“Europe is the linchpin of Germany’s foreign policy, and Italy is one of the founding nations of the European Union.”
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock spoke to the Italian daily “La Stampa” on the occasion of her trip to Rome today.
Question: Europe is facing rising energy prices and needs gas. Do you think that the Federal Network Agency for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications and Railway will give the go-ahead for Nord Stream 2? What will you do to prevent energy and gas from being used as a “weapon”, as you put it, by Russia?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: As the new Federal Government, we clearly stated in our coalition agreement that European regulations must be complied with for energy policy projects in Germany – so that also means for Nord Stream 2. That’s currently not the case, which is why the certification process is currently suspended. And, of course, Nord Stream 2 also has geopolitical implications. This is why we agreed in our Joint Statement with the US Government that, should Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine, we will work with our European partners to take effective action. We stand by this statement. And, at the same time, it is our political responsibility to ensure that everyone in Europe, regardless of their income, can afford electricity and a warm home – which is another reason why it’s so important to strengthen the independence of our European energy supply.
Question: Should Europe join Moscow and Washington at the negotiating table on Ukraine immediately, or at a later date after an agreement in principle has been reached between Russia and the United States?
Baerbock: It’s clear that there can be no decision on security in Europe without Europe. The only way out of the crisis is through dialogue. That’s why the French Foreign Minister and I are committed to returning to talks in the Normandy format. It’s precisely because the situation on the Ukrainian border is worrying that there must be no further military escalation. The most important guarantor of Ukraine’s security is success at the negotiating table.
Question: You said that Germany is not a country of immigration but a society of immigration, calling to mind the fact that Germany’s economic success story is also based on the contribution made by guest workers. The Merkel Government was criticised for admitting migrants to Germany but allowing international law to be violated at Europe’s external borders by indiscriminately turning them back (“push-back”) in Greece and Belarus. What will the new Government do differently?
Baerbock: The economic success of Germany and Europe is based on the fact that people have come to us with all their ideas, biographies and drive. At the same time, economies can only be successful in a networked world if they perceive diversity as a strength. As far as displacement is concerned, I cannot and will not accept the fact that people keep dying at Europe’s external borders. It’s easy here in Berlin to point the finger at countries that bear the burden of responsibility at the external borders, be it the land border between Poland and Belarus or as far as the Mediterranean borders of Italy and Greece are concerned. But if we as Europeans want our rules and values to apply, we must all be prepared to show solidarity and take responsibility. As the new Federal Government, we want to do our part and work to ensure that there is a fair distribution mechanism in Europe so that countries like Italy and Greece are not left in the lurch. At the same time, we want to expand legal routes to Europe and Germany, such as through humanitarian visas, and also with a modern immigration law. Furthermore, we will support work on a common European asylum policy in which each country assumes its responsibility. It’s clear that this won’t be an easy path. But we must and we want to tread this path as the Federal Government
Question: How can the new Government convince other countries to accept a migrant quota?
Baerbock: If we want to ensure humanity and order on the EU’s external borders, then solidarity and fairness within the EU must be the order of the day. I’m under no illusions here. Each member state still views this too much through its own national lens. But the pandemic has made one thing abundantly clear, namely that our common European area without internal borders is one of the greatest achievements of European integration – no one in Europe wants to give this up again. And the necessary counterpart to the free movement of persons is a common migration policy. As long as we don’t have a common position on the part of all 27 as regards a distribution mechanism, we mustn’t bury our heads in the sand. Instead, as has fortunately happened in many cases, we should lead the way with those who are not only prepared to do so, but who also put into practice Europe as a community of values. I’m glad that we’re pulling together with Italy in this regard.
Question: First there was the Quirinale Treaty with Paris. Now Chancellor Scholz has travelled to Rome. Is there a new European balance with a Berlin-Paris-Rome triangle?
Baerbock: Europe is the linchpin of Germany’s foreign policy, and Italy is one of the founding nations of the European Union. In order to make our Europe even stronger and more fit for the future, we want there to be strong impetus for more action on social issues, for greater climate protection and for a stronger role for Europe in the world. It’s important to me that Germany, Italy and France work very closely together. Ultimately, however, it is not merely relations between our capitals that count. It’s just as important for people in our countries to feel that Europe benefits them personally, in terms of peace, economic opportunities, freedom and security – including for future generations.
Question: What does the action plan between Italy and Germany, which you and Italian Foreign Minister Di Maio discussed on the fringes of the G7 meeting in Liverpool in December, envisage? In which areas do the two countries want to deepen their cooperation?
Baerbock: Germany maintains more cultural institutions in Italy than in any other country, and no other country has such close links to our economy via supply chains. Luigi Di Maio and I belong to a generation for whom peace in Europe, travel and study abroad were always a matter of course. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us very clearly what happens when borders are closed – when a craftsman from South Tyrol can no longer get to his customers in Bavaria or a student from Hamburg has to cut short her Erasmus stay in Florence. But we have also been fortunate enough to witness what cross-border solidarity means when intensive care patients from Bergamo were treated in Leipzig and patients from Freising were looked after in Bolzano. With the German-Italian action plan, we want to raise the profile of our joint potential, not only at the level of politics, but wherever people get involved – in the area of Young Leaders or in city partnerships, for example.
Question: Germany has just assumed the G7 presidency, and Chancellor Scholz has reiterated that Germany wants to be a pioneer in the area of climate protection. How can the German-led G7 influence the ongoing climate negotiations?
Baerbock: As strong economic nations and a community of shared values, the G7’s ambition must be to shape the world positively – to act before it’s too late. This is most clearly evident in how we are addressing the climate crisis, which has become the primary driver of conflict around the world. Every tenth of a degree less in terms of global warming will contribute to the quality of life of future generations and thus to peace. The G7 can play a genuine pioneering role, especially with a view to COP 27 in November. One example is energy and climate partnerships with developing countries, for investments in climate protection that also offer opportunities for economic development.
Question: And as a woman, what do you want to focus on as G7 President?
Baerbock: It makes a difference whether there are no women, there is one woman or whether, as at the last G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, three out of seven people around a negotiating table are women. After all, women make up half of the world’s population. That’s why, when it comes to key issues for our G7 Presidency, such as climate protection, vaccinations against COVID-19 around the world, and also efforts to strengthen democracies, we will always take into consideration the impact that measures have on girls and women and whether they participate as equals. Women’s rights are not only human rights, but often reflect the state of democracies.
Question: How does Germany’s “value-led foreign policy” reconcile national interests and the protection of human rights vis-à-vis China?
Baerbock: For us, values and interests are not a contradiction in terms but are closely bound up with one another. With our European economic model for achieving prosperity, we will only be economically successful in the long term if we also defend the values of humane treatment of workers and fair trade relations. If only European companies have to comply with workers’ rights and fair competition standards, but companies from third countries such as China do not, our companies will be at an absolute competitive disadvantage. We cannot accept this for economic reasons either. I firmly believe that we, as Europeans, must make much more deliberate use of the strength of our single market, otherwise others will dictate terms to us.
Interview conducted by Uski Audino, La Stampa