Speech for the 114th IPU Assembly, Nairobi, 8 May 2006
Promoting democracy and helping to build democratic institutions
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Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to thank the Kenyan Members of Parliament on behalf of everyone here for hosting this event. The German Bundestag and the German Government remain committed to promoting democracy abroad.
However, for a country to be able to promote democracy in other countries, it must have a strong democracy at home. The centrepiece of any democracy is the constitution, which defines what makes a democracy. Very important for the development of German democracy was the help and support provided by France, Great Britain, and the United States. After a time of inhumanity and evil in the Second World War, the mothers and fathers of the German constitution were aware of Germany's historical legacy and founded our new state on this recognition. The constitution was to form the basis for a peaceful society in post-war Germany based on respect and openness. The sentence "Human dignity shall be inviolable" heads a series of articles known as the Basic Rights, which describe a basic structure for our identity.
Without universal human rights, from equality of men and women of all cultures and religions to freedom of the press, democracy is impossible. This recognition shapes not only our constitution but our entire cultural self-perception. I see, not without pride, that our constitution, the Basic Law, enjoys a very high reputation in the international arena and is even used as a blueprint by various other countries in their own constitutional process. That is exactly what we are seeking to support when we offer our experience as a contribution to a constitutional dialogue, as occurred in South Africa, for example.
In Germany, the history of our present-day democratic order certainly did not end after the Second World War. Our country did not become a united democratic state until the fall of the Wall and Germany's reunification 16 years ago. It was especially worthy of note, as this occurred, that it was the people in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) who urgently demanded and ultimately achieved democracy. Even today, there are many former civil rights activists among my fellow members in the German Bundestag. That is a good thing, for democratic principles and structures are vulnerable and often under threat, and need us to protect and respect them day after day.
But it is not simply a matter of establishing checks and balances for our domestic institutions and processes. There is also the problem of decision-making at European and international levels.
Within the framework of "Global Governance", more and more decisions are being taken not at national level first but at international level. This raises the question of the legitimacy of government representatives as decision-makers. The individual national parliaments could soon find themselves in a role in which all they can do is take note of decisions that have already been adopted. But the sovereign people elect not the Government but Parliament as the decision-maker. That is why, notwithstanding all the benefits of international decision-making, we must constantly monitor whether our democratic institutions and processes are still being respected to an adequate degree. (Brussels directive)
Ladies and gentlemen,
From our historical obligation and ongoing engagement within society, Germany has evolved into a strong and dynamic democracy which we are keen to promote for ourselves and abroad. That is why we share our experiences with other countries which are building democracy, if we are requested to do so. To a large extent, this takes place at official level: the German-Chinese rule-of-law dialogue is a case in point. But a further task is to safeguard rule-of-law institutions. This is happening at present in the Congo, where we are attempting to facilitate democratic elections. Democratization only has a chance if, for example, judges are protected or police officers are properly paid. Assisting this process is an important task, in my view.
Besides this very practical support, an even greater priority is providing advice. Here, issues such as participation, equality, promotion of civil society with special regard to NGOs as a part of this society, and the defence of human rights play a key role. This advisory work is undertaken primarily by the independent foundations established by Germany's political parties. And we as Parliamentarians being involved in different international organizations as the IPU or OSZE also have a great responsibility in that process.
In German politics, the special importance of civil society has become even more apparent in recent years. For that reason, we view foreign cultural and education policy as an especially promising field of activity for the future. Here, we focus especially on direct encounter between people and promote dialogue and exchange between the various cultures and religions. By encouraging this type of pro-active cultural dialogue, we can counter trends such as fundamentalism, violence and confrontation which stand in the way of democratization. With exhibitions, libraries, discussions, language courses, publications and by many other means, we are encouraging people all over the world to support democracy, freedom of the press, equality of men and women, human rights, minority protection, the rule of law and sustainable development, and thus strengthen civil society.
This ties in with our experience in Germany too. A popular movement such as the one which reached its peak in the GDR in 1989 is still the best and most direct way of initiating a democratization process which is appropriate for the country and the people living in it. We are very glad of what we have accomplished in the past and that we have managed to get to where we stand today - but we have to continue to work hard as democracy has to be fostered every day to keep it alive.
As Ghandi said: There's enough for everybody's need, but not for everybody's greed.