Laudation for the 2017 Henry A. Kissinger Prize

June 20th, 2017

June 20, 2017

Published by The American Academy in Berlin

On the evening of June 20, 2017, the trustees of the American Academy in Berlin awarded the 2017 Henry A. Kissinger Prize to Germany’s Federal Minister of Finance, Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble. The laudation for Dr.Schäuble was delivered by former US Secretary of Treasury Lawrence H. Summers.

(As prepared)

It is a daunting honor to be here tonight.  As Henry Kissinger became National Security Advisor, I entered 9th grade and as Wolfgang Schauble entered the Bundestag, I entered college.

Henry, you are the greatest example our era has seen of how an engaged thinker can make the world a better place.  There are few half your age who can match your curiosity, your wit, or your energy. You inspire us all.

A prize named in your honor presented annually at the American Academy in Berlin is an important tradition.  For it reaffirms that if the history of the last 70 years has been profoundly more benign than that of the preceding 50, the reason has much to do with the mutual trust and reliance that has characterized the relationship between the United States and Germany.

As I prepared my remarks, I felt a real pang that I could not reach out to my good friend, Richard Holbrooke, who did so much to create this wonderful institution.

Most of all I am honored to be part of celebrating Wolfgang Schauble, a man whose efforts over so long a period, whose enduring values, and whose character are an inspiration to us all.

We are days past the 70th anniversary of the announcement of the Marshall Plan.  Henry describes in his latest book President Truman describing it to him as the American act of which he was most proud.  Rightly so.  But as has been painfully demonstrated by the many failed Marshall plans of the last half century, the success of aid depends much more on the determination and commitment of the recipient than it does on the generosity of the donor.  What Germany has accomplished and what is has become over 70 years is one of history’s most positive stories. And it is embedded in the remarkable success of the Transatlantic community.

If today we are at a moment of flux and uncertainty in relations between the United States and Germany, in charting Europe’s course, and in the future of the Transatlantic alliance, it behooves us to remember as Wolfgang surely does that the past has not been a steady march from darkness into light.  The 10th anniversary of the Marshall Plan came in the wake of Suez, the 20th with students in the streets over Viet Nam and Russian tanks in Prague, the 60th with sharp divisions over Iraq to take just a few examples.

Even in the face of challenges in my own country that I do not welcome, I am optimistic that with the kind of indomitable spirit that Wolfgang brings to everything he does that the challenges of this moment will be met.  Indeed, the political situation in continental Europe today has more seeds of hope than seemed plausible just a few months ago.  And in the kind of adversity represented by new gulfs between continental Europe and the English-speaking world lies an opportunity for European renewal.  As Wolfgang has said, “Crises can foster change.  Things can happen very fast in time of crisis.  That is why I am not so pessimistic regarding crises.”

Several weeks ago, two of President Trump’s most thoughtful advisors proclaimed that “the world is not a global community but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”  Wolfgang Schauble is not dewy eyed, overly sentimental or soft.  And yet I do not believe he ever could have written such a sentence.  Indeed, his life’s work is a testament to the power and efficacy of fostering community.

Wolfgang Schauble played a key role in the unification of Germany.  He, like Chancellor Kohl, understood how important generous support for the East was in creating a new and strong and United States—that sometimes monetary mechanics have to be subordinate to political purpose.  I cannot think of a decisive speech in the US Congress.  Yet, I am told by German friends, that but for his speech in the Bundestag, this gathering would not be taking place in Berlin.

Wolfgang may be the last of the dwindling band of committed Europeanists who hold power today and held power when the Berlin Wall fell a generation ago.  No one in office today has understood longer, or better, the importance of the partnership between Germany and France.

Yes, he has strong views on what might be called a national responsibility to be responsible as a precondition for the success of European Union.  But he has always stood for deeper and stronger union.  He was right when he wrote some time ago that “European Union is the best political idea of the 20th century.”   He has been a key driver of the convergence in rules and policies that has been central to monetary union.  And he has been willing to recognize at the moments of maximum danger that a common central bank has to be able to do what is necessary to maintain financial and economic stability.

Wolfgang has also recognized—at moments when it has not been easy— Germany’s obligations to global community. There has been no stronger German advocate for meeting the obligations of history towards Jewish populations, no one more open to Islamic refugees, no one more committed even before the events of the last months to strengthening Europe’s capacity for common defense.  Indeed, I am told that as finance minister he has never rejected a request for spending on refugees or common defense.

Wolfgang in eulogizing Chancellor Kohl remarked on how when in the harried fall of 1989 it fell to President Bush to respond quickly to a German reunification plan, the President did not wait for his machinery to ponder the details but said simply: “We trust the Chancellor.”  I recall being told a similar story about de Gaulle’s response to an emissary sent with photographic evidence during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

History may be shaped by tectonic forces beyond the control of any political figure.  But at key junctures, personality matters and trust between persons matters.  I have known many who disagree with Wolfgang Schauble sometimes on fundamental matters.  I have never known anyone who has found him anything other than utterly straight forward.

He possesses a remarkable combination of determined adherence to principle with openness to all perspectives.  It’s no secret, as I’ll discuss in a few minutes, that Wolfgang and I do not see eye to eye on the importance of Keynes insights on demand management policy for current European dilemmas.  But he has always been open to friendly discussion and indeed was first to invite a range of outside experts for protracted dialogue with the G7 group when he was its host.

If I find myself in full agreement with Wolfgang on matters of politics and matters of international relation and an enormous admirer of his character, I would be disingenuous if I did not take note of our differences on matters of economics.  These differences are not as large as many suppose and are hardly personal but instead rooted in the differences between German and Anglo-American economic traditions.

Contrary to some caricatures of American economists, I am under no illusion that the dials of fiscal and monetary policy, no matter how brilliantly fiddled, can produce enduring full employment with prosperity.  Competiveness and economic success for any nation depend ultimately on the skills of its workers, the ingenuity and efficiency of its companies, and the quality of its institutions.  Here the world has much to learn from modern Germany, especially its success in helping all young people make the all-important transition from school to work.  When Germans attribute their success to deep and difficult reform, I believe they are correct.  When Shakespeare said that “fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves” he could have been speaking of nations with struggling economies. Foreigners who suggest that Germany is in some sense exploiting the global system for its own benefit, to the detriment of others, are more wrong than right.

At the same time, there is a reason why in the long history of nations, common money across several nations in the manner of European Monetary Union is almost without precedent.  Its management requires enormous statesmanship and skill.  For in cushioning inevitable shocks neither the federal responses characteristic of the United States nor the option of currency adjustment is present.  The challenge is that on the one hand convergence is a necessary condition for success: that when all can draw on a common pool of credibility, discipline is essential if that pool is not to be dissipated. On the other hand, it is essential to recognize that individual virtue, multiplied many times over, need not always translate into collective success.  One who stands up at a football game sees better.  If all stand, no one sees better.  In the same way, selling requires buying.  Not every nation can enjoy export led growth, and communal prosperity requires mutual adjustment.

Successfully striking this balance is the challenge of European financial diplomacy.  So far things have worked out, with German leadership, a flexible and pragmatic ECB willing to do whatever it takes to preserve monetary union, and much negotiation.  We can be grateful for the progress that has been made and for the recent encouraging economic statistics, even as we recognize that there is much left to do.

Some would see it as an irony of Wolfgang’s career that a man of such steadfast principle has been a politician of such extraordinary staying power.  I suppose so.  But virtue is sometimes rewarded.  For his public service, Wolfgang has suffered more than almost anyone.  And yet he persevered with purpose and determination, but without bitterness or anger.  For him it’s always about the issue not the self.  The real irony is that the most apolitical of politicians has been the most enduring.

Wolfgang has said that, “I’ve been a politician long enough to know that every year will find us living in a situation that one couldn’t have imagined a year previously. Sometimes it’s better than we imagined, sometimes it’s not as good.”

We could not have imagined a year ago where we are today.  And we cannot know the future.  Events are contingent, tactics and strategies are subject to amendment; yet values are enduring.  I believe with Wolfgang that community is an enduring value in international affairs.  I expect that with steps forward and backward that will be the enduring view on both sides of the Atlantic.  Surely though, this is Europe’s hour.

If Wolfgang’s values, as manifest in a very long career, can guide all of us forward, there will be much to celebrate at the 80th Anniversary and the 100th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan.

I am honored to be here tonight at the American Academy in Berlin to congratulate Wolfgang Schauble on the Henry A. Kissinger Prize.

(Source: The American Academy in Berlin)