“A symbolic location for our meeting in difficult times”

02.11.2022 - Interview

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in an interview with the newspaper Westfälische Nachrichten.

Question: This G7 Foreign Ministers meeting in Münster could hardly be taking place at a more dramatic time, politically speaking – especially because of Russia’s current escalation in the war in Ukraine. In view of all this, what can the G7 Ministers achieve during the German Presidency?

Annalena Baerbock: We can make clear that, as strong economic powers, we not only pay lip service to peace, international law and above all solidarity with innocent people, but are also mobilising everything at our disposal in order to support them. What’s most important here is that, for people in Ukraine, the situation grows more dramatic by the day. For those cities he cannot conquer, Putin now plans to make them starve, freeze and die of thirst. And it’s important to say that this war poses a danger not only to Ukraine, but to the entire international order. If Putin’s plan were to work – launching a military attack in order to annex territory – he will have already delivered a blueprint for the next wars of aggression. If we don’t want to pass an even less secure world on to our children, then we, as the international community, need to send as loud and clear a signal as we can right now that this must stop. This year, the G7 has become the essential international crisis response centre. It is where we developed tough and effective sanctions on Russia, and where we launched all of the relevant diplomatic efforts, including responses to Russia’s grain war, which has made food prices shoot up all around the world. And on many other urgent global issues as well, ranging from the climate crisis to what policies to adopt with regard to China, many partners throughout the world who share our values look to the G7 and the role we play as large democracies and economic powers.

Question: Away from the limelight of current political issues, Münster and Osnabrück will next year celebrate the 375th anniversary of the Peace of Westphalia. Our current world is focused on hybrid warfare, vulnerable democracies, displacement and the climate crisis. Does humanity need a Peace of Westphalia for the 21st century, a new peace agreement to effectively counter the destructive developments we’re witnessing?

Annalena Baerbock: The Peace of Westphalia is a cradle of modern international law; it is where fundamental concepts such as the equality and sovereignty of states were negotiated for the very first time in a major peace agreement. We must preserve this heritage. That is why, in these difficult times, I very consciously chose this symbolic location for our meeting. That said, this isn’t 1648: today, for the most part, we do not lack legal norms, but rather must deal with a lack of respect for such norms shown by some. The fact that it is wrong to invade neighbouring countries, or that we want to limit the warming of the planet – these things no longer require agreement, because we’ve already put them down in the Charter of the United Nations, the Paris Agreement and many other international treaties. The key focus these days must be on ensuring that these rules we’ve given ourselves as an international community are also adhered to. We finally need to get back to taking action. That’s why it is so important for me, as a European, and a German politician, to present new ideas and proposals. For example, in the form of our new energy and climate partnerships – because for many countries these days the greatest risk to security, and therefore also to peace, is the climate crisis. The climate crisis is causing millions to flee, because where they call home is being flooded or has dried up, and it fuels conflicts. This makes climate protection the most important peace project in the 21st century.

Question: To what extent is the current G7 in a position to solve the most pressing problems? Will this meeting again include some additional guests?

Annalena Baerbock: I don’t consider the G7 to be a privileged circle of powerful countries; instead, I believe that, as the most influential democracies and economic powers, we have a special responsibility – a historical one, because with colonialism, and by having emitted by far the most global greenhouse gasses, we have caused suffering around the world. Also, with an eye to the future, we must use the capacities we possess to spark and foster positive change. The G7 can most certainly not solve the world’s problems on its own. But luckily we don’t have to, because there are like-minded countries around the world that believe in a rules-based order and are taking joint action with us in the United Nations, the EU and NATO. On many issues, we as the G7 can team up with partners who share our values and convictions and get initiatives going. We have invited our colleagues in the African Union, Ghana and Kenya to join us in Münster. We want to discuss with them the global consequences of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, for example food and energy security, and also talk with them about the situation in the Horn of Africa and in the Sahel.

Question: Currently, it is often heard that the many sanctions packages targeting Russia are not having an effect and only harming the national economy. What do you say in response?

Annalena Baerbock: Sanctions are not an end in themselves. Without this terrible Russian war of aggression, there would be no sanctions. But in view of the fact that Putin is dropping bombs on villages, families and playgrounds, we cannot simply carry on doing business as usual, because we’d thus be indirectly supporting the war. While sanctions are not preventing this war, they are limiting Russia’s room to manoeuvre and making it clear that we do not accept this violation of international law. That said, the sanctions are having an impact. On the surface, Russia’s economy may appear intact. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that its economy is stumbling and bound to fall, like an injured boxer. Russia can hardly acquire any modern technology, and both international companies and young talented workers are fleeing the country in the thousands. Soon, Russia will need to go back to building automobiles that meet 1980s technical standards. This clearly shows that the war is an economic disaster for Russia as well.

Question: Often, we hear that bilateral talks on the fringes of such meetings are where significant progress is achieved. To what extent can respective arrangements be made ahead of time?

Annalena Baerbock: This is another aspect where Russia’s war of aggression has upended many of the unwritten rules of the G7. Whereas, previously, Foreign Ministers normally met once or twice per year, Münster will actually be our 10th meeting so far this year. Under Germany’s Presidency, the G7 has become a well-coordinated crisis management team, and many of the issues have already been minutely prepared over the past weeks by our Political Directors. Yet such a gathering is also an opportunity to discuss particularly sensitive topics in one‑on‑one meetings. I maintain a close exchange, for example, with my Canadian colleague on support for women in Iran, and with my French colleague on Europe’s energy supply.

Question: Does this dialogue take place at what traditionally would be gentlemen’s fireside chats, or do you go out for walks together, if that’s still possible?

Annalena Baerbock: Luckily, in the G7 we’ve done away with gentlemen’s discussion formats, because our last meeting in May included an equal number of men and women – a larger share of women, incidentally, than in the German Bundestag. Whether we sit down in front of a fireplace or take a joint stroll through the city will mostly come down to what kind of November weather Münster has to offer.

Question: You will meet in the historic Hall of Peace. To what extent can the atmosphere of a meeting place also shape the spirit of that gathering?

Annalena Baerbock: I purposefully decided to invite my G7 colleagues to a meeting not in Berlin, but here in Münster. There is indeed a difference between meeting in a plain conference room and in the Hall of Peace, a truly historical site. I am therefore deeply grateful to the city and people of Münster for welcoming us to their beautiful home town – especially because I know it does interfere to some extent with their everyday lives.

Question: The G7 like to see themselves as drivers of a world more worth living in. Is there room, beyond the dominant focus on Ukraine, to address other issues such as climate action, food security and the digital transformation?

Annalena Baerbock: Yes, there has to be. It is the only way we can live up to our responsibility and prove we’re up to the task. After all, Russia’s war does not make the other crises disappear. It even intensifies them. The G7 countries still collectively make up 40% of global GDP. If we did not drive efforts forward on key issues facing humanity, such as how to tackle the climate crisis, cyber security or global health, then no one would take us seriously.

Question: Right now, in Europe, some new governments have been formed, such as in Italy and the UK, and their Foreign Ministers will be participating in this G7 meeting. To what extent does new Ministers joining your familiar group make it more difficult to reach decisions?

Annalena Baerbock: Democracy thrives on change; that is one of its great strengths. I myself was incredibly fortunate to travel to a G7 meeting only three days after assuming office, because I was able to get to know important colleagues right away, thanks to that very intensive meeting. Also, when the entire political direction of a country changes, as it recently did in Italy, then the other partners are also very much interested in discovering what positions this country will adopt, and how their new counterparts think. For that, too, these are important gatherings. When you see each other as partners with common values, then things are of course easier if everyone truly has, and lives according to, these values.

Question: The upcoming midterm elections in the United States – considering it is a driving force behind the G7 – will also be felt at this Foreign Ministerial. Can the US remain fully devoted to, and focussed on, its Ukraine war policy if the Republicans were to win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives?

Annalena Baerbock: As Foreign Minister, I must refrain from speculating about election outcomes. But I will say that, without the tremendous efforts and clear position of the current US administration, Europe, too, would not have been in a position to show as much solidarity with people in Ukraine as it did. I cannot think of any situation in history in which Germany and the US have worked together more closely than they have done over the past year. At the very latest since Donald Trump, we know this should not be taken for granted. For this reason, too, we Europeans must become more capable of defending ourselves. We cannot build our future based solely on the assumption that others will pull the chestnuts out of the fire for us.

Interview: Claudia Kramer-Santel and Andreas Fier



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