Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Angela Merkel, voted several times "The most powerful woman of the world" by Forbes Magazine, 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.  

Keynote on the Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall (2011)


Dear Professor Turner, honourable guests, Mr. Federal President, ladies and gentlemen, Excellencies: I am glad to be here again. At this moment there are neither 40 heads of government with me nor am I visiting 40, but I am gladly here at this conference, the “Falling Walls Conference”, taking place, now as a tradition, on the 9th of November. What you have already spoken about today exemplifies that the world could be very simple if all these “breakthroughs” could just happen. I don’t have any special simple solution, however, I do believe it is very important to continuously perceive the world anew.

This day, the place, all of this, is enough symbolism for us to put our tasks that we have in front of us, to order them and to find perspectives for a possible solution. The 9th of November is a day in German history of great importance. The 9th of November 1938 is a reminder of a catastrophe bigger than anything we might envisage today. It was a day of disgrace, a harbinger of a break with civilised conduct – the “Shoah”: Germans persecuting Germans just because they were Jewish. This madness then led to an unparalleled crime. It devastated the continent; it claimed millions of human lives all over the world. If today, and in this particular location, we talk about the future, we also, and in particular, do it in memory of the victims of this madness, of this delusion, that started, that had its origin, in our country.

Then again, the 9th of November 1989 is a day that for people all over the world symbolises an incredible joy, and a joy to experience the fall of the Berlin Wall here in Berlin. The yearning for freedom, the courage of the people, proved to be stronger than concrete. It brought about the fall of communism. Berlin, that was once a symbol of division and standstill, became a symbol of a break-through into freedom. All of you, who may stroll along the streets of Berlin, have probably seen that this is one of the most vibrant capitals of the world. This conference takes place every year on the 9th of November and, in a way, is a bridge between reflections on our past and exchanges of ideas in the present about how to shape the future.

This is a very special characteristic of this forum, because you search for answers to the great questions of our times. We are talking about future breakthroughs for whichpast breakthroughs serve as an encouragement. To be able to participate, if only for a short time, here in these debates in Radialsystem, is a great pleasure to me. I think this location is, in a way, symbolic of two aspects that are most important in this overall process: creativity and diversity. Both promote the exchange of knowledge, of information, of ideas, and in many ways are a prerequisite for us making progress. There is mutual exchange of ideas, learning from each other. This is what is necessary in order to transcend borders, in order to open up new horizons for each and every one.

Scientific progress is crucial, is decisive, in order to be able to shape global change in a meaningful way, and you have already, I believe, done this in a number of debates you have had today. This is why it is so important that Germany is, and remains, an important location for science. I also would hold that we need to become more attractive, if we think of opportunities and our fortes. I think that one can safely say that knowledge, creativity, is our great resource. We are neither rich in commodities and natural resources, nor does our demographic situation allow us to expect us to be a growing market. If you want money from us, we have to point to our level of indebtedness. So, our treasure is the bright minds that we have, our history, our tradition, which we can use to shape the future. This is why we invest in the brightest minds, and we know that this will pay off in the long run.

Opening up education opportunities, having research friendly structures, making our education system more permeable, developing new forms of cooperation, which is something that is currently debated here in the capital, and maybe then will be put to the test. We also need a systematic promotion of junior scientists. It is most important that you, during this conference, have also set this out as one of your priorities. Because, when you have falling walls, falling borders, the world is suddenly an open forum for young people. People don’t have to stay in Germany. You can do this everywhere. You can pursue your studies and your research everywhere. So it will not be, as such, that all of the talents come to Germany. Some talents will probably come to Germany but some may not. We want to prevent our own talents from leaving us.

Ladies and gentlemen, the historic event of the fall of the Wall is for us an opportunity to look ahead and to ask: which will be the next walls to fall? This is the brilliant idea of this Falling Walls Conference. We all feel that this world of today is of great dynamism and growing complexity. Everyday it opens up new questions. When we find replies to them, the replies and answers already give rise to new questions. I think there is a change right now happening in history that changes. There are always times for rapid change. I think that telecommunications, for example, certainly one of the great breakthroughs, maybe comparable to the invention of the printing press. The world population also develops in a very dynamic way.

Ever since last week, we are now seven billion people on this planet. I always like to point out to people that when Konrad Adenauer was one year into his chancellorship, there were just five billion, and now we are seven. We Europeans are about seven percent of the world population, twenty percent of GDP. The tendency in both cases is a falling one. So, the great questions of our times that we need to tackle are questions as to how can we live and not do this at the expense of future generations? This is one of the great issues that we need to deal with. This goes for various areas. For example, the great and excessive indebtedness of a number of countries that we are dealing with right now, and also other questions come into play. The indebtedness, in many ways, is the most glaring example, if you like, of this way of thinking that “knows no tomorrow”. That this way of thinking is wrong is something that we are aware of. When you say that to people they know: of course, we know it is wrong; it is wrong to live this way, but it is so difficult to do it differently.

This is why, on this 9th of November, I would like to remind all of you that already 200 years ago in Berlin a scientist said what was necessary to be said as to this phenomenon. He said: “A sign of wisdom is to make use of our natural resources in such a way that future generations may reap just as much benefit from them as the present generation.” We know the person who said this was a scientist in forestry, Georg Ludwig Hartig, and he said this in 1804. This is exactly the definition of sustainability. These days we are all familiar with the English word of sustainability. So, why is it so difficult, if this was stated so clearly 200 years ago already to translate this knowledge into action?

Mr. Turner told me that this morning you discussed the research work of Elke Weber who works at Columbia University, in Economic Psychology. Her research may perhaps point us to why that seems to be so difficult to translate knowledge into action. Her research makes it very plausible that for action we need not only a necessary insight but also a cause. What usually is most effective for galvanising us into action is unfortunately “bad news”. So, perhaps we should see this “bad news”, unpleasant news, that we deal with everyday, for example on the debt crisis, as something that will galvanise us into useful. Maybe we ought to do things differently. That is what is pleasant about unpleasant news, because it offers us, indeed, a possibility for a turning point, a moment, a point in time, to actually reverse course.

The present situation in Europe certainly is a very unpleasant one, is “bad news”; it should be more than sufficient cause for a turn to the better. This is indeed a moment, as I said, that is a turning point – not only “bad news”, but also a time to reflect one’s previous decisions and actions, and also an opportunity to change tact, to change course. This is not as easy as it may sound and not always as easy as it seems logically. But, this is the time actually to break the wall to a new Europe. When we try to do that, we should not only overcome our current debt problems but also think ahead, think of the future, and not live, again, at the expense of future generations. We need to change our course and bring about more sustainable policies. This Europe that is our future – I was already mentioning about seven percent of the global population, Germany perhaps one percent of the global population – even if we may think that we are the biggest economy, we, out of our own accord and all alone, will not be able to move matters forward. So, if we not only want to think of today but of tomorrow, we will need to usher in a stability unit. For this, we need to change quite a lot actually. If we think of the current state of our societies, declarations of intent are always good, as we know. But democracies can only ever be secured when you have solid structures in place that can then be verified and where there is a certain price to pay if you don’t abide by the rules. This is what we need to deal with here in Europe, so declarations of intent will not be sufficient. What will be of the essence will be genuine structural change. I think we ought to bear common responsibility in Europe, and for this we need treaty change; without this it will not be possible.

Unfortunately, we have undergone rather torturous deliberations and Professor Herzog knows this only too well. In order to bring about the Lisbon Treaty, then politicians lean back exhaustedly on their chairs and said: “Never again a treaty change, please.” So, if I address here an audience that participates in a Falling Walls Conference, I have to explain to them that there is another wall that we need to break through, because no matter what happens all over the world, upholding a viewpoint that these rules cannot be adjusted to the changes all over the world is certainly an untenable position. That is something that we have to drive home to politicians. We need to be mentally capable to adjust and to find responses, replies, to these new challenges. This will mean more Europe and not less Europe.

What we see today, and what we have to acknowledge is that Irish concerns are Slovak concerns; Greek concerns are Dutch concerns; Spanish concerns are German concerns or Italian ones. Our responsibility, and that has become abundantly clear, does not stop at the borders of our countries; it goes far beyond that. That means, in essence, that European policies have developed in such a way that we have developed something that is almost a European domestic internal policy. So, we need to act and think in more global dimensions, but also have to think of Europe as our domestic market place and our place for domestic political decisions. We have to make European responsibility something that is lived, filled with life everyday. Europe, if you like, is a consequence of the end of the Cold War. This enlargement of the European Union, shared European values that need to be defended against global challenges.

When I say Europe is in a crisis, I have to also say: well, this is the moment that ought to galvanise us into action, where we need to make a breakthrough into a new Europe. It is particularly at this point in time, where exchanges between science and politics is of such crucial importance, which is why we like to hear from you, like to hear advice. We have to, unfortunately, also translate it into political action fairly quickly, because the world is not waiting for Europe to come to grips with the situation. Maybe this is one of the misconceptions of the 20th century: that we are the centre of the world and that without us the world will not be able to proceed. But, that is quite different these days. We need the rest of the world; we need Europe, because we want to continue to live in prosperity; we want to continue to live in

freedom, and because of that we need a breakthrough to a Europe of responsibility. I am more than glad to be able to state this clearly on the 9th of November at this conference. I think we can make it. Thank you very much.