Oliver McTernan is representing Forward Thinking at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum, an annual event  that gathers 250 prominent politicians, government representatives, experts and journalists to discuss some of the central European foreign policy challenges and potential responses.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum

The foreign minister of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel,  opened the Forum with a wide ranging speech that called on Europe to redefine its role and respond to a new global order in which the influence of the US is in relative decline and where there is a trend towards more local control. In response, there is a need for realism and for Europe to have a vision of the world as it is and not as Europe might wish it to be. The world is an arena in which groups are fighting for their own interests. Furthermore, in this global order new actors are emerging as global players and if vacuums emerge they will be filled quickly. Exemplifying this trend is Russia which has changed the regional balance in the Middle East in particular.

In response to these challenges, the Foreign Minister argued for Europe and the US to have policies based on mutual interests and to defend an international order that is rule based. However, Europe must also be willing to define its own positions and not automatically subject itself to US foreign policy.

As part of this process, the Minister spoke of the need to invest more in EU which should be seen as a strategic anchor by Germany and other European countries. It was suggested that the EU does not eliminate national interests but rather is a mechanism for achieving them; protecting national sovereignty in an age of common threats, rather than diluting sovereignty as it is sometimes accused of. The EU also presents a mechanism by which countries that were enemies can become friends. The relationship between Germany and France was cited as an example of this process, with the two countries able to set aside historic tensions and instead find mutual interests and work together.  Tensions and conflict are not inevitable and pragmatic co-operation is possible in the international arena provided politicians are willing to take risks and act together.

The Berlin Policy Forum will continue throughout the 5th of December and will explore key foreign policy challenges, including how to stabilise the Gulf-MENA region.