we not also transfer at least a part of our sovereignty to international organisations?

We Europeans are quite used to that. We don’t always necessarily love what Brussels tells us to do, but we voluntarily transferred quite a lot of competences to Brussels. There is no national agricultural German policy to speak of. Actually, in its original version, the European Community, as it was at the time, was very much geared towards coal, steel and agriculture; and we are adding new parts of policy to this.

But, it is much more difficult, for example, for our American partners to transfer a few competences, for example, to the IMF or other international organisations. You are a member, obviously, of the United Nations, but you have veto power to actually accept majority voting. The ruling of others is something that the Americans are not all that used to. In the European Union we are not doing this on foreign policy, on taxes; but in many other areas, Germany simply has to accept when its position is voted down by the majority of the others.

So, overcoming walls, our capacity to do that will also depend on nation states being capable and willing to transfer part of their sovereignty to multilateral, international organisations – no matter what. We have examples of this kind: the World Trade Organisation, for example, is a case in point; you have a panel of arbitration. There is no veto power over the ruling of this panel of arbitration. You then may well incur a ruling, which means you have to pay certain fees for violating at the General Code of Conduct, and that is something that you have to accept also.

The post-Kyoto phase, where we are trying to bring forward an international agreement that allows us to do something against climate change, we have a similar case in point; because that, in many ways, is also an example of whether we are willing and able to enter into global agreements to counter international challenges. The upcoming conference in Copenhagen is going to be very important, but you don’t have to be a prophet to say: this will not be the end of this process, as we know it. It will have to be continued. This world will, I tell you, not be a peaceful planet if we do not accept more global cooperation, more multilateral cooperation.

The new experience that we have made is that Europe and the United States, even though they may agree, will no longer be able to go solve these problems alone. During the Cold War, Soviet Union, America, and Europe, could, by and large, solve most of the most pressing issues of the world. These days, issues such as climate change cannot be solved without the United States and the Europeans. We will get Russia on this as well. But, if nobody else wishes to participate, then global temperatures will rise over and above the 2° Celsius target. We need India, and we need the emerging economies.

This is actually a very good, a very gratifying result of the fall of the wall at the end of the Cold War: economic prosperity was possible in these emerging economies. This requires, however, to think in a much more multi-polar way than we are used to. Many of you will have to deal with these new realities: how do we cope with countries, with regions that have completely different traditions, completely different political systems? But still, we need to cooperate with them, and we wish to cooperate with them in order to tackle those global issues.

How we will be able to use this wonderful experience that walls can actually be brought down, can be torn down; how can we use this in order to inject a bit of a momentum, and then again not be seen as a sort of task master of the rest of the world, because they think quite differently? This is going to be our task for the future: the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the unification of Germany and Europe, and the much better cooperation, coexistence with Russia. This end of the bi-polar world actually opened a curtain.

Behind this is not a well-ordered world, sort of a nirvana; we have seen completely new conflicts arise, but what still remains true, and that I find rather encouraging- it is also an encouraging experience connected with the ninth of November- what remains is our firm confidence that the individual is capable of living in freedom; freedom in responsibility, not freedom that robs others of their freedom to act. The individual can do enormous things.

Encouraged by this experience, we ought to see globalisation as an opportunity. Look at the many conflicts we need to face in the world of today and tackle them courageously. This means we have to again and again revise our way of thinking. We should not get bogged down in old patterns: these old patterns not only exist in politics, they also exist in science. It is quite surprising: in the past, from my small limited GDR perspective, I always thought that in a world of free science, of truly free science, everything is run along objective lines these days. You hear from professors who need to send students to other continents, because they wish to tackle and attack the very roots of what has become established, convenient truth, here in the world of science. They simply are not satisfied with this state of play.

Please, I can only encourage you: be a role model to us politicians. What we need is a vibrant society, one that time and again makes it incumbent upon us to try for the impossible and unthinkable. It is a good thing to see so many of you united here today, using the ninth of November to talk about walls of the world of today and to think how we can bring them down. This is the kind of thinking that we need for these new challenges. I wish you every success, and at the same time, I wish you and all of us the capacity to simply enjoy what was possible on that ninth of November. To me, it is still a great source of joy, in spite of all of the problems in the world that have not yet been solved. I still do it today, and I will continue to do it in the future. Thank you very much.