Angela Merkel, Speech to the US Congress, 2009

Angela Merkel

Chancellor of Germany (2005–)

In 2009, just before the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the United States Congress in a speech that made the case for international cooperation. She began by recalling her experience growing up in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) – ‘the part of Germany that was not free’, as she described it – and how she overcame these limits to rise to the position of one of the most important leaders of the Western world – male or female. In her quiet, pragmatic way, Merkel has overseen Germany’s transformation into an economic powerhouse, and has seen her popularity soar in the process.

In her speech, Merkel offers a stirring defence of globalization. She calls on world leaders to tear down ‘the walls of the twenty-first century’ – walls of intolerance and narrow self-interest. As the world becomes smaller, nations must work together in partnership, not isolation. She concludes with a reflection on Berlin’s Freedom Bell, given to Germany by the United States in 1950; a link between two cultures. ‘The Freedom Bell in Berlin is, like the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, a symbol which reminds us that freedom does not come about of itself. It must be struggled for and then defended anew every day of our lives.’

Speech to the US Congress 2009

All things are possible, also in the 21st century, in the age of globalization. We back home in Germany know just as well as you do in America that many people are afraid of globalization. We do not just brush these concerns aside. We recognize the difficulties. And yet it is our duty to convince people that globalization is an immense global opportunity, for each and every continent, because it forces us to act together with others. The alternative to globalization would be shutting ourselves off from others, but this is not a viable alternative. It would lead only to isolation and therefore misery. Thinking in terms of alliances and partnerships on the other hand, is what will take us into a good future.

… That which brings Europeans and Americans closer together and keeps them close is a common basis of shared values. It is a common idea of the individual and his inviolable dignity. It is a common understanding of freedom in responsibility. This is what we stand for in the unique transatlantic partnership and in the community of shared values that is NATO. This is what fills “Partnership in Leadership” with life, ladies and gentlemen.

This basis of values was what ended the Cold War, and it is this basis of values that will enable us to stand the tests of our times—and these tests we must stand.

… Even after the end of the Cold War we are thus faced with the task of tearing down the walls between different concepts of life, in other words the walls in people’s minds that make it difficult time and again to understand one another in this world of ours. This is why the ability to show tolerance is so important. While, for us, our way of life is the best possible way, others do not necessarily feel that way. There are different ways to create peaceful coexistence. Tolerance means showing respect for other people’s history, traditions, religion and cultural identity.

… Ladies and gentlemen, I am convinced that, just as we found the strength in the 20th century to tear down a wall made of barbed wire and concrete, today we have the strength to overcome the walls of the 21st century, walls in our minds, walls of short-sighted self-interest, walls between the present and the future.