Germany’s economic recovery is not yet stable, and the signals remain contradictory. What is your government’s prediction for the rest of this year?
Exports are rising again, and the German labour market remains resilient. We are sure that the economic recovery will continue in Germany, and we are trying to back this up at national and European level – domestically, we are creating growth impulses by reducing the burden on families and medium-sized businesses.
In 2010 the EU will begin implementing the Treaty of Lisbon, resulting in a major transfer of sovereignty from the Member States to the Union in the security and external relations fields. Is it possible to continue that process in the middle of an economic crisis which negatively impacts a large part of the continent?
Europe’s economic and financial crisis management has nothing to do with our efforts to cooperate even more closely on foreign and security policy. I agree that the Lisbon Treaty will lead to major changes in Europe’s foreign policy, above all in institutional terms. By combining foreign-policy responsibilities we have the opportunity to present ourselves to a much greater extent as a single actor. The revamped format of “High Representative of the Union for the Common Foreign and Security Policy”, a post Catherine Ashton took over three months ago, will give the EU greater effectiveness and visibility.
Doesn’t the fact that some countries fail to adhere to the Maastricht criteria on the coordination of macroeconomic policy make the European economic system less credible?
The Lisbon Treaty imposes clear requirements on the eurozone members regarding new indebtedness and the level of debt. The Commission makes sure that these requirements are met, and it has the necessary sanction options to bring a member back into line. In my view this system has very much proved its worth, and it is a major factor in the eurozone financial framework’s credibility.
The financial crisis which has had serious effects in countries like Greece and Spain, where the central banks are under suspicion for their handling of figures and financial statements regarding budget deficits and debts, has for the first time posed a challenge to the common currency, the euro. What measures will your country propose should this manipulation of data be confirmed?
Unfortunately, with regard to Greece, it is now clear that the budget and debt figures have been incorrectly reported over a lengthy period. We have to learn the right lessons from this. It is already clear that the Commission, the eurozone members and Eurostat will need to examine national financial data much more closely in future, and that more decisive action must be taken to clarify even the slightest signs of possible irregularities.
This year China will for the first time overtake Germany as the world’s leading export nation. How will your country react, in view of the expansion of China and other emerging countries?
Germany will remain a strong exporting nation, of that I have no doubt. It is of secondary importance whether or not we are still export world champion. Don’t forget the demographic realities – China’s population is over 15 times that of Germany. We must maintain our competitiveness and aim for technological leadership. With innovative, high-quality products and technology – for example in the energy, biotechnology and telecommunications sectors – we will bolster our export strength.
For a long time Europe and the United States ignored the lack of democracy and freedoms in China. Has the time now come to confront Beijing with these issues?
Germany champions freedom, democracy and human rights worldwide, and that is why we openly discuss the difficult situation faced by civil-rights campaigners and dissidents in China or the Tibetans’ right to their cultural identity. This was the case during my last visit to Beijing, and it will continue to be the case in future.
Germany is a member of the group of negotiators trying to persuade Iran to abandon its current nuclear development plan. A recent UN report shows that this Islamic state is progressing towards the production of weapons of mass destruction. Does Germany feel the moment has arrived for strict sanctions against the Tehran regime? What kind of sanctions does Germany have in mind?
While Iran has the right to use nuclear energy for civilian purposes, it cannot arm itself with nuclear weapons. This is why the international negotiating group pursues a dual-track approach, offering Iran broad cooperation in the economic and technological fields in return for an opening by Iran and fulfilment of the international community’s demands. Failing this, we reserve the right to take further measures. Germany is also prepared to extend the sanctions should Iran continue to spurn our outstretched hand.
In Cuba a political prisoner has just died during a hunger strike. Do you think Europe should change its policy towards those Latin American countries which fail to fully respect human rights?
We were greatly saddened at the tragic death of Orlando Zapata that should not have happened. The Cuban Government must finally release all political prisoners and grant international humanitarian organizations access to Cuban jails. Standing up for human rights is, by the way, one of the central tenets of German and European foreign policy – also of course with regard to Latin America.
The EU and Mercosur have returned to the negotiating table to make further progress towards signing a free trade agreement. Can an agreement even be reached, given the current economic uncertainty? And can Europe amend its agricultural policy, as called for by Mercosur, in order to conclude an agreement?
We want an ambitious and balanced free trade agreement with Mercosur. It would be of great value at this particular time, when both sides are keen to stimulate their economies again. As far as European agricultural policy is concerned, there is an important link between the free trade agreement and the Doha Round, which we want to succeed. That is why the EU has made an advance concession and undertaken considerable efforts to ensure improved market access for agricultural products. Progress in the Doha Round would undoubtedly bring progress in the negotiations on the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement too.
What expectations does the German Government have of the Uruguayan Government led by José Mujica?
President Mujica has made clear what the priorities of his term in office will be – creating jobs, combating poverty and undertaking further educational and health-care reforms. Germany wants to further extend its bilateral relations with Uruguay, and following my talks with President Mujica I know that in him Germany has an open and committed interlocutor.
Is Germany concerned that the new Uruguayan Government has announced gestures of rapprochement towards regimes such as that of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela?
Every country has the right to shape its own relations. I don’t see anything unusual in Uruguay and Venezuela, two regional partners, being in contact. Uruguay is a member of Mercosur, while Venezuela is on its way to membership.
The German foreign ministry has urged its Uruguayan counterpart to make sure that the Nazi eagle salvaged from the Graf Spee, which still lies wrecked on the bed of the Rio de la Plata, is not exhibited. What is the reason behind this stance, given that in Germany Nazi symbols are exhibited as part of its culture of remembrance? What did you request that the new foreign minister do in this regard?
We want to prevent parts of the wreckage, and above all the stern eagle and swastika, from entering the militaria trade. Only in this way can we make sure that the wreckage is not misused to glorify or trivialize Nazi thinking. We are of course keen to shed more light on historical events surrounding the Graf Spee, and we therefore propose that the wreckage be exhibited, on the authority of the Uruguayan State, in its proper historical context.