64th Königswinter Conference

Foreign Office Minister David Lidington spoke about the situation in Ukraine and Europe’s wider role in the world at the Königswinter Conference.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Good evening, Guten Abend, and thank you for that introduction.

I’d like to welcome my German counterpart, Michael Roth, with whom I have today been chairing a joint meeting of our respective ministerial committees on European affairs.

I’m conscious that you’ve had a full day of debate, where the exam question has been whether Europe is a museum or a global hub.

By now, you may have resolved this matter to your satisfaction, but if I were to be asked, my answer would be that it is both.

And this extraordinary building in which we find ourselves tonight illustrates why.

Kings College was founded in 1441. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful colleges in this historic city, and it is visited each year by hundreds of thousands of tourists. In that sense, it is a museum.

But Cambridge University is also an academic hub generating ideas that spread out around the world. There are 90 Nobel prizes associated with Cambridge - the highest number for any individual institution. They have been won by eminent British academics, but also by German-born scientists such as Hans Krebs and Ernst Chain.

Like Cambridge, Europe is both a museum and a hub. We have a heritage to be proud of, but it is the potency of our ideas and ideals that have helped us to spread prosperity and European values around the world.

Many years ago, as a history student at Cambridge, I would have continued this debate into the early hours. I’ll try to keep this speech slightly shorter.

So let me turn now to the matter of the moment – Ukraine.

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea has reset the dial for Europe. And tonight I want to reflect on what this crisis means for us, and what the long-term implications are:

… for our relationship with Russia;

…for Europe’s relationship with the wider world;

…and for all of us in the European Union.

First, Russia.

I regard it as a great shame that we find ourselves in this position of confrontation after 20 years of engagement.

Over the past two decades, we have brought Russia back into the community of nations; worked together against terrorism; and bailed out its economy in the late 1990s. Our aim has been to work with the Russian Government and her people.

Despite this, and in direct contravention of international law, Russia has invaded a European nation. It is also taking advantage of frozen conflicts from Transnistria to South Ossetia to reassert imperial prerogatives that have no place in a democratic Europe.

Russian troops remain massed on Ukraine’s borders. There is a grave risk of the crisis deepening.

That is why we were right to impose sanctions, and why Moscow should be in no doubt that Europe is prepared to go further if necessary.

Russia must enter into direct talks with Ukraine. If we do not see progress, and if Russia continues along its present path, then we must prepare to set our relationship on a different footing.

This will impose costs on all of us - Russia most of all. The World Bank yesterday said that its economy could shrink by up to 1.8% this year. But the principles of the rule of law and national sovereignty must remain sacrosanct.

These are European principles, and Germany and the UK are standing firmly together with our EU and NATO partners in their defence.

My second point is about Europe’s wider role in the world.

President Obama in Brussels yesterday reaffirmed that the transatlantic partnership is the cornerstone of both European and American security. He also spoke of the power of European values, quoting a young woman on Euromaidan, who said: “there are some things that fear, police sticks and tear gas cannot destroy.”

I agree. The risk of the post Cold War era has been that we forget the reasons for the transatlantic structures that were established in the previous century, and the assumptions which underpin our security come to be seen as theoretical.

The lesson of the past month is that this would be a profound mistake.

I have just come from Riga and Vilnius where this is felt keenly. Frankly I could understand if they felt that the rest of Europe has not been listening when they warned us about exactly this kind of Russian behaviour over the past decade.

Our two countries have a long history of commitment to the alliance, a point which Chancellor Merkel made very powerfully during her visit last month.

There will need to be serious discussions about the implications of this crisis for NATO. We have time for that in the coming months. But what is already clear is that the organisation’s central place in our security architecture remains fundamental.

That is not to say that the EU’s Common Security and Defence policy is not also essential – and, in my time in office, our countries have worked together to develop the policy to make it more flexible, coherent and effective. We should continue to do so.

The transatlantic partnership is not, however, limited to security. It is fundamentally a community of shared values.

This leads into my third point: Europe’s strength in the world hinges upon the vitality of our democracy and the prosperity of our economies, both of which need urgent attention.

The ‘Spirit of the Maidan’ was a reminder of Europe’s enduring attraction.

But if the European Union, as a hub of ideas, wants to spread its values more widely, we need to show that our model works.

We need reform to make the EU work better, so that it continues to offer a compelling alternative, based on democracy and prosperity, not coercion and isolation.

We must take action that we know will result in higher living standards: tackling the regulation that holds businesses back, and empowering them to create jobs and growth through a deeper single market in services, digital and energy.

That means driving forward the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership – worth up to €119 billion a year to Europe – and other trade deals too, including the deal with Japan.

And, as Michael (Roth) has repeatedly underlined, this growth needs to be targeted at addressing the crisis of youth unemployment that risks alienating a generation across Europe.

Finally, we need to make sure that our own institutions are in good order, with the democratically-elected governments of its Member States driving the EU’s agenda through the European Council. Because, like our security, democracy is a process that must be continually nurtured and revitalised. It can’t be taken for granted.

Chancellor Merkel spoke in London in February about how Europe is always changing.

Within weeks, we will have a new European Parliament, and within months a new Commission. These institutions will need a clear focus on creating jobs and growth, so that the EU can hold its own in an ever more competitive world.

We also need a commitment – as the Dutch have suggested – to doing things at a European level where necessary, and at national level where possible.

It’s worth stepping back and thinking for a moment why this is important. The Dutch principle speaks not to some desire to unpick the EU acquis, but to the fundamentally democratic idea of decisions being taken close to the people they affect. It is a principle that works in Germany’s Länder, and it is one that we strongly support.

In conclusion, the crisis in Ukraine has jolted people in Europe into remembering the big picture: where we stand, what our values are, and who our partners are. We cannot afford to take our freedom, security and prosperity for granted. They are things we must work to defend and protect.

The strong partnership between the United Kingdom and Germany is central to how Europe’s responds to this current crisis, but it is also central as we chart our course for the years ahead.

Thank you.

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Published 28 March 2014