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German president tells world 'You can depend on us'

September 24, 2021

The world can rely on Germany, whatever happens in the country's upcoming general election, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has told the UN General Assembly.

President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier addresses the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly
President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier addresses the 76th Session of the UN General AssemblyImage: JOHN ANGELILLO/UPI/AP/picture alliance

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.

The speech made Steinmeier the first German head of state to address the assembly in almost four decades.

What did the president say?

In his address, Steinmeier said assembly members could be sure that, in a changing world, Germany would continue to accept its international responsibilities.

"In the preamble to the German constitution, the claim is brief and precise: to serve the peace of the world as an equal member in a united Europe," said Steinmeier. 

"This claim, this obligation, applies to every German government. And that is why it was important for me to come to New York today as federal president and to convey this message from Germany to the international community: Our partners can rely on us, and our competitors must continue to reckon with us."

'We Germans do not forget'

The speech comes ahead of Germany's general election on Sunday, which will see Chancellor Angela Merkel step down in its wake.

The president said that the election outcome would not fundamentally affect German foreign policy given the lessons learned during the last century.

"Even after this election, Germany will remain a country that knows about and accepts its international responsibilities."

"There are two overriding reasons for this. First, we Germans do not forget: the new political and economic start after two world wars; the growth into the international community after all the misfortune that had emanated from my country; and finally the peaceful reunification — this happy German path was only possible with the support of our neighbors and partners."

Germans head to the polls soon: What do they expect?

'Honest, smarter, but also stronger'

The president said return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan represented a political failure on the part of the West. However, he said, lessons must be learned and democratic nations could not give up on making the world a better place. 

"I am convinced that resignation would be the wrong lesson."

"In my view, this moment of geopolitical disillusionment means three things for our foreign policy: We must become more honest, smarter — but also stronger."

Returning to the theme of Afghanistan, Steinmeier said it should not be a reason for others to gloat.

"Our failure should not be a reason for others to gloat. Very consciously, I use this German word that is known in many languages: Schadenfreude — A way of thinking in which one person's harm is another's gain does not do justice to the reality of this interconnected world."

"Regional instability, eroding statehood, flows of refugees and migrants, religious extremism and terror, and new forms of conflict — hybrid, digital, environmental and resource conflicts. Such developments threaten us all, and we all have to deal with them." 

Coronavirus and climate change

He said Germany and Europe would need to play a role in tackling the challenges facing the world, including the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.

"The responsibility of the great powers, including us Europeans, weighs all the more heavily when we think of the global challenges, of the great questions facing humanity."

"Never before have we experienced our mutual dependence, our interdependence, as existentially as in the almost two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, even though we know this pandemic won't be over until it's over everywhere, our record on global vaccine distribution is mixed at best."

He said the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this November would need to make progress, highlighting natural disasters that included "apocalyptic fires and scorching temperatures," as well as severe flooding in western Germany. 

"Against this dramatic background, the relapse into national selfishness that I am warning against is more than just a step back into the past. It is robbery of our common future! It damages the very institutions and instruments we need now. We need strong joint resolutions in Glasgow now!"

Before Steinmeier's speech, the only German president to previously appear before the UN body was Karl Carstens in 1983.

Steinmeier, who has been Germany's president since March 2017, has previously addressed the assembly as Germany's foreign minister.

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.