Angela Merkel′s New Year′s speech: ′Democracy thrives on change′ | News | DW | 31.12.2018
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Angela Merkel's New Year's speech: 'Democracy thrives on change'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeals to the public spirit in her own country and evokes the idea of a stronger EU in her New Year's address. Her answer to international crises: greater responsibility for Germany.

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Merkel calls for unity and tolerance in New Year's speech

In her traditional New Year's address, Germany's chancellor first directs her words at the people in her own country: "My fellow citizens." Yet these words should also be listened to attentively beyond Germany's borders. When Angela Merkel takes stock of what she sees as an "extremely difficult political year," she does so from two perspectives: national and international.

The chancellor begins her speech with an inward look at the long and difficult process of forming a government after the 2017 federal elections. The process lasted six months and even after it was formed, "there was contention and we were highly preoccupied with ourselves." Merkel, a member of the Christian Democrats (CDU), does not mention any examples. But two are memorable: the constant disputes with Interior Minister Horst Seehofer from the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and spats with the Social Democrats (SPD), her coalition partners. Most of them were over Germany's migration policy.

Fateful questions: climate change, migration, terrorism

But Merkel does not want the tense climate within the coalition to be understood as the reason for her intention to step down as chancellor at the end of this legislative period in 2021. She says she would have done so "irrespective of how dissatisfying the past year has been." Her long tenure in office, which has lasted 13 years, is "reason enough." "We build on what our predecessors have left us, and we shape the present for those who will come after us," she says. "Democracy thrives on change," she says. 

Merkel is convinced that the challenges of the time can only be mastered "if we hold together and if we work with others across boundaries and borders." These challenges include not only the "vital question of climate change," but also migration and the fight against international terrorism. "We all want to resolve these questions in our own interest, and we can best do so if we also consider the interests of others."

Germany's role in the United Nations Security Council

However, a willingness to accept the many challenges is shrouded by doubt. Merkel says the traditional certainties of international cooperation have come under pressure. Again, she gives no examples. But there is no question that this includes nationalist politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Her conclusion: "In such a situation, we must stand up more for our convictions; we must argue and fight for them."

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Referring to Germany's seat on the United Nations (UN) Security Council, which will start on January 1 and is limited to two years, Merkel says Germany will advocate for global solutions. "We are further increasing our funding for humanitarian aid and development assistance, but also our defense spending." Germany will also work to make the European Union (EU) "more robust and more capable" and seek to maintain a "close partnership" with the United Kingdom despite its planned withdrawal from the EU. The chancellor also called on Germans to help keep the EU "a project of peace, prosperity and security" as the bloc prepares for European elections in May.

'Openness, tolerance and respect'

Toward the end of her address, Merkel once again looks inwards. Working toward the goal of "equal living conditions," she says the German government wants "everyone to be provided with good access to education, housing and health care." It is, she says, trying to find the "best substantive solutions" to those problems.

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"Ever more frequently, however, we are also contending for our way of living together and for our values of openness, tolerance and respect." Merkel is worried about the political climate in Germany, which became harsher in 2018. Yet she remains confident: "Good new things can arise when we believe in our values and implement our ideas vigorously."

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