Germany is viewed as the most probable guarantor for Greek debt in the current crisis and there are rumours that the German Government and German banks are preparing to help Athens in order to save the euro. After the most recent meeting on this issue last month, however, it was said that Federal Chancellor Merkel stopped the aid package from being publicly announced due to concerns over negative opinion polls and, incidentally, that she is against such a package. Now that Greece has made new promises to cut expenditures, is the German Government prepared to take action?
First, let me start by saying that I am happy to be here in Brazil. Germany and Brazil are not only the largest economies on their respective continents – we also share many common values. To answer your question, we do not make policy on the basis of opinion polls. The truth is that the Greek Government was given clear requirements by the European Commission regarding how and when it needed to return to the course of budget consolidation. I am happy and satisfied that Greece has taken energetic steps to meet these requirements. The markets also seem to have recognized these steps. Now it is important for Greece to also do its homework. We expressly support Greece in this process.
The current crisis concerning Greece has resulted in a number of accusations being made in both countries’ media. Greece went so far as to refer to the Second World War, while the German media deemed the Greeks “traitors” to the euro. To what extent has this crisis revealed divisions within the euro zone and what does this mean for the future of relations within the bloc?
Individual opinions should not be overrated and they certainly should not be confused with the position of the respective government. Germany and Greece are close partners in Europe. The euro members are handling the current crisis carefully and are working in close coordination. And we will continue to do so.
Last year Germany lost its title of exports champion to China. Will Berlin simply accept this as reality or are there hopes of regaining the top position in world trade?
There is absolutely no doubt that Germany will remain a strong exporting nation. In the end, whether we hold the title of “exports champion” or not is secondary. Don’t forget the demographic realities – China’s population is over 15 times that of Germany. We are convinced that producing innovative, quality products is the best way to guarantee our strength as an exporting nation.
Contrary to expectations, the German economy stagnated in the fourth quarter of 2009. In the German Government’s opinion, how long will this stagnation last? Is there a threat of recession without a new stimulus package?
It is true that the expected economic growth in the last quarter was less than we had hoped for. On the other hand, there is also some good news: exports are picking up again and the German labour market is also continuing to look robust. We support economic development at the national as well as the European level. At the national level, we are stimulating growth through tax relief for families and small businesses.
The first five months of the “black-yellow” (Christian Democrat/Free Democrat) coalition have been characterized by quarrelling within and between the parties, public accusations and a sharp downturn for the FDP in public opinion polls. To what extent do these tensions present a risk to the coalition’s ability to govern the country?
Opinion polls change as often as the weather. We have to do what is right. Germany has a stable new government that has defined a clear path.
One of the key points of conflict within the Federal Government is the future of the German welfare state. In this discussion, which is of central importance to the CDU, you made a reference to the period of decadence in the late Roman empire. How can these fundamentally different positions be reconciled without alienating the FDP and CDU from their respective voter bases?
The future of the welfare state is an issue that is very important to me. Over 60% of the federal budget goes to social purposes and interest payments. This money has to be earned. The public debate we are having in Germany on these issues demonstrates just how important fair compensation is to people.
The Federal Government has delayed making a number of difficult decisions, on tax reform for example, until after the elections in North Rhine-Westphalia in May in order to counter the risk of losing its majority in the Bundesrat (upper house of parliament). Isn’t this just postponing decisions that are inevitable anyway? Will it be possible here to find a common denominator in order for the country to move forward?
You shouldn’t construct connections that don’t exist. A comprehensive tax or health reform, which I believe is necessary and which we agreed on with our coalition partner, doesn’t happen overnight. We have only been in office a few months – a bit more patience is required.
How do you view the recent rapprochement between President Lula and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? What role could Brazil play in helping to resolve the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme?
Brazil plays a very important role – and not just because your country is currently a member of the UN Security Council. Our position regarding Iran’s nuclear programme is clear: like every other country, Iran has the right to use nuclear energy for civilian purposes. But Iran does not have the right to develop nuclear weapons. That is why we are pursuing a dual-track approach in the international negotiations: we are offering extensive cooperation in the areas of business and technology if Iran is transparent and finally meets the international community’s demands. However, due to Iran’s adamant refusal to meet these requirements, time is running out. That is why the international community will have to increase pressure on Iran.
On various occasions, you and President Lula have shared similar positions on the need for a treaty on nuclear disarmament. The Brazilian Government criticizes the Non-Proliferation Treaty in particular because it does not specify obligations for the nuclear powers to disarm and has thus created a system of double standards regarding who is allowed to have nuclear weapons and who isn’t. That is why Brazil is not planning to approve the revision of the Treaty. What will Germany’s position be at the nuclear security conference in Washington this April?
Here it is important to keep separate issues separate. The content of the global nuclear security summit in Washington in April has little to do with the NPT Review Conference in May. If we want to make the vision of a world without nuclear weapons – as described by President Obama – a reality, we have to ensure that nuclear material cannot fall into the hands of criminals or terrorists. This is what we will be discussing in Washington. We have to adopt specific steps for how we will prevent the unauthorized access to nuclear material. This is what we hope to contribute to in Washington.
At the Copenhagen Climate Conference, the EU put all its eggs in one basket and pursued very ambitious goals. In the end though, it was not possible to win over the developing countries and the EU was excluded from the preparations of the Copenhagen Accord. What happened?
In Copenhagen, Germany and the EU worked to achieve an ambitious climate policy. Europe played a leading role, and this was recognized. Even after Copenhagen, Europe’s commitments to climate protection are still valid and have not been compromised. Unfortunately so far important partners have not yet been able to commit to a similarly ambitious approach.
Concerning the Copenhagen Accord, it is simply not possible to negotiate such a declaration in a group of 194 States parties to the climate convention. What matters is that ultimately the Copenhagen Accord is the product of all participating states.
After the failure in Copenhagen, which forum do you consider to be best-suited to establishing a common global policy for countering climate change? What steps will Germany take if the project of a global approach fails?
There is no alternative to a climate agreement within the framework of the United Nations. Climate policy used to be regarded as an issue for environmental experts. However, climate protection is a global challenge that also affects foreign policy. That is why foreign policy experts in particular should be closely involved in the negotiation process. We have to broaden the climate dialogue much more than we have in the past. On this issue, Brazil is an especially important partner.