On Wednesday, 14th March, Heiko Maas took over from his predecessor Sigmar Gabriel as German Minister for Foreign Affairs. Both Maas and Gabriel warned against the desire to seek isolation at a time of international crises.
Heiko Maas is the seventh Foreign Minister to take over as head of the Federal Foreign Office since German reunification. He served as Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection in the previous administration. In his first speech as Foreign Minister, Maas thanked his predecessor Sigmar Gabriel in particular for his work to secure the release of Deniz Yücel and other political prisoners in Turkey.
Gabriel warns against isolation
Sigmar Gabriel had been in office since 27 January 2017 and will serve as a Member of the German Bundestag in the future. Looking back on his term in a speech at the handover ceremony, Gabriel underlined the many crises worldwide. “The last administration’s real achievement was to keep the ship on course despite stormy seas,” he said. Gabriel sounded an urgent warning to Europe and the West against the mistaken belief that they could hide away and withdraw from the problems in the world. He said that he would remember a key lesson learned from his time in office: “Only a united EU that has the ability to act can keep us on a sound course when it comes to international development.”
Values of an open society
Speaking about the current global situation, Germany’s new Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “There is a rift between those who support open mindedness and those who want to revert to isolation and nationalism.” This rift would also influence German foreign policy in the coming years. Maas said it was clear that “an open society still provides the best basis for peace, human rights, prosperity and development.” And so one could not shy away from discussion when these fundamental values are called into question in the European Union. Immediately after the handover, Foreign Minister Maas left for his first official visit abroad – to the French capital Paris, traditionally the first port of call for a new German Foreign Minister.
Ceremony in the Weltsaal at the Federal Foreign Office
The handover ceremony in the Weltsaal at the Federal Foreign Office was opened by State Secretary Walter J. Lindner. On behalf of the entire ministry, he thanked Sigmar Gabriel, describing him as “one of the last rock and rollers in German politics” who had brought an impressive level of energy and vigour to German foreign policy over the past 14 months.