A number of today’s papers have carried parts of, or references to, Angela Merkel’s new year message. Given the vacuum in political leadership in the UK, I decided it was worth translating in full.
For any cynics who may read this: I’m not blind to Germany’s faults. Indeed, I’ve got a blog in the pipeline about a German tax issue that shows some of those faults only too clearly. But at least they have a leader who is worthy of the name.
“Dear fellow citizens,
2016 was a year of difficult challenges. I want to talk to you this evening about that – but also about why, despite everything, I am confident for Germany, and why I am so convinced of the strengths of our country and her people.
The most difficult challenge is without doubt Islamic terrorism, which has had us Germans in its sights, too, for many years. In 2016 it attacked us in the heart of our country: in Würzburg, in Ansbach and just a few days ago in the Christmas market here at the Memorial Church in Berlin.
And – yes – it is especially bitter and disgusting when terror attacks are committed by people who supposedly seek protection in our country. Who for that very reason have experienced our country’s willingness to help, and now make a mockery of it with their deeds. Just as they mock those who really need and earn our protection.
So what of the confidence that I spoke of at the beginning? Confidence in the midst of deep grief for the dead and injured?
I think we could feel it here in Berlin and in many other German cities even in these difficult days: in the comfort that we were able to give or to receive.
And in our firm determination to counter the terrorists’ hate with our humanity and our solidarity.
By carrying on with our lives and our work, we are saying to terrorists: you are murderers, full of hate, but you do not determine how we live and want to live. We are free, humane, open.
And by being able to say once again, for example, with the pictures of a bombed Aleppo in Syria before our eyes, how important and right it was that our country, again in this past year, has helped those who really need our protection to get back to normal and integrate themselves here with us.
All of that – it is reflected in our democracy, in our rule of law, in our values.
They are the antithesis of the hate-filled world of terrorism, and they will be stronger than terrorism. We are stronger together. Our state is stronger.
Our state does its utmost to guarantee security in freedom for its citizens.
This work is never done, and just this year we have given significant new support to the security services. In 2017, to the extent that political and legislative changes are needed, we – the federal government – will introduce and implement the necessary measures as quickly as possible.
Many also associate the past year, 2016, with the feeling that the whole world has turned upside-down, or that things that had been regarded as achieved are now thrown into question. The European Union for example. Or even parliamentary democracy, which supposedly has no concern for the interest of citizens, but serves only the interests of a few.
Yes, Europe is slow. It’s arduous. It has to suffer deep incisions, such as the departure of a member state. And – yes – Europe should concentrate on what it can really do better than the nation-state.
But no – we Germans should never let ourselves pretend that a happy future could ever lie in going it alone as a nation.
Where Europe is challenged as a whole – such as in global competition, the protection of our external borders, or migration – it must also find the answer as a whole – regardless of how arduous and tough that is. And we Germans have every interest in playing a leading role.
It’s also a caricature that many paint of our parliamentary democracy. But in fact parliamentary democracy is strong. It enables people to work together and to have a say. It tolerates – no, it requires – dissent and criticism. Criticism that is peaceful and has respect for individuals, that seeks solutions and compromises and does not exclude whole groups.
2017 is also the year of the next federal election. I will do what I can to have a robust political debate, where we will argue passionately about many things, but always as democrats, who never forget that it is an honour to serve our democracy, and thereby serve people.
Another thing from which I take heart for Germany is our social market economy. It allows us to cope with crises and change processes better than any other economic system in the world.
Never before have so many people been in work as today. Our businesses are overwhelmingly in good shape. Our economic success gives us opportunities to strengthen our social system and to help all those who need help. From tomorrow, for example, important improvements in care will come into force.
I am also heartened by the enthusiasm and innovative spirit with which our businesses and universities carry out research and development for the future. Whether it’s new energy sources or digitalisation – in all areas we have the opportunity not to be the ones who are driven but the ones who discover and determine the new paths.
To do that, we need an open outlook on the world and self-confidence – in ourselves and in our country.
Solidarity, openness, our democracy and a strong economy serving the interests of all: that is what makes me confident for our future here in Germany, even at the end of a hard year.
None of these values are given to us on a plate. We will have to work collectively for each one of them in 2017, everyone contributing what they can – and this work will be worthwhile.
I wish you and your families, from my heart, a joyful new year, happiness, health and God’s blessing.”