My fellow citizens,
2016 has been a year of difficult trials. This is what I would like to speak to you about this evening, but I would also like to speak about why I am confident in Germany in spite of everything, and why I am so very convinced of the strengths of our country and its people. Doubtless the most difficult trial is Islamist terrorism, which has been setting its sights on Germany for years now. In 2016 it struck us in the heart of our country: in Würzburg, in Ansbach, and just a few days ago at a Christmas market at the Gedächtniskirche here in Berlin.
And yes, it is especially bitter and detestable when terrorist attacks are committed by people who came to our country claiming to seek protection, people whom our country was eager to help for this reason, and who have now made a cruel mockery of this helping spirit through their deeds, just as they make a cruel mockery of those who truly need and deserve our protection.
Why, then, do I feel the confidence that I mentioned? Confidence amidst such deep sorrow and grief for the dead and wounded? I believe that here in Berlin and in many other German cities, we have sensed it in these difficult days, in the words of solace that we have been able to give and receive. And in our resolute determination to counter the terrorists’ world of hate with our compassion and our cohesion. By going on with our lives and our work, we tell the terrorists: you are murderers filled with hatred, but you will not determine how we live or how we want to live. We are free, compassionate and open.
And with images in our minds of bombed-out Aleppo in Syria, we have to say once again how important and right it was that during the past year, too, our country helped those in true need of our protection find their footing in Germany and integrate into our society. All of this is reflected in our democracy, in our government based on the rule of law, and in our values. They are the counter-project to the hate-filled world of terrorism, and they will be stronger than terrorism. We together are stronger. Our state is stronger. Our state does everything possible to guarantee security and freedom for its citizens. This work is never finished, and this year we have provided a lot of new support to our security agencies.
In 2017, the Federal Government will swiftly initiate and implement the necessary measures wherever political or legal changes are needed. Cohesion, openness, our democracy and a strong economy that serves the well-being of all: these are the things that make me confident in our future here in Germany, even at the end of a difficult year.
Many people also associate the year 2016 with a feeling that the entire world has fallen to pieces or that things that were long considered to be finished achievements have now been called into question. The European Union, for example. Or even parliamentary democracy, which purportedly does not attend to the interests of citizens, but rather serves to benefit only a few. What distorted pictures.
Yes, Europe is slow. It is onerous. It has to weather heavy blows like the departure of one of its Member States. And yes, Europe should focus on the things that it can truly do better than a nation state. But no, we Germans should never let ourselves be led to believe that a national solo effort could ever bring us a happy future. Where Europe is challenged as a whole – as it is in global competition, in the protection of our external borders, or regarding migration – it must find a response as a whole, however painstaking and tough this may be. And we Germans have every interest in playing a leading role in this.
The picture of our parliamentary democracy that some people are painting is also distorted. But our democracy is strong. It enables people to participate and have a say. It accepts, indeed demands, dissent and criticism – criticism that is expressed peacefully and with respect for individuals, that seeks solutions and compromises and does not marginalize entire groups of people.
2017 is also the year of the next Bundestag election. I will champion a political discourse in which we will debate many things vigorously, but will always do so as democrats who never forget that it an honour to serve our democracy and thereby to serve the people. Our social market economy is one of the things that gives me encouragement about our Germany. It allows us to cope with crises and processes of change better than any other economic system in the world.
Today more people have work than ever before. Overwhelmingly, our companies are thriving. Our economic success gives us opportunities to bolster our social security system and help all those who need help. As of tomorrow, for example, important improvements in health care will come into effect. I am also encouraged by the enthusiasm and ingenuity that German companies and universities bring to the research and development work they are doing for the future. From new energy sources to digitalisation, in every area we have the opportunity not to be driven by others, but rather to be among those who discover and determine new paths. This requires us to look at the world openly and with confidence – in ourselves and in our country.
Cohesion, openness, our democracy and a strong economy that serves the well-being of all: these are the things that make me confident in our future here in Germany, even at the end of a difficult year. None of these values are simply given to us. We will have to work for all of them in 2017 too, all of us together, each contributing to the best of our abilities – and this work will be worth it.
With all my heart I wish you and your families a happy New Year filled with health, good fortune and God’s blessing.
Monday 2 January 2017