„If it was possible to create the ‚Spirit of Helsinki‘ even in the middle of the Cold War, it should be possible today,“ said the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, in his opening speech at the Körber Foundation’s Berlin Foreign Policy Forum. Earlier, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also posited that we needed a „minimum of mutual understanding“ to preserve peace. The Foundation’s Head of International Policy, Nora Müller, was optimistic about the coming conference a day after her conversation with Niinistö.
This year’s Berlin Forum, which took place on November 22 and 23 and which I was invited to attend, was once again virtual (for obvious reasons). Again, the face-to-face exchange that had been missed for so long was hampered. But the Forum’s excellent organization and great technical implementation proved what is now possible on the Internet. What’s more: over 1,400 registered participants from all over the world attended—an order of magnitude that could hardly have been achieved before the pandemic.
On Tuesday morning, Thomas Paulsen, from the Executive Board of the Körber Foundation, referred to the currently published „Berlin Pulse“ (https://www.koerber-stiftung.de/fileadmin/user_upload/koerber-stiftung/redaktion/the-berlin-pulse/pdf/2021/TheBerlinPulse_2021_komplett.pdf) with many interesting survey results. Paulsen particularly emphasized that the majority of Germans still showed no interest in becoming more involved internationally. As in the previous year, half recommend restraint, while 45 percent favor greater involvement. This hardly corresponds to the state of debate in foreign and security policy circles and is certainly not a „Munich consensus“ that is repeatedly conjured up with reference to the 2014 Munich Security Conference. Not to be misunderstood: I am in favor of stronger engagement, as demonstrated by the German government in peace talks for Libya in Berlin or Ukraine in Minsk. The greater desire for restraint, in my view, stems primarily from understandable concerns about being drawn into further military adventures.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who is still in office for a few days, chose Andreas Reckwitz’s book „End of Illusions“ as the central thread for his presentation. He stated that the world has developed quite differently in the past ten years than was expected. From this, he drew the surprising conclusion that German foreign policy must continue as before. While in the U.S. President Joe Biden wants to make foreign policy for the „middle class“ in his country, for Maas the topic of „social justice“ is just another item in a long list. And the global competition that is actually taking place between democratic states, unfortunately all too often referred to as „Western“, and those that have an authoritarian or dictatorial form of government, is dealt with by the incumbent foreign minister under the heading of NATO and defense policy. 
When will German foreign policy begin to discuss the fact that we, too, must once again „deliver“ for people to defend our system? If we don’t leave the neoliberal age behind and finally start fulfilling the promise again that our children will be better off here one day, we will lose. Just as the climate issue has fought for a place in foreign policy debates in recent years, the social issue also belongs on the agenda. In any case, Heiko Maas has drawn the conclusion from Reckwitz’s book to scale down his goals. That was indeed disillusioning.
In the further course of the conference, I found it remarkable that Franziska Brantner, from the upcoming governing party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance90/The Greens), first distanced herself from the upcoming coalition partner and correctly noted that the foreign policy of the past was too strongly influenced by economic interests of German companies. I also share Timothy Garton Ash’s criticism that Germany, despite (or precisely because of) its strong economic role in Hungary, did far too little to oppose the undemocratic developments there. Hopefully, more will happen with a government that does not include the CDU and the CSU, which have been protecting Viktor Orbán for far too long.
In the conversation Nora Müller had with Afghanistan’s former foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, he asked us not to consider the people who now have to flee from the Taliban regime as a threat. Shameful that noticing something like that seems to be necessary. I also found it tragic how he revealed that parts of the Taliban and the Afghan government were ready to negotiate years ago, but this was prevented by the foreign capitals, without whose backing Kabul was too weak. How differently could the conflict have gone?
Talking in the working groups, I chose to speak and talk with Trisha Shetty from Mumbai about diversity. She forcefully criticized the fact that those who decide are significantly older, whiter, and more male compared to the world population. This is indeed a problem. I also did not know until now that at the COP 26 climate conference, the group of those delegates influenced by the fossil fuel industry was the largest, larger than the country delegations of, for example, the US or the UK. After the working group, I found myself in a small „coffee talk“ where I was able to talk to a Chinese conference delegate, among others, about the representation of children and young people in decision-making in Germany and the PRC.
I was very impressed by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya from Belarus, who reminded us in her video contribution that the conflict with the European Union instigated by the local ruler Lukashenko should not make us forget that resistance against him continues in Belarus. I think that the fear of some governments of the European Union – including the previous German one – of migration, makes them unnecessarily susceptible to blackmail.
My thanks go to the entire team of the Körber Foundation, who once again put together an interesting program under these adverse circumstances. I look forward to the next meeting, but then hopefully in person again!