What's the smallest lawsuit ever

Speech by Federal President Johannes Rau at the joint session of the Bundestag and Bundesrat on July 1, 1999 in Bonn


I thank you for the good wishes that I received from this point today.

I see them as an incentive and encouragement, as do the vast majority of the many thousands of letters that have reached me since May 23rd.

I am pleased with the great trust that many people place in me.
This is just as serious an obligation for me as I ask for critical guidance for the years to come.

My special thanks go to the man whose competitor I was five years ago and whom I am following today: Professor Dr. Roman Duke.

Dear Mr. Herzog, you represented our country around the world for five years. You did it in your unmistakable way and with your temperament: with clear language, directly, without frills and bluntly.

Everyone could feel what was important to you and also that you don't consider yourself to be the most important. You have contributed to this with your wit and your self-irony. Characteristics that German university lecturers, especially law, are by no means generally said to be.

What you have said about recent German and European history, and that you have remained silent at the right time and in the right place, has strengthened confidence in our country. I thank you for that.

There are years ahead of you in which you want to dedicate yourself to science again.
One can be curious:
What consequences will the practical experience of Federal President Roman Herzog have for the Basic Law commentary by constitutional lawyer Professor Dr. Have Roman Herzog?

You last commented on Article 54 of our Basic Law in 1986, which describes the tasks of the Federal President. Can we count on a new comment soon in the light of our own experiences?

Thank you very much, dear Ms. Herzog. In addition to all of your tasks as the Federal President's wife, you have succeeded with great commitment in arousing public attention for a disease that many had not known before, and thereby helping many sick people.

At this point, I also greet two of my predecessors in the office of Federal President in particular: Richard von Weizsäcker, with whom I have been friends for decades, and my Bergish compatriot Walter Scheel, who will be celebrating his eightieth birthday next week.


Six months from now today we will be January 1, 2000. In some public discussions, the year 2000 is gaining a status that borders on the unreal.
This also applies in a different way to the use of the term globalization.

When globalization is mentioned, it sometimes sounds like the promise of a new golden age, but sometimes it also sounds like all the evils in the world are being summed up.

Both seem wrong to me. Globalization offers us Germans and all of the world great opportunities if we understand them correctly and shape them correctly.

In fact, globalization is nothing more than the insight that in our "one world" we are more dependent on one another than ever.

Today, no country can be sure that it has made mistakes of its own or of others without
The consequences remain only because it is far enough away, because it is economically more efficient, politically more influential or militarily stronger than others.

Because what others do affects us directly or indirectly, it can now more than ever leave us indifferent to what is happening in the world.

Of course, not every country has the same political weight and not every company has the same economic weight.
Some can do more to make everyone have advantages or disadvantages.
You don't need to be a connoisseur of "chaos theory" to know that the smallest changes in one place have unexpected and often major consequences in another.

The globalization of the economy is of particular importance. It poses the question of the right relationship between privately determined economic activity and democratically determined public activity. Responsible politics must rearrange this relationship and answer the question of which public tasks can be successfully solved regionally, which nationally and which only internationally.

As far as I can see, nobody wants to fight old battles. The fact that the market, as a mechanism for coordinating and organizing economic life, is superior to all other principles is no longer and no longer seriously disputed anywhere.

However, there are very different opinions about what the market can do, what framework it needs and what limits must be set for it politically.
This is precisely why the main socio-political dispute is not only about no less and no more here in the Federal Republic of Germany. Scientists and politicians, trade unionists, entrepreneurs and intellectuals argue about this in France and the United States of America as well as in Japan and Great Britain.


Citizens expect answers from political parties on how private business and public responsibility can be brought into a new balance in the interests of all in times of globalization.

The question of how the tension between freedom, justice and solidarity is to be resolved at home and on a global scale has to be answered again and again in innumerable practical cases.
Neither business administration nor economics offer standards for this. It depends on what image of people and what image of people living together we have.

This is a question that concerns everyone and that consciously or unconsciously shapes our actions.

Politics must not evade this question, either by fleeing into unworldly ideologies or by hiding behind alleged practical constraints.

Politics is not about ultimate truths, but about correct solutions. The political controversy should always be about which proposal is best in the interests of all or in the interests of many.
Only then can something emerge from what Hannah Arendt put into the words: "Politics is applied love for the world."

The politically responsible must take the citizens seriously.
We must neither frighten them nor lull them into a false sense of security.
They want to know where they are. You are entitled to find out what politics wants and how the political parties differ.

In a democracy it is essential that the political parties make it clear:
There are ways into the future, also very different ways, beyond arbitrariness and principle-ridden.

In a democracy it is only about "all or nothing" in extreme exceptional cases.

That is why it is better, despite all the loyalty to principles, to actually take small steps than to complain that people are not enthusiastic about the big success.

That does not mean giving up ambitious goals. On the contrary: because the path to a political goal often leads through many corners and detours, foresight and thinking ahead are particularly important.
More than ever, we need to think about the consequences of today's political decisions for the lives of future generations.

There is an egoism of the present at the expense of the future, which I do not consider permissible, but for which we all know examples.

If we want to use the opportunities of globalization, then politics must actively shape them. This applies to the social and ecological dimensions of economic activity as well as to the design of technical progress.

This framework can best be set by a democratic and social legal system that extends beyond the nation state. We have to draw the political conclusions from economic globalization.


The most important social task remains to create new jobs. That is primarily the job of companies.
Politics must set the right framework and give the right impetus for supply and demand.

New jobs are not created at the push of a button, and there is no magic formula for them. We need a bundle of initiatives so that everyone who can work can actually earn their own livelihood.
We need more start-ups, more cutting-edge technology, more investment in education, science and research.
We need intelligent working time rules that combine longer operating hours with shorter working hours.
We need lower non-wage labor costs and less overtime.

No discussion about the "end of the working society" must and cannot hide the fact that for the vast majority of people there is no alternative to gainful employment for financial, but also for social reasons.

For our future it will be decisive how we organize and develop work in such a way that the needs of people are in harmony with the requirements of business. The work is for a living. That gives it immediate value. In it and that gives it a further value, human abilities also develop. That is why Hans Küng is right when he says: "Without meaningful work, a piece of human dignity is lost." It is therefore anything but an academic consideration to point out the value of work for people's self-esteem and for the cohesion of state and society. Whoever sees in work only and only a pure cost factor, the price of which must be kept down as far as possible, as important as the share of wages in the economic process is, is handling social explosives, is shaking the foundations of our western civilization for him is conscious or not.

It may be that in the long run we will get a new approach to work. With working hours tending to decrease, more people could find more time for active neighborhood help, for voluntary work in associations, but also for caring for the cities and the preservation and promotion of culture and art, more time for
Own work.
That would also be a society that could have a stronger inner cohesion than it currently has, a society in which common sense and solidarity would again have a higher priority.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am also thinking of the meaningful work of churches and religious communities.


Ten years after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are still looking for a new order, in Europe and around the world.

The two military blocs that were hostile to each other no longer exist. But we have not yet been able to create the pan-European peace and security order that would be necessary so that war is no longer a means of politics, at least in Europe.

We are still a long way from a new world order of peace that takes up the model of global sustainable development.

A fortnight ago in Yugoslavia began what hardly anyone at the end of this century had thought possible or necessary. NATO used military means in Europe for the first time since it was founded fifty years ago, and the Bundeswehr took part in combat missions. The guns have been silent for two weeks. German soldiers were welcomed as liberators in Kosovo.

I am glad that the hope for an end to the war, which I expressed on May 23rd, has been fulfilled and that it is now a question of lasting stability in south-eastern Europe. Now it will be seen that peace is the real thing.

There was an unusually serious discussion about the legal, political, military and moral standards for the participation of the Federal Republic of Germany in the military operation against Serbia, in which neither morality nor reason was challenged for those who think differently.

I am one of those who said with a torn heart: We must not stand idly by when terror and displacement take hold in the middle of Europe. In such an extreme exceptional case, the use of military force is also justified.

This is an extraordinary burden for the soldiers affected and for the political and military leadership. The way in which this responsibility was and is perceived has increased our country's reputation in the world.

I greet the German soldiers and the members of the aid organizations who are now working in Kosovo to ensure that human dignity and human rights apply everywhere and for everyone, for Kosovars and Serbs, for Christians and Muslims.

What can and what must we learn for future politics from the current situation in the former Yugoslavia?
For me the most important lesson is:
We must try to avoid the wrong alternative through preventive politics, that we blame ourselves by looking the other way or that we blame ourselves through the use of military means, which also affects completely innocent people.

Such a policy must be for the peaceful coexistence of people across Europe
Advocate vigorously for human rights before they are disregarded by displacement, terror or murder.
We need a policy that does not allow arms deliveries today, against the use of which we must intervene tomorrow.
We need an unequivocal rejection of all varieties of nationalism.
Nationalism and separatism are twins.
Nationalism has nothing to do with love of the country, but hates the country of others. What this hatred leads to has not only been seen in recent months and not only in the former Yugoslavia.

On May 23, I reminded you of Willy Brandt's saying that we want to be a people of good neighbors.

Who would have thought in 1969 that we could look forward to living with all of our neighbors in a state that corresponds to my ideas of real neighborhood!

This development is truly not solely due to German merit. We have every reason to thank many for this.
The best way to do this is to continue to be a driving force in the European unification process.

Good neighborhood, that is European domestic politics today. But we also need good neighborliness in our own country between people of different origins or different cultural traditions and beliefs. Tolerance, ladies and gentlemen, is not a weakness in democracy, but its purpose in life.


My predecessor helped make education policy an issue again. I want to take that up, and I can build on a lot from my previous work.

The discussion on education policy deals with very different topics:

about class sizes and teacher supply,
about flexibility and more options for action for the individual schools,
about lesson tables and about the technical equipment of the schools.

All of this is important, and I understand the commitment with which it is discussed and argued. With all these important questions of organization and material resources, however, we should not lose sight of the essentials.

What should our children learn? How can we best prepare young people today and empower them to help shape the world of tomorrow and to find their way around it?
What knowledge do you need?
What skills do they need to master?
What insights and what standards of orientation do you need for a fulfilling life?

These are questions that are still too seldom asked, perhaps also because they are difficult to answer - none of us know what the world of tomorrow will look like. We only know that many things will be very different from today. But we don't know what tomorrow's world will ask of people.

Some believe that it is mainly technical and scientific knowledge.
There are good arguments for this.
Others instead call for a renaissance in the humanities and social sciences.
You point out, and I believe you are right, that education is something other than knowledge alone and that information alone does not provide insight.

If that is correct, then we should talk more about the goals we want to achieve in our schools and only afterwards about the tools that are best suited to achieve them.

We should hold on to the consensus or justify it anew that a country like the Federal Republic of Germany that is poor in natural resources can only be successful in the interests of all if we invest in education, training and qualification of the people.

Investing in people's heads brings the highest returns, if not calculated in the short term and not only focused on certain segments.Just as twenty years ago no one was in a position to predict the exact need for engineers or software developers in 1998, just as little is it possible today to make comparable forecasts for 2010.

We only know one thing: the intellectual requirements, the technical and the interdisciplinary, will not decrease, but will continue to increase.

We must prepare today's young people in our schools for these foreseeable changes. But education and knowledge are more than the basis for economic success. Knowledge can be mimicked, but understanding takes time. Hubert Markl, the President of the Max Planck Society, once rightly asked what knowledge giants would help us if they had the minds of dwarfs.


The faster the times, the more important orientation and the ability to differentiate between what was in the past and what is outdated today and what is true today and yesterday because it is timeless.

When we claim values ​​and virtues or complain about the lack of values ​​and virtues, then, in my experience, such discussions often suffer from too high an abstraction. When it comes to principles or something even higher, we tend to forget how we live, what shapes us, what encourages or discourages us.

A society in which it is chic to know the price of everything and the value of nothing is actually making losses.

Raised index fingers and sermons cannot replace missing role models. If we shape our coexistence in such a way that the honest get the impression that they are stupid, then it is pointless to complain about the loss of values ​​at academy events.

Nor should we speak of a loss of values ​​if values ​​are not lost, but only when the form we are used to changes, how they are lived.

We should organize and regulate what is to be ordered and regulated socially in such a way that we promote freedom, justice and solidarity. A society in which everyone only pursues their own selfish interests may be successful in the long run, but it is not viable because a society is something other than the random collection of individuals who go their own way. Humanity, charity, solidarity - these are attitudes and behaviors that are the foundation of every society and not a decorative accessory.

Humanity, charity and solidarity cannot be bought, but priceless and cannot be enforced by law or regulation. They have to be lived in practice.

That should not prevent anyone from self-development and self-realization. In the past decades, the life path of a growing number of people in our country has no longer been determined by the mute constraint of the circumstances. They could take the chance to go their own way. That is a big step forward. Free development of the personality is something completely different from an ego society that leads to self-isolation.

People want to achieve something, and society should demand and encourage achievements. But you shouldn't overtax people.

This applies in particular to everyone who, for various reasons, can no longer achieve anything, nothing, only a little or nothing. Children and the elderly are just as much a part of it as mentally and physically handicapped people.

When we talk about performance, we shouldn't forget those who often achieve a lot, but whose performance does not appear on any balance sheet and cannot be expressed in terms of gross domestic product.

Every society needs as many people as possible who are capable and willing to perform. Every society also needs special performers. If we want to do justice to the diversity of actual services, we need a broad definition of service.

Then it becomes clear: Successful start-ups are just as good performers as volunteer youth trainers. Chief physicians are just as much social service providers as nurses.

Innovative researchers are just as much social top performers as committed works councils.

Artists and writers who sharpen our eyes and broaden our horizons are just as much societal performers as scientists who broaden our medical and technical possibilities.


Some of you will know that as a young person I went into politics in the early 1950s because I did not want to come to terms with the division of Germany. Together with Gustav Heinemann and Helene Wessel, Diether Posser, Erhard Eppler and many others, I was in the All-German People's Party at the time.

This topic has not let go of me all my life and has accompanied me far beyond my political tasks.

That is why I found it particularly fortunate that I was in Berlin and Leipzig on the day the Wall came down, on November 9, 1989.

On the evening of November 9th and in the two days after that, I was able to experience first hand: the incredulous amazement, the indescribable joy of the people at the newly won freedom for which many of them had taken to the streets, week after week.

In my experience, it is also good for politics if we in charge do not forget to be amazed.

A lot has changed in the past ten years. The people in Brandenburg and Saxony, in Saxony-Anhalt, in Thuringia and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have reason to be proud of the great successes they have built.

Not every obvious deficit, not every deficiency, not every major problem that we still face can be described as a lack of internal unity in a united Germany.
This is a term that can lead to misunderstandings.

It is not our task for the sixteen states of the Federal Republic of Germany to become similar as quickly as possible. They should not develop according to a centrally prescribed norm; rather, we should keep federalism alive and further strengthen it, because diversity grows a strength from which all countries can benefit.

What it is about is equal life chances for all women and men regardless of whether they grow up and live in the north or south, in the west or east of Germany. In our modern society, equal life chances for everyone are the core of the question of freedom.

The cultural and national differences between the countries should remain, because diversity makes us richer; but the disadvantages of the new countries, which have grown over forty years, must be compensated for and overcome.

In a united Germany, just as in the European unification process, we need diversity in unity. But not all the differences that have grown in forty years are examples of desirable diversity. Even ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we should not forget that the Germans in the GDR, through no fault of their own, bear the far heavier burden and the heavier burdens They were no more stupid or lazy than the Germans in the West, but under the given conditions their productivity and motivation could not bear the same fruit.


A few weeks ago we remembered the 50th anniversary of our Basic Law.
We are right to say that it is the best constitution the Germans have ever given themselves. But that only applies if we fill this Basic Law with life anew every day.
It is a guide and a yardstick for everyone's political action.

In recent years, important parts of the Basic Law have been changed because the social reality had changed. Many found these changes difficult and some went too far.

We must all the less forget that there are many fields in which we have to change reality even more decisively so that it comes closer to what we have laid down as our goals in the Basic Law:
The actual social equality of women and men is just as much a part of it as the sustainable protection of our natural foundations of life and also the mandate to shape our society as a social democracy.

Gustav Heinemann is still right that the Basic Law is a large offer and not a fetter.


Each of my predecessors shaped the office of Federal President in his own way. That was the case with Theodor Heuss and Heinrich Lübke, Gustav Heinemann and Walter Scheel, Karl Carstens, Richard von Weizsäcker and you, dear Federal President Herzog.

Everyone tried to bring their special abilities and gifts to the office and yet they were representatives of the whole of Germany.

Today I see a twofold task for the office of the Federal President: he must speak for the Germans, and he must help minorities speak.

I want to do this with my gifts and in my own way; I want everyone to know that I draw confidence and strength from the Christian faith and that I have respect for those who base their lives on other foundations.

I want to listen so that nobody goes unheard.
I want to reconnect threads of conversation where they have broken off, between East and West, between young and old.

I want to bring to the public what belongs in the social debate.
I want to encourage everyone in companies and administrations, in universities and political parties, in academies and citizens' initiatives, in the media and in associations that are working on the future of our country. I hope that we Germans will have our future in Europe and in the Shaping a world together with our neighbors and partners in a confident and courageous way, neither fainthearted nor cocky. This will succeed if we combine self-confidence and responsibility, and if everyone uses their own opportunities in such a way that the general good is also increased.

The spoken word is valid.

© 1999, Francopolis. Tous droits réservés.