Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2015

At the 5th Berlin Foreign Policy Forum, discussions focused on the following issues central to German and European Foreign Policy: How can Europe develop a joint approach to dealing with refugees? How can relations between Russia and Europe be prevented from further deteriorating? What are the chances of a new regional order developing in the Middle East? And which opportunities could help diffuse the tense security situation in Asia? The Forum was opened by Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and further speakers included Luxembourg’s Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Jean Asselborn, Latvia’s former President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Jordan’s former Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi, and Serbia’s former Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić.


The Refugee Crisis as the Predominant Issue

“Foreign policy has never been this present before” – with this remark, Thomas Paulsen from the Körber Foundation’s Executive Board welcomed the guests of the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum at the Humboldt Carré. He continued, “Crises are occurring more strongly, more frequently, more intensely and faster than in the past.” This, he stated, meant that the German population was directly “experiencing” the importance of foreign policy. Paulsen stressed that the majority of Germans still supported restraint on the part of their country when it came to international relations. However, it was also clear that the number of Germans advocating stronger German foreign policy involvement was increasing. Paulsen used data from the recent survey “Involvement or Restraint?” (PDF) commissioned by the Körber Foundation, and comparable data from the previous year.

The Federal Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, thanked the Körber Foundation for having initiated a process of reflection about foreign policy issues through the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum because this process had been absent until the establishment of the Forum five years ago. He maintained that current crises and conflicts meant that reflection was vital and emphasized that “This year we have experienced how quickly times can change.”

Steinmeier argued that Greece no longer constituted the biggest crisis of the year, as it had been overtaken in importance by the issue of refugees. The refugee crisis, he continued, had the potential to cause permanent divisions in Europe. Moreover, this issue was about humanity, on the one hand, and a proper understanding of solidarity on the other. Steinmeier maintained that Europe could either return to tollgates and national egoism, or demonstrate its strength as a continent and “hold together, and act together.” He also reasoned that the current situation confirmed the need for more and not less Europe. Steinmeier closed by reminding that “the right to asylum is not only a German basic right; it is a fundamental European value” (Opening speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier).

The subsequent panel discussion dealt with the issue of how these principles could be used to implement a more equitable distribution of refugees across the European Union. The panel consisted of Luxemburg’s Foreign Minister, Jean Asselborn, Jan Hamáček, speaker of the Czech parliament, and Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The second panel discussion, entitled “Russia and Europe”, focused on the issue of normalizing the strained relations between Russia, its neighbors and the European Union. The participants viewed the differing understandings of the current situation, the divergences between the two related discourses, and the lack of a shared vision for Europe’s future (with Russia viewing itself as part of Europe) as the issues that would be most difficult to resolve. The panel was composed of former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, the Chair of the Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs Norbert Röttgen; as well as Russia’s Permanent Representative to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, and the Political Director of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Oleksii Makeiev.

The first panel discussion to take place in the afternoon was devoted to the future of the Middle East. During the debate about the Syrian crisis, it became apparent that the old Middle Eastern order was undergoing upheaval and that this process was likely to continue for some time. The transition occurring in the region was said to have been compounded by the fact that none of the actors involved had a clear strategy. This led the participants to welcome efforts to bring stakeholders to the table in Vienna because this could do justice to the interdependencies that existed between the diverse regional conflicts. Nevertheless, intense mistrust between the various parties meant that Vienna was unlikely to produce rapid results. The panel comprised Phil Gordon from the Council on Foreign Relations, Sayed Sadegh Kharrazi, founder of the Iranian think-tank “Iranian Diplomacy”, Jean Marie Guéhenno, President of the International Crisis Group and Ayman Safadi, former Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan.

These discussions were followed by a Körber Debate on the controversial issue of whether Chinese rearmament posed a threat to Asia. Kurt Volker, Executive Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, contended that China’s rearmament in itself constituted no threat to the region. However, he maintained that the combination of China’s rising military expenditure and the increasing determination with which the country was manifesting its regional territorial claims did pose a risk. Colonel Lu Yin from Beijing National Defense University countered this view by stating that the size of a country’s military was less relevant than a country’s defense policy alignment, which, she argued, constituted an essential element in determining the level of threat posed by a particular country. Accordingly, Lu reasoned that since the Chinese military served the aim to protect the country’s peaceful development and to assume increased international responsibilities in the future, China’s rearmament posed no threat to Asia.

During the final panel discussion, entitled “Europe and the Refugees”, the participants pointed out that the EU faced two equally difficult challenges in this regard: housing the refugees arriving in Europe, and dealing with the causes that lead people to seek refuge. This understanding led the participants to advance the need for a common European strategy aimed at tackling the causes of refugee flows, which, they contended, was the only way to reduce the numbers of refugees in the long-term. However, as EU member states lacked the will to concerted action on both matters, the issue of refugees would continue to dominate European foreign and domestic policy over the coming months. This final panel was made up of the Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior Günter Krings, the Director of Human Rights Watch in Brussels Lotte Leicht, the former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić, and Lina Khatib from the Paris-based Arab Reform Initiative.

Keynote speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier during the opening of the Forum

Involvement or Restraint



  • Thomas Paulsen    
  • Frank-Walter Steinmeier    
  • Jan Hamáček, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Jean Asselborn    
  • Norbert Röttgen    
  • Vaira Vike-Freiberga    
  • Carl Bildt, Vladimir Chizhov, Vuk Jeremić    
  • Tina Hassel    
  • Sayed Sadegh Kharrazi    
  • Jean-Marie Guéhenno    
  • Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Ayman Safadi, Nora Müller, Sayed Sadegh Kharrazi, Phil Gordon    
  • Phil Gordon    
  • Lu Yin, Stefan Kornelius, Kurt Volker    
  • Kurt Volker    
  • Lina Khatib, Lotte Leicht, Günter Krings, Vuk Jeremić    
  • Vuk Jeremić    
  • Lotte Leicht    
  • Photos: Marc Darchinger


    Welcome Remarks by Dr. Thomas Paulsen

    Keynote Speech by Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier

    Perspectives of German and European Foreign Policy
    Panel Discussion at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2015 with Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Jean Asselborn and Jan Hamáček.
    Moderator: Tina Hassel
    (video with original sound)

    Russia and Europe
    Panel Discussion at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2015 with Carl Bildt, Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov, Oleksii Makeiev, Dr. Norbert Röttgen and Prof. Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
    Moderator: Michael Thumann

    The Future of the Middle East
    Panel Discussion at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2015 with Dr. Philip Gordon, Sayed Sadegh Kharrazi, Jean-Marie Guéhenno and Ayman Safadi.
    Moderator: Nora Müller

    Is China’s Growing Military a Threat to Asia?
    Körber Debate at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2015 with Colonel Lu Yin and Ambassador Kurt Volker
    Moderator: Stefan Kornelius

    Europe and the Refugees
    Panel Discussion at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2015 with Vuk Jeremić, Dr. Lina Khatib, Lotte Leicht and Dr. Günter Krings
    Moderator: Dr. Silvia Engels
    (video with original sound)


    9. November 2015

    Reception at Atrium, Federal Foreign Office

    10. November 2015

    8:15 – 9:00

    9:00 – 9:10
    Welcome Remarks by Dr. Thomas Paulsen, Member, Executive Board,
    Körber Foundation, Hamburg

    Perspectives of German and European Foreign Policy

    9:10 – 9:20
    Keynote Speech by Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the
    Federal Republic of Germany

    9:20 – 10:30
    Panel Discussion
    Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic
    of Germany
    Jean Asselborn, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
    Jan Hamáček, Speaker, Chamber of Deputies, Parliament of the Czech Republic
    Moderator: Tina Hassel, Head, ARD Berlin Studio

    Russia and Europe

    11:00 – 12:30
    Panel Discussion
    Carl Bildt, fmr. Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Sweden
    Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the European Union, Brussels
    Oleksii Makeiev, Political Director, Policy and Communication, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kiev
    Dr. Norbert Röttgen, MP, Chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Deutscher Bundestag, Berlin
    Prof. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, fmr. President of Latvia
    Moderator: Michael Thumann, Diplomatic Correspondent, Berlin Office, DIE ZEIT

    12:30 – 14:15
    Breakout Sessions – Lunch (not open to the press)

    The Future of the Middle East

    14:45 – 15:45
    Panel Discussion
    Dr. Philip Gordon, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, New York
    Sayed Sadegh Kharrazi, Founder, Iranian Diplomacy, Tehran
    Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President and CEO, International Crisis Group (ICG), Brussels
    Ayman Safadi, fmr. Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan; Chief Executive Officer, Path Arabia, Abu Dhabi
    Moderator: Nora Müller, Executive Director International Affairs, Körber Foundation, Berlin

    Körber Debate: Is China’s Growing Military a Threat to Asia?

    16:15 – 17:15
    Colonel Lu Yin, Associate Professor, National Defense University, People’s Liberation Army, Beijing
    Ambassador Kurt Volker, Executive Director, The McCain Institute for International Leadership, Arizona State University, Washington, D.C.
    Moderator: Stefan Kornelius, Head, Foreign Policy Department, Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), Munich

    Europe and the Refugees

    17:30 – 18:30
    Panel Discussion
    Vuk Jeremić, fmr. Foreign Minister of the Republic of Serbia; President, Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD), Belgrade
    Dr. Lina Khatib, Senior Research Associate, Arab Reform Initiative, Paris
    Dr. Günter Krings, MP, Parliamentary State Secretary, Federal Ministry of the Interior, Berlin
    Lotte Leicht, Director, Human Rights Watch, Brussels
    Moderator: Dr. Silvia Engels, Advisor, Program Directorate, Deutschlandradio, Cologne