Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to our town hall. Welcome to the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.
We are delighted that such a broad range of civil-society representatives as Civil20 is meeting in our city.
Hamburg is very fortunate to have many confident and dedicated citizens. This became particularly evident in the summer of 2015, when hundreds of refugees arrived in our city almost daily – by train, by bus, as hitchhikers or on foot. Indeed, if it had not been for the many volunteers and helpers, Hamburg would have had difficulty in handling such an enormous task. This experience has left its mark on our city and its citizens and has helped us to appreciate first-hand how closely the fate of Hamburg’s population is linked to the fate of people in Syria, Iraq and the various countries of Africa.
Helmut Schmidt, former German chancellor and a native of Hamburg, was one of the first politicians to promote a clear concept of the politics of interdependence, and it was from this concept that the G7 and eventually the G20 evolved.
I am firmly convinced that we need the Group of 20. The world’s current inability to reach an agreement on such central issues as free trade, climate change and how to deal with the consequences of war and persecution must not be allowed to persist. Millions of people – especially women – must be given access to healthcare and education; we need effective instruments to combat tax evasion and to ensure that decent work standards are enforced all over the world; we need even better rules for global markets and an initiative that can transform the ongoing digitalisation process into an opportunity for emancipation and social advancement. We can only achieve these objectives if we maintain the current dialogue, even in difficult times, and continue to negotiate with those very people whose opinions and policies we oppose.
In the past few months, we have experienced how populists and autocrats undermine our liberal democratic order. On the other hand, the last few weeks have also shown how populists can lose their influence again if they are opposed by constructive forces in politics and the civil society.
Do your best.
Do your best and don’t rest on your laurels. That’s the clear message which Civil20 sends to the heads of state and government as well as to politicians in general.
And this message is important. I also see it as a means of encouraging leaders to adhere to the aims of Agenda 2030, especially now, when the hurdles for consensus among the G20 members are particularly high.
We should advocate that conferences such as the G20 are held more often in countries where civil society has the freedom to participate in forming and shaping opinions and policies. In Germany, civil involvement is not only tolerated, it is welcome and desirable, which is why the state encourages it.
In many countries, also in Europe, civil society has been subjected to a great deal of pressure. At this G20 Summit, it is important to show that things can be done differently, and by “differently” we mean better. A constructive approach to differences of opinion is possible and promotes progress.
I have tremendous respect for what Civil20 and other civil-society groups have achieved in the run-up to the summit. Anyone who takes a closer look at the papers published by Civil20 soon realises how extremely seriously it takes its work and how earnestly it seeks practical solutions. At the same time, differences of opinion, for instance about the significance of economic growth for the achievement of the agenda’s aims, do not simply vanish into thin air. On the contrary, democracy needs criticism – criticism combined with an effort to present good arguments.
It is a good sign for democracy that the G20 Summit is attracting such unusually wide interest. I am delighted that so many guests from abroad have come to Hamburg for the Civil20 meeting and I wish you much success. But don’t forget to enjoy the wonderful view from our HafenCity University. We have also invited many representatives of Hamburg’s civil society who I would also like to welcome. Thank you for your great work in our city.
I wish all of you a successful Civil20 meeting and now I hope that you enjoy a nice and interesting evening.
Thank you for your attention.