German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivers plain text after being sworn in. He demands restraint from Turkey, defies populists and calls for "more courage to stand up for Europe." Marcel Fürstenau says: hats off!
His speech came at just the right time. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has been serving as Germany's federal president since Sunday, and was sworn in on Wednesday in Berlin, made an fulminant plea for democratic values and the defense thereof. Just to be clear: his successor Joachim Gauck impressively did so as well during his five years serving in the office. But it is still good to know that Steinmeier will pick up on his predecessor's style: namely with a similar passion and commitment. And as Steinmeier himself said: he will be non-partisan, but not neutral.
And oh how the former foreign minister is getting involved! He called for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to give signs of easing tensions. And specifically demanded the release of imprisoned Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel. Also saying: "Stop with the dreadful Nazi comparisons!" Thank you Mr. President! Also for the fact that you expressly addressed your clear message to Ankara without doing so in an arrogant tone.
No gifted orator, but inspiring words
Steinmeier paid tribute to the course of "rapprochement with Europe" that the country on the Bosporus actually followed for two decades. And it was more than a rhetorical trick to speak of the "many people of Turkish origin" that live and work here in Germany. It may be those very people who decide whether Erdogan will wield more power as a result of the Turkish referendum in mid-April. Steinmeier's remarks on Turkey were no clumsy election suggestion, he used the opportunity to outline his ideal of a living democracy. "We have to learn how to fight for it!" How true indeed!
Although Steinmeier - unlike his predecessor - is no gifted speaker, the words he delivered as he took up his new post were inspiring. At least to all those who are tired of the crude, primitive language of populists - the populists that loudly march through the streets both here and abroad. But also those who have already gotten their hands on the levers of power in the United States and a number of European capitals. "Push back together!" is Steinmeier's motto. An appeal that will hopefully be heard far beyond the plenary hall of the German parliament.
Meaningful words from a German and European patriot
This first speech from the new German president was very much needed. It was a speech delivered by a German and European patriot. Enlightened patriotism and standing up for Europe go hand-in-hand as Steinmeier rightly emphasized. The fact that he can voice that conviction with such assertiveness and confidence lends value to Steinmeier's words. Germany's new head of state is sure of what he is doing - without being arrogant or acting like a know-it-all when doing it. Steinmeier's swearing in, his speech and that of his predecessor, were an urgently needed challenge addressed to the enemies of democracy.