“Greece can rely on Germany’s solidarity”
Interview with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, published in the Greek newspaper Ta Nea on 28 July 2022.
Question: Madam Minister, your first visit to Greece comes at a time when Russia’s war rages in Ukraine and the EU is imposing one package of sanctions after the other on Russia. These sanctions are causing hardship not only to Russia, but also to Europe’s citizens. How long can Europe withstand the pressure?
Baerbock: For as long as Ukraine needs us. The Russian Foreign Minister just actually said that Putin’s goal is not only to subjugate Ukraine and deprive its people of their right to democratic self-determination. He also wants his invasion to target Europe, the peace project that has for decades brought us security and freedom. We Europeans are feeling not only the impact of the sanctions, but are also noticing how Russia is breaking with the tradition of peaceful coexistence on our continent. Putin is using energy as a weapon. He is gratuitously reducing gas supplies to Europe.
Yes, we too are paying a price for our resistance to Russia’s aggression – especially in Germany, where over the decades we have become dependent on Russian gas. But if we were to give in now, the price would be much higher still. I want our children to grow up in peace and security, just as we did – and not in a world in which war has once again become a normal instrument of politics, in which Europe allows itself to be blackmailed at the whim of any passing autocrat.
Question: You are pursuing a course dictated by your values-based foreign policy. But what does “values-based policy” mean with regard to Erdogan and his challenge to the sovereignty of the Greek islands in the Aegean, with his partner‑in‑government’s maps showing all the islands in the eastern Aegean from Lesbos to Rhodes as belonging to Turkey?
Baerbock: Respect for international law and human rights. That’s what we expect of our allies and friends, and of all other countries. Greece and Turkey are both partners in NATO. Members of a collective defence alliance do not threaten each other, but accept and respect each other’s sovereignty. Of course, you can’t choose your neighbours and you can’t change geography. That’s why it is, in my opinion, absolutely right to make it clear you are open to dialogue, as Greece’s Government has done repeatedly over the past years. Greece can rely on Germany’s solidarity in this matter.
Question: Selling six state‑of‑the‑art submarines to a country, Turkey, which is threatening the EU member state Greece with “casus belli” doesn’t sit particularly well with a values-based policy...
Baerbock: This project was agreed on almost 15 years ago and is now practically finished. But NATO partners must not indulge in military posturing against one another. This holds true for all members. That is the yardstick of our foreign policy, including our arms export policy.
Question: Greece, with its external EU border, bears the brunt of migratory flows, and Erdogan has already repeatedly made use of refugees as a way of putting pressure on us. European media reports have also revealed a downside to how Greek authorities deal with refugees. Will you take a look at the refugee situation in Greece yourself?
Baerbock: Yes. On principle, I’m not a big fan of abstract policy-making in air-conditioned offices. Policy-making requires you to see things for yourself. And it is hard to imagine, from Berlin, just how big a job Greece has assumed for the rest of us. Anyone who wants Europe to have no internal borders must accept that safeguarding its external borders is a task for the Union as a whole. For that reason I advocate greater solidarity within the EU and more support for Greece. At the same time, saying that we have to protect human rights, with no ifs or buts, is not an abstract issue. Human lives are at stake, the futures of men, women and children. Our European values apply at our external borders, too. If we don’t defend them there, they will not survive. That is why I am so adamant in my calls for joint European maritime rescue operations, and reject all pushbacks.
Question: Bilateral relations between Germany and Greece suffered greatly during the eurozone crisis of the past decade. Even now, slow progress is being made under the Bilateral Action Plan. How can progress be stepped up?
Baerbock: By moving to practical action. I am pained to hear how deep the wounds go, even today, wounds caused not only by certain financial policy decisions, but also by the attitude of certain politicians, and how they have affected relations not only between Berlin and Athens but also between people. I think many people in Germany aren’t even aware of this. That’s why I consider it vital not only to hold intergovernmental consultations, but also to get people talking to each other again, especially on the topics that will shape the future. We want to work together to fashion the energy transition and climate change adaptation through specific projects: Volkswagen is helping the island of Astypalaia switch entirely to electromobility. In Kozani, a German firm has helped to build one of the largest solar farms in Europe. And our Energy Ministries are working together to set the framework conditions for a massive expansion of renewable energy. The current droughts and forest fires across almost all of Europe show how urgently we need to act. Whilst also taking the next generation into account. I am glad that we have just agreed on the ongoing tasks of the German-Greek Youth Office.
Question: Greece views its claims from World War II as still pending, whereas Germany considers this chapter closed. You and the Greens took a more enlightened approach, especially as regards the forced loans. Do you have to back-paddle now that you’ve moved from Opposition to Government?
Baerbock: Many Germans know and love Greece as a fabulous holiday destination, but far fewer are aware of the extent of the brutality and what happened under Germany’s reign of terror during World War II. Keeping the memory of this period alive is an issue close to my heart. That is why I am starting my visit to Athens today at the former city commandant’s office and the Holocaust memorial. No line can ever be drawn under our responsibility for our past. I want my visit to be understood as the start of a deeper joint exploration of this past, even if we, as the new German Government, have not altered our legal position.
Interview conducted by Georgios Pappas